ATHENS — Halfway through the regular season 2020 Georgia football championship talk stock is falling.
The Bulldogs’ hopes took a hit after five defensive starters were injured on Saturday, four in the loss at Kentucky, and then Richard LeCounte in a motorcycle crash.
Georgia needs a market correction this week in the form of a big win in Florida.
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (4-1) head to Jacksonville to play No. 8-ranked Florida (3-1) as a beat-up football team searching for answers on offense and capable replacements on defense.
Here’s a midseason look at select players or position groups whose stock has gone up, down or stayed even:
WR Kearis Jackson: Few would have expected Jackson to lead the team in receptions, but then few had the opportunity to see him healthy his first two seasons on the team. Jackson is a big-time player an NFL prospect. Defenses now key on him.
P Jake Camarda: The Bulldogs have arguably the best punter in the nation in Camarda, a player who has grown up right before our eyes and benefitted from the special teams leadership of departed star Rodrigo Blankenship.
RB Kendall Milton: Could this freshman be the breakout player the Bulldogs desperately need to provide an explosive element to the offense? Milton has the longest run of the season, 24 yards, and has shown he can break tackles. An early enrollee, it’s fair to say halfway through the season coaches should have him capable of pass protection.
CB Tyson Campbell: This third-year player is putting it all on display, showing a physical presence when needed, but also, tremendous cover skills. Campbell is a cornerstone in a suddenly depleted secondary and will need to help assume a leadership role.
OLB Azeez Ojulari: The only freshman captain in Kirby Smart’s tenure as head coach needs to find his voice with Richard LeCounte expected out for at least a few weeks. Ojulari’s play leaves nothing to be desired as a pass rusher or run stopper. All-American level performance on the field.
LB Nakobe Dean: The sophomore has proven as good as advertised with his team-high 34 tackles along with 8 QB Hurries.
RB Zamir White: Coaches know they will get 100 percent from White on the field, a ram-charger who puts his head down and gets what’s there. White had a career-high 136 yards on a career-high 26 carries with a season-long run of 22 yards. Smart has talked about White’s leadership in the clubhouse and on special teams, and that will be needed.
QB Stetson Bennett: The former walk-on and junior college quarterback is who he is, and he’s doing the best at it under an incredibly bright spotlight. Bennett does possess good mobility and poise, and he’s capable of running a rather expansive playbook. Smart has talked about helping him with keeping two hands on the ball when he runs and decision making during the bye week. UGA fans should know he’s doing his best.
CB Eric Stokes: The junior is getting tested more often as quarterbacks respect Campbell more and more, and it’s up to Stokes to get back to his Spiderman-sticky coverage ways of last season. Stokes’ tackling has also been lacking at times, as he has tried to go high and seen ball carriers run through him.
MARKET CORRECTION DUE
C Trey Hill: The snap issues in two games are two games too many for a third-year starter who was named the preseason All-SEC center. Hill is capable of much more and now must become more of a vocal leader in his team’s time of need, much like D’Andre Swift did last season.
DL Travon Walker: This was thought to be a breakout year for Walker, whose incredible freshman season set expectations that, in hindsight, were probably unrealistic. A very good football player, Walker has the potential to emerge as one of the best in the nation moving forward and improve on his current totals of 6 tackles and 1 sack.
RB James Cook: Cook is having a solid season when most, including this author, expected Heisman-like numbers in an offense built for his versatility and open-field running. Cook is still learning to finish runs in a manner more similar to his NFL-dominant older brother. Cook has 10 catches through 5 games and should have twice as many in the next five games.
(Players expected to step up and have bigger roles)
TE Tre’ McKitty: Only 3 catches so far for Florida State grad transfer.
RB Kenny McIntosh: Explosive offensive weapon should be utilized on more than kick returns moving forward.
WR Jermaine Burton: Second on the team with 23 targets, clear he’s been made a priority.