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Brian Blanco/AP
Derion Kendrick was dismissed from Clemson's team.

How Arik Gilbert, Derion Kendrick departures impact Georgia’s two biggest games

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How recent departures impact two of Georgia’s biggest 2021 games

The two biggest games on Georgia’s 2021 schedule are against Clemson and Florida. The former figures to be a top-5 matchup between College Football Playoff contenders. The latter is Georgia’s biggest rival where the winner of the game has gone on to represent the SEC East in the SEC championship game in each of the past six seasons.

Both Florida and Clemson though recently saw high-profile players depart their program. Clemson dismissed multi-year starter and All-ACC cornerback Derion Kendrick from the team. Head coach Dabo Swinney confirmed the news on Monday during a press conference with reporters.

“Really not much to say about that other than he’s not with us anymore, but also to say I love D.K.,” Swinney said. “Man, he’s a young man that I’ve always loved as a football player. He’s got a really good heart. He’s never been a disrespectful young man or anything like that. Just sometimes there just needs to be a change.”

News of Kendrick’s dismissal first came out on Sunday morning. It would be topped later in the afternoon when Arik Gilbert announced he would not in fact be transferring to Florida. The former 5-star and LSU tight end announced in a tweet he would play for another school in 2021 which he will announce at a later date.

Both of these players figured to present challenges for Georgia in the 2021 season. Now both sides will have to adapt without either player.

We’ll start with Kendrick. He’s made an All-ACC team in each of the past two seasons. In nine games during the 2020 season, Kendrick finished with 17 tackles an interception and a fumble which he returned for a touchdown.

Clemson does return a good bit of talent at cornerback next season, with 2020 contributors Andrew Booth, Sheridan Jones and Mario Goodrich all returning. The Tigers also signed 4-star cornerback Nathaniel Wiggins out of Atlanta in the 2021 signing class.

The Tigers defense also figures to be one of the deepest and best in the country. If there is a unit that can weather losing an all-conference performer, it is one that has Bryan Breese, Tyler Davis and Myles Murphy in its defensive front.

Related: Clemson football ‘grown men’ committed to championship reload, look to Georgia

Still, without its top cornerback, Clemson will have a tougher time trying to slow Georgia’s passing attack and wide receiver George Pickens. The Bulldogs will need a big game from the rising junior if Georgia is to win in Charlotte.

Kendrick’s departure is worth monitoring from a Georgia perspective should he enter the transfer portal. Georgia has an apparent need at cornerback and it’s hard to imagine a cornerback with better credentials becoming available. The flipside of that though is that if Clemson is willing to dismiss this kind of player, would he be worth the risk of taking him on for Georgia?

The NCAA also is still yet to pass its one-time transfer rule. Expect Georgia to continue to be patient and diligent in making any additions through the transfer portal.

The Gilbert loss seems like a bigger impact of the two, especially given Florida’s personnel. The Gators were already losing Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes as pass catchers, in addition to quarterback Kyle Trask.

The Gators also don’t have the stockpile of blue-chip recruits that Georgia does, much less Clemson. At tight end, Florida will have Keon Zipperer and Kemore Gamble, while wide receivers Jacob Copeland, Xzavier Henderson and Justin Shorter will look to replace the outgoing production.

Florida’s most interesting concern this offseason will be what happens at quarterback, as Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson compete to replace Trask. Jones is a much different player than Trask, as Jones is much more prolific with his legs. Should Jones end up winning the job, the offense figures to look even more different than it did from a season ago.

As for monitoring where Gilbert goes next in the transfer portal, that is a much murkier picture. At least with Georgia, the Bulldogs clearly don’t have the same need at tight end that they do at cornerback. Given Kirby Smart has continued to stress that he only wants to use the transfer portal on a need-basis, Gilbert doesn’t seem like a candidate to be on Georgia’s sideline next year.

Georgia figured to be the favorite against Florida even with Gilbert potentially playing for the Gators. Without him, Georgia will still be expected to beat Florida due in part to its offense led by quarterback JT Daniels.

As for the Clemson game, the loss of Kendrick doesn’t likely swing the outcome of that game one way or another. The Bulldogs still have to block Clemson’s defensive front, while the Tigers must do the same on the offensive side of the ball against Georgia’s defense.

But both of those departures will play a part in how Georgia goes about trying to win its games against Clemson and Florida, the toughest two opponents on Georgia’s 2021 regular-season slate.

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