THE TEN AT 10
1. I had a chance to talk to ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit this morning, which I always enjoy.
I first met “Herbie” in December of 1992 when I interviewed him as the Ohio State quarterback in the days leading up to the Buckeyes’ matchup against Georgia in the 1993 Citrus Bowl. We laughed about that Tuesday morning and his memory of that Bulldogs’ team — and that 21-14 Georgia victory — remains incredibly vivid. He rattled off the names of Garrison Hearst, Mitch Davis, Eric Zeier and Andre Hastings and talked about what they did in that game like it happened yesterday.
But the purpose of this latest conversation was to talk about the 2014 Bulldogs. I’ll write more about Herbstreit’s observations later but, as will probably come as no surprise anyone, he has been extremely impressed with what Georgia has done the last two weeks as it negotiates the toughest stretch of the schedule without its best player.
“It’s not just Nick Chubb to me; I’ve been really impressed with the defense under a new system and a new coordinator,” Herbstreit said. “Just looking at the defense, they’ve been throwing up goose eggs. What was it, 38-6 at halftime against Arkansas? Who knows what’s going to happen with (Todd) Gurley? But if the defense can continue to play that way and with the mojo they’ve got going right now, I like the way this team is playing with that chip on their shoulder and I think they’re one of the hottest teams in the SEC. I have no problem including them (in the college playoff conversation).”
2. Herbstreit, by the way, said he wouldn’t hold Gurley’s eligibility issue against him with regard to Heisman Trophy consideration. Gurley has now missed two games under UGA indefinite suspension because he’s alleged to have accepted money to sign memorabilia.
Herbstreit has a vote and said if Gurley is able to get back on the field soon and pick up where he left off he wouldn’t have a problem voting for him to win college football’s MVP award.
“Not at all,” Herbstreit said. “If he were to come back and dominate — what was he averaging, 8 yards a carry? — no I wouldn’t. The big thing is Georgia’s got to keep winning. If they keep winning, they have one loss, … and he continues to be a dominant force, especially in game like Auburn and then an SEC championship game, oh my gosh, it’d be hard to imagine him not being in the thick of things for the Heisman Trophy. Me personally, with my one vote, I’d have no issue at all giving him that opportunity if he comes back.”
3. As for Gurley’s replacement, Chubb and senior Damian Swann swept the SEC’s offensive and defensive player of the week awards for their performances in the win over Arkansas this past Saturday. That announcement came from the league office Monday night.
Those were richly deserved individual awards based on their play in Little Rock this past weekend. But they’re even more impressive when placed in a team context.
Chubb and Swann were the Bulldogs’ seventh and eighth recipients of one weekly award or another. That means there has been a Georgia player bestowed SEC honors every week the team has played a game this season.
Gurley has been named the offensive player of the week twice (Clemson, Tennessee), senior inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera was named defensive player of the week once (Clemson) and Chubb and fellow freshman tailback Sony Michel (Troy) have been named freshman of the week three times.
The Bulldogs will look to keep the streak alive two weeks from now. Of course, they’ll need somebody to have a big game against Florida in Jacksonville.
4. In the meantime, the defensive award was the first of Swann’s career. The senior from Atlanta started the 34th game of his career against Arkansas and finished with a career-high 11 tackles, a sack, and two forced fumbles. Swann also recorded his third interception and has helped pace a Georgia defense that leads the nation with a plus-13 turnover margin. The Bulldogs have logged six fumble recoveries, 10 interceptions and have now recorded three defensive touchdowns.
More impressively, Swann has played every position in the secondary this season, as he has off and on throughout his career. Not surprisingly, he has emerged as one of the Bulldogs’ defensive captains, both as a player and a spokesperson.
“I think we’ve grown as a defense,” Swann said after the Arkansas game. “I think we’ve grown as a team. We’ve been put in some tough situations. We lose our star running back two days before a game and we go shut out Missouri on the road. That’s not really done too often. Thirty-eight to six in the first half (Saturday) I think we’ve built something here we can keep building on.”
