Grading the 2020 Georgia Bulldogs’ season of highs and lows
ATHENS — The 2020 season is in the books, the last week of the last week, the final polls complete with the Georgia Bulldogs resting at No. 7 in the nation, third-best among the SEC teams behind No. 1-ranked Alabama and No. 4 Texas A&M.
How does DawgNation feel about this 8-2 campaign that culminated with a 24-21 New Year’s Six Bowl Chick-fil-A victory over Cincinnati?
With the 2020 season played out and in the books how do Georgia fans feel about the Bulldogs 8-2 finish and No. 7 final ranking?
— MikeGriffith32 (@MikeGriffith32) January 14, 2021
It’s a mixed bag, but it’s fair to say many Bulldogs’ fans felt 2020 could be a championship season.
After all, the defense returned 8 of 11 starters back from a unit that led the nation in run defense and scoring defense and was third in total defense and eighth in pass efficiency defense in 2019.
If someone would have suggested that Georgia defense would give up 41 points and 564 yards to Alabama and 44 points and 571 yards to Florida, few would have believed it.
To be fair, the Bulldogs’ team that faced the Gators was ravaged with injuries, most notably starting interior defensive linemen Julian Rochester and Jordan Davis, along with preseason All-American safety Richard LeCounte.
The offense was equally damaged, with starting quarterback Stetson Bennett suffering an injured shoulder early in the first quarter with UGA up 14-0, and skill position standouts George Pickens and Kenny McIntosh out with injuries.
Still, it was a Georgia team that stayed disciplined amid challenging Covid-19 times that saw just four of the SEC’s 14 teams make it through the season without pausing activities, or triggering the postponement of a game.
Here’s the final season-ending team report card, grading out each position:
It was a tale of two seasons, to be sure, but Georgia finished the season sixth out of the 14 SEC teams in team pass efficiency. That’s slightly better than average, hence the grade. It was a season that saw two quarterbacks transfer in, two quarterbacks transfer out and three different quarterbacks start. JT Daniels finished strong after Stetson Bennett suffered a shoulder injury. Daniels was 4-0 in his starts with passing numbers that projected among the nation’s Top 10, a pass efficiency rating a tick behind that of Florida Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask (180.02-178.49).
Running backs (C+)
The Bulldogs “RBU” status took a hit with two games held below 50 yards rushing by Mississippi State (23 carries 8 yards) and Cincinnati (24-45). All five backs averaged over 5 yards per carry: James Cook (6.7), Daijun Edwards (5.9), Kendall Milton (5.5), Zamir White (5.4) and Kenny McIntosh (5.3), but only McIntosh did not have a fumble. None of the backs were named first or second team All-SEC by the coaches or the AP. That’s average by anyone’s standards.
This is a group long on potential that had both great and not-so-great moments. George Pickens was playing as well as anyone by the end of the year, but there were a couple of dropped passes this season along with more unacceptable personal fouls. Jermaine Burton grew as the season progressed but there were incorrect routes run. Kearis Jackson was on fire early, but he had one dropped pass become an interception, another dropped pass in the end zone, and finally, a dropped fourth-and-1 pass in the bowl game. This group can and will get better. There were plenty of holds on run blocks from this group, as well, canceling out high marks for highlight catches.
Offensive line (B-)
There was decent pass protection and run blocking this season for the most part, as it appeared the awkward rotation of backs prevented any of the runners from settling into any sort of groove. The final outing was easily the least inspiring, with quarterback JT Daniels fortunate to exit without serious injury. Some of the protection issues were on the backs (White, McIntosh), but the makeshift line had plenty of other problems handing Cincinnati.
Defensive line (A+)
It was hard not to be impressed with this unit, as it set the tone for the No. 1-ranked run defense in the country and held 8 out of 10 opponents under 100 yards on the ground. Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Julian Rochester and Jalen Carter impressed, as did Malik Herring and Travon Walker. Kirby Smart considers his OLBs down linemen, so throw in Azeez Ojulari, Jermaine Johnson, and Adam Anderson. What a group. Arguably the best D-Line in college football last season.
Injuries made it hard for this unit to be at its best, particular senior Monty Rice, who was slowed by an injured foot. Still, Rice’s ability to stop the run and maintain proper alignments was key, as UGA discovered in the Sugar Bowl. An injury to Nakobe Dean slowed him in November, as his tackle numbers dropped off until he went out with a bang in the final game, knowing surgery was imminent. Quay Walker has had a golden opportunity, but he appeared to have a costly alignment issue in the bowl game, and he’s yet to show he can fill and tackle like Rice.
Cornerback Eric Stokes enjoyed an All-American season with two Pick-6s and blanket coverage, and safety Lewis Cine delivered the hit of the century on Kyle Pitts, shoulder first into a star tight end who tucked his head down leading to the targeting call. Richard LeCounte appeared en route to an All-SEC season, at the very least, before his unfortunate off-field accident. Play at the Star position disappointed and lacked consistency.
Special Teams (A-)
Jack Podlesny came through with the most clutch kick of the year in the Peach Bowl, a game-winner from 54 yards with 3 seconds left that lifted his team to a 22-21 lead. Jake Camarda had an all-star campaign, kicking off and finishing fourth in the nation with a 46.58 average. Kenny McIntosh was among national leaders in kick returns before an untimely injury, and then Kearis Jackson took over and provided some adequate return yardage.
Smart and his staff find themselves with the highest of expectations with little margin for error. Georgia had a good enough game plan to lead the eventual national champs in Tuscaloosa 24-20 at the half, but then the Tide adjusted and came back for the win. Against Florida, it was just the opposite, with UGA holding Florida out of the end zone in the second half, but unable to muster enough offense to rally from a 38-21 half-time deficit. UGA won all the games it was supposed to, but at times it seemed more of a struggle than it needed to be in games with Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Cincinnati. Roster management appeared to be a challenge, but the coaches deserve credit for keeping the team engaged and competitive after the loss at Florida.
Georgia is a championship-level program that found itself on the outside of the SEC Championship Game looking in for the first time in four years, and it didn’t sit well with anyone. The Bulldogs were dealt a front-loaded schedule and didn’t catch any breaks, and then they didn’t seem to help themselves at key junctures. Still, the program maintained a respectable Top 10 finish and a New Year’s Six Bowl win for the third time in the past four years.