Editor’s note: This is the second in a series previewing every SEC team’s offense, starting with the East Division. Coming Wednesday: Kentucky.
With the exception of the loss at LSU and down the stretch against Alabama, Georgia’s offense was practically unstoppable last season. The Bulldogs could throw it well, run it even better and scored practically on demand with big-time playmakers all over the field.
Georgia was second in the SEC in scoring and No. 14 nationally, averaging 37.9 points per game, and that was oftentimes without the first-team offense playing into the fourth quarter. More of the same is expected in 2019. They’re that good.
There are several important pieces back for another go-round, with conference and national championships as the goal once again. Quarterback Jake Fromm is back for a third season, and top running back D’Andre Swift returns to lead a deep stable of breakaway runners.
But there are losses to overcome too, especially at wide receiver and tight end, that are substantial enough that there are legitimate questions about who is going to step up in fall camp to fill these gaps.
Here’s a look at Georgia’s passing offense, rushing offense and special teams, and our take our whether they will be better or worse this season:
Passing offense: Worse
Surprised that we went with worse here? Well, don’t be, and here’s why. It has absolutely nothing to do with Fromm, who’s as talented as they come and is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate this year. He brings 2 full years of experience to the position, and there’s plenty to be said for having a veteran leader.
His numbers have been great. He’s already passed for 5,364 yards and 54 touchdowns. He completed 67.3 percent of his passes last year in leading Georgia to another SEC East title. Georgia averaged 226.1 yards per game, which ranked 8th in the SEC and in the middle of the pack nationally, as well (No. 72 of 130 teams). Those pedestrian numbers had more to do with their ability to dominate games on the ground (more on that in a moment), and Fromm was successful throwing the ball when he needed to.
But here’s the rub for 2019: Most of his favorite targets are gone. Wide receivers Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley and Terry Godwin are off to the NFL, as is tight end Isaac Nauta, who was Fromm’s safety blanket in difficult situations. That’s a lot of productivity to replace, four of his top five targets, which brings us back full circle to our rating. Here in the summer, we really can’t be sure that new faces will step up to fill all those voids. We can expect Jeremiah Holloman (below) to fill that No. 1 receiver role, but the rest of it is all going to have to sort itself out during camp. Same at tight end with Nauta gone. Charlie Woerner seems ready to step up, and Tennessee transfer Eli Wolf can help, too.
The running backs add a lot to Georgia’s passing game, and with new offensive coordinator James Coley calling the plays, they’ll still be a big part of the Bulldogs’ attack. Can the pass offense be better than last year? Sure, and we might have a completely different answer in October. But we need to see several guys step up first.
Rushing offense: Better
Georgia led the SEC in rushing last year with 238.8 yards per game, and ranked No. 16 nationally. The Bulldogs did it with a plethora of great running backs and an offensive line that kept getting better every week. Just about all of the key pieces in the running game are back for 2019, so more of the same is expected. This group could be something special.
D’Andre Swift is back for his third season and he, like Fromm, is also a Heisman candidate. He was last year too, but nagging injuries slowed him down early in the season. Once healthy, he had big games down the stretch, topping the 100-yard mark 4 times in the final 5 games. He was huge against Kentucky (156 yards) and Auburn (186) as well, and it was games like that where it sets the stage for Swift to make Heisman run if he can have big games like that right from the get-go.
He has plenty of help, too. Brian Herrien and James Cook are back, and they flashed signs of greatness a year ago as well. Zamir White, a 5-star recruit who missed all of last season after an ACL tear, seems primed to contribute by the fall as well.
This is probably the best collection of running back talent in the country, so expect them to do big things in 2019. Georgia’s offensive line is big and deep, and they set the tone for this terrific running attack. Expect some huge games from this group.
Special teams: Worse
Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is back, and he’s great. He made 19-of-23 field goal attempts and was a perfect 65-for-65 on extra points. It might be hard to be even better than that. Punter Jake Camarda returns as well, and there’s little to no concern about him, either.
But it’s also very clear that the Bulldogs are going to miss Hardman in the return game. He was a beast on punt returns and kickoff returns. Georgia led the SEC in punt return yards (16.64) and shared the lead with 2 TD returns. He’s going to be hard to top in both categories. Thankfully for Georgia, there are plenty of candidates looking forward to stepping up to make big plays.
For better or worse, it’s difficult to see Georgia’s offense really missing a beat. Yes, we do have legitimate concerns about young guys stepping up, but that’s the joy of annual great recruiting classes. The talent is there, for sure. What happens next is guys showing what they are capable of.
When you start at season with two Heisman Trophy candidates on offense, the potential is already there for this Georgia offense to be scary good. Fromm and Swift are going to have huge games along the way, and don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs keep rolling up 40-plus points often.
What might be different this year is being better on offense when it really matters. The potential is certainly there to win the SEC, and that means beating Alabama, more than likely, for a full 60 minutes.
That can happen with this group.