Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Georgia's Isaiah Mckenzie has had as good of a season as (almost) anybody so far

ESPN flashed this graphic during one of Saturday's games:

All but one of the candidates, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, are quarterbacks. The trend towards naming a quarterback as the best college football player is clear:

I'll leave for later my question about why it makes sense that great quarterbacks are apparently automatically deemed better players than great receivers. Instead I want to compare a non QB who is not on the list but I say should be.

I'm biased. But all fans are. And except for Louisville's Lamar Jackson, of course, I haven't noticed another player more important to a team's success in the first three games than Georgia's Isaiah Mckenzie.

Mckenzie's "intangibles"

I'll get to the stats next, but the play he made that best illustrates his importance to his team's success was the 6 yard completion he caught over the middle at the 50 yard line with 2:30 remaining in the fourth quarter:

Mckenzie held on to the ball despite having "his organs rearranged" on a big Missouri hit:

The completion moved the chains on 2nd and 3 and eventually made possible the eleventh and final play of the game winning drive, the memorable touchdown completion over the middle from freshman Jacob Eason to Mckenzie on 4th and 10 from the Missouri 20 yard line with 1:29 remaining that gave Georgia the lead for good.

This Red and Black article describes Mckenzie's importance to the team and recounts Coach Kirby Smart giving "the human joystick" the highest compliments when he praised his every day work ethic and his unquestionable competitiveness and toughness.

I'll add that his "toughness" is every bit as much on the mental side as the physical. He caught the fourth down game winner and held on to the pass at the 50, both after having dropped two second half passes, including one in the end zone with 13:39 left in the fourth quarter that would have given Georgia the lead. It's hard to imagine a more pressure filled test than responding to those mishaps on the road in the SEC opener. He passed with flying colors.

Mckenzie's case by the numbers

Those are Mckenzie's "intangible" qualities, coach-speak for "the things he does, that others usually don't do, to help his team win." The raw numbers also give support to my "through three games Mckenzie has performed like a Heisman candidate" position. As you can see here, from the line of scrimmage Mckenzie has done as much damage as Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, the only non QB on the list at the top of the post. And because he is a receiver, he has touched the ball many fewer times than the Stanford back:

Isaiah Mckenzie: Georgia

Christian McCaffrey: Stanford

Of course I understand that three games does not make a season. And that Mckenzie's production may slow if defenses stop putting so many guys in the box and start concentrating on stopping him and his freshman QB Eason, rather than daring the duo to beat them.

But I also leave open the possibility that the "human joystick" may just be getting started. This is the first season he is being consistently targeted. 

(Terrence Edwards noticed.)

As you see in the comparison to McCaffrey, Mckenzie has touched the ball 24 times from scrimmage this season, compared to a total of 34 his first two seasons combined. So why does his production have to slow down? Maybe this is what he does when he is constantly used. Eason sure seems to believe so. And what if he returns a few kicks and punts for TD's, which he has yet to do this season, but did 5 times his first two years at Georgia?

And even if defenses do stop crowding the box and do start keying on Mckenzie, the likely outcome will be more opportunities for running back Nick Chubb to make a difference on the ground, like he did in the season opening win, when he racked up 222 yards in a 33-24 win over then ranked North Carolina.

But if that happens, the chances are great that the Dawgs will come out on top far more often than not. And Heisman consideration or not, winning seems to be what the human joystick is best at anyway.


  1. Very interesting article with video and stats all in one place. Enjoyed it. Love the comparison with McCaffrey. Didn't realize the rushing/receiving numbers were so similar. I said after the game that Isaiah was no doubt the MVP so far for the Dawgs. And he hasn't even gotten special teams going yet. Great stuff, Chad!

    1. Regarding the returns, I wonder if it will be harder for him throughout the year to do that as well as he did in the past with the increased action as a receiver and runner. But even with the added workload, he is still turning in numbers similar to McCaffrey's, for instance, on his punt and kick returns.