Previews 2019: Florida, Georgia and Kentucky

Jul 17, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart talks to the media during SEC football media day at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Bulldogs

Projected record: 12-0; 8-0 and 1st SEC East
Returning offensive starters: 6 (LT, LG, RG, RT, QB, RB)
Returning defensive starters: 6 (DT, NT, SLB, RCB, FS, SS)
Returning specialists: 2 (PK, P)

Unit ratings
QB: Vg DL: Av
RB: Vg LB: Av
WR: Fr DB: Vg
OL: Vg ST: Ex

Offense – what’s to like: If you can’t find something to love, not just like, about QB Jake Fromm and RB D’Andre Swift, you need to be more realistic with your expectations. Georgia has arguably the best backfield in the SEC, or at least until Alabama’s new starting running back emerges. Swift managed to roll up 1,049 yards last year while sharing the backfield with another 1,000-yard rusher. Depth behind him is fairly incredible, with an experienced senior (Brian Herrien) and a highly-touted former five-star recruit (Zamir White) battling for carries.

The offensive line returns four starters, with tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson leading the charge. The Bulldogs managed to keep Fromm fairly clean last year (24th in sacks allowed) and there’s no reason to think anything will change for the worse. Georgia arguably has a second full platoon of starter-worthy players here as well. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

Offense – potential pitfalls: The wide receiver corps is probably the least impressive in the division, owing both to graduation and the dismissal of Jeremiah Holloman over the offseason. The leading returning receiver is a running back (Swift), and Georgia also has to figure out how to replace Isaac Nauta at tight end, where he’d become a weapon. A lot of eggs are going in the Demetris Robertson basket at wide receiver, despite him having zero catches for the year. If Fromm struggles early, here’s why.

And speaking of Fromm, there’s a reason Georgia didn’t get a rating of “Excellent” for its quarterback spot: There is no depth here. If Fromm goes down, a walk-on, Stetson Bennett, or a true freshman, the very raw D’Wan Mathis, will have to play. The reason barometers read air pressure lower in Georgia is that all the Dawg fans are holding their breath.

Aside from having to find a new center, which is always tricky due to the technical aspects of the position, the biggest concern outside the WR corps or Fromm’s backup is probably new offensive coordinator James Coley. Coley had unimpressive stints at Miami and Florida International, despite working with some good talent and good coaches at both. Georgia fans loved to hate on Jim Chaney for his lack of in-game adjustments, but Chaney was a fantastic gameplanner and Coley has not shown to be that just yet. Couple his resume with the concerns at receiver and suddenly Georgia’s offense could look downright plodding.

Defense/special teams – what’s to like: Maybe we’re just not seeing it, but concerns over the Bulldog secondary look overblown at best and conjured at worst. Yes, Georgia must replace DeAndre Baker at cornerback, but the Bulldogs return four players with starting experience, including two (J.R. Reed, Richard LeCounte) who make up a very underrated and dangerous safety tandem. This from a team that already ranked 12th in pass defense coming out of 2018 and is now stocked with veterans compared to its competitors.

The linebackers need to have a better showing overall, but the talent is there. One starter returns, OLB Walter Grant, but the excitement surrounds the talent level at inside linebacker, which in terms of raw ability is unmatched in the SEC East and maybe the SEC West as well. And speaking of best players in the conference – look no further than the Bulldogs’ top-flight kicking game.

Defense/special teams – potential pitfalls: There’s a lot of talent along the defensive line, but it needs to begin playing to potential. Georgia has not been happy with the consistency of its interior tackles, and four different players are going to continue to rotate between the two spots until the right mix is found. Georgia ranked 31st against the run in 2018 – not terrible, but it could have been so much better.

Aside from a general lack of experience in the front seven, Georgia is also breaking in a new defensive coordinator, Dan Lanning, who has never been a defensive coordinator before. While Kirby Smart really controls the defense here, even Nick Saban can be guilty of a little hubris when it comes to tapping coordinators. Lanning will have the advantage of a veteran secondary that can drive itself for the most part, but if the struggles start coming, you know who will get the blame.

Final analysis: Georgia continues to get better thanks to Smart’s recruiting prowess, but at some point, results are going to matter. The two losses to Alabama in championship games the last two years are already bordering on being too much. This Georgia team has the firepower to knock off Alabama, but perhaps lacks the polish. With Fromm draft-eligible after this year and Georgia struggling to recruit a ready replacement, this could be Smart’s last chance to make a splash for a couple of years.

READ MORE:  Kentucky


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