2013 Fall Previews: Georgia Bulldogs

 

 USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray (11) is sacked by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Adrian Hubbard (42) during the fourth quarter in the 2012 SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray (11) is sacked by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Adrian Hubbard (42) during the fourth quarter in the 2012 SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Bulldogs: Team Overview

 

Returning Offensive Starters: 9 (SE, LT, LG, C, RG, RT, TE, QB, RB)

Returning Defensive Starters: 3 (RDE, MLB, RCB)

Returning Specialists: 2 (PK, P)

 

Projected Overall Record: 12-0

Projected SEC Record: 8-0

Projected SEC East Record: 8-0

 

Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)

Quarterbacks: Ex Defensive Line: Av

Running Backs: Vg Linebackers: Fr

Wide Receivers: Vg Defensive Backs: Fr

Offensive Line: Vg Special Teams: Av

 

The Bulldogs finally put it all together in 2012 and came less than 5 yards away from beating Alabama and getting a shot at a national championship. For 2013, Georgia returns virtually its entire offense from 2012, but there is trouble on the defensive side of the ball, and special teams must be improved. Georgia badly wants a rematch with Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, but the Bulldogs have tended to lose focus at times during the regular season under Mark Richt’s watch. A young defense will only make that task a more difficult one for Richt and his assistants to correct.

 

OFFENSE

For all Richt’s involvement with the Florida State program prior to coming to Athens, the Bulldogs run a fairly basic I-formation attack. The Bulldogs tend to beat people with superior speed rather than superior schemes, and the 2013 offense has speed in spades. Georgia has had terrible injury luck of late along its offensive line, but the Bulldogs finally seemed to get the running game nailed down last year, correcting a problem that seemed to date back to Vince Dooley’s time as head coach. The primary concern for the 2013 team will be continuing the momentum it established in 2012.

 

QUARTERBACKS

While Johnny Manziel wows fans and the press, the question of who the best pure quarterback is in the SEC usually comes down to a discussion of Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Georgia’s Aaron Murray. Murray is the straight-from-Central-Casting pro-style quarterback, strong-armed and full of leadership ability. He’s not a scrambler, but he is an athlete and developed in 2012 into an offensive force. He threw for nearly 4,000 yards and added 36 touchdowns, although the 10 interceptions represent a weakness that begs addressing. Murray is calm in the clutch and will be a Heisman Trophy candidate out of the gate. Georgia also has the best overall depth situation in the league. Three of the reserves are capable players – juniors Parker Welch and Hutson Mason and sophomore Christian LeMay. Georgia also has Greg Bingham and freshman Faton Bauta available. With a depth chart rivaling Alabama’s, Georgia has no worries heading into 2013 – rarefied air, indeed.

 

RUNNING BACKS

The emergence of Todd Gurley as the Bulldog tailback last season did wonders for an offense that had become too reliant on big plays. Gurley was a grind-it-out monster who was also capable of busting big runs. He amassed 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns and by year’s end, was the most feared SEC running back not wearing a crimson helmet with a number on the side. His backup, fellow sophomore Keith Marshall, was equally effective off the bench, chipping in another 8 touchdowns. Together, the two rushed for almost six-and-a-half yards per carry. Richt tends to favor a three-back rotation when possible, and Georgia will have to find a replacement for the departed Ken Malcome. The top candidates are scatback Brandon Harton, who has toughness that belies his 5’6”, 175-pound frame, and true freshman A.J. Turman. Georgia keeps an impressive collection of fullbacks, with a depth chart that goes five-deep. Merritt Hall and Quayvon Hicks are the two most likely names with a chance at grabbing the starting job, but Taylor Maxey, Chris Young and Corey Campbell are also available. Signee Brendan Douglas can play either position. Provided Georgia gets the third RB slot ironed out and identifies a fullback, this could be a special group.

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

Tavarres King went from unrealized potential to one of the SEC’s most reliable receivers as a senior. With his departure, the pressure falls on Malcolm Mitchell to take his place. Mitchell’s sophomore season wasn’t as exciting as his freshman year, but the coaches were mostly responsible for that, as they had him playing both ways through the front half of the year. Replacing King in the starting lineup will be either Michael Bennett or Chris Conley, both of whom have been effective in the past. Senior Rantavious Wooten gives the Bulldogs a veteran presence off the bench. Justin Scott-Wesley and Rhett McGowan have experience, while JUCO transfer Jonathan Rumph is expected to contribute quickly. Georgia also boasts the SEC’s best tight end in Arthur Lynch. Lynch is a beast in the passing game and is also an effective blocker. His backup, Jay Rome, has the look of a future star. Hugh Williams and Jake Star are among several who are vying to add depth. While not quite as deep as Alabama’s group, Georgia is top-heavy in talent in the upper classes and can weather injuries should they pop up.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

