Mark Richt got a lot of attention last week for his tweet about Jamie Newman, predicting that the Wake Forest graduate would become “the SEC's best quarterback” even before Newman's transfer to Georgia had been announced.
Well, Newman is now officially a Bulldog. He enrolled in classes and already has interacted with some of his new teammates. And Richt is not backing off his grandiose predictions for the big quarterback from the little ACC school.
“I don’t think he’s just a good player, I think he’s a great player,” Richt told the AJC on Tuesday.
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Richt, who watched Newman as an analyst on the ACC Network this season, proceeded to explain why.
“I didn’t know anything about him before the season began,” said Richt, who'd just returned home to Destin from New Orleans and the College Football Playoff championship game. “He’s listed at 6-4, 230. I’ve never stood next to him, but I have no reason to believe that’s not accurate. He certainly plays that big. He has good quarterback speed and he knows how to run with the football. He can win the human equation.
“I started with his running ability, but he really is as good a fundamental passer as you’ll find. He has pristine form, a smooth delivery and very accurate with the football. He had all these rangy receivers, and he knew how to get them the football.”
Richt said he and his fellow ACC broadcasters were considering Newman for player of the year in the conference before a late-season injury to Newman and Trevor Lawrence’s eventual re-emergence at Clemson changed their course.
Richt’s hearty endorsement of Newman and his reinforcement that he is an altogether different quarterback than what the Bulldogs had in Jake Fromm begs the question: Does Georgia need to change what they’re going on offense to accommodate Newman's presence, or does Newman's presence simply change the way Georgia’s offense looks?
“He can do anything anybody wants him to do, in my opinion,” Richt quipped.
Then he put on his analyst cap.
“No, I don’t think they do that,” Richt said. “What Wake Forest does with all the (run-pass option plays) is very unique to them. ... But has terrific ball-handling skills and Georgia can certainly implement that into some what they do, along with some spread and some tempo. There’s a lot of things there to get excited about.”
Richt had just come from seeing Joe Burrow’s record-setting performance in LSU's 42-25 win over Clemson on Monday night in the national title game. The Tigers’ offensive production this season was unlike anything college football has seen in recent years, maybe ever.
The Tigers’ transformation under first-year passing game coordinator Joe Brady has left every other team team country wondering, “why can’t we have an offense like that?”
That includes the Bulldogs, who are preparing to close the door on the Jake Fromm Era and opening it on whatever is next. For now, that's Newman.
Newman is different than Fromm, to be sure. He’s bigger and more athletic, when it comes to general mobility and ball-carrying ability. Running Wake Forest’s RPO spread, Newman completed 61 percent of 361 passes for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 13 games. He also had 574 yards on 180 rushing attempts (including sacks) and six more scores.
On paper, that’s no more prolific than what Georgia was doing in the zone-read scheme overseen by offensive coordinator James Coley. But it's hard not to recognize the possibility of growth in explosiveness with a dual-threat quarterback such as Newman.
Anthony Timmons, Newman’s high school coach, said the Bulldogs made no promises to Newman about scheme.
“You know, coach (Kirby) Smart is a smart guy,” said Timmons, who coached Newman at Graham High but now is at Knightdale (N.C.) High School. “I know that offensive staff is going to cater to what their players’ strengths are. Georgia has always been more of that pro-style, play-action offense, but I’m sure they’ll have some RPO things in there, like you saw a lot of that in the national championship game. But you’ve got to do what’s best for your team.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs do have RPO packages within their existing offense. In fact, most of what they do has some of that element to it. The difference is, it’s based almost entirely on running-back runs. Including sacks and runs off pressure, Fromm had only 38 carries. Newman had nearly five times more.
The other criticism of Georgia’s offense was a lack of “explosive plays.” In football circles, those are defined as plays that go 20 or more yards. The Bulldogs had 37 of those heading into the Sugar Bowl. LSU, it seems, had that many Monday night.
“It’s a lot more than scheme,” Smart said after the Bulldogs lost to LSU 37-10 in the SEC Championship game. “They have plays that they’ve run all year that are the same plays as we’ve run all year. Our plays haven’t looked like their plays because a lot of times we might not have the same guys doing those plays.”
In that instance, Smart was referring to the wideouts, not the quarterback. The Bulldogs definitely struggled to put the number of big-play threats on the field at that position as they have in previous seasons, a fact that was not helped by injuries, nor early-NFL departures from the 2018 team.
There are signs of mass improvement in that area. In addition to 5-star prospects George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock, who are returning this season, the Bulldogs signed four highly rated receivers in the early recruiting period and remain in pursuit of more targets.
But Newman’s ability simply to keep the ball and run with it in Georgia’s zone-read system is likely to open up the offensive possibilities next season. Newman rushed for 73 yards or more six times with the Demon Deacons and went over the 100-yard mark twice.
That’s why those connected to Georgia’s football program don’t expect wholesale changes, either with the system or with the staff.
“I think there’s a higher likelihood in the existing offensive construct that you emphasize elements that were always n there that maybe you ignored,” said Matt Stinchcomb, who earned Hall of Fame honors as a Georgia lineman and works as an analyst for the SEC Network. “It may appear like it’s a philosophical departure, but it's really not. People get married to the idea that there’s a system and we just drop players in it and they have to figure out how to work it. That’s not real-life. Games get called around who’s in the game and what's working.”
Indeed, Timmons said Newman choosing the Bulldogs was as much about what they could do for him as what he could do for them.
Newman hopes to improve his NFL draft stock during his time in Athens.
“I know Jamie planned to get in there and learn their offensive playbook,” Timmons said. “He’s a great play-action quarterback, too. That’s what he did for me in high school. With the great running backs Georgia’s always had, with Zamir White and all those other guys they have, that’s a quarterback’s best friend. There’s nothing wrong with handing the ball off, and now you can run the quarterback, too, so that’s why I think it’s a good marriage.”
Obviously, Richt does, too. He earned head coaching jobs at Georgia (15 years) and Miami (four years) based on his reputation as an offensive innovator and developer of quarterbacks. It's clear that he still gets excited about the offensive possibilities a dual-threat quarterback like Newman brings to the table.
“You can get excited looking at somebody’s numbers, but watching them play every week and seeing how he throws the ball and how he carries himself is different,” Richt said. “He seems to have a lot of bravado about him. He believes in himself and has those competitive juices. I think those players will respond to that and want to follow him.”
“He’s going to come in and do everything that coach Smart and the offensive staff and the other coaches are going to ask of him,” Timmons said. “I expect him to jell with his teammates and work his way into being a leader. And he’s going to earn that leadership through hard work and dedication. I’m excited to see how he does.”
So are a few others.
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