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ESPN labels what breaks need to go Georgia football’s way to a national title in 2019
In 2017, Georgia came about as close as you can to winning a national title. We don’t need to revisit why things ended poorly, but with a few breaks here or there along the way — the Tyler Simmons offside call, a busted coverage by Dominick Sanders — Georgia has a national title already in its hands.
For the 2019 season, Georgia figures to bring back a team as talented as the one that came oh so close to winning it all in 2017. But no matter how many yards Jake Fromm throws for or sacks Nolan Smith picks up, Georgia is going to need a couple of bounces to go its way in 2019.
And ESPN’s Bill Connelly described what some of those bounces might end up being, based on some of Georgia’s deficiencies from 2018. And it’s clear that new offensive coordinator James Coley and new defensive coordinator Dan Lanning could really do a lot to improve those areas of concern.
Connelly — who went through and detailed the big ifs for every title contender — labeled the three areas where needs to improve in 2019. The three ifs for Georgia in Connelly’s mind are, “if offensive coordinator James Coley can make a difference in the red zone, if defensive coordinator Dan Lanning can dial-up pressure and if the defensive front is a little less flexible.”
We’ll start with Coley and the offense. Despite all of Georgia’s success a season ago with Fromm, running back D’Andre Swift and one of the best offensive lines in the country, Georgia was atrocious in the red zone. Per Connelly, the Bulldogs ranked 109th in the country in terms of success rate inside the 10-yard line.
Coley was on Georgia’s staff a year ago when he served as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Jim Chaney was the one calling the plays, but he’s now in Tennessee. Georgia once again figures to have one of the nation’s best offensive lines, but last year proved that wasn’t enough. Just look at the Florida game where Georgia had seven plays from inside Florida’s 1-yard line and could not score a touchdown.
One of the chief criticisms of Chaney in his time in Athens was that his offenses were not very imaginative. If Coley is able to get more creative in short yardage situations, it should lead to more points for Georgia.
A significant challenge for Coley will be replacing Georgia’s top-5 receiving leaders from a season ago. The Bulldogs will likely lean even more on the running game this coming season than it did in 2018.
Turning to the defensive side of the football, Georgia has to get more disruptive at the line of scrimmage. We could spout off a ton of advanced stats here, but Georgia finished last in the SEC in sacks during the regular season. Factoring the Texas and Alabama games, the Bulldogs finished the season with just 24 sacks.
Of those 24, 7.5 belonged to D’Andre Walker. He is now an outside linebacker for the Tennessee Titans. Georgia has a lot of talented options on the defensive side of the ball when it comes to getting after the passer. It has first-year players it can turn to in Smith and Jermaine Johnson. It’s also loaded with 2018 guys such as Azeez Ojulari, Brenton Cox and Adam Anderson.
Related: Azeez Ojulari continues to standout in loaded outside linebacker group
Lanning will take over for Mel Tucker as the defensive coordinator, as Tucker is now the head coach at Colorado. Like Coley, Lanning was an internal promotion. But for as much as Lanning may try to reshape Georgia’s defense, it will always be Kirby Smart’s baby.
Connelly noted how Georgia’s secondary masked some weaknesses a year ago and that is likely to be the same in 2019. While the national media might be underestimating Georgia’s secondary talent, Smart seemed pretty optimistic about the group during the spring.
“We had some young guys in the secondary, a lot of young guys. Where now, I feel like we have a group back there that is emerging with some personality,” Smart said during spring practice. “Divaad (Wilson), that bowl game worked wonders for him. He’s playing good. Mark Webb, he’s in a year where he understands things. J.R. (Reed), Richard (LeCounte) at safety, Otis (Reese), we just have more competition so I think that allows us to create more havoc.”
That’ll help make up for a defensive line group that still has a lot of questions to answer. When Georgia lost in 2018, its run defense usually played a pretty large role. The Bulldogs made slight improvements when now sophomore Jordan Davis became a regular. But the Bulldogs have to replace multi-year starter, Jonathan Ledbetter.
For the losses against Texas and Alabama — in which the two opponents rushed for a combined 335 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns — the Bulldogs were without Monty Rice. Prior to going down with a foot injury against UMass, he was the team’s leading tackler. He returns this year along with a number of key players in the front seven. And one of the best players from Georgia’s spring practices was 5-star freshman linebacker Nakobe Dean.
Related: The 5 big winners from Georgia’s spring practice, G-Day
Of the team’s profiled, Only Alabama and Clemson had fewer ifs than Georgia did. That line of thinking meshes with the fact that Georgia likely will be the No. 3 ranked team in the country once the preseason polls come out.
The Bulldogs once again should be one of the best teams in the country this season. If Georgia simply matches what it did a season ago, it will likely be playing in a game that has ramifications for the College Football Playoff.
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