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What learned about Georgia football heading into week 3 game against Arkansas State
Quarterback: Georgia freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis has still not yet been cleared for contact. Mathis — a 4-star quarterback in 2019 recruiting cycle — had brain surgery in May.
Mathis has been able to practice with Georgia and he did dress out and go through warm-ups prior to the Murray State game.
But Georgia coach Kirby Smart still doesn’t have an answer on when Mathis might be ready to go.
“I don’t have a set timeline, like week seven he’s going to be able to go out there and do this,” Smart said. “He’s been able to do more and more every week, and we continue to grow that. He does a little bit more each time, but he’s not cleared yet.”
With Mathis still not eligible to play, Stetson Bennett has become firmly entrenched as the team’s back-up.
Running back: D’Andre Swift and Zamir White have garnered plenty of attention and highlights so far in the 2019 season. Through two games, the duo has combined for 337 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns.
But Georgia has another “running back” it can turn to for explosive plays. Smart gave some pretty strong praise to sophomore James Cook.
“He’s very versatile. He can lineup in the backfield and runs the whole play,” Smart said. “He can bounce outside, he can be a slot receiver. He can be a rocket guy, he can block. James does a lot of good things.”
Cook displayed some of his playmaking abilities in the week 1 win over as he scored an 18-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He has 5 carries and 4 receptions through Georgia’s first two games.
The sophomore got off to a fast start a year ago, but faded as the year went on. Now a year older — and also bigger — Cook is more adept at handling various roles in the Georgia offense.
“He was coming into his own and understanding of what kind of roles he had to do and understanding the offense,” Smart said. That’s a growth and maturity process which he’s been able to do. As he continues to be able to do more, we want to use him more.”
Wide receiver: At Georgia practices this week, George Pickens wasn’t the only wide receiver making some highlight-worthy catches. In fact, sophomore Kearis Jackson’s catches may have been more impressive than what Pickens has been able to do.
Jackson made multiple one-handed grabs during practice. And those are the only catches Jackson can make right now as he’s got a club on his left hand. Jackson injured his hand in the week 1 win over Vanderbilt.
After the game, Smart said he would be out three to four weeks. Smart provided another update on Jackson on Tuesday.
“He’s available. But I don’t know if we’re going to put him out there with a club, it’d be pretty one dimensional. Unless he’s able to catch every ball with one hand. He’s practicing,” Smart said. “He takes routes. He catches punts, he’s doing everything, but we’re not ready to use him until he’s 100%.”
Jackson got the first crack at punt return in the Vanderbilt game while also hauling in 2 catches for 32 yards prior to leaving the game with his hand injury.
Tight end: Eli Wolf’s 4-catch, 73 yard game against Murray State came as a surprise to some, given that he’s only been on Georgia’s campus for a few weeks.
The effort proved to be eye-opening, as Wolf consistently found open space in the Murray State defense.
“I really didn’t know he could play that well. He showed to the world and to me that he could really play and he will be a great asset to our team,” Georgia wide receiver Tyler Simmons said of Wolf.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart echoed Simmons’ comments, calling Wolf “a weapon.” The 73 yards were more than Wolf had all of last season for Tennessee.
Offensive line: Georgia center Trey Hill has some big shoes to fill, as he’s replacing Lamont Gaillard. The now Arizona Cardinal was the Bulldogs’ starting center for the past two seasons and was named First Team All-SEC in 2018.
Smart went into detail about the strides Hill has made in his first two starts at the position at the college level. The sophomore hasn’t been perfect, as he and Smart both mentioned Hill needs to improve as a communicator.
But Hill drew a pretty big compliment from teammate David Marshall this week.
“He’s a good center, good leader on the offensive line,” Marshall said of Hill. “He reminds me of Lamont, in terms of body size and his quick hands.”
Johnson hasn’t had the easiest go of it in college so far, as he’s moved from the offensive side of the ball to the defensive line. Given the amount of depth at the position, it was always going to be an uphill battle to get on the playing field.
But Johnson isn’t giving up just yet. And he was rewarded with playing time against Murray State and registered a tackle for loss in the win.
“If you go against Trey Hill every day for 50 snaps, it just makes you better. He gets to go a lot against Trey,” Smart said. “I was very happy that he got to play the other day. He busted his tail to get the opportunity to and he will continue to work. If he’s the best guy then he’ll play.”
Inside linebacker: Much like Johnson, Nate McBride was a member of the 2017 signing class that entered the program with massive expectations.
On the defensive side of the ball, he hasn’t lived up to those yet. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a valuable contributor to the team.
McBride has become a key player on multiple Georgia special teams units. And while it’s not the same as being one of the starting inside linebackers for Georgia, special teams often play a huge role in deciding wins and losses.
And elite special teams players can end turning that into an NFL career. And McBride is well aware of that the fact, as he told reporters this week.
“Coach Smart does emphasize special teams a lot because it may not seem like an important part of the game because everyone notices the quarterbacks and the defensive backs but special teams, by itself, can get you to the pros,” McBride said. “Take Jayson Stanley, for example. He didn’t get many snaps on offense but he was all the way special teams and he had a great preseason with the Falcons.”
Outside linebacker: Here’s an interview with Azeez Ojulari following Georgia’s win over Murray State.
Defensive back: Georgia defensive back Mark Webb made one of the best plays in the Murray State win and was responsible for one of the worst plays of the game.
We’ll start with the worst, as Webb was partially responsible for the 60-yard touchdown given up in the first quarter. But Webb bounced back shortly afterward and is partially the reason Georgia had its first defensive touchdown of the season.
Webb laid a perfectly placed hit that forced a fumble. Senior safety J.R. Reed scooped up that fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
Smart was asked about Webb’s 2019 season so far as the junior — who came to Georgia with the intentions of playing wide receiver — has emerged as a starter at Georgia’s STAR position.
“He’s bright, he’s tough, he’s fast, he covers well and he’s a guy who continues to improve,” Smart said. “He’s a guy who still has a lot of upside because he didn’t play defensive back his whole life. He’s still growing at the position and his redeeming quality is he likes to tackle. In a day and age when guys don’t like to tackle and hit he does and plays with really good toughness.”
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- Georgia football podcast: UGA fans should be on lookout for drama in Week 3
- The Jake Fromm fruit cookies? Those rounds of sugary heaven are no such thing
- Report: Former UGA running back Robert Arnaud passes away at 40
- Georgia football podcast: Even Randy Moss is raving about UGA WR George Pickens
- Homegrown: The twist and turns in the road which led Quay Walker to Georgia
- Cover 4 on Georgia football: Who has already opened our eyes after just two games?
- Georgia football injury update for Arkansas State: Ben Cleveland may get first 2019 start
Dawgs on Twitter
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) September 12, 2019
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— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) September 12, 2019
Congrats to our student-athletes of the week. Go Dawgs! pic.twitter.com/b6sJevBXgw
— Coach Kirby Smart (@KirbySmartUGA) September 12, 2019
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— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) September 12, 2019