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Brant Sanderlin/AJC
Dominick Sanders is one of the most important players on Georgia's defense.

Dominick Sanders is UGA’s forgotten man this bowl season

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for all the relevant UGA football news and takes every Monday through Friday. In today’s edition, we remember how important Dominick Sanders is to Georgia’s defense and how important he could be in the future. Plus, another reason to be optimistic about the Kirby Smart era. Where the hell is Memphis?

Forgot about Dom

In the hoopla around the decisions by Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy to stay in Athens for their senior seasons, I literally forgot all about the impending decision of defensive back Dominick Sanders. In retrospect, it seems obvious Sanders is still considering the jump to the NFL. If he was going to stay for sure, he would have just announced alongside the other four. But with the bowl game only days away, Sanders’ decision also looms. He was noncommittal when asked about his dilemma on Tuesday.

You can never know someone’s personal situations and private reasons when weighing a jump to the NFL, so you can’t fault Sanders if he does declare, but, from a pure football perspective, another season in Athens makes sense. Sanders will likely grade out in the middle rounds of the draft at best after statistically regressing this season in tackles, tackles for loss and interceptions, with only 3 picks this season compared to 6 a year ago.

Those stats returning to his sophomore form seems likely if he stays one more season, if only because of the improvement of players around him. Georgia loses virtually no one among the front seven and opposing quarterbacks should be under absurd amounts of pressure, making life a bit easier for Sanders and his fellow defensive backs. He could also come back for a chance to immortalize himself in the UGA record book. His 12 career interceptions place him well within striking distance of the school record (16) held by Bacarri Rambo and Jake Scott.

Reinforcements are arriving if Sanders does forgo his senior year. 5-star talent Richard LeCounte III is UGA’s safety of the future and is already a familiar name to many fans. He’s been committed to Georgia for more than a year — and has been one of the Bulldogs’ best recruiters in that time — and plans to enroll in January. Sanders or no Sanders, LeCounte will see the field next season; his role just may be a bit more prominent without Sanders.

But another season from Sanders would be a coup for Georgia on par with the decisions of the other four juniors to stay for their senior seasons. On defense, the secondary is the biggest question mark heading into next season. Sanders would provide a veteran presence that could help stabilize this unit, while also serving as a mentor to LeCounte and some of the other talented defensive back recruits. And the Bulldogs can certainly use another season of his ball-hawking, starting with a big showing against an interception-prone TCU offense in the Liberty Bowl. With everything that’s happened this offseason, Sanders is the forgotten man. It’s time for him to make us all remember.

Narrowing the gap

Over at the always excellent “Get The Picture” blog, Senator Blutarsky crystallized something I’ve been trying to place my finger on all season. In a post doing some myth-busting on a recent New York Times profile of Alabama’s program, Blutarsky pointed out how Bama’s ungodly amount of cash is one of the biggest reasons for its success and why the disparity of money between Bama and UGA is one of the reasons the Bulldogs just can’t compete. Read the whole thing, but the caveat at the end is what grabbed me:

Now the obvious caveat here is that we’re two seasons past the data available, and one of those is (Kirby) Smart’s first season in Athens.  It’s reasonable to expect that we’ll see a narrowing of that financial spread when those spending numbers come into view. What remains to be seen is whether the dollars Butts-Mehre spends are enough to keep up with (Nick) Saban on the field in the coming years.  A couple of years from now, we should have enough information to assess both.

Regardless of what you may think of Smart as a tactician, we will likely look back on the beginning of his tenure as the time when Georgia finally started to level the playing field with the Alabamas of the world.

Many fans expected Smart to be a Saban clone. If that is the case, so far it seems that Smart is a poorly crafted one. But even if he isn’t a Saban clone, he does come with some Saban baggage. One of those is his griping in the press, to the chagrin of many who don’t think he’s built up the kind of credibility to do that, like Saban has. So, it’s reasonable to think that another piece of Saban-like baggage he carried with him is Saban-like demands, i.e. more money spent on the program.

As Blutarsky noted, we won’t be able to bear this out in the data for a few more years, but there are a few things that indicate that along with Smart came a bump in football spending. One of those is the number of support staffers UGA added under Smart. So, while the current numbers show Georgia behind in spending, all indications point to a general culture change in regards to how the program is run. Whether Smart has the same strategic acumen as Saban remains to be seen, but his apparent Saban-like ability to improve the infrastructure of the program should lead to some semblance of future success, either from Smart or his eventual replacement.

Ready or not

Only a few days left until the Liberty Bowl. “Get hype. Stay hype.”

ICYMI

Good dog

Today, we have another edition of “I’m embarrassed I can’t do what this good dog can do.”