Final Record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 SEC – SEC East Division Champions
Georgia’s 2012 season didn’t have the fairytale ending Dawgs fans were hoping. With all the talent assembled on both sides of the football, especially on defense, combined with a weaker schedule, we knew Georgia would be in the SEC Championship hunt and national title picture. And they finished 1-2 against ranked opponents, beating Florida and losing to South Carolina and to Alabama in the championship game. I thought this would be the year for Georgia, especially with their nasty front seven. Guilty as charged.
For as much heat as offensive coordinator Mike Bobo takes, he had a very balanced and explosive attack this year. Georgia finished #3 in the SEC in scoring offense at 37.2 points per game and finished #3 in total offense as well. Georgia’s defense, however, didn’t quite have the year everyone expected, especially after finishing in the top five in the country in total defense in 2011.
This summer, starting running back Isaiah Crowell was dismissed for an off-the-field incident. It seems like years ago, right? The emergence of freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will make you think that. Crowell would have been third on the depth chart behind both freshmen. If not for Johnny Manziel’s unbelievable season, Gurley would be the SEC’s freshmen of the year and arguably the offensive player of the year. He was the SEC’s best back, rushing for 1,260 yards and 16 touchdowns. Marshall finished with 723 yards and eight touchdowns. Gurshall combined forces to provide Georgia with a powerful and explosive running attack, helping the passing offense to thrive. The offensive line was described as patchwork before the season started, but they gelled nicely and elevated their game throughout the season, in both pass blocking and run blocking. They are still an underrated unit.
Aaron Murray became the first SEC quarterback to throw for three straight 3,000-yard seasons. Peyton Manning, Danny Wuerffel or Tim Couch never accomplished that feat. The knock against Murray, however, has been that he can’t win the big game. But he did beat #2 Florida, although maybe not a direct result of how well he played, and he played well enough to beat #2 Alabama. Murray threw for 3,466 yards and 31 touchdowns, completing 65.4 percent of his passes with eight interceptions.
ACL’s delivered the biggest blow to the Dawgs’ offense when both Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown went down with season-ending knee injuries. At the time, Bennett was Georgia’s leading receiver and most consistent receiver. The offense wasn’t the same without him. Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell then picked up the slack in Bennett and Brown’s absence. They combined for 12 touchdowns and 1,418 yards.
Bacarri Rambo said it best before playing Alabama, “We are a more talented defense”. That’s an understatement when you look at all the talent among the 11 starters. Rambo, Shawn Williams, Sanders Commings, Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones, John Jenkins and Cornelius Washington all could make a splash at the next level. But the most talented defense on paper really never got going the entire season. With four suspended players to start the year, the defense never really played to their potential until the Florida game (game eight). Jarvis Jones once again was a single unstoppable force, as he was chosen as the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year. Against lesser opponents, the defense was great. However, when it mattered the most in Atlanta, the defense just could not stop the Alabama power run game, giving up 350 yards.
Five yards ended up being the difference between Georgia and the national championship.
Offensive Stud: The face of Georgia’s offense is Aaron Murray, but the real reason Murray and the offense thrived was because of running back Todd Gurley. He’s the most complete back in the SEC as a freshman. Gurley combines top-end speed as a long-strider with power, quickness and vision. He’s a solid pass-blocker, too, in just his first season. His yards after contact are what make him stand out. Gurley led the SEC running backs in yardage with 1,260 and 16 touchdowns. You give me one back in the SEC to build around the next couple of years, and I’m taking Todd Gurley. He was the lifeblood of the Georgia balanced attack.
Defensive Stud: Jarvis Jones is the best linebacker in the SEC, but the one who has the most upside is Alec Ogletree. However, Jones is no doubt the defensive MVP. He totaled 12.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. In Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense, Jones is the heartbeat of the attack from his outside linebacker position. He doesn’t have great speed, but he has enough quickness and power to get to the quarterback. He’s been a force since he stepped foot on Georgia’s campus as a transfer from USC.
Where To Next: Even though the Bulldogs won the Eastern division, they were jumped by Florida in the BCS rankings and voided a BCS bowl. So, on to Orlando for the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska – the same Nebraska team that gave up 500 yards on the ground to Wisconsin. Gurley and Marshall are licking their chops as you read this. Georgia needs a good recruiting class, and we’ll have to wait until the end of the season to see how bad the draft wipes out the roster. Nonetheless, Georgia has a great nucleus of young players to build around in the future.
Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports