Hey y’all! While Josh is off traveling the world, I got to fill in and sit down with the guys over at Dawg Sports for our weekly Q&A.
You can find my answers here once they get posted!
From the Rumble Seat: Kirby Smart's second season in Athens has been pretty good. How do y'all feel about the general state of the program right now with Smart in charge, given Mark Richt's successes at Miami?
Dawg Sports: I haven't talked to a single UGA fan who isn't thrilled for both Richt and Smart. It was clear in 2015 that the Bulldog program had become stale under Mark Richt. He was burned out. Recruiting had plateaued and with it the results on the field. The word around the SEC was that Georgia had gotten soft.
Kirby Smart brought with him a newfound intensity and physical approach, especially on defense. Georgia is playing smarter and harder. Thanks to a very deep well of high school talent in the Peach State for 2019 there's a real chance Georgia could sign three top five ranked recruiting classes in a row for the first time in program history. And there's every reason to believe those prospects will be developed once they get to Athens.
Mark Richt on the other hand is clearly having fun coaching his alma mater, and has the Hurricanes playing excellent football. I expect he will eventually retire as the coach in Coral Gables and I hope he does so with a few ACC titles. All in all, this was the rare coaching change that seems to have wobe led out well for everyone.
FTRS: The defense has been carrying UGA for the better part of this season. What has made that defense so good this year? Who are they key names Tech fans should be aware of?
DS: For the Georgia defense it starts up front with a deep group of lineman. Junior Trenton Thompson is a likely NFL early entry candidate, while senior John Atkins is a versatile contributor. Sophomores Julian Rochester, Tyler Clark, David Marshall, and Michail Carter form the nucleus of the group looking forward.
The most talented unit however would be the linebackers. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith is a Butkus Award semi-finalist. Outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy are big enough to hold the edge against the run but also accomplished pass rushers.
In the defensive backfield, senior safety Dominick Sanders will finish his collegiate career among the all-time UGA interception leaders. Junior cornerback Deandre Baker has become a dependable cover corner, while sophomore star/safety JR Reed is among the more physical defenders in the SEC.
FTRS: UGA always has a solid stable of running backs, and this season is no different. Most fans already know plenty about Nick Chubb and and Sony Michel, but who has joined the rotation, and what kind of impact will they have this weekend?
DS: Georgia uses a rotation of five tailbacks, sometimes utilizing as many as three on a single drive. Chubb is the "starter" and also the team's leading rusher (1045 yards, 4th in the conference). Fellow senior Sony Michel also will see a lot of snaps and is probably the most significant big play threat.
True freshman D'Andre Swift is nominally the third stringer (though he's also averaging close to 6 carries a game) and is a potent receiving threat, especially for a bigger back.
Sophomores Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield are straight out of UGA tailback central casting: big, between the tackles runners with good open field vision. Georgia will also occasionally give the ball to senior fullback Christian Payne, who has emerged as a consistent blocker and a sneaky short yardage threat.
FTRS: With the exception of the Auburn game, Jacob Fromm has been pretty solid for y'all at quarterback. How has been able to hold off Jacob Eason this year?
DS: Fromm's football IQ is off the charts. Supposedly at the US Army All-American Game last year he memorized the offensive playbook overnight and was correcting the coaches on route progressions the next morning at practice.
His high school coach has hypothesized that Jake may in fact have an eidetic memory. That could be an exaggeration, but it's no stretch to say that Fromm has an uncanny ability to get the Bulldog offense in the right plays at the line, manage the clock, and avoid being rattled by big game environments. Those intangibles as much as anything are why he's remained the clear starter ahead of fellow blue chipper Jacob Eason.
FTRS: What is UGA's special teams situation looking like this year? We saw Cameron Nizialek take a pretty nasty hit against Auburn last week. Is he good to go this week? If not, who will be the new punter?
DS: Georgia's special teams prowess has been the quiet story of the season. Nizialek has only had 8 of his 40 punts returned, and those returns have averaged 5 yards apiece (about 3.8 punt return yards per game). More often than not this season opponents have actually not returned a single punt for the entire game.
That's given Georgia a solid field position advantage in almost every game this season. You're just not going to give up as many points when you force opponents to go 75 yards on each drive. That as much as anything has been the secret to Georgia's defensive production the season.
Nizialek did take a shot to the knee on his first kick against Kentucky but returned and should be good to go on Saturday. Kickoffs will be handled by sophomore Rodrigo Blankenship, who sports a 73% touchback rate. Blankenship has also hit 12 of 14 field goals and all 48 of his extra point attempts.
FTRS: And finally, how do you see things playing out?
DS: I like Tech to come out and play a lot better than they did against Duke. At the same time, Kirby Smart and his staff have had this one circled on the calendar for a full year.
It's going to be close, but in the end I like the Georgia offense to score enough to hold off the Jackets 34-27.