Georgia’s title-game loss exposed recruiting need Bulldogs must address to topple Tide

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Georgia's loss to Alabama in the National Championship Game exposed a position of need that Kirby Smart must address on the recruiting trail.

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If you build it …

Like it or not, Georgia football met its measuring stick in the National Championship Game. From now until the day Nick Saban leaves town, and maybe after, Alabama will remain the greatest obstacle to UGA’s national title ambitions. Either by proxy of a meeting in the SEC Championship Game or a contest in the College Football Playoff itself, UGA’s path to a title goes directly through Alabama for the foreseeable future.

So what does this mean for Georgia? It means Kirby Smart needs to build a team capable of beating Alabama. One of the silver linings from the loss in the title game proved Georgia’s once-hypothetical shortcomings compared to college football’s golden standard, shortcomings that now can be targeted and addressed.

The good news is that Georgia already has a few of the pieces any team coming at the kings will need in place. Jake Fromm is only going to get better and Justin Fields is in the wings, so the quarterback spot is set. A steady stream of 4- and 5-star recruits have trickled into Athens for the last decade, and that’s not about to stop. There is enough depth and talent in the front seven that we’re looking at a reload, not rebuild as stars are lost there. So all in all, Georgia is in a pretty good spot.

But there were two glaring areas of weakness that ultimately caused the Bulldogs to lose the game Monday: offensive line and secondary.

Smart is in the process of correcting the issues on the offensive front. Alabama has the biggest, baddest defensive line in college football, a unit that dominated every UGA offensive lineman, save Isaiah Wynn. So the logical response is to build the biggest, baddest offensive line in college football. Bringing in two of the most talented line classes in UGA history has him well on the way to that goal.

Defensive back is the more dire of the two situations. Between all the contributors leaving the program and the young, talented receivers Alabama relied on in the title game ― and will rely on for years to come ― there is a significant skill gap between UGA’s secondary and Alabama’s receiving corps. That gap could be closed if Smart can sign 5-star cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Isaac Taylor-Stuart. Jeff Sentell of DawgNation breaks it down here:

Alabama signed four receivers in 2017, and they were rated among the nation’s top 12 players. The Tide put three of those players on the field in the National Championship Game.

Jerry Jeudy and Devonta Smith (a former UGA commit) both made huge plays in that game, including the game-winning touchdown from Smith. Georgia’s young defensive backs did not make anywhere near that impact in the most important moments.

The Bulldogs also saw Aaron Davis, Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders exhaust their eligibility. Junior Deandre Baker, the team’s most effective cornerback in coverage all season, is flirting with the NFL. That’s what makes both Campbell and California 5-star Isaac Taylor-Stuart so vital to add to the nation’s top-ranked class.

Alabama rising sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa and all those receivers could be waiting for the Bulldogs for Round II in the SEC Championship game in December. The Bulldogs will have to cover those guys to steer the result toward a different outcome.

But the recruitment of Campbell and Taylor-Stuart is about far more than just next season. This is about the level of excellence Smart, a former safety and defensive backs coach, expects from his secondary. Since coming to Athens, he’s constantly tinkered with the secondary in search of a more perfect unit. Mecole Hardman played cornerback as a freshman, and 4-star wide receiver recruit Mark Webb was switched to CB this season. Maurice Smith transferred from Alabama as a graduate because Smart didn’t like the look of the secondary when he first got to town. Of all the spots on the field, secondary is the one that seems like a passion project for Smart.

Based on the way he feverishly signed defensive backs last season, it was evident Smart didn’t think the talent on the team was up to snuff. The National Championship Game proved him right. Two seniors, Parrish and Sanders, were beaten on Smith’s game-winning touchdown. They simply weren’t good enough. That might seem harsh when you consider we’re picking nits about one play in a four-year career. But at this level, one play is all that separates champions from also-rans.

The process of building a national championship-caliber secondary is well underway. Smart signed eight defensive backs last season, including Webb. Of those, the top prospects are Richard LeCounte and DeAngelo Gibbs, both of whom project as safeties. If they stick to that spot and progress as expected, they could turn into the best safety pairing in the SEC.

The answer isn’t as clear at cornerback. Although Smart signed six corners last season, none has the look of a potential shutdown player; that can change with a season or two of work. Three more cornerbacks, all 4-star prospects, have signed on as part of the Class of 2018. That gives Smart and Mel Tucker a large talent pool to work with at the position, which should lead to an improved secondary over the next few seasons.

But if the goal is to beat Alabama and win a national championship, Smart can’t shoot for simply improving. He must shoot to be the best because only the best can beat Alabama. That means signing players such as Campbell and Taylor-Stuart is imperative. Georgia rarely has had the luxury of a shutdown corner, much less two. Those two could prove to be the missing pieces that transform the Dawgs from title contenders to title winners.

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At second glance

I’ve heard over and over again how amazing the National Championship Game was from a neutral perspective, but I can’t bring myself to watch it yet. I don’t know if I ever can.

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