Georgia's All-Decade Team: Through air and ground, offense set a new standard
Editor’s note: Saturday Down South has selected an all-decade offensive and defensive team for all 14 SEC programs.
What a decade it has been for Georgia football. It started in 2010 with a 6-7 mark that stood as the Bulldogs’ first losing season since 1996. It has ended with a resurgence and the program’s ascension to among the top teams in the SEC.
As a decade of highs and lows, spanning the middle and end of Mark Richt’s tenure to the beginning of the Kirby Smart era, concludes in just a few short weeks, the Dawgs could be poised to kick off the new one with a long-awaited championship, something that has eluded them since 1980 and that they came close to capturing in 2017. The current decade will end with at least 99 wins, one more than the program garnered under Jim Donnan and Richt in the previous decade. Since 2017, Georgia has won 35 games, its most wins in a three-season span in program history. It also won the SEC East in three consecutive seasons and qualified for the Sugar Bowl in 2019.
When looking back at the past 10 years, there have been many Bulldogs players who have laid the groundwork for where the program is now. But who would make up the all-decade team for Georgia football? Let’s start with the offense, with anyone who played between 2010-19 eligible to make the list, regardless of longevity.
Quarterback: Aaron Murray, 2010-13
More than 13,000 yards passing. A mind-boggling 121 touchdowns. A four-year career that stands among the best of any quarterback in college football history.
It would be absolutely foolish not to put Murray on this list, a player who left Athens as not only the program’s but the SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. Dawgs fans won’t forget his 427-yard, 5-touchdown performance in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska, capping a prolific 2012 season that saw him finish with 36 total touchdowns — one more than his own record set in the previous year — and throw for 3,893 yards, more than 300 more than Eric Zeier’s mark of 3,525 in 1993.
Only an ACL tear in 2013 could stop Murray. By then, though, he’d already re-written the record books and established himself as one of the greatest players in the history of Georgia football.
Backup: Jake Fromm, 2017-present. The story’s not yet over for the Bulldogs’ current signal-caller, who fell 6 touchdowns shy of Murray’s single-season touchdown record in 2018 and will depart in the top five in career passing yards and having passed David Greene for second in passing touchdowns. He has done what Murray was never able to do, though, and that is lead Georgia to a national championship appearance. If he does end up bringing home the first trophy in 40 years before he leaves, he’ll do so having impacted the program annals in a different way.
Running back: Todd Gurley, 2012-14
Two events in 2014 stood between Todd Gurley and a potential Heisman Trophy campaign. The hype was real through the first five weeks: 773 yards and 8 touchdowns on just 94 carries, an incredible 8.22 yards per carry.
Then came the autograph scandal, followed by a four-game suspension. Goodbye, Heisman.
Gurley returned on Nov. 15 with a vengeance, putting up 29 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown against Auburn. He could have had more before event No. 2: an ACL injury that ended his season. It ended up being his final collegiate game, as he declared for the NFL draft in the offseason.
By then, everyone knew that he didn’t need to risk a fourth year to convince NFL scouts that he was ready for the next level. He already was.
Gurley’s career total: 3,285 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns, along with 615 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air. And that was just in 30 games. While one can only wonder how things would have been different if he’d played the entire 2014 season, he did more than enough to put himself among the Bulldogs’ greats at this position.
Backup: Nick Chubb, 2014-17. Chubb’s numbers speak for themselves: 4,769 yards, 44 touchdowns and 758 carries over 47 games. There are some questions surrounding him, too — what would have happened had he not been injured in 2015? — but from the moment he took the reins from Gurley in 2014, it was clear that he was going to be a star. His career ended just 490 yards short shy of Herschel Walker’s all-time rushing mark and at the dawn of the Dawgs’ current golden age, one that nearly saw him go out on top as a national champion.
Wide receiver: Malcolm Mitchell, 2011-15
One 51-yard touchdown catch in his first-ever game in 2011 was a reflection of what was to come in the career of Malcolm Mitchell.
Mitchell would go on to make 3 more touchdown catches that season while finishing second in receiving yards to only Tavarres King. The duo was 1-2 in receiving yards again a year later, and with King graduating, the WR1 job was Mitchell’s heading into 2013. An ACL injury in the opening game, though, meant he was lost for the year, and he didn’t play again until Georgia’s fifth game of the season against Vanderbilt in 2014. His final year was his best: the fully healed Mitchell recorded 865 yards (the Dawgs’ eighth-best total in a single season) and 5 touchdowns.
By the time he left Athens, Mitchell found himself at No. 6 on the Bulldogs’ all-time list in career receiving yards and third in receptions, while placing tied for eighth on the career receiving touchdowns list with 16. While his recurring knee issues kept him from making an impact at the next level, Mitchell did more than enough to put himself into Bulldogs lore.
