Georgia football: 5 realistic goals for the Bulldogs during offseason
In the past two years, Georgia has won 24 games, two SEC East titles, a conference championship and a College Football Playoff game. Only once before — in the 2002 and 2003 seasons — have the Bulldogs won 24 games in back-to-back seasons, which is saying a lot over their 115-year football history.
They came within a play or two of winning a national championship in 2017 and were certainly in the mix this year. But with prosperity comes change, the nature of the beast at the top of the college football world. This is the offseason now, but coach Kirby Smart has a ton of work to do — and right away. There are several issues that need to be addressed immediately.
Here are five realistic goals for the Bulldogs during the offseason:
1. Finalize upper levels of coaching staff
When former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker accepted the head coaching job at Colorado in early December, it really wasn’t much of a surprise. Tucker has the resume to be a head coach, and during his three years in Georgia, he was just waiting for the right opportunity. He’ll be missed, big time.
Losing offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to Tennessee was a different story. The Vols came a calling for their former OC, and offered him much more money to jump. Georgia chose not to match the offer and let him go to its SEC East rival. There are plenty of people in Athens who are glad to see Chaney go, but let’s not forget two key things here: Georgia’s offense ranked No. 7 in the country in yards per play, and now they’ll have to make philosophy changes in 2019. Many will say that’s not a bad thing, but it’s change all the same.
Smart eventually promoted James Coley to the role of OC, but he still hasn’t named a defensive coordinator, even though it seems likely that will be a promotion as well. The Dawgs potentially could have co-defensive coordinators.
It’s the first major crossroads for Smart since first assembling his staff three years ago.
2. Settling on QB situation after Justin Fields departure
Jake Fromm is back for his third — and probably final — year as Georgia’s quarterback. He’s proven himself to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, so much so that 5-star recruit Justin Fields chose to transfer to Ohio State rather than sit behind Fromm.
The awkwardness of trying to find playing time for Fields is gone, but it certainly leads Georgia in a precarious position if Fromm gets hurt. It helped that they flipped 4-star recruit Dwan Mathis from Ohio State — a trade of sorts for Fields — and junior college transfer Stetson Bennett IV is back and has familiarity with what goes on in Athens. Let’s hope Fromm stays healthy so we won’t have to worry how ready the others are.
3. Getting No. 2-ranked recruits ready to contribute
Georgia landed four of the top 24 players in the country during the Early Signing Period in December, three of them on defense, and finished second overall to Alabama in the 247sports composite team rankings.
There’s a good chance all three defensive recruits — No. 1 Nolan Smith (defensive end), No. 14 Nakobe Dean (inside linebacker) and No. 24 Travon Walker (defensive tackle) — will see a lot of playing time immediately. Georgia’s depth was tested along the front in 2018 and playing time will certainly be available to all three. Dean is already on campus, and the other two will show up in June.
4. Filling the holes that were exposed in 2018
Georgia is set at quarterback, running back and the offensive line for sure. The O-line, in fact, might be the best in the country next year. One area of concern might be at wide receiver, where Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley chose to leave early for the NFL Draft. Jeremiah Holloman is the top returning wide receiver, and he only had 24 catches this year. It will be important to get 5-star recruit Dominick Blaylock up and running quickly. The Bulldogs might need him to play right away.
On the defensive side, we’ve talked about those three top recruits being in the mix for early playing time. But the spotlight, much like it was this year, will be on the secondary. With All-American Deandre Baker gone, it’s going to be on Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell to both become lock-down corners. Campbell, the 5-star freshman, earned the starting job in training camp this year, but struggled at times and eventually lost his job to Stokes. Georgia coaches are confidence that his struggles were more of a learning curve thing than a talent issue, and they expect big things from Campbell going forward.
5. Regaining that hunger after ugly Sugar Bowl loss
Georgia likes to think of itself as a perennial national championship contender now, so it had to be hard to watch Alabama and Clemson in the national title game, with all the talk of a potential rematch again next year. If Georgia wants to be there a year from now, they have to get after it every day now.
The Bulldogs got thrashed in the Sugar Bowl by a 4-loss Texas team, and it was a tough way to end the year because it looked like they went into a game without a lot of passion. Hopefully there are lessons to be learned there, and the ugly loss starts a fire burning inside. There is plenty of talent here for the Bulldogs to make a title run, so it’s time to get right after it.