Preview 2017: Georgia Bulldogs
Previewing and looking ahead at the Georgia Bulldogs season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Georgia Offense
It’s all up to the offensive line.
The O struggled to consistently keep things moving – finishing 102nd in the nation in scoring, partly due to a woefully inefficient passing game – but now the pieces are there to be far, far better.
If the running back situation isn’t the best in college football, it’s No. 1A on the list with the 1-2 punch of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel good enough to have started in some NFL backfield this fall. Almost all of the 2016 rushing production returns, but can the passing attack start to do more?
Leading receiver Isaiah McKenzie left early for the NFL, but the next five pass catchers – along with a loaded group of tight ends – are back for a Jake at quarterback to work with.
The star recruit of Kirby Smart’s first class – Jacob Eason – had his ups and downs, and he was great at times in the clutch, but he has to hold off a hard charge from this year’s freshman phenom, Jake Fromm. No matter what, Georgia will have an elite talent under center.
But can the line keep them upright? Last year’s front five was okay in pass protection and solid for the ground game, but now it has to replace three starters and go through a ton of shuffling before finding the right combination. There’s size and talent, but now the puzzle needs to be put together.
Biggest Key To The Georgia Offense
The passing game has to be steadier. Chalk it up to being thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, but Eason was way too up and down. He was at his best when under pressure late and he could just make things happen, but at other times he was totally lost – like against South Carolina and Florida.
The ground attack is going to be fantastic – it’ll always be easy to keep handing it off to Chubb and Michel. But to be a major player, the Dawgs have to be able to bomb away on a weekly basis, too.
What You Need To Know About The Georgia Defense
Loaded, loaded, loaded – but can defensive coordinator Mel Tucker turn this group into a killer?
16th in the nation last year, the Georgia defense was good, but it struggled too much in some of the biggest games, giving up 28 points or more in three of the five losses. The offense will be stronger and should add more help, but with what’s returning, the D should be able to win games on its own.
14 of the top 15 tacklers return including the top five, and 28 of the 29 sacks or production are back. The line is fantastic, led by Jonathan Ledbetter at one end spot around an outstanding tackle situation with great depth and potential star power if Trent Thompson can crank it up for a full season.
The linebacking corps will be special, especially if Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy can turn into stronger pass rushers on the outside. The inside combination of Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick should be all-star caliber after finishing 1-2 in tackles, respectively.
The terrific recruiting class will boost up and already good, competent corner situation. Dominick Sanders should be one of the SEC’s better safeties, but the other spots need to be settled – there’s little concern in a great situation.
Biggest Key To The Georgia Defense
Can the outside linebackers do more to get to the quarterback? The Georgia pass rush overall was okay, but it wasn’t dominant and it rarely took over games. Carter and Bellamy each tied for the team lead with five sacks, and each one was great in ways outside of just getting to the quarterback, but it would be a big plus if they could do a bit more.
If the 29 sacks to the Bulldogs generated goes up to around 35 or more, and there’s more pressure in the backfield – they came up with just 62 tackles for loss, by far the lowest total in a long, long time – the D should go to a whole other level.
Georgia Will Be Far Better If …
It figures out how to score. In 2014, Georgia scored 537 points in a ten-win season. In 2015, Georgia scored 342 points in a ten-win season. The Dawgs have been able to adapt and adjust, but with the talent in place, there’s no reason the fireworks can’t be cranked up.
The 319 points scored last season were the fewest Georgia came up with since 1998, but that’s partly due to having a true freshman at quarterback and the inconsistencies overall. There’s no excuse not to be more dangerous.
The Dawgs lost to Tennessee by a Hail Mary and to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech by one point each. All three of those games could’ve and should’ve flipped with an higher-scoring, more consistent offense.
Best Georgia Offensive Player
RB Nick Chubb, Sr. – Past the knee injury that knocked him out of the 2015 season, Chubb could’ve – and probably should’ve – gone off to the NFL early. Instead, he’s back for one more year, cementing his spot as the program’s second-leading rusher of all-time, with an outside shot of catching Herschel if he comes up with a 1,900-yard campaign.
The 5-10, 228-pounder didn’t show off the deep speed and quite the same pre-injury burst – he averaged five yards per carry after averaging well over seven in his first two years – but he still tore off 1,130 yards and eight scores. Combining with Sony Michel, he doesn’t have to be a workhorse, but he can be if needed.
2. RB Sony Michel, Sr.
3. QB Jacob Eason, Soph.
4. QB Jake Fromm, Fr.
5. OG/OT Isaiah Wynn, Sr.
Best Georgia Defensive Player
LB Roquan Smith, Jr. – Name the starting linebacker and you might have Georgia’s best defensive player, and Dominick Sanders should come up with an all-star season, but it’s the 6-1, 225-pound Smith who could and should break out from the pack and turn into a superstar.
The team’s leading tackler didn’t do much to get behind the line, but that wasn’t always his job in his first year as a full-time starter. Great late in the season, he came up with 13 tackles in each of the last two games – he was a menace in the open field – and now that might come on a regular basis.
2. S Dominick Sanders, Sr.
3. LB Lorenzo Carter, Sr.
4. LB Natrez Patrick, Jr.
5. LB Davin Bellamy, Sr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Jacob Eason, Soph. – OrJake Fromm, who was just good enough this spring to make Eason have to earn the starting job, and now, at the very least, there’s another option in case the starter – no matter who that is – gets hurt or struggles.
But here’s the difference. The 6-2, 225-pound Fromm has all-star upside with the accuracy and skills to end up in the pros for a long, long time. The 6-5, 235-pound Eason has No. 1 overall draft pick upside if everything breaks right.
But he’s not in that ballpark yet.
There’s no questioning Eason’s size, skills, arm or moxie, but he’s going to have to step up from a good freshman season and be a franchise-maker as a sophomore who can lead a veteran team to greatness. If he’s the star this year everyone expected him to be as a top recruit, and if he’s more accurate and consistent, Georgia …
The Georgia Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins the East. There’s absolutely no excuse. There’s too much talent, too much depth, and too much upside and potential not to get to the SEC title game. Whether or not the Dawgs are good enough beat Alabama – or whoever gets by the Crimson Tide to get to Atlanta – is going to be up in the air, but the East isn’t going to be that great. Don’t win it, and the season is a disaster.
Key Game To The Georgia Season
Sept. 30 at Tennessee – Of course the Cocktail Party against the two-time East champ Florida is going to be a big, giant deal, but first the Dawgs have to beat Tennessee on the road. By far, the trip to Knoxville is the nastiest road game on the slate, and after he pain of the Hail Mary loss last season, Georgia needs to return the favor to take hold of the East chase.
2016 Georgia Fun Stats
– Red Zone TDs: Opponents 32-of-43 (74%) – Georgia 25-of-45 (56%)
– Time of Possession: Georgia 33:43 – Opponents 26:17
– Rushing TDs: Opponents 24 – Georgia 18