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Kirby Smart explains James Cook‘s lack of touches and more we learned about Georgia football this week
Last Saturday’s win against Florida made it crystal clear that Jake Fromm’s No. 1 target is Lawrence Cager. The senior wide receiver finished with 7 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. Factor in his 6-catch, 82-yard game against Notre Dame, Fromm is going to target Cager often in Georgia’s biggest games.
And, as Georgia coach Kirby Smart revealed this week, some of those plays weren’t specifically designed for Cager. The ball just happened to find him, usually open in the middle of coverage.
“Some of them he’s primarily based on coverage. Some of them he’s not. Some of them, Jake had time to work to him to make the decision on who to throw it to, so I don’t think it was a scheme deal,” Smart said. “It was, some of them, he was just the best option. He was the open option in the zone. running back.”
Cager told reporters this week that Fromm was the third person to reach out to him, after Smart and Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley when Cager was going through the grad transfer process. Fromm wanted him at Georgia to help the team succeed.
And Cager’s decision to attend Georgia has helped both him and Fromm shine this year.
One of the more constant questions asked by fans is, “Why doesn’t Georgia get the ball to James Cook more often?” He’s shown he can be an explosive playmaker when called on, whether at the running back position or as a pass-catcher.
Even with the Georgia offense sputtering, Cook only has 3 touches in the past two games. Smart was asked about Cook this week and did speak on the desire to get him the ball more often.
“Yeah, I wish I could get everybody more opportunities in space. He’s a good player,” Smart said. “We’ve got to keep trying to find roles for him. He’s been an impact player for us on special teams and we’ve got to keep doing that with him.”
But one thing to keep in mind with both Cook and redshirt freshman Zamir White, is that if you are giving them touches, you are taking away reps from D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien. Those two have been strong and consistent options all season for the Georgia offense.
Smart added that he wants to involve all of Georgia’s talented running backs, so long as he’s putting them in the best place to win.
“What you can say is we want the best players in the best opportunity to win and I think each one of those realizes that and acknowledges it,” Smart said. “They all have different strengths and we try to use those strengths.”
Much was made last week about how Florida’s defensive backs were going to match-up with Georgia’s wide receivers. South Carolina gave a blueprint to other teams by showing that you can disrupt Georgia’s wideouts if you press them in man coverage.
And against Missouri, the wide receivers are expecting a similar gameplan to what they saw against the Gators.
“They’re very physical. They’re big outside, I mean both corners are physical, they’re big,” Georgia wide receiver Kearis Jackson said of the Missouri secondary. “They play a lot of one’s so we have to be prepared to take shots and stuff. So, they’re good on the back end, they’re physical, they’re big, and just got to be able to attack and be physical on the line.”
Missouri has the No. 1 pass defense in the conference, as the Tigers surrender an average of 144 yards per game. But Missouri has done most of that by going against teams that are few less talented than Georgia. The Bulldogs will be the first ranked team the Tigers have seen this year.
For as great as Fromm and the Georgia run defense was against Florida, no unit played better than Georgia’s offensive line. They kept Fromm clean all game, as the vaunted Florida pass rush was held without a sack.
That was a big turnaround from the South Carolina game, where Georgia gave up 3.0 sacks. Smart called out his offensive line after that game and it seems they’ve responded to that challenge.
“I think the pass protection has been excellent…They had improved. They worked hard on it and they have gotten better as far as snap-to-throw,” Smart said. “Our guys have done a good job up front. That’s one thing they do really well is pass pro, and it’s like Sam says, you get good at what you practice at. Well, we practice that, too.”
Senior left tackle Andrew Thomas has been a standout all year and was recognized as the SEC’s offensive lineman of the week for this past week. He was also named the Outland Trophy Player of the Month. Thomas has continued to cement his status as one of the best offensive linemen in the country.
We wrote a good amount about freshman defensive lineman Travon Walker earlier this week, and why Smart is making an effort to get him more involved in the defense.
But’s he not the only athletic freak Smart spoke about, as the Georgia head coach spoke at length about sophomore Jordan Davis. While he wasn’t a 5-star prospect like Walker, you don’t see many players at Davis’ size — 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds — who can move as he can.
“We were excited because we watched him do workouts, go through bags. We saw his agility and it jumped off the screen. My history has been someone that big, that athletic has been a really good player,” Smart said of Davis as a recruit.
Davis has been a handful for opposing offensive linemen, given his size and quickness, he brought down Florida quarterback Kyle Trask. One of the concerns about Davis was his conditioning, but he’s kept that in check during the season.
His growth as a player has been a big reason for Georgia’s improved run defense. And the scary thing for opposing offenses is that he hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling
“He still hasn’t reached his full potential and that’s the hardest part for him to acknowledge because he’s very athletic for a large man. We got to get the most out of him.”
Georgia has faced a number of mobile quarterbacks to this point in the season. And they’ll have another big test on their hands in Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant.
Bryant might be the best dual-threat quarterback the Bulldogs have faced to this point in the season While he has been battling injuries to this point the season, Bryant is expected to start for Missouri.
“We’ll prepare for his style, which he’s a really good athlete. They run him. He’s got quarterback runs,” Smart said. “They make you count extra hats in the box when he’s a quarterback run guy. In a lot of ways, they can be like Lynn (Bowden, Jr.) from Kentucky with a really good passer back there.”
As far as getting a pass rush, Missouri’s offensive line isn’t great as Georgia’s. The Tigers give up an average of 2.13 sacks per game. That’s tied for 11th in the SEC. If Georgia can get out to a big lead early, Azeez Ojulari, Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson could have an opportunity to really pressure a banged-up Bryant.
Tae Crowder is one of the last remaining signees from Mark Richt’s final recruiting class. He bounced from offense to defense. He patiently waited his turn behind the likes of Roquan Smith — his former roommate — Natrez Patrick and Juwan Taylor.
Now he’s a key cog for the Georgia defense and Butkus Award Semifinalist. The Butkus award goes to the nation’s top linebacker in the country. It’s an award Smith took home during the 2017 season.
Smart gushed about how hard Crowder has worked to get to this point.
“Tae’s been a really positive success story and a great kid I thought he played well against Florida, and he continues to grow and get better,” Smart said. “We’re proud of the leadership he’s provided. He’s got a really good understanding of our defense.”
Crowder is tied for second on the team in tackles. He’s got 3.0 tackles for loss and a touchdown against Tennessee thanks to a scope and score touchdown.
Georgia has been without cornerback Tyson Campbell since the first half of the Arkansas State game. But D.J. Daniel has been able to fill in well-enough for Campbell, as the Georgia defense ranks first in the SEC in pass defense.
Daniel is in his first year at Georgia after coming from Georgia Military College in the JUCO ranks. And while it isn’t an SEC-level of competition, it is more than that what you might see at a high school level.
“He’s mature. He played at a high level. When you go and play the schedule that GMC plays, they go play some of the best teams in junior college. You turn the tape on and he’s covering them. That and he’s fast. He ran fast. Those two combinations are pretty good.”
As far as continuing to see Daniel, that will depend on Campbell’s health. Smart has maintained that he’s practicing and could’ve played last week against Florida if necessary. His availability will likely depend on how he feels during warm-ups. Turf toe has been the reason Campbell has missed the last five games.
“He’ll continue to work this week, (and) if he has a good week of practice and he feels 100 percent, then we’d sure like for him to play,” Smart said.
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