Georgia football: Which freshmen making biggest impact through 3 games?
You don’t need to search too far to see veterans at key spots for the Georgia Bulldogs — veterans who could help the team land that elusive national championship that’s escaped the program since 1980.
But one certainly can’t forget the freshmen.
First-year players have dotted all 3 of Kirby Smart’s depth charts in the early going, not surprising for a program that, according to 247Sports, landed the nation’s No. 1 class in 2018 and followed it up with a No. 2 ranking for 2019, trailing only Smart’s old stomping grounds of Alabama. While some true freshmen on this year’s roster have donned redshirts for health or development purposes, Smart has leaned on several players right out of the gate, as well as those that did take that redshirt year a season ago.
We obviously won’t see all of the freshmen get significant playing time as the staff takes inventory and tracks each player’s development. But a strong core group already is separating itself, and while its production has come against lesser opponents, the stock of that core of young Dawgs could rise even more as they host Notre Dame on Saturday.
Here are 5, in particular, who have made the biggest impact through 3 games.
Zamir White, TB
Even with players like D’Andre Swift in the backfield, White, the No. 9 recruit in the class of 2018 according to 247, was probably bound to see a good number of touches last year. That is, of course, until he sustained a tear to the ACL in his left knee in an August 2018 practice — less than a year after his senior season in high school was cut short after the same ligament in his right knee was torn.
Following his recovery, though, the Laurinburg, N.C., product has made the most of his opportunities. He recorded 5 carries and 51 yards at Vanderbilt on Aug. 31. He had an 8-carry, 72-yard performance in Georgia’s home opener against FCS Murray State, during which he added the first of what should be a number of touchdowns charged to his account when it’s all said and done. He didn’t have to wait long for that second touchdown as he pounded it in from a yard out in the 3rd quarter.
Swift and senior tailback Brian Herrien will get the lion’s share of the workload this season, but in the early going, all signs could be pointing to White earning more carries as he continues to develop and get fully healthy.
Kenny McIntosh, TB
McIntosh comes from a solid football bloodline; oldest brother RJ, a former second-team All-ACC pick at Miami, is a defensive back with the New York Giants. Another, Deon, is a former Notre Dame and junior college running back who is playing for Washington State.
The youngest McIntosh, though, appears to be already making waves of his own in Georgia’s offense. After not seeing the field at Vanderbilt, he has 13 carries for 128 yards and 1 touchdown in combined action against Murray State and Arkansas State, with 62 of those yards coming on a nice scamper for a touchdown to set the Bulldogs’ final tally against the Red Wolves.
— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) September 14, 2019
His touches over the past 2 games have come late in blowout situations, and he is a bit buried on the depth chart, but long-term, McIntosh’s potential could bode well for the Dawgs.
Dominick Blaylock, WR
The Atlanta-area product, whose father, Mookie, spent the bulk of his NBA career with the Hawks, didn’t play against Vanderbilt to open the season. After stepping into the lineup after an injury to Kearis Jackson, Blaylock made 3 catches for 48 yards in the 4th quarter against Murray State, his 3rd catch resulting in his 1st career touchdown. He played an even bigger role against Arkansas State on Saturday: 4 catches for 112 yards, including a nice 60-yard score to open the 2nd quarter.
“He’s really taking his job seriously, and he’s not having a whole lot of mental errors, you don’t have to worry about him at all,” Jake Fromm told reporters after the contest. “He’s just a guy who’s going to do what he’s told and do it really good, and he came out and he got rewarded for it today, and it’s awesome for him.”
George Pickens, WR
Don’t look now, but the Hoover (Ala.) product — who flipped from Auburn to Georgia on National Signing Day in February — could be on the way to providing a nice 1-2 receiving punch alongside Blaylock for Fromm to work with this year. He was targeted twice against Vanderbilt but didn’t make a catch, but made 4 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown against Murray State before a 5-catch, 84-yard showing against Arkansas State that included an impressive sideline grab.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 14, 2019
While it looks like he could be a focal point of the offense, the staff feels the true freshman still has some learning to do.
“He had several things today that he didn’t do right, so he has a lot of improving to do,” Smart said after the Arkansas State game. “I know the consensus will be he had catches, he had wows, he had this. But when he didn’t have the ball or the ball wasn’t thrown to him, it was because he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do.”
Azeez Ojulari, Jack
It’s just 3 games in, but Ojulari might be settling in at that Jack linebacker spot already after being forced to redshirt last year while rehabbing from an ACL injury sustained in his senior season of high school. He had 6 tackles, half a tackle for a loss and split a sack at Vanderbilt. He added 2 tackles and half a sack against Murray State, and 1 more tackle and another half-sack Saturday against Arkansas State.
While his injury meant that he ended up seeing the field a little later than expected, it didn’t mean that he was content to sit back and do nothing.
“It was just coming in every day keeping my head down to get better,” he said earlier in the season. “Being that ‘Do More’ type of guy that just came in every day and worked hard, taking it one day at a time and trying to get better every day. Taking scout team reps, trying to help the team each week.”