ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart has talked about the evolution of his team each week, and the need for the Bulldogs to improve to accomplish their goals.
Time is running out, and there’s only one warm-up game left, a rivalry matchup with Georgia Tech at noon on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta (TV: ABC).
Georgia will be playing its first game since learning that go-to receiver Lawrence Cager will likely not be available for the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium and could be out for the year.
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs also didn’t have Cager for the 19-13 win over Texas A&M last Saturday, the final three quarters of the 21-14 win against Auburn, or the second half of the 27-0 win over Missouri.
The offense has been working to get along without the 6-foot-5, 220-pound target since Cager’s dominant 7-catch, 132-yard effort in the 24-17 win over Florida.
The results have been less than impressive, with QB Jake Fromm completing less than 50 percent of his passes in the past three games.
Smart has pointed out the past three opponents all have impressive pass defenses — each one ranks in the Top 25 in pass efficiency defense.
But there have been enough dropped passes and missed throws to create concern.
Georgia will look to quell those issues and get some momentum against the Yellow Jackets, ideally spreading out playing time.
Here are seven players to watch:
QB Jake Fromm
Fromm has proven several times he can respond to adversity, but his passing numbers with Cager on the field compared to without, are interesting. Per ESPN advanced metrics and David Hale, on throws past the line of scrimmage:
• Fromm completes 73.3 percent of his passes with a 190.1 rating with Cager on the field
• Fromm completes 45.7 percent of his passes with a 107.2 passer rating with Cager off the field,
Those numbers are somewhat skewed when one considers Cager’s missed time came against four Top 25 pass efficiency defenses: (No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 17 Kentucky, No. 18 Auburn and No. 24 Missouri.
But Fromm’s ability to win games can not be denied. Fromm is 34-6 as UGA’s quarterback (33-6 as starter) and 12-5 against Top 25 teams.
WR George Pickens
The talented freshman steps up into the WR1 role with Cager out, and it will be important he maintains focus and is assignment sound.
Pickens seems to have matured as the season progressed, though his big personality and enthusiasm is still felt in the receiver ranks and the offensive huddle.
This is the sort of moment in a season where great players emerge.
RB James Cook
The most underutilized explosive weapon in the Georgia offense, the Bulldogs’ staff must find a way to get Cook involved for the offense to be at its best.
Smart has talked repeatedly about the need to get Cook open in space, and teammates continue to bring Cook into interviews unprompted, commenting on his speed and open-field running ability.
There are 7-10 more touches/targets available when Cager isn’t in games, and Cook should be in line for at least half of them.
RB Brian Herrien
Herrien continues to impress with inspiring runs, but he has also emerged as more of a threat as a receiver and kick returner.
There’s nothing like an inspired senior to lead the charge into the postseason, and Herrien has been waiting a long time for the sort of opportunities ahead in these next two games.
TE Eli Wolf
Georgia turned to matchup tight end Isaac Nauta in big moments the previous three seasons, and now Wolf is filling those shoes.
Wolf has come up with clutch catches in wins over Florida and Auburn, and his role may grow again with the Bulldogs looking for answers in the pass game.
LB Tae Crowder
Crowder is one of those senior leaders eager to lay it all on the line, and Georgia Tech looks to be his sort of matchup.
Crowder will need to keep the defense fired up and on edge, ensuring the extinguish any Yellow Jackets threat before it can get started.
WR Demetris Robertson
Robertson has had a few big moments this season, but he has yet to show the sort of dynamic play one might associate with a former 5-star prospect and track star.
Robertson has an opportunity show how much he has grown in the Georgia offense the next two games and help save his team’s season.