All five starters return from a unit that was highly effective in 2012. David Andrews will start at center, flanked by guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee and tackles John Theus and Kenarious Gates. Burnette, Gates and Lee are all seniors. Reserve tackles Mark Beard and Xzavier Ward have experience as well. The only cause for concern is that Georgia lost its one experienced inside player, guard Austin Long, to an academic suspension. He’ll miss the season. That leaves freshmen Greg Pyke and Josh Cardiello to handle the center and guard slots. Junior Watts Dantzler will move up now that Long is gone, but he has yet to make an impact in three seasons with the team. Provided Georgia keeps the injury bug at bay, this will be one of the most effective units in the conference.

DEFENSE

What was supposed to be one of the best defenses, if not the very best SEC defense in 2012 turned out to be a bust – if you could call the nation’s No. 18 scoring defense and No. 8 pass defense a “bust.” But the Alabama game proved it, exposing poor tackling techniques from a group that seemed to move en masse into the NFL in April. Georgia ranked just 77th in rush defense in 2012 and was frequently soft and out of position. Alabama’s fourth-quarter performance in the SEC Championship Game was highly telling of where the Georgia program was from a discipline standpoint. If the Bulldogs are to mount a championship run in 2013, they’ll have to fix those issues despite breaking in eight new starters. The Bulldogs are experimenting with different looks from their 3-4 scheme, including going to a 3-3-5 as a possible alternative.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Only senior end Garrison Smith returns to his post in 2013, and the rest of the line seems to hint at a move toward a 3-3-5 base set. New nosetackle Mike Thornton is small by SEC standards, and must rely on his quickness and technique. Sophomore Sterling Bailey will start opposite Smith. They’re carbon copies of each other, physically, but must find a way to stay healthy. Ray Drew will be the primary backup at end, with Chris Mayes backing up Thornton. Mayes has the size more common in SEC noseguards, but isn’t in the territory last year’s starter, John Jenkins, occupied. Freshman John Taylor will add depth outside along with signee John Atkins. That’s pretty much where the depth chart ends at the moment, although Georgia recruited well and names like Toby Johnson and DeAndre Johnson could work their way into the discussion sooner rather than later. A walk-on, senior Clint Kirk, could crack the rotation.

LINEBACKERS

Middle linebacker Amarlo Herrera is the best linebacker you’ve not heard of in the SEC. He was the team’s leading tackler despite being overshadowed by more recognizable players. He’s the lone returning starter, though, and will need help from Jordan Jenkins and Ramik Wilson if Georgia is to improve upon its 2012 performance. The good news is that all three have the size and speed to do the job, and Jenkins was particularly impressive as a true freshman in 2012. If Georgia sticks to the 3-4, look for James DeLoach to be the fourth starter. He was impressive in the spring and, at 270 pounds, is the prototypical Jack-style outside linebacker. Ryne Rankin, Reggie Carter and Chase Vasser will provide depth behind the starters. Rankin and Carter, both freshmen, could use some more size. T.J. Stripling will likely back up DeLoach at the hybrid linebacker/end slot. This group will probably take a month or more to come together as a cohesive unit.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

This could be a real problem spot if Georgia can’t find help for Damian Swann, the lone returning starter. Swann is expected to be one of the SEC’s best corners, but he can’t do it alone. Sheldon Dawson grabbed the other spot in the spring over Reggie Willkerson. Wilkerson, a true freshman, will miss the entire season with a knee injury, leaving Devin Bowman and Shaquille Wiggins, another true freshman,to provide depth. The rest of the secondary’s look will depend on which base defense Georgia decides to run. If the Bulldogs stick with the 3-4, Tray Matthews, yet another true freshman, will start next to sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons. If Georgia employs the 3-3-5, Harvey-Clemons will move to a rover position and Corey Moore will join the starting lineup. Senior Connor Norman will be the primary safety backup in such a scenario, with freshman Quincy Mauger also in the mix. The Bulldogs will be depending on youth to carry the day.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Improvement is needed here. Punter
Collin Barber has leg-strength issues and could get picked off by a reserve, while placekicker Marshall Morgan missed four extra points and nearly half his field goal attempts. Both are young, but Georgia can’t afford a lengthy learning curve. Malcolm Mitchell and Rhett McGowan are the likely contributors on returns, but several freshmen could also get a look.

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