With another key offensive injury, it's time to worry about Georgia's pass-catchers vs. Clemson
When George Pickens went down with a torn ACL in spring, I banged the drum that Georgia fans needed to relax.
Why? I believed in the depth at the pass-catcher positions.
I referenced the potential of Kearis Jackson and Jermaine Burton, both of whom got a ton of reps last year. I was optimistic about the lightning quick Arian Smith, and I was hopeful that Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and Dominick Blaylock would emerge coming off season-ending injuries in 2020. Perhaps Demetris Robertson could stretch the field and put it all together. I was even bullish on the impressive spring of Darnell Washington, who started to become a more prominent part of the passing game late in the season. That was all before former 5-star tight end/receiver Arik Gilbert transferred to Georgia.
And that was before seemingly the entire group of Georgia’s pass-catchers became question marks for the start of the season.
On Wednesday, 247sports’ Josh Pate reported that Washington and West Virginia defensive back transfer Tykee Smith are both expected to miss multiple games after suffering foot injuries in practice:
UGA sources: Darnell Washington & Tykee Smith are each expected to miss 3-4 weeks minimum with foot injuries sustained in practice yesterday.
Unlikely to be available vs Clemson.
— Josh Pate (@LateKickJosh) August 18, 2021
That report followed what was a brutal week for Georgia’s offense. Kirby Smart announced that Gilbert wasn’t with the team, which isn’t ideal for mid-August. Burton and Jackson were out with injuries for the start of fall practice and missed a scrimmage this past Saturday. But according to DawgNation, both returned to practice. Blaylock is still dealing with his knee injury and not cleared to go full speed. Tight end John FitzPatrick missed Saturday’s scrimmage with a foot injury, as well.
Oh, and before fall camp even began, Robertson entered the portal and eventually transferred to Auburn.
Add it all up and what do you get? Major question marks for this promising passing game. A little over 2 weeks away, it’s now officially time to be concerned for that highly-anticipated season-opener against Clemson.
It’d be one thing if Georgia was starting off the season with Murray State. It’s not. It’s a game with Playoff implications against a Clemson team that has the highest-paid assistant in America in defensive coordinator Brent Venables. And something tells me that defense, which was embarrassed by Ohio State in the second half of last year’s Playoff semifinal matchup, is going to have a little extra edge come Sept. 4 in Charlotte.
Remember that Clemson returns 9 starters on defense. That includes a loaded defensive line, led by preseason first-team All-ACC selections Bryan Bresee, Tyler Davis and Myles Murphy. Clemson can generate pressure on JT Daniels without sending additional help. That’s the issue here.
And if you’re saying “why can’t Georgia follow Ohio State’s path to success?” It’s pretty simple — Georgia doesn’t have a pass-catching duo as good as Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.
It’s one thing to be without Pickens. It’s another to also be without Washington and perhaps Gilbert, though who knows what’s next in that saga. Georgia is hoping that a bunch of receivers coming off injuries can come in and be the best versions of themselves from the jump.
Even if they are healthy, there are valuable reps with Daniels that are being missed right now. This was supposed to be a relatively normal offseason for Daniels. All the talk after the Peach Bowl centered on him returning in Todd Monken’s offense and how he didn’t have to deal with an injury like he did when he transferred to Georgia from USC in 2020.
On the bright side, at least Daniels got to learn the offense and get a full offseason of reps with the No. 1s. He’s also blessed with a loaded backfield led by Zamir White and James Cook. It’s Cook who figures to have an even bigger role in the passing game with all of the injuries to UGA’s pass-catchers. We’ve seen what Cook can do as a pass-catcher against elite competition:
Don’t ask a linebacker to cover James Cook in space. Motions out wide, stems inside, and he’s gone. Another impressive satellite back in the class. pic.twitter.com/YyqTsoc7t2
— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) August 18, 2021
Georgia would love to see some of that in the opener. The more Cook can get lined up on linebackers, well, the better.
Smart might want to put Cook in bubble wrap for the next 2 weeks. Shoot, that might be the case for all of Georgia’s remaining pass-catchers, all of whom seem to be dealing with lower-body injuries.
(Now is the part where I’m supposed to put the cleats on blast because how else could these things keep happening?)
The entire reason Georgia revamped its schematic approach on offense was to be able to hang with teams with talented, high-powered offenses like Clemson. If 2019 LSU, 2020 Alabama and 2020 Florida were any indication, Smart’s defense isn’t slowing down Clemson enough to make this some sort of 24-17 slugfest.
Facing that Clemson defense to open the season was challenging enough for this Georgia offense when it was expected to be at full strength. That’s clearly not going to be case. That ship sailed with the Pickens injury.
With each passing day, the waters in Athens appear to be getting choppier and choppier.