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Sentell’s Intel: Why Georgia’s core recruits aren’t shaken by loss to Vanderbilt

Want a daily lap through Georgia football recruiting? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. We’ll cover the news and which way this 4-star or 5-star is leaning and add in a dab of perspective to help fans figure out what it all means.

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Georgia has lost three football games this year. Each one has had the opportunity to trigger a different emotion among those hoping to join Kirby Smart’s program.

The flat-out embarrassment at Ole Miss. The home heartbreaker to previously unbeaten Tennessee.

Now Vanderbilt. Yes, lowly Vanderbilt. The 17-16 Homecoming loss is now a part of the sample size for priority recruits to analyze what Smart is building at Georgia.

What do they think? It seems the coaching staff’s decision to be very honest with them about the program’s needs has prepared them for this season.

That includes Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason’s first road win in his third season of SEC football.

“It was a tough loss but everyone played hard,” said Trey Blount, who is committed at receiver for 2017. “Sometimes you have games like this. You don’t want to have them but sometimes they happen. Guys just have to work hard and get ready for Florida in a couple of weeks.”

Georgia only allowed the Commodores 171 total yards from scrimmage. Yet Vandy still generated 10 of its 17 points off two special teams gaffes.

The loss — like everything else — stems from what didn’t take place on offense. When a defense holds a conference rival under 175 total yards and just 17 points from all sources, it should earn the win.

Georgia’s offense that produced just 16 points off 23 first downs. It needed to do more after a run game fizzled once again.

The Bulldogs ran the ball 35 times for just 75 yards and that crucial late 4th-and-1 call decided the game. Georgia put the ball in the hands of the dynamic Isaiah McKenzie, but the 175-pounder didn’t beat the defense to the edge on a toss sweep for that one yard.

That’s a recurring theme and help is on the way. There are four players committed for 2017 that will instantly upgrade the size along the front. Those future road graders are all at least 6-foot-3 in height. They all weigh more than 320 pounds.

“Got to get better up front,” Cedar Grove senior Justin Shaffer told DawgNation after the loss.

But those are the committed guys. Most of those recruits aren’t going anywhere, but they are needed to spread the message to their peers. What will they say to recruits who wonder about the future at Georgia? Jake Fromm — the 4-star QB commit for 2017 — summed that up very well.

“I would say watch the game and look at the places they can contribute right away,” Fromm said.

Georgia should see three rungs on the depth chart open up at running back. It needs to sign at least four offensive linemen who could grab time right away. The Bulldogs will also add up to five receivers and six linebackers.

The Bulldogs lost to Vanderbilt for only the sixth time since 1973, but that didn’t change any of those needs for next year’s team.

Why recruiting matters

It sure looked to me like Vanderbilt redshirt junior linebacker Zach Cunningham was the best player on the field on Saturday. Cunningham came into the game as the SEC’s leading tackler and added 19 more stops to that tally against Georgia.

Cunningham is a most interesting recruiting story. The Pinson Valley (Ala.) product played his high school ball right outside of Birmingham. Alabama and Auburn both took long looks at him. Alabama even dangled a grey shirt opportunity, but that wasn’t an option.

Vanderbilt was very enthused after its 17-16 win at Georgia. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Vanderbilt was very enthused after its 17-16 win at Georgia. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

He had Auburn, Vanderbilt and Tennessee hats on the table for his signing day back in 2013. He chose Vanderbilt.

He did so after a dominant prep career. Cunningham had 197 total tackles and a senior, including 41 for losses. He blocked four points and tallied up a whopping 448 tackles over his last three varsity seasons.

Cunningham was so good that blockers ran past free guys in the middle of a play to make sure they blocked him.

SEC coaches saw all of that on film. They also saw he weighed just 205 pounds and looked to other options. Michael Barrow didn’t. The former All-American spent 12 seasons in the NFL and was coaching at Miami at the time. He checked the tape and felt Cunningham was the best linebacker he’d seen on tape that year.

Yet he was a 3-star prospect that finally got a fourth star after his senior season. Vanderbilt took a chance and everyone can now see just what Barrow knew was coming four years ago.

