Coaching friends reunite when No. 13 Georgia hosts Samford (Sep 16, 2017)
When No. 13 Georgia and Samford meet Saturday in Athens, Ga., it will be more than a game for the head coaches involved.
The relationship between Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Samford coach Chris Hatcher dates to before Hatcher hired Smart to be his defensive backs coach at Valdosta State. Hatcher eventually promoted Smart to defensive coordinator in 2001.
Their fathers were successful high school coaches and their families share a close bond.
"I'm very thankful of the opportunity he gave me. I really enjoyed my time on his staff," Smart said. "Some of my greatest memories are at Valdosta and Valdosta State. I was young then, and a whole lot different as a coach."
Smart spent two seasons at Valdosta State before heading to Florida State in the early part of his career, while Hatcher moved on to be head coach at Georgia Southern in 2007, Murray State in 2010 and then Samford in 2015.
"For two years there I just had a lot of fun. And he's a great guy to work for. He's very family-oriented. He had his first son, who now is I think a junior or a senior in high school in Birmingham," Smart said. "His dad is a great, legendary high school coach, which we kind of grew up in the same household. So, Chris has always been a good friend of mine. He's always been real positive."
Their programs enter Saturday's game each 2-0 with Georgia coming off an impressive 20-19 win at Notre Dame last week following a victory over Appalachian State. Samford enters with wins over Kennesaw State and West Alabama.
"They have a great defense, they have a great offense and their special teams are elite in all areas," Hatcher said. "They went on the road and beat Notre Dame, they beat a great Appalachian State team the first game pretty handily. So, we have our hands full."
Samford's victories have come in the late stages of the game with the Bulldogs persevering against Kennesaw State 28-23 and West Alabama 49-41.
In last week's game against Alabama State, Samford held on for the win after leading 35-7 at halftime.
Quarterback Devlin Hodges, a junior, completed 30 of 47 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries. Kelvin McKnight, also a junior, caught 13 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
"We've been erratic, which is to be expected, especially offensively with all of the young players we have playing on that side of the football," Hatcher said. "Our defense and special teams have kept us in the games. But the thing about this team is we've been able to fight through adversity in both football games and find a way to win. That's the mark of a really good football team."
Georgia true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm will make his second career start after completing 16 of 29 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown last week at Notre Dame.
Fromm also lost a fumble and threw an interception, but he kept his poise. Taking away from his numbers was a long pass that receiver Mecole Hardman dropped in the second half.
Smart indicated that given Fromm's youth, the coaches control his play-calling.
"He (Fromm) doesn't have freedom to adjust plays," Smart said. "It depends on the play we call. There are some plays we call he can adjust. There are some plays we call that are straight run. It depends on which one we call.
"There are those he checks with me. You try to base it on simple things, like most offenses do. He's very knowledgeable of that. That's an asset we have with him. He's very comfortable with that."
Fromm is aided by a highly productive running game that keeps the pressure off him.
Senior running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb led Georgia against Notre Dame, rushing for 73 and 63 yards, respectively. Freshman D'Andre Swift rushed for 42 yards on just two carries, including a 40-yarder that set up Michel's 6-yard touchdown run to give Georgia a 17-16 lead with 4:34 left to play.
Through two games, the Bulldogs are averaging 203 yards on the ground per game.