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100 Days to Kickoff: Opponent Previews - u(sic)ga

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They’re going to be alright this year.

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NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Georgia vs Texas
uga’s worst nightmare.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

I know how much u(sic)ga is disliked by us Tech fans, but we have to give them some credit. Kirby Smart has turned a perennially decent football team under Mark Richt (who kept Miami a perennially decent team), into a national powerhouse. The dwags last year lost in the second half of the SEC Championship game against a reborn Jalen Hurts, were [AC/DC]ed over by the CFP Committee in favor of Notre Dame, and then almost had no one’s favorite bulldog killed by Bevo before the Sugar Bowl, which they then preceded to lose.

Key Departures:

Deandre Baker: One of the most notable departures is of first round NFL Draft pick Deandre Baker. Baker played a key role in the dwag’s secondary the past two seasons, even winning the Jim Thorpe Award (given to the top defensive back in college football) his senior year. Baker will be missed, as it’s very hard to replace college football’s best defensive back.

Mecole Hardman: Hardman was one of three receivers that got selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. I’ll get to the other two in a minute. Hardman didn’t catch many footballs over his career, only bringing in a total of 60 passes during his three years. However, he averaged a lot of yards per catch, finishing with a total of 16.0 ypc overall in his career. This was a reliable, yard-getting guy for the dwags, and with two other receiving corps losses, look for Jake Fromm to find new targets this season.

D’Andre Walker: u(sic)ga loses a key pass rusher, with Walker being drafted in the fifth round by the Tennessee Titans. Even though he didn’t start a single game for his first three years of college,finally gaining a starting spot his senior year, he still found ways to make an impact. Walker finished the 2017 season with 39 total tackles, including 13.5 for loss. Walker only had 11 tackles for loss his senior year, but finished with 45 tackles, including seven sacks. It’ll be hard for the dwags to replace that kind of production this season.

Riley Ridley and Terry Godwin: Of the two other receivers drafted this past year from u(sic)ga, Ridley went off of the board first, going to the Bears in the fourth round. This past year Ridley exploded, going from 14 catches in 2017 to 43 catches in 2018. The rise certainly helped Jake Fromm and the rest of the team, as he finished with 9 touchdown receptions and 13.0 ypc. Godwin was drafted in the seventh round by the Panthers, and was much more consistent in his college years. Although he experienced a drop in receptions his senior year (due to the rise of Ridley), he was a key target throughout his career and his reliable hands will be missed.

Key Returnees:

Jake Fromm: A.K.A. the guy who made former number one recruit out of high school Justin Fields transfer. Fromm has been incredible for the dwags these past few seasons, finishing with a 67% completion percentage last year, and holding a 54 touchdown to 13 interception ratio over his first two seasons. It helps when you have three receivers like Hardman, Ridley and Godwin, but that still is an incredible number. Fromm is not much of a rushing quarterback, but his efficient and effective passing statistics, even with much less experienced receivers this coming season, will hold the offense afloat.

D’Andre Swift: Make no mistake though, just because Fromm can’t really run doesn’t mean that the dwags won’t have a potent rushing attack. The feature back this year looks to be rising junior D’Andre Swift. Last year, Swift averaged over six yards per carry, and finished with over 1,000 yards rushing. He only scored 10 touchdowns, but when Fromm throws 30 touchdowns, all Swift needed to do was put the dwags in a position to score.

Andrew Thomas: I could write about the entire offensive line if I wanted to, but I’ll just stick with who many consider the best returning lineman, Andrew Thomas. Thomas has the job of protecting Fromm’s blindside this year, and will be a main leader on and off of the field. Thomas was named to the preseason all-SEC first team offense and was an SI.com All-America First Team member last year.

J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte: J.R. Reed could’ve easily been a top draft pick in 2018. Instead, Reed decided to come back for one last run at that elusive National Championship. The transfer from Tulsa has been a big leader at safety for the past two years, finishing second on the team with 66 tackles in 2018. That was a down year from 2017, where he totaled 79 tackles, but just like with receivers Ridley and Godwin, another player emerged to take statistics. LeCounte increased his total tackle number by 59, from 15 in 2017 to 74 in 2018. The two players should anchor an elite secondary in 2019.

Rodrigo Blankenship: Hot Rod. The dwag’s resident rapper. He’s also a pretty good kicker as well. The redshirt senior has never missed an extra point attempt in the three years he’s played, and only missed four kicks last season. Blankenship owns a career long of 53 yards. Convieniently, that’s the length of the field goal Harrison Butker made in the 2014 Georgia game to send it into overtime. Good times.

James Coley and Dan Lanning: Following the departure of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, for the same position at Tennessee, Kirby Smart promoted internally. James Coley was hired away from Miami after Smart took the job, where he was wide receivers coach for two seasons and then became co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for 2018. georgia’s offense will look to keep rolling under the sole leadership of Coley in 2019. Smart also promoted internally for the defensive coordinator position as well. Dan Lanning will replace Mel Tucker, who became the head coach at Colorado. Lanning served for one season as outside linebackers coach after coming from Memphis, where he was the inside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator. Both of the hires have experience with the team and will provide stability throughout the season leading their respective sides.

Key Additions:

Nolan Smith: The number one overall 247Sports composite player in the 2019 class, a defensive end from IMG Academy in Florida, and the first commit for the class all the way back in January of 2017, Smith is going to be an impact player. Smith has transitioned to OLB to start his college career, but with the depth georgia has returning on defense, Smith will probably only see the field in up to four games to show off his number one ranked talent. Although if he makes an impact early, he could be the next D’Andre Walker.

George Pickens: Pickens is the fourth-ranked of the five five-stars that signed with the dwags in the 2019 recruiting class. However, with the attrition that georgia had at the wide receiver position this past offseason, Pickens has the chance to make the most impact. Pickens comes in as the number four wide receiver in the class of 2019 and the number 24 recruit overall. Auburn almost had him, but Pickens decommitted on national signing day, and is already making one-handed catches in practice.

Dominick Blaylock: The second top-five receiver in georgia’s 2019 class, Blaylock comes from Walton High School in Marietta, Georgia. This is another great add for the dwags, and with the weakness at the receiver position coming into the season, Pickens and Blaylock should see the field early and often.

Season Outlook:

Looking at the schedule, the only games that may give u(sic)ga trouble are Notre Dame, Florida, and Texas A&M. The good part about two of those three games is that they’re being played in the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium. The Florida game will be played in Jacksonville, but that should be an evenly attended matchup. I personally predict the dwags will once again win the SEC East, and will be knocking on the door of a playoff berth come December, depending on the outcome of the SEC Championship game. An undefeated record in the regular season would not be surprising, but I feel that a loss to one of the three teams mentioned above will happen, it’s just hard to say which team will beat them. With everything except for the wide receiver position pretty much figured out, (and as much as I hate to say it), georgia will be a very, very good football team this year.