SEC Media Days: Georgia and Auburn Takeaways
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVM) -The countdown to the 2023 college football season has already started, and if we’re counting, today marks 39 days until August 26.
Today was also Day 2 of SEC Media Days, where Georgia and Auburn took turns on center stage.
These are the three key takeaways from the press conferences.
The Bulldogs are bringing back plenty of weapons this season. Every full-time coach this season was on last year’s staff and on the depth charts, 17 of 20 players who were added during the pandemic are still in the program. Head Coach Kirby Smart says retention “is the key to sustaining success.”
With that being said, will the Dawgs go for a three-peat championship? That’s the biggest concern for some college football fans, but not for Coach Smart.
“The threat for us is complacency,” he explained. “...this year we studied the New Zealand All-Blacks, the most successful sports team in the history of real teams, over 100 years they’ve had the highest winning percentage...one of their big mantras is better never rests. We believe that...we’re not going to be controlled by outside narratives and what people say and who’s going to be the quarterback.”
Another controversial topic, numerous Bulldogs have been involved in traffic-related violations and incidents. According to ESPN, the program has dealt with at least 60 violations, including speeding and reckless driving, since the beginning of the 2021 academic year.
Center Sedrick Van Pran is returning for his senior season. Coach Smart calls him “one of the best leaders” he’s ever been around. He was asked about the accountability and discipline of the team regarding the issues.
“So I think starting off is taking responsibility and understanding that we have made some mistakes,” he said. “Don’t shy away from it. Understand it and own up to it, but then from that point, take action, right.”
He also relies on “preventative measures” and a “responsibility to protect the University of Georgia.”
Georgia has been through a busy offseason, adding new faces to the charts and coaching staff. In February, Coach Smart introduced Mike Bobo to replace Todd Monken as offensive coordinator. Former Clemson quarterback, Brandon Streeter, will be behind the scenes as an analyst. Going back to Coach Smart’s point about retention, Glenn Schumann will maintain his presence after a great defensive year.
“He has produced one of the most productive inside linebacker rooms in the country, and he’s one of the people that really believes in growth being a part of his process, and he continues to grow to this day,” Smart said.
Looking at the depth chart, three quarterbacks are competing for the starting spot, while Brock Bowers is calling himself the “old guy” in the tight end room. Will Coach Bobo use similar tight end sets like Monken’s or will we see explosive quarterback runs? Coach Smart has a “very simple answer.”
“We’re going to play the 11 best players that give us the opportunity to be successful,” he said. “If that’s seven wideouts, if that’s two running backs, if that’s four running backs or two tight ends or 13 personnel, we can go through all the numbers.”
Bowers said he is “locker buddies” with the seemingly quarterback front-runner, Carson Beck. Beck played in seven games last season under Stetson Bennett, finishing with 310 yards and four touchdowns. He recorded 43 yards on the ground, so explosive quarterback plays may take some time.
On the defensive side, there aren’t many questions. Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon Jr. are returning at their linebacker positions. Kamari Lassiter, who attended Media Days, started at defensive back in every game last season. He racked up 38 total tackles and 5 tackles for loss, including one against TCU in the Championship title game. Lassiter, along with the rest of the defense, are coming back with the same caliber.
“We are trying to eat off the floor,” he said. “We are not trying to be complacent this year. We are trying to uphold our standard and keeping the main thing, the main thing.”
Auburn was the next team to take the podium in Nashville. The Tigers finished a dramatic season in a dramatic way, but it didn’t stop tickets from selling out.
Hugh Freeze attended his first SEC Media Days since 2017 with Ole Miss. Now, he’s looking to rebuild a 5-7 team with an emotional fanbase. Coach Freeze started with a statement, acknowledging his task at hand. In return, he’s asking for “little patience” as he plans to “close the gap.”
“There’s a lot of things that I’m not quite certain about, also, but excited about the opportunity to get to know our team even better,” he said. “I love our staff. I love the work they’ve put in recruiting and in trying to improve our roster, and really, really excited about the opportunity to represent Auburn this fall and our great fan base.”
Part of his rebuilding has resulted in a faith-based culture. Coach Freeze says his culture includes faith, attitude, mental toughness, integrity, and love.
“But I did sense coming in that the faith in the whole family of Auburn football was fractured somewhat, and I think that is where I had to start in trying to repair that.”
Question marks on the roster
Moving to play-calling, Coach Freeze says offensive coordinator, Phillip Montgomery, is on the same page. The duo has created a 10-day plan for quarterbacks Robby Ashford, Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne and redshirt freshman, Holden Geriner. This would allow the players to outshine the competition and give the coaching staff more answers.
We’ve seen Ashford and Geriner play in orange and blue. Ashford has undoubted talent in his legs, but it’s his throwing accuracy we need to have confidence in. In just one game for Geriner, we’ve seen three passes and 8 yards in the air with negative yardage on the ground. As for Thorne, tight end Luke Deal had this to say:
“I think Payton is an incredible leader,” he says. “He’s a really good guy. I’ve gotten to know him on a personal level. I really like the leadership qualities that he brings. He’s got that savvy quarterback demeanor that you look for in a quarterback. He’s somebody that I think will help us. One way or another, he’ll help us in our strides this year.”
The offensive line was one of many troubles last season. The Tigers are working to fill the depth with recruiting and the transfer portal. Kameron Stutts arguably checks off all the boxes in a starting guard, which could be a reason he was selected to travel to Nashville. Stutts says the offensive line doesn’t receive a lot of recognition, and to have the opportunity is “really fun.”
“I think everybody is doing a good job,” Stutts said. “I’ve given Connor Lew a couple of shoutouts. As a young guy that’s come in, I’m really impressed with him and excited to see what he does in the future.”
Auburn’s defense is also in need of a makeover and with that, we’ll see a new position on the field. The “Jack linebacker” is most likely a rename of the “edge” position, which is similar to Derick Hall’s role last year. Speaking of, Vanderbilt transfer Elijah McAllister also took the podium. He’s part of the jack room with six other players, including incoming freshman Keldric Faulk. McAllister says he’s optimistic about the position.
“The jack position room is unique,” he explained. “We all have different skill sets. We all have different experience levels. We all have different things we can bring to the table to elevate our defense and elevate the team in a lot of different ways. I’m excited to put that on tape every single Saturday.”
As for the return of running back Jarquez Hunter, Freeze said he was not allowed “to comment on university’s policies or procedures at this point.”
Finishing 60 minutes
The biggest key to success is to finish a 60-minute game of football. Second-half adjustments are crucial to winning. In most games, we saw the same team come in and out of the locker room.
In Auburn’s game against Penn State, the score was tied at 10. The Nittany Lions put up 17 points in the third half alone. In the Iron Bowl, Auburn held Alabama to 14 points in the second half, however, the Tide was already up 35-14. The games saw two different head coaches, but the outcome was the same.
Hugh Freeze said the spring theme for the Tigers was to “flip the script.” The Tigers need more than a “flip” to win games. The team hasn’t won six games in a single season since 2019.
“But the first thing that I think had to be flipped was the mindset, because I really believe as a man thinketh, so he is,” Freeze explained. “What do we think about ourselves at Auburn, they had heard so much and will hear so much about what people’s opinions are or where you should be picked to finish and all of these things. But man, we first have to rewire the way we think. That’s the first thing that I think needed to be flipped, and that’s why I chose that as the spring theme.”
For both teams, questions were answered, but a lot more remain unknown. My final take on Georgia and Auburn: Sanford Stadium will be the hardest team to play because of the talent, while Jordan-Hare Stadium will be the hardest team to play because of the crowd noise.
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