Opinion: Critics can chirp, but this 2019 Georgia football team is still special
“Senior Day” is upon this Georgia football team. Despite the nostalgia it always brings, there will still be those to peer through the rain on Saturday to point out where the Bulldogs are lacking.
For those folks, it must have felt like it was always raining in Sanford Stadium this year.
That’s part of the deal of sitting square among the nation’s elite programs. That No. 4 ranking is too often seen as a launch point to examine what keeps Georgia from being the best team in the land.
Offensive execution. Explosive plays. Getting the outside run game humming. Completing the ball over the middle. And to the tight ends. More touches for James Cook and Demetris Robertson. More havoc.
If Jake Fromm hit Cook Saturday for a 50-yard score and followed it with an over-the-middle bolt to Charlie Woerner for another six points, the contrarian “BINGO” card would fall silent.
Toss in a play-action deep dart to Kearis Jackson, Matt Landers or Demetris Robertson. That would be akin to a third Thanksgiving dessert helping.
DawgNation can be mindful of what it wishes for. It had similar “do more” hopes for sophomore punter Jake Camarda this year. It made his breakout game at Auburn mean a great deal.
“Senior Day” won’t prevent the negativity. Some of those takes are valid. Kirby Smart even said last week this group has to play better.
The social media world just spikes that punch. Then keeps stirring it.
The vocal jaded minority dissects every play. But what does that DawgNation die-hard think? Zoom in on the folks who show up every “DawgWalk” week 90 minutes early. Even in the rain.
Those folks say a lot. Just by showing up. They didn’t even have to log on and log in.
They will be there extra early on Saturday for a special senior class and a few NFL-trending juniors. They want to see their “DGDs” walk through Gate 10 one more time before their last rides in Sanford Stadium.
The wonder here is a belief that those folks savor what Georgia football does do well. Just as much as what it does not.
The list of those things won’t trend for the “outside noise” circuit, but that doesn’t make them any less important.
4 things DawgNation should not neglect about this team
- 3 straight SEC East crowns: The Bulldogs are the first SEC East team to win three straight division titles since Florida did from 1992-1996. Alabama is the only other SEC program to match that feat. The Crimson Tide did it from 1992-1994 and then another threepeat from 2014-2016. It seems to be pretty rare company with Steve Spurrier’s run, Saban’s college football dynasty and those strong Gene Stallings teams from the 1990s.
- Kirby Smart: He was hired based on a resume of being an alum, an elite recruiter and scheming up championship-level defenses at Alabama. This is his fourth team and he’s done just that. There is a lot of focus on areas where he must grow a head coach. Just don’t forget about his area of expertise. Check these national rankings: Red zone defense (1st); Scoring defense (2nd); Rushing defense (3rd); Total defense (6th); First downs allowed (7th); Third down conversion percentage allowed (9th)
- Future on D looks terrifically bright: Georgia has only allowed opposing offenses 15 trips into the red zone in 10 games. At worst case, the Bulldogs will replace five new starters off that group in 2020. The Bulldogs can return as many as eight of those stalwarts plus a ton of depth next year.
- That rushing touchdown shutout streak: Auburn snapped that last weekend, but it was a stat so unique the stat crunchers at ESPN couldn’t say for certain how long it had been since a team went nine games without giving up a rushing touchdown, if ever.
The ‘DGD’ moments on Saturday
- Rodrigo Blankenship: Has any team had better continuity in the kicking game the last four seasons? What about his kickoff leg? The times he’s had to put clutch points on the board? The 55-yard range? His nickname and fan appeal? He is up for All-American status, The Burlsworth Trophy (top one-time walk-on) and The Lou Groza (top kicker) this year. As he should be.
- J.R. Reed: Tulsa transfer. Former 3-star recruit. Rated as the nation’s No. 1856 overall player. Now one of the five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Award (nation’s top defensive player) for 2019. Been a vital cog on three SEC East Championship defenses. The A&M game will be his 40th straight start. Was once thought of as an incentive piece to sign the former elite recruit, Deangelo Gibbs, but he turned out to be the prize.
- Tyler Clark: Flashed late in the 2017 season on that magical run. Played solid ball last year despite battling injuries. Was the 12th highest-rated recruit in the 2016 class. Pegged as the nation’s No. 27 DT. Proven to be the best defensive player in Smart’s first class. By far. Has started 32 games. Currently playing the best ball of his UGA career.
