Georgia football: 5 New Year’s resolutions the Bulldogs need to make and keep
Depending on whom you ask, 2019 was a success or a disappointment for the Georgia football team.
If you were looking for this season to end with a national championship, then it’s certainly a disappointment. And you wouldn’t be wrong for expecting one. If you were looking for the team to maintain its hold on the SEC East and keep itself among the elite teams in the country, this has been a successful year.
And that takes us to the Bulldogs’ 26-14 win over Baylor on Wednesday night in the Sugar Bowl. Despite several questions surrounding who was there, who wasn’t there, and whether they were motivated, fans were treated to a strong performance from Jake Fromm and a coming-out party from George Pickens (12 catches, 175 yards, 1 TD). That, plus a great night from Zamir White in place of D’Andre Swift, equals plenty of optimism heading into next year.
With an encouraging Sugar Bowl performance out of the way, here are 5 resolutions that the Dawgs should be setting for themselves as they push for a national championship in 2020:
1. Run the table, or get close to it
When you get as close to a national championship as Georgia did in 2017, you’re doing whatever it takes to get back.
For the Bulldogs, returning to the College Football Playoff in 2020 could essentially hinge on 4 games: Virginia, miles behind Clemson in the ACC, but still no slouch; Auburn, which will have a more seasoned Bo Nix and possibly a fully healthy Boobie Whitlow in its arsenal; Florida, which will pin its success, or lack thereof, on the arm of Kyle Trask (or could it be the arms and legs of Emory Jones?); and Alabama, which, well, needs no further introduction.
Lose 1 of those games, even if it’s against Alabama, and that will dampen Georgia’s CFP résumé. And that’s considering if it takes care of business (like it should) in SEC East play. The Dawgs have the benefit of knowing that they’re the class of the division, but it’s extremely critical for them to make as strong a case as it can for the Playoff, so another letdown like the one against South Carolina this past season can’t happen.
2. Nail down a consistent receiving game
Things appeared to be trending toward Lawrence Cager being the Dawgs’ No. 1 receiving option in 2019. That is, until a collection of injuries ended his season. Pickens had several strong performances, but a mixture of disciplinary issues and, frankly, a lack of targets meant that he wasn’t able to fully nail down that lead role.
But Pickens’ performance against the Bears means that all eyes will be on the soon-to-be sophomore in 2020 as he and Demetris Robertson will be the leading returning receivers with Cager gone, while Dominick Blaylock will eventually be weaned back onto the field after an ACL tear sustained against LSU in the SEC championship game. Matt Landers and Kearis Jackson will be back as well, but can they take the next steps in their development? They’ll be joined by new signings Jermaine Burton, Marcus Rosemy, Justin Robinson and speedster Arian Smith.
Kirby Smart and James Coley will need to work with Jake Fromm (or whoever’s playing quarterback in 2020) and the receiving corps to create a lethal, multi-dimensional passing attack. Pickens and Blaylock have shown the ability to stretch the field; presumably, that’s the reason the staff recruited the speed of Arian Smith. Can they do so consistently, though, and provide a boost to a Bulldogs offense that was missing one for most of 2019?
3. Keep the run defense cranking
Story upon story has been written about Georgia’s top-shelf run defense. But when you graduate 3 of your key defensive linemen — Michael Barnett, Tyler Clark and David Marshall — plus linebacker Tae Crowder, there’s the possibility that the attrition will cause it to take a step back in 2020, however big or small it might be. Let’s be honest, though: It was going to be hard to top what this group did this season either way.
Fortunately, the Dawgs should be able to count on Devonte Wyatt to take on a much larger role next year as the presumptive starter at tackle in place of Clark. Jordan Davis, who might get some draft looks with a productive 2020, hopes to continue what’s been a strong career in red and black, while names like Quay Walker, Mark Webb and certainly Azeez Ojulari are names you’ll likely hear a great deal of when discussing Georgia’s run-stopping corps.
4. Generate more takeaways
As good as Georgia’s defense was, one thing it didn’t do a great deal of was force takeaways on a consistent basis. Take away Richard LeCounte’s interception and Travon Walker’s fumble recovery in the Sugar Bowl, and the unit only forced 13 turnovers throughout the course of the year.
Sure, it’s not the end of the world to not see that number higher as you can certainly win without forcing turnovers. But it wouldn’t hurt, either. Hopefully, Wednesday can set a good trend in that department heading into the 2020 campaign.
5. Get to Hard Rock in January
The year 2020 will mark the 40th anniversary of Georgia’s 2nd, and most recent, national championship team. Coach Vince Dooley and Herschel Walker will forever be the biggest names connected to that group, but Dawgs fans won’t forget Buck Belue, Scott Woerner, Lindsay Scott and Jeff Hipp.
When the last 2 surviving teams in the Playoff meet on Jan. 11, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida, wouldn’t it be fun for this group of Dawgs to bring home a 3rd championship to Athens 40 years after Walker and his team did it? That’s the way to make your mark on the annals of Georgia football for good.