Backup: Tavarres King, 2008-12. The wait was long but worth it for King, a bridge between the Joe Cox and Aaron Murray eras. After the A.J. Green era ended after the 2011 season, the Mount Airy, Ga., native formed a dangerous quarterback-receiver tandem with Murray, hauling in 17 touchdowns in 2011 and 2012 while being backed up by Mitchell. His 950 yards in 2012 was just shy of Green’s total in 2008, and he, Green and Riley Ridley (2018) are the only Georgia players this decade with 9 or more receiving touchdowns in a single season.
Tight end: Orson Charles, 2009-11
Sure, Murray had plenty of targets to choose from during his tenure, but in Mike Bobo’s high-scoring, high-flying offense, one of his favorites was an old high school friend and teammate.
Charles joined with Murray to help Plant High School in Tampa become one of the top programs in Florida, culminating in a state championship in 2008, with the two collecting several personal accolades along the way. After 23 catches in 2009 with Cox behind center and Murray using a redshirt to recover from an ailing shoulder, it was only natural that the chemistry Charles and Murray created at Plant would continue in Athens. That’s exactly what happened in 2011: With Murray in his second year as a starter and Charles entering his junior season, he pulled in 45 catches, 574 yards and 5 touchdowns as only King and Mitchell had more receptions and yardage.
Backup: Arthur Lynch, 2009-13. Isaac Nauta was a thought here, but Lynch gets the edge on the strength of two 400-yard receiving seasons. While he didn’t play regularly over his first two years, he made up for it as a junior and senior (54 catches, 890 yards, 8 touchdowns) and found his own place in Bobo’s offensive scheme.
Center: Ben Jones, 2008-11
Jones’ career spanned from one legendary Georgia quarterback, Matthew Stafford, to another, Murray. In the 53 games between his first snap in 2008 against Georgia Southern and his final appearance in the 2012 Outback Bowl against Michigan State, he proved a steady model of leadership and consistency on the Bulldogs’ roster.
“I don’t think he’s missed a start, and I don’t know if he’s missed a snap unless we took him out,” Richt said in 2011. “I can’t remember a time that he’s missed a snap. There might have been a time he missed a practice, but I sure don’t remember it. He’s just a tough guy who loves football, and he’s a great student of the game. He’s definitely a glue guy, a big-time glue guy.”
He may not be remembered for many things, but he’ll be remembered for his barefooted warmups before every single game. Oh, and the time he took a bite out of a chunk of grass from the Bobby Dodd Stadium field in 2009 after then-unranked Georgia beat No. 7 Georgia Tech.
Backup: David Andrews, 2011-14. Waiting in the wings behind Jones was Andrews, who enjoyed a solid career of his own in red and black. After backing up Jones in 2011, he started every game from his sophomore year onward and finished as a two-time Rimington Trophy nominee for best center. The careers of Gurley, Chubb and Sony Michel probably wouldn’t have gotten off to the starts they did if not for Andrews and his contributions to the offensive line.
Offensive tackle: Andrew Thomas, 2017-present
When you’re handed a starting role as a true freshman, you’re expected to do great things. That’s what Andrew Thomas has done.
Thomas got the call to start at right tackle out of the gate in 2017 and has done nothing but impress during his time here, even after switching to left tackle permanently in 2018. Odds are he won’t stick around for his senior season, either, as he’s high on several NFL draft boards. And he’ll be tied to the legacy of not only Fromm but Chubb, Michel and the rest of the 2017 team that advanced to the national championship game, a group that ran for 258.4 yards per game.
There aren’t many cases to be made against Thomas being one of the best offensive tackles out there right now. And he’s not done yet.
Backup: John Theus, 2012-15. Theus started every game at right tackle as a freshman in 2012, then switched sides throughout his career, including a 2015 season that saw him tough out a shoulder injury. He graduated having never missed a game since that first season-opening start against Buffalo at Sanford Stadium in 2012. While players like Murray, Chubb and Gurley will get the headlines from that era of Georgia football, Theus’ efforts in helping build the Georgia offense can’t be overlooked.
Guard: Cordy Glenn, 2008-11
Sure, Glenn played exclusively at left tackle as a senior, where he garnered All-SEC honors in 2011. But with 32 starts at either left or right guard making up the bulk of his career, including 10 starts in a 2008 season that ended with him named to the conference’s all-freshman team, you knew what you’d get wherever you put him.
He started in 50 games in his career as a Dawg, tied for the most starts for an offensive lineman in program history with Clint Boling. And his durable nature, along with his versatility, are reasons why he belongs on this list and why he’s one of Georgia’s best offensive linemen of the decade.
Backup: Solomon Kindley, 2016-present. While a look at the Georgia depth chart in recent years has had players switching from guard to tackle and then back to guard, it’s Kindley, who redshirted in 2016 before developing into his role today as one of the best guards in the country, who has made the position his own over the past several seasons. He’ll go down as one of the best in program history to play there and has a chance to leave with a national championship on his list of accolades.