- Tae Crowder: The 2015 signee is one of the few pre-Kirby Bulldogs. Weathered the position changes. He played in one game during his first two years. Logged just five starts his next two years. Crowder has made 10 starts this fall. The Pine Mountain native is now up for the Butkus Award as one of the nation’s top LBs.
- Brian Herrien: Former no-star recruit had an exhausting climb to just sign with Georgia. Made the most of it. Waited his turn behind several NFL-grade backs. He will be remembered for his smile and willingness to do whatever was required. Easily one of the most versatile players in the program. Has always been known for his toughness.
- Solomon Kindley: Former lifeguard. Former 3-star. Former No. 146 player in Florida. Didn’t even merit a national overall ranking. The lowest-rated position player that Georgia signed in 2016 will be making his 28th start for Sam Pittman. He’s battled injuries but was a preseason All-American in 2019. Has a chance to return as part of a unit that has allowed just six sacks in 2019.
- Jake Fromm: Just a junior. There’s so much that could be said, but the biggest thing to consider is Fromm rising to the challenges. Despite intense weekly scrutiny. He’s 3-0 against the Gators. Currently 23-2 against Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and UT. Has any Georgia QB played in more big games in his first three years? Has anyone passed more big-game tests? How many backup QBs have the Bulldogs seen this year? In the face of that, he’s made 38 straight starts for Georgia.
- D’Andre Swift: Will the junior return? That’s a December/January topic. This was the year where he proved he could stay up as the lead RB and grab those tough inside yards. Where would this offense be without his consistent impact? When forecasting the games each week, has any opponent had an offensive game-breaker like Swift? He had six starts prior to this year but has added eight of those in 2019. Swift now has back-to-back 1,00-yard seasons and a career average of 6.6 yards per attempt.
- Andrew Thomas: Up for The Outland Trophy and every All-American team for his junior season. First-year starter for a team that played for it all in 2018. He’s played in 38 games. He’s started in 38 games. Thomas missed just one game in his UGA career. Has he ever not played like a future first-round pick? Can make a strong case for Thomas as the best OL in Georgia history.
The concepts not to lose sight of
- Receiver continuity gap: The Bulldogs lost their five top receivers from the 2018 season. In spite of that, they saw five receivers return who caught at least five passes in 2018. Those five Bulldogs have only caught an average of 11.4 passes in 2019. This team’s top three receivers weren’t even Bulldogs in 2018. The No. 4 receiver on this team didn’t have a career catch at UGA coming into the season. The same can be said about the tight end with the sixth-most catches on the team.
- Freshman impact: Elite recruiting matters. Georgia has seen six of its true freshmen play in every game this year. Those Bulldogs all ranked among the eight highest-rated signees in the 2019 class. Travon Walker, who missed two games due to injury, has also made a significant impact among the top eight signees in that cycle.
- Not banking on any one single recruiting class: Elite recruiting also fuels the lofty performance outlooks for every position group. Georgia signed the nation’s top class in 2018. Yet that group has produced just four 2019 starters from the 15-highest rated signees. Check out the significant contributor count for each class under Smart: 2016: 7; 2017: 7; 2018: 9; 2019: 9
- Development in Athens: Scan back up to all those memorable names. There was only one 5-star (Swift) in that lot. The Bulldogs are getting prime production from a lot of guys that weren’t expected to take college football by storm when they enrolled at UGA.
- Depth: Georgia could lose up to four of its top six OLs to the NFL after this season. If so, the Bulldogs will still have a trio of 5-star O-line prospects plus returnee Trey Hill in 2020. Name another program with the luxury of sending in Jamaree Salyer (nation’s No. 1 guard in 2018) as the No. 7 offensive line piece in 2019?
- Rewind: Think back to Florida in 2015. Or that Georgia Southern overtime game. Or those three straight one-score games (and two losses) to Georgia Tech. The program has evolved considerably from the time this senior class signed with UGA. Are there any more than five teams in the country that can say they have a better present and future outlook than the view at UGA?
There’s nothing wrong with looking down at the field and identifying ways in which this team can be better Ways it can get better and play better.
But it also helps to not overlook the areas where the program could not be much better than it is right now, too.