5. Chubb was named the SEC freshman of the week the two previous weeks before being tabbed the overall offensive player of the week this time. The true freshman from Cedartown started his second game in place of Gurley and ran the ball 30 times for a career-high 202 yards (6.7 avg.) and a career-high two touchdowns. Chubb jump-started the Bulldog offense after running 12 times for 127 yards (10.6 avg.) and two scores in the opening half, allowing Georgia to go up 38-6.
Chubb is the first true freshman to reach 200 yards rushing for the Bulldogs since Rodney Hampton in 1987. He has accumulated 345 yards and three touchdowns in Georgia’s two consecutive road wins with Gurley sidelined.
Chubb, who is averaging 172.5 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game as Georgia’s starter, downplayed his production and credited Georgia’s offensive line and fullbacks. He went out of his way to mention the play of freshman walkon Christian Payne, who played fullback much of the game Saturday with Taylor Maxey sidelined with a neck injury.
“Maxey went down and he stepped up,” Chubb said of Payne. “He’s a good player. Next year you’ll be hearing about him.”
Maxey’s expected to return this week.
6. Believe it or not, Georgia’s men’s basketball team has been practicing for three weeks now and alredy has conducted a dozen practices so far. The veteran-laden Bulldogs start playing games Nov. 6 when they play host to Georgia Southwestern in an exhibition and begin regular-season play Nov. 14 at Georgia Tech.
Georgia returns three starters and several other experienced players from last year’s 20-14 team that finished second in the SEC. But a lot of the excitement in preseason camp centers around the addition of freshman power forward Yante Maten.
The 6-foot-8, 242-pound Maten is a 4-star recruit out of Pontiac, Mich., who was signed with the expectation of being able to provide immediate help for the Bulldogs in the front court. Preliminary reports are that he’s going to be able to fulfill that expectation.
“Right now he’s still learning what he’s doing, but you see flashes where you’re like, ‘Wow, that play was easy for him,’” coach Mark Fox said on Monday. “I think we’re getting close to seeing more of that. I think he’ll play significant minutes. I think that’s something we can project.”
7. Getting Maten out of the Detroit area and convincing him to come to south to play basketball represented a major recruiting coup for the Bulldogs. He averaged 19.8 points, 15.2 rebounds and 6.6 blocks as a senior at Bloomfield Hills High and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Michigan.
UGA beat out perennial powerhouse Michigan State and other Big Ten schools for Maten’s services. But Fox said it wasn’t as amazing a feat as some might think.
“In Detroit, it helped that the starting quarterback for the Lions (Matt Stafford) went to the University of Georgia,” he said. “It helped that the lottery pick that year for the Pistons (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) was from the University of Georgia. So I don’t think we went in as total strangers.”
8. Obviously Fox and the Bulldogs are very confident about their prospects in 2014-15. But when the coaches’ preseason basketball rankings were released last Thursday, Fox did not include his team on his ballot as he famously did before last season.
“You know what, we practiced so bad the day before we voted that I didn’t vote for us,” Fox explained. “I was mad at our team that day.”
As a result, Georgia was not even represented in the “others receiving votes” section. In fact, only two SEC teams were included in the Top 25. Kentucky was tabbed No. 1 in the poll and Florida came in at No. 7
9. The McGladrey Classic on the Seaside Course at Sea Island (the site of the SEC Championship) will take place this week with a strong Bulldog feel. Defending champ Chris Kirk will be joined in the field by Harris English, Hudson Swafford, Erik Compton, Kevin Kisner, Brendon Todd, Russell Henley and Brian Harman.
10. This & that: Fox 5 Atlanta provided a brief update on Gurley accuser Bryan Allen on Monday. The northwest Georgia man claims he has been getting harassed and reportedly has called local police often for protection. … Speaking of the men’s golf team, the Bulldogs slipped to 13th on Monday in the Tavistock Collegiate Invitational. Playing at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, the Bulldogs fired an 8-over 296 in the second round to fall back four spots. The final round will be held on Tuesday. … The 17th-ranked Georgia soccer team rebounded from a Friday night loss with a 2-0 shutout victory over LSU Sunday afternoon. That earned the weekend split to stand at 10-3-1 on the season and 5-2-1 in SEC action.