Sugar Bowl: 5 things I want to see from Georgia against Baylor
Georgia’s goal at the beginning of the 2019 season was to finish the year at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. On New Year’s Day, they’ll be playing there. Just not in the game they were hoping.
As the Bulldogs get set to take on Baylor in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday, for a program that expects to compete for national championships, this feels like a bit of a letdown.
That’s not to say that reaching the Sugar Bowl itself, one of the annual designated “New Year’s 6” access bowls, isn’t an accomplishment. This is the biggest game in school history for the Bears, a 1-win team just 2 years ago. But when you’re a fan of Georgia, a program whose own 2017 campaign ended with a national championship appearance, you’re hoping to not just get into the College Football Playoff every year but win the thing eventually. Add to that a wave of notable players either injured or having declared for the NFL Draft, and there are a number of questions as to how this game will turn out for the Dawgs.
Here are 5 things I’d like to see from Georgia in Wednesday’s Sugar Bowl:
1. Strong performances from Zamir White and James Cook
Here’s what we know going into the game: Brian Herrien won’t play as he prepares for the NFL Draft. We don’t know how much D’Andre Swift will play or if he’ll even play at all.
So the spotlight is set to shine on Zamir White and James Cook. White hasn’t received heavy action (just 60 carries) but has handled the opportunities he’s been given fairly well. Cook was given clearance to play following his arrest in December, and with Swift banged up and Herrien gone, he’ll likely see his most significant playing time since an 11-carry day in Sep. 2018 against South Carolina.
Baylor’s run defense is average, so we’ll see how White and Cook perform as this could be a very early audition for a potential starting role in 2020 if Swift doesn’t return.
2. Creativity from Jake Fromm and the offensive staff with a thin receiving corps
Yes, the receiving corps has been a sore spot — no pun intended. Lawrence Cager’s season, and college career, ended with an ankle injury during a November practice. Dominick Blaylock tore his ACL during the SEC Championship Game against LSU. Kearis Jackson has been hurt all year.
That means your No. 1 receiving option on Wednesday is George Pickens, who, at times throughout the year, has shown why he was the No. 4 wide receiver in his recruiting class, but his inconsistency and lack of discipline both on and off the field have held him back. But outside of him, Demetris Robertson and Tyler Simmons, where will Jake Fromm turn? You could probably keep an eye on Eli Wolf to get targets, while whoever plays at running back will be poised to pull in a few receptions.
3. A bounceback performance from a rushing defense that will miss Tyler Clark
It was a long day for the Dawgs against LSU. While the 132 rushing yards Georgia allowed isn’t a massive number, for a unit that prides itself in neutralizing the opponent’s running game, it was far from the desired result.
The rushing defense will be tested again against Baylor, which averages 174.5 yards per game on the ground. Those aren’t Earth-shattering stats and is actually about 15 yards fewer than Georgia has gained, and it also includes a 29-carry, 35-yard performance against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. That said, it’s the same Oklahoma team that allowed 113 yards on 23 carries to the Bears during the 2 teams’ regular-season meeting on Nov. 16.
It’s a perfect chance for the Dawgs to get its running defense back to normal, or as close to normal as it can get with senior Tyler Clark potentially not playing as he prepares for the draft.
4. New faces on the offensive line to step in and fill some big shoes
Two key offensive linemen won’t be with Georgia in New Orleans: tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, who have both declared for the NFL Draft. While they’re passing up one last game on the national stage, you can’t blame them.
Thomas and Wilson’s departures mean that D’Marcus Hayes and Jamaree Salyer will likely get the call at left and right tackle, respectively. It’s set to be Salyer’s 2nd career start with his previous one coming against Murray State; Hayes will get his first start in a Georgia uniform in his final game as a Bulldog.
The rest of the offensive line remains the same — Solomon Kindley at left guard, Trey Hill at center and Cade Mays at right guard. It’s Matt Luke’s 1st game with this group, so how he rallies his players without its 2 stars, and how the unit will handle Baylor lineman James Lynch (12.5 sacks), are the big questions.
5. Make Baylor play the game at the Dawgs’ pace
We know that getting into an offensive shootout doesn’t favor Jake Fromm and the rest of the Georgia offense. When the Dawgs win, they do so at their pace: slowly, methodically but effectively.
Baylor only runs about 69 plays per game but averages 6.1 yards per play, 25th in FBS. It’s also 24th in points per game (33.4). It’s nowhere near the offensive juggernaut that LSU is but can still put up its share of points, so turning lengthy, sustained drives into touchdowns can work in the Dawgs’ favor.