Will Georgia’s secondary keep Dawgs out of SEC Championship picture?

NCAA Football: Georgia-Spring Game

Remember when Georgia’s future defensive backfield was set with five-star Josh Harvey-Clemons and four-stars Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews?

Matthews was the secondary’s fourth offseason casualty. Star safety and tremendous athlete Harvey-Clemons was dismissed in February; Wiggins transferred to Louisville on his own accord, and Matthews’ dismissal was announced yesterday. Former defensive back Brendan Langley moved to receiver. That’s three starters who are or already have walked out that door.

So, who’s left?

That’s what Mark Richt and Jeremy Pruitt are going through, probably as we speak. The Bulldogs aren’t out of options.

Georgia enters 2014 with high expectations, but they’re not higher than any other year. With a stacked offense that features arguably the best overall player in college football in Todd Gurley, many are quick to say that UGA is the division’s preseason favorite. The front seven is loaded, too, with an adequate defensive line and maybe college football’s best linebacking corps that features a loaded depth chart and playmakers.

Then, there’s the secondary – the same secondary that became one of the league’s worst in 2014. Thankfully, there’s a new sheriff in town in Jeremy Pruitt. Is Pruitt the one factor that could help overcome such tremendous personnel losses?

Damian Swann returns at cornerback, and Corey Moore returns as a starting safety. The Bulldogs did sign top JUCO corner in Shattle Fenteng, and they have to hope he’s ready to play. Former running back JJ Green played well this spring, and like Fenteng, the Bulldogs’ staff has to get him ready. Reggie Wilkerson is recovering from an ACL injury, and Sheldon Dawson will also play a much bigger role, as well Quincy Mauger. Pruitt also made walk-on Aaron Davis a first-team player this spring, and Malkom Parrish has already indicated the coaches anticipate playing him early.

Aside from maybe Swann, who took a step back last season, the two most talented players – Harvey-Clemons and Matthews – are now gone.

The good thing for Georgia is that their secondary attrition happens when premier quarterbacks are exiting the league. Looking at Georgia’s schedule, Clemson, South Carolina and Missouri all lose starting quarterbacks. Florida’s Jeff Driskel is a big unknown; Auburn’s Nick Marshall didn’t exactly light it up with the air attack last season, Hail Mary included; Tennessee doesn’t have a proven starter, and Arkansas’ passing game doesn’t scare anyone. That’s the good news.

The bad news stems from Georgia being about two missed tackles away from being deemed an awful secondary last season. UGA finished ninth in the conference in pass defense, giving up over 227 yards per game, and they had the SEC’s second lowest total interceptions with seven. Three of the most talented players — JHC, Matthews and Wiggins — are gone. Players were often confused and had trouble tackling once ball carriers got past the first and second levels. You have to hope that was Todd Grantham-based.

All hope isn’t lost; they have talented players, but tremendous strides have to be taken with the guys who are returning.

The secondary has some major holes to fill, but with an expected increase in pass rush production from the likes of Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, it would be a tremendous advantage and would help an overall inexperienced secondary. Pruitt is a phenomenal schemer and play caller, and he should help make a difference.

Will Georgia prove yet again just how tough it is to win a conference and national championship?

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTS

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  • Wiggins only totaled 15 solo tackles last year and only played 8 games. Matthews has been dealing with a nagging injury in the hamstring. I don’t think replacing those two guys is going to be very difficult. It should be very manageable with our depth. Harvey-Clemons was by far the most talented of these three guys.

    • Still rather have them than not have them.

      Hoping front 7 and offense enough to make it not much of a factor though. And hoping no one gets injured. Won’t have anyone to replace them with ha.

    • I feel the same way, I wasn’t concerned with Wiggins and Matthews leaving. JHC was the biggest hit, but we are better off without them. Mark Richt and Jeremy Pruitt seem to be cleaning house of any players who are not committed to the G. I have confidence in Pruitt, we have all seen what he can do with a defense in a short amount of time.

  • Any SEC program can put 7 good athletes on the field and have a decent pass defense, providing they have some coaching. No I don’t think secondary will keep Georgia from doing well. Don’t think however that every SEC team had equal quarterbacks last year. The elite quarterbacks were not the ones the media talked about and two of the top four finishers 2013 in the SEC had these athletes. While the other two had one dimensional performers who just made it possible for the other strong elements to succeed. Only two SEC quarterbacks are returning who are sure bets to lead their team into contention. Both play for programs that got very poor rankings in the conference a couple weeks ago.

  • Too many losses there. You’re the first writer to hone in on that point without blithely picking them to win the division. Yes, Gurley and Marshall are GREAT, but Mason is unproven, and the secondary is incredibly depleted. Not to mention, special teams is a bit of a concern for UGA as well. I think (and I say this as a Gators fan) Carolina wins the division, Florida comes in second, and UGA third.

  • I think it’s funny hearing all the Georgia fans saying that they are ok with with Matthews and Wiggins leaving. Because not to long ago they were talking about just how great they were going to be. So now all of a sudden Georgia is going to fine without them, I don’t think so.