That’s one example on the Vanderbilt team. Another vivid one came after Saturday’s game. Jonathan Wynn was another redshirt junior for the Commodores.

He was a three-star prospect back in the Class of 2013, too. He was listed at 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds on his recruiting profile. He played for Stephenson High and relished in taking down the state’s flagship school.

Wynn felt he got slighted by the Bulldogs when he was a recruit.

“They said I was too small,” Wynn shouted after the victory. “OK. They said I was too small to play here. OK. Well, look at that scoreboard. OK. What does that say?”

That’s the life at Vanderbilt. Find the talent that the rest of the SEC passes over or waits until the very end to get serious about.

Wynn started on the defensive line against the Bulldogs and finished with three tackles.

First-round pick heading to Georgia 

The big recruiting news over the weekend came early on Saturday morning. Georgia took a commitment from a  former MLB first-round draft pick who has decided he wanted to return to playing football.

Former Blessed Trinity standout Jake Skole committed to Georgia over pursuit from Florida State, among others. Yet Skole isn’t a commitment in the traditional sense.

When the former outfielder arrives in Athens in January, there will be a stark difference for the 24-year-old freshman: He won’t be on scholarship. That’s part of the contract he signed after being selected No. 15 overall in 2010. Major League Baseball will pick up the tab for his college try.

jake-skole-by-phil-skinner-08192009
Former Blessed Trinity star Jake Skole was a three-star recruit coming out of high school in 2010. He will be a 24-year-old freshman at UGA in January. (AJC file photo)

That’s an incentive placed in contracts which still gives draft picks a chance to return to college after their playing careers end.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder projects to play at safety or outside linebacker at Georgia. The fact that he’s been a professional athlete for the last six years should help him adjust to the daily grind of a student-athlete playing college football in the SEC.

Skole had great speed coming out of high school. A Maxpreps.com report that covered his decision to sign to play professional baseball credited him with a time of 6.5 seconds in the 60-yard dash. He was a three-star recruit coming out of Blessed Trinity after his last season of football in 2009.

If he’s at safety, that’s another playing option in the secondary via an unconventional method. A recent de-commitment from a 4-star cornerback has left the Bulldogs with just two defensive back pledges for 2017. Yet the new editions to the playing roster won’t all come from the committed prospects who will sign in February of 2017.

Georgia also added Tulsa transfer J.R. Reed back during the summer. Reed is the son of longtime NFL receiver Jake Reed. Reed will be able to play next season. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash according to his cousin DeAngelo Gibbs.

Gibbs — a senior at Grayson High School — is also one of the highest remaining recruiting priorities for Georgia in 2017.

The incredible Cam Akers

Cam Akers had another sensational game on Friday. The Clinton High School (Clinton, Miss.) standout scored seven touchdowns in a 56-48 region win. The nation’s No. 2 RB prospect just so happens to play quarterback for his high school team.

But he included his first career defensive touchdown on a 76-yard interception return in that lot.

Cam Akers is the nation's No. 2 RB for the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Cam Akers is the nation’s No. 2 RB for the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

According to Will Sammon of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Akers, a 5-star prospect completed, 13 of 17 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 155 yards and three more scores on 13 carries.

He’s now accounted for 35 total touchdowns through his eight games. He has 99 carries for 933 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in 2016.

Akers has also thrown for 1718 yards and 17 touchdowns this year. He’s completed 65 percent of his 132 passing attempts this fall.

A 5-foot-11, 213-pounder, Akers is rated as the nation’s No. 2 RB for the Class of 2017. He’s regarded as the nation’s No. 7 overall prospect for this cycle. Georgia already has commitments from two running backs in this year’s class and would not hesitate to make Akers the third.

There’s a lot of buzz right now around Akers. I still feel that Georgia is in his Top 3 and the program has a much better shot than most everyone might think about signing him.

Akers is a December graduate and will enroll early at the school of his choice in January. Look for him to make his college decision known in January at the U.S. Army All-American game.

 

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Follow Jeff Sentell on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.