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Curtis Compton/AJC3
Deandre Baker won't play with UGA in the Sugar Bowl.

By the Numbers: UGA will probably be OK without Deandre Baker in Sugar Bowl

Brandon Adams

Georgia football fans can get their statistical fix each week with By the Numbers — a stats-based look at how UGA coach Kirby Smart is doing in his attempt to keep the Bulldogs on top of the SEC and continue the program’s pursuit of a national championship. Today’s edition of By the Numbers looks at UGA’s defense without Deandre Baker in the Sugar Bowl.

Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker isn’t playing in the Sugar Bowl due to concerns over how a potential injury could impact his draft stock. This is an understandable decision. Yet it still leaves a lot of UGA fans concerned about how the Bulldogs defense will respond to Baker’s absence.

Believe it or not, it might not actually be that big a deal.

The betting market certainly isn’t overreacting to Baker’s decision. According to OddsShark, Georgia opened as an 11-point favorite — depending on the sports book being cited. UGA had risen to around a 13-point favorite by the time UGA coach Kirby Smart announced Baker’s status, and in the days that followed there’s been very little movement with the point spread whatsoever.

The experts apparently don’t think the Bulldogs will miss Baker.

That probably seems surprising given the fact Baker recently won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, and Texas’ No. 1 strength might be its wide receivers. However, one fact that remains consistently true: fans tend to overestimate the impact of missing players.

The value of absent players — typically due to injury — has been measured in the NFL for years. It’s probably not a shock to learn that top quarterbacks are worth the most — usually about 6-7 points. But what’s not as widely known is almost no other player from any other position makes any noticeable change in the odds if he doesn’t play.

“Outside of the quarterback position, there are only a handful of players capable of impacting the line, with very few players valued more than a half point,” according to Sports Insight’s David Solar.

Certainly there are plenty of Texas fans who think the loss of Baker could be worth a lot more than a half a point, especially given the way Longhorns receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey has emerged as a star performer this season.

Yet there’s a chance if Baker were playing he wouldn’t be lined up on Humphrey that much anyway.

63 of Humphrey’s 72 catches in the regular season came from the slot position according to Pro Football Focus. The responsibility for those routes would’ve likely belonged to a UGA defensive back other than Baker — who plays cornerback exclusively for the Bulldogs.

Of course, not everything that’s important can be measured with stats, and there’s certainly some circumstantial evidence that suggests Baker’s decision not to play vs. Texas could have an intangible negative impact on Georgia.

Many teams who’ve had players sit out bowl games to protect draft status have performed poorly this year.

Houston was without defensive lineman Ed Oliver and got blown out 70-14 by Army in the Armed Forces Bowl. Michigan was missing a number of players — including defensive lineman Rashan Gary and linebacker Devin Bush — in its 41-15 drubbing by Florida in the Peach Bowl. West Virginia minus quarterback Will Grier lost 34-18 to Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl. Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry skipped the Las Vegas Bowl and the Sun Devils were beaten 31-20 by Fresno State.

And worst of all, South Carolina was shutout 28-0 by Virginia in the Belk Bowl without wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Is it possible that these NFL prospects’ decisions not to play in bowl games had some sort of psychological impact on their teammates?

Who knows.

What we can assume is that UGA needs leaders to step up and remind the rest of the players that Baker’s job was done. He’d built a career for himself at Georgia that will likely end with a first-round selection in the NFL draft. Yet for the rest of the team, there’s still a lot of work to do — including beating Texas in New Orleans.

It sounds like UGA safety Richard LeCounte understands that message.

“We always knew that Dre was a senior, and he was going to be able to leave,” LeCounte told reporters this week. “We had our guys getting prepped all season to be able step up in this position and make these plays. It’s not something that shocks us or anything like that, because we knew that at some point we were going to have to answer the bell and be able to move forward. I think this is a great game to be able to show how we are doing.”

Statements like that from LeCounte make it seem UGA will be just fine.

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