ATHENS — Georgia didn’t have any players included on the postseason All-SEC team this year for the first time since 1990, or 26 years. Kind of mind-boggling, isn’t it?
But I argue that the Bulldogs had some all-conference players. They just weren’t recognized — or utilized — depending on your perspective.
I got into a pretty good debate about this with a couple gentlemen in the football business for whom I have great respect. They’ll remain nameless here but, suffice it to say, both have been in the game and I value their opinions greatly.
One pointed to the fact that Georgia didn’t have any players on All-SEC team as evidence that the Bulldogs didn’t have any talent on the roster this year. The other pointed out that there was all-conference-caliber talent on the roster but that it was overlooked because of the crappy overall season and/or because of deficiencies in other areas.
As always, I’d say the truth lay somewhere in between. Personally, I believe Georgia had six or seven players with all-conference talent. Those either didn’t get the recognition they deserved this season or will eventually.
Let’s back up and take a look at who was thought to be all-conference caliber going into the season. Georgia had two players on both the coaches’ and SEC media preseason All-SEC first teams: tailback Nick Chubb and offensive lineman Greg Pyke. Others who also received preseason notice were center Brandon Kublanow (second team on both), defensive back Dominick Sanders (consensus second team), receiver/kick returner Isaiah McKenzie (second team coaches, third media) and outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter (second team media, third coaches).
Obviously none of those players made the cut, and no others stepped up to take their places.
As for Chubb, I’d say I’m probably not alone in the opinion that he is an all-conference player. I’m not of the belief that Chubb was less of a back this season because he was coming off of major knee surgery. I think the 222 yards in the opener against North Carolina answered that question. But I do think he was limited by poor offensive line play and some curious play-calling.
Chubb essentially missed 1.5 games due to injury, the second half of the Ole Miss game and all of the Tennessee game. Chubb did play one play against the Vols, but that was just to test his left ankle (or so coach Kirby Smart could stick it to the press for reporting that Chubb was going to sit out, depending on which motive one believes). In any case, that move dropped Chubb’s per-game average from 89.5 to what it is now, 82.3. But that is still 10th among SEC backs.
Five backs made the all-conference team and all except one were among the league’s rushing leaders. Auburn’s Kamryn Pettway (124.8 ypg) and LSU’s Derrick Guice (113.5), the top two, were first-teamers. Arkansas’ Rawleigh Williams III (110.5) and Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb (97.7) were second team. The coaches included Leonard Fournette as a third back on the second team, even though he missed five games due to injury. He did average 120 yards in the seven games he played, however.
Chubb’s numbers — 1,074 all-purpose yards, 4.8 yards per carry — were way below his career average. And he inexplicably got the ball only nine times in the loss to Florida and 16 versus Vandy. But he did manage to score 8 TDs.
And there’s a pretty good argument for Sony Michel (753 total yards, 3 TDs) being one of the league’s best backs, but his omission is understandable considering the lack of reps and starts. He may get the last laugh on draft day.
I believe Pyke could have been all conference — as a guard. But one of Georgia’s big moves this season to shore up its balky O-line was to move the senior out to right tackle for his final season, and it did not go particularly well. Pyke held his own but it wasn’t his ideal position. He may play guard for a long time in the NFL. We’ll see.
Likewise, Kublanow and guard Isaiah Wynn just didn’t have good seasons. I actually like all those guys on the Bulldogs’ offensive front, Tyler Catalina, Lamont Gaillard, Dyshon Sims. They’re all smart, hard-working players who did the best they could. But whether it was scheme or talent — it took Georgia a third of the season to realize they couldn’t just maul opposing defensive lines up the middle — they were too often over-matched. That negatively impacted the offense in multiple ways. Ask Chubb and Michel, and quarterback Jacob Eason.
I think freshman tight end Isaac Nauta (27 catches, 353 yards, 3 TDs) will eventually be an all-conference player, and possibly receivers Terry Godwin (37-394-0) or Riley Ridley (12-238-2). Isaiah McKenzie probably should have been this season, if not as a receiver but as a returner/all-purpose player.
Think about how McKenzie’s season started? He had 18 catches for 305 yards and five touchdowns in Georgia’s first three games. Now it’s probably unreasonable to think he could have maintained that pace for the whole season. But if he could have, he would’ve finished with 1,220 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns, not including his return numbers.
As it was, the Bulldogs simply got away from feeding McKenzie. He had no touches against Florida, and only four against Ole Miss, four against South Carolina, three against Kentucky and three against Georgia Tech. Again, it’s always a challenge for play-callers to distribute the ball to all the weapons at their disposal. But McKenzie was curiously absent in the gameplan a few times.
Defensively, I thought it was a disappointing season for Sanders. I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that. But you can’t ever be sure what all a defensive back’s responsibilities are, especially a free safety. He played more Star, or nickelback, last year. But Mo Smith played there this season, so Sanders essentially was playing a new position and was playing hurt for much of the year. He still had 31 tackles and 3 interceptions, a solid season.
Defensive tackle Trent Thompson and inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick — all sophomores — did not get any mention this season. But I bet they do next year. Smith was 11th in the SEC in tackles with 82 despite not starting every game, and Patrick was 19th (55) despite missing the last three games with a shoulder injury. Thompson (48 tackles, 6 TFLs) was overshadowed by a bunch of upperclassmen on the first and second teams this year. But he won’t be overshadowed next season and will be the leader of a talented D-line that’s going to demand some notice. It’s just a matter of time before “Jolly Nation,” as the folks in Albany call him, gets the accolades he deserves.
I’m not sure what to say about Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter. Both outside linebackers are standout players, but they came away with only eight sacks and 86 tackles between them. I’d say that was either unproductive or an indication of lack of talent, except for the fact that Leonard Floyd (4.5) and Jordan Jenkins (4.0) posted similar pass-rushing numbers — but more tackles (133) a year ago and they’re both millionaire NFL players now.
Perhaps those numbers say more about scheme or coaching than they do those individuals. As always is the case, football is a team sport and you only gain as much notice as your team success will allow. Alabama, you might have noted, had 10 on the all-conference teams released this week.
I guess 7-and-5 just doesn’t buy you much street cred.