“Remember the Vanderbilt game.”
That’s below par as far as battle cries go. A Georgia fan base that fancies itself as an annual SEC contender would rather see Ole Miss or Tennessee subbed into that phrase for 2017.
“Help us forget Vanderbilt” would trend better along those lines. But there’s a better slogan for Georgia’s roster with help clearly on the way. Expect a class that’s currently rated third in the nation by the 247Sports Composite team rankings to give the program a serious talent infusion.
It is best described by one word: Push.
Let’s tick off what’s hurt the Bulldogs so far and chronicle what Kirby Smart’s staff already has on the way to counter that.
1. No push up front
The problem: Push could be the immediate balm for what has ailed Georgia this season. The coaches know it and that normally stoic Class of 1991 alum sitting two rows below also sees it.
Georgia’s offensive line doesn’t have the size or strength to get the push it needs up front. That makes the home run hitters in the backfield have to take one or two bases at a time even if a play is blocked right. That puts more pressure on 5-star QB Jacob Eason when the run game was supposed to be his best friend.
It has been a yo-yo season there. The Bulldogs have ran for 5.5 or more yards per carry for more than 250 yards in two games (North Carolina, South Carolina) and also ran for less than 4.0 yards per carry as a team in the Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt games.
Help on the way: Cedar Grove’s Netori Johnson comes immediately to mind. The nation’s No. 6 guard will crack the two-deep when he arrives in Athens. A nearly 6-foot-4, 340-pounder, Johnson won’t back away from any of the vets on defense in fall camp.
Georgia’s current starting five averages 6-foot-4 in height and 301 pounds. That’s beefed up by a redshirt senior, a graduate transfer, a senior, a junior and a redshirt sophomore. The four commitments on their way for next season already average 6-foot-4 and tip the scales at a mean of 330 pounds. Georgia will get bigger up front in a hurry.
The Bulldogs will have at least three new starters on the line in 2017. That should eventually include 4-star commit Andrew Thomas at tackle. It doesn’t look like there’s a clear starter on campus for either tackle spot. Redshirt sophomore Kendall Baker is listed as the second-string right tackle, but he’s played in just one game. That’s why Thomas and 6-foot-6 commitment D’Antne Demery need to develop quickly.
2. Size and speed at receiver
The problem: Georgia must get bigger, longer and more explosive at receiver. A glance at their two-deep shows 4 players who fall below the 6-foot-2 mark that also weigh less than 190 pounds. That’s not the SEC-size bodies offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and receivers coach James Coley want.
UGA also only has one receiver (Isaiah McKenzie) averaging more than three catches per game. There are only two receivers who have cracked the double-digit mark in catches.
Help on the way: Trey Blount, a 4-star commit, believes you “have to block to get the rock” thrown your way. Blount, 6-foot-2, 196-pounds, is two pounds heavier than Georgia’s other 4-star pledge. That’s the only size difference between him and Mark Webb Jr. out of Philadephia. They will immediately add hands, length and the size to push cornerbacks around in the run game. There’s also 6-foot-5 Matt Landers on board. He’s a 3-star receiver from Florida.
There’s still work to do at this position because Webb checks in as the highest-rated recruit at No. 20 nationally. There’s a need to add more deep speed to stretch the field.
3. Competition and depth at QB
The problem: Jacob Eason has played mostly as advertised, but who will push the 5-star freshman next season? Backup Greyson Lambert will have exhausted his eligibility and junior Brice Ramsey is dicey to return.
Will a walk-on or another grad transfer compete with Eason? Does Ramsey return? That’s not a very good situation to think about.
Help on the way: There’s at least a capable reserve on the way in 4-star Jake Fromm. Fromm is challenging several Georgia state schoolboy passing records this fall. He’s already the No. 2 all-time career passing yards leader in state history with more than 12,800 yards.
Fromm is rated as the nation’s No.4 pro-style prospect. He will definitely push Eason at that position going forward. Even if he redshirts to preserve a year of playing eligibility, he already projects to be the No. 2 option behind Eason next season.
Imagine if Aaron Murray and Matt Stafford were at Georgia at the same time. Who would start? The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Fromm is another Murray. He puts in so much preparation Houston County coach Von Lassiter said he could be an excellent offensive coordinator at the high school level tomorrow.
4. Reload at RB
The problem: Nick Chubb and Sony Michel aren’t likely to return in 2017. They came in as an All-American tandem in 2014. That followed a streak established by Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall when they arrived in Athens.
UGA already has a fine freshman tandem in Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield, but the loss of Chubb, Michel and senior Brendan Douglas open up three spots on the depth chart.
Help on the way: Georgia already has another 2-pack of All-Americans on the commitment board. The Bulldogs secured a commitment from the No. 1 player in Pennsylvania in 4-star D’Andre Swift. The 5-foot-9, 215-pound Swift is rated as the nation’s No. 4 RB.
He’ll be joined by December graduate Toneil Carter. The Texas speedster rates as the nation’s No. 7 RB. Both are skilled backs that will carry on the tailback tradition at Georgia.
Yet running backs coach Dell McGee hasn’t let up with those two. He’s chasing hard after 5-star Cam Akers out of Mississippi. Akers is rated as the nation’s No. 2 RB and No. 7 player overall. There is no imaginable situation where UGA would not add him to this class. Akers also doesn’t mind coming in with Carter and Swift.
5. More playmakers in the secondary
The problem: Did you see the end of the Tennessee game? Georgia hasn’t made a ton of plays in the secondary even though it lines up three juniors and two seniors in nickel packages. Quincy Mauger will graduate and graduate transfer Maurice Smith also departs. Those will be big holes.
Help on the way: 5-star safety Richard LeCounte III is Georgia’s highest-rated commitment and he’s rated as the nation’s No. 1 safety this year for good reason. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound LeCounte doesn’t have elite size, but that would be the only drawback even the toughest scouts note about him.
LeCounte pairs a 40-inch vertical leap with 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash. He’s smart enough not to say whether or not he’d have knocked down that Hail Mary by the Vols, but he sure would’ve liked to had a chance at it.
The Liberty County standout will enroll early, become an immediate factor on special teams and crack the two-deep at safety. His playing style is both ball-hawk and aggressor. He also plays with a fire that the Bulldogs could use a lot more of. Cornerback commit William Poole III rates No. 22 at his position nationally. His 5-foