Georgia football: 5 things we have to see from the Bulldogs in Week 1
Georgia kicks off its all-important 2019 season with a rare SEC road game in the season opener, traveling to Nashville to play Vanderbilt on Saturday night. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. ET. (TV: ESPN). It’s the first time Georgia has opened the season with a conference game on the road since starting at South Carolina in 1994.
No. 3-ranked Georgia is a 22-point favorite against the Commodores, but don’t think for a minute that the Bulldogs are expecting a cakewalk. “You look at last year’s game, and I don’t think people realize how close that game was, especially early,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “They outreached us in the first half. I’ve got a lot of respect for the way they play and the program they run.”
This is Smart’s fourth season and national championship aspirations are still on the table. It’s gametime now, so here are 5 things I have to see from the Bulldogs on Saturday against Vanderbilt:
1. A Georgia offense that hums right from the first whistle
The quarterback is great, and so are the running backs and the offensive line. Our early camp concerns about wide receivers stepping up seems to have been resolved. So with that said, this Georgia offense should be able to put up 40-plus points every week. Vanderbilt’s defense can be tough to deal with at times, and it gave the Bulldogs fits for a half a year ago. New offensive coordinator James Coley will have a lot of eyes on him in Week 1, which is out of the ordinary. Winning a conference road game right out of the box is a big deal. His offense needs to be hitting on all cylinders right from the get-go.
2. Solid organization from a revamped defense
New defensive coordinator Dan Lanning is expected to make only subtle changes to the defense. Vanderbilt is being coy with its choice of a starting quarterback, so the Bulldogs have had to prepare for Deuce Wallace and Riley Neal, a graduate transfer from Ball State. Wallace has been Kyle Shurmur’s backup for a couple of years but has only played in 4 games in the past 2 years. He was suspended last year. Neal has thrown for more than 7,000 in his career, and they do give different looks. It’s important to see a better pass rush too, something the Bulldogs struggled with a year ago.
3. Developing a solid rotation, especially on the front 7
Georgia’s defense is loaded with young talent, and the fight for playing time is real. With a new coordinator, it will be interesting to see how this rotation plays out and how quickly some of these talented freshmen get worked into the game plan. That means this entire defensive staff needs to work well together and the group as a whole needs to develop cohesion, especially along the defensive front. “My job is to make coach Smart’s job easier,” Lanning said. “I don’t do that alone, I do that with every one of the coaches we have on defense. … It’s going to be a collective unit from today all the way to the end of the season.”
4. Continue to make impactful turnovers on defense
Georgia’s defense set the tone early last season. Week after week, there were key interceptions or fumbles returned for scores to give the Bulldogs early leads. It allowed the offenses to play with a lead and to comfortably ease into things. It would be nice to see some impact plays in Week 1 too because an early lead against the Commodores might make them start questioning their confidence a bit.
5. Stay injury free, at least as much as possible
This potential championship run starts Saturday, and if the Bulldogs want to win the SEC East, a conference title and earn a College Football Playoff spot, staying healthy is critical. There’s plenty of depth in some spots — running back, offensive line, linebacker — and those groups could handle an injury without too much trouble. It’s all different with Jake Fromm, of course. The 3-year starter at quarterback is a Heisman Trophy candidate, but there are serious concerns about the depth behind him. It’s critical that Fromm stays healthy all season.