SEC Previews: Georgia Bulldogs

The three-time defending SEC East champions are back, but the Georgia Bulldogs will have plenty of questions to answer this fall. Jake Fromm was the man under center for three straight division titles and their 2017 SEC Championship, but can Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman and/or USC transfer J.T. Daniels replicate his success. How will Georgia’s traditional run-heavy offense react to the departures of De’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien. Is the defense good enough to keep the ‘Dawgs at the top of the division? Let’s take a look.

Top Returners: George Pickens, Richard Lecounte III

Georgia’s offense was decimated by departures for the NFL. Fromm’s somewhat surprising decision to declare early has left questions about how probable starter Newman will transition from the ACC to the SEC. Herrien and Swift are gone out of the backfield, and that leaves returning leading receiver George Pickens as the clear top returner in this Bulldog offense. Pickens will be crucial in Georgia’s offensive scheme; he led the Bulldogs with 727 receiving yards, which led the team by over 250 yards, and found the endzone eight times, a mark that was greater than any non-quarterback.
Defensively, Lecounte seems like a promising pick for SEC Defensive Player of the Year, although he will have some stiff competition in that department. On Georgia’s defense, he’s their clear top returner after doing it all in 2019 with 61 tackles (4.5 for loss), 3 passes defended, 3 fumbles recovered, two forced fumbles, and four interceptions. An absolute beast all over the field, Lecounte will be the focal point of the Georgia defense in 2020. 

Biggest Concerns: Run Game

Yes Georgia has a long history of pumping out NFL talent at running back. Between Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and now Swift and Herrien, the tradition is strong in Athens. But that doesn’t change the fact that they will again have to deal with massive losses at the position. Zamir White (408 rushing yards in 2019) appears the favorite to take over the lead back role in Kirby Smart’s offense, and while his 5.2 yards per carry was excellent last season, can he maintain that efficiency with a far greater workload in 2020? And who can complement his efforts in the backfield? There’s definite questions to be answered in this department for Georgia. 

X-Factors: Jamie Newman, Monty Rice

Newman is an obvious selection here. The dual-threat signal-caller comes to Athens from Wake Forest, where he tossed 26 TDs to 11 INT. With division rival Florida closing the gap and returning Kyle Trask under center, Georgia needs Newman’s transition to the SEC to be almost seamless. One tell-tale stat from the Jake Fromm era was that he was winless in his career when needing to attempt more than 30 passes. Can Newman handle that workload, which may be required if the run game doesn’t do much for the Bulldogs? His adjustment period and production for Georgia is a clear X-Factor that may determine the ceiling of this team.
Defensively, I’m looking to Monty Rice to step up in a big way for Georgia. He led the team in tackles last year with 89, but the inside linebacker recorded just three of those for loss and zero sacks. Lecounte can do a lot for the Georgia defense, but if Rice can up his game from productive defender to a game-changing linebacker, that Bulldog defense is going to be a piece of work to face in 2020.  

SEC Record Prediction: 7-1
I like the Bulldogs to make it four straight division titles, as they’ll represent the SEC East once more. Their SEC-opening road trip to Alabama is cause for concern, but their other crossover battle is a home date with Auburn, who I think Georgia will handle. Outside of that, I think Kirby Smart’s squad runs the table in conference play, with their closest call being a ‘neutral’ field clash with Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Did Georgia come out of the draft better or worse?

Georgia can either come out of the draft as winners or losers. The fate of Georgia lies in the hands of head coach Kirby Smart but not as you may think. It is no secrete the Georgia Bulldogs have dominated the SEC east the last couple seasons but if Kirby Smart doesn’t pull things together this season Kentucky and Florida will be looking for their opportunity to take to the top of the East. 

Georgia can be huge losers coming out of the draft for the obvious reasons – they lost many of their biggest impact players. A three-year starter at quarterback in Jake Fromm left Athens a year early, only to drop into the 5th round to the Bills, where he will sit behind Josh Allen for the foreseeable future. The Bulldogs also lost their one-two punch in the backfield with D’andre Swift going in the 2nd round to the Lions and Brian Herrien signing with the Browns as an undrafted free agent. Now for most teams that would be difficult to rebound from, but that’s not all Georgia lost.

They also lost their top three offensive tackles with Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson going in the first round and Solomon Kindley going in the fourth to the Dolphins. Other notable departures on the offense were tight ends Eli Wolf and Charlie Woerner along with wide receiver Lawrence Cager. On defense, Georgia lost Tae Crowder and JR Reed among others. In total, Georgia lost 15 players to the draft and free agency leaving gaping holes both in their offense and defense. With schools like Kentucky returning quarterback Terry Wilson next season and only losing two starters things are not looking good for the Bulldogs for next season as of right now.

Georgia is unique though in the fact that if Kirby Smart plays things right in Athens this year’s team could be better than last years. Promptly following Jake Fromms’ decision to forego his senior season and declare for the draft Smart upgraded his quarterback groom by signing Wake Forest transfer, Jamie Newman. It will only take one game of watching Newman for Georgia fans to forget the name Jake Fromm. Georgia lost Justin Fields two years ago but they signed the next great dual-threat QB this off-season. Jamie Newman will transform the Georgia offense from the boring ground and pound offense it has been in the past to an explosive dual-threat offense. Another reason for Georgia fans not to worry? They are RBU, and that means you always have great running backs and this season should not be any different. Junior James Cook, brother of Minnesota’s Vikings’ running back Dalvin Cook, will be getting the majority of the carries and, although his carries have been limited with Swift and Harrien taking on the bulk of the workload last season, he is very capable of stepping up in a big way for the Bulldogs this season.

Georgia did lose three key offensive linemen this season, but this is not a cause for massive concern, due to the fact Kirby Smart brings in new monsters to protect his quarterbacks every year. The wide receiving corp should also be much better this year with new recruits coming in and other young wide receivers will have had another season to develop. My final argument for why Georgia should be absolutely fine next season is Kirby Smart is a defensive coach – after giving up 24 points per game in his first year, Smart’s defenses have given up under 20 points per contest for the past three year, lowering the mark to under 13 points in 2019. Their defense will always be a mainstay so long as Kirby Smart is coaching.

If you are a Georgia fan, wait on hitting the panic button for now. There’s little reason to panic unless you’ve already lost two games, and with the highly talented Jamie Newman taking over under center, that seems unlikely to happen in the diluted SEC East.