5 biggest concerns I have about Georgia in 2019
Georgia has contended for national titles the past 2 seasons, and there’s a good chance the Bulldogs will do so again in 2019. They’re that good, that deep and that talented.
Their schedule is conducive to impressing the College Football Playoff selection committee, with the usual slate of tough SEC games plus the first visit by Notre Dame — which also should be a top 10 team in the preseason rankings — in primetime on Sept. 21 in Athens.
This could be the year. Or maybe it won’t. The Bulldogs are a legitimate contender for conference and national titles, but there are absolutely some things to worry about as we head into the season.
1. The wide receivers
There is only one position group where a bunch of red flags are flying, and that’s in the wide receivers room. This group was decimated by offseason departures — Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman and Terry Godwin are all in NFL camps — which already created a concern.
But then last month, top returning receiver Jeremiah Holloman was kicked off the team, leaving a huge hole. There is legitimate and painful concern at the position now, with no one having any idea who might start and who might be able to have a huge impact in the passing game.
Tyler Simmons is a senior, but he only had 9 catches for 138 yards last year, and he’s only had 14 in 3 years. That doesn’t scream breakout star by any means. Demetris Robertson could be that guy. The Savannah, Ga., native didn’t have any catches last year — just 4 rushes — but the former 5-star recruit did have 50 catches as a freshman at California before transferring back home. Aside from that, it’s going to be freshmen like George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock who have to step up, and there are absolutely no guarantees about that. Be concerned? Darn right.
2. The new coordinators
There is new leadership on both sides of the ball, with James Coley replacing Jim Chaney on the offensive side, and Dan Lanning and Glenn Schumann taking over for Mel Tucker on defense. It’s a big ask for new coordinators to make all the right calls in critical games, and that concerns us.
Kirby Smart, however, doesn’t seem concerned at all. He’s firmly convinced that Coley and Lanning are well prepared to take over. We’ll have to see.
“James, our offensive coordinator, has been with us a long time. I’ve known James from his graduate assistant days back at LSU and I have tremendous respect for him,” Smart said recently. “I know the offenses he’s worked with in the past. And he’s also been a part of ours. He has been a very integral part of that offense.
“From a defensive standpoint, Dan Lanning and Glenn Schumann are very bright, Mel was a really good teacher to them. He gave them opportunities to grow, to get in front of the defense so we can see them interact. I’m still going to be involved defensively.”
3. Quarterback depth
There isn’t a single thing to worry about with starting quarterback Jake Fromm, a 3-year starter who’s one of the best passers in the country. But what if he gets hurt? Forget about all that title talk if it happens.
When Justin Fields transferred to Ohio State, it left a gaping hole in the quarterback room. Stetson Bennett, who’s bounced around for a couple of years, is the likely backup, and that’s a little scary considering his lack of big-time experience. It really hurts losing freshman D’Wan Mathis, who needed surgery recently to remove a cyst on his brain. Mathis is practicing but hasn’t been fully cleared. Mathis flipped from Ohio State just before signing day, and he was supposed to be that “next guy.” His status, at least for now, is unclear. And that’s a problem.
4. The pass rush
Georgia finished last in the SEC in sacks per game a year ago, and sack leader D’Andre Walker went to the NFL. (Unfortunately, the Tennessee Titans’ 5th-round pick will miss the season after being placed on IR.)
Finding a better way to get to the quarterback has to be a point of emphasis in fall camp.
There will be an enormous amount of competition for playing time from this front seven during camp, and will be interesting to see who emerges. There’s a ton of talent there — the 2019 class included 2 5-stars up front — but it needs to be proven on the field, especially in the big games.
5. The elephant in the room
The elephant? Yeah, you know, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Georgia has frittered away big leads to the Tide 2 years in a row, costing them a national title in 2017 and an SEC title — at minimum — last year.
That trend, it has to stop. Alabama, of course, is loaded again and is the heavy favorite to win the SEC West and be the likely opponent for Georgia in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Dec. 7.
That’s a long way off, of course, but it’s still the make-or-break line of demarcation on whether this will be a successful season or not. Is Georgia good enough to finally get past Alabama? It’s too soon to tell, and injuries during the season probably will play a role in determining that, as well. Still, stinging losses in the past 2 years are hard to shake. It’s hard to be confident that’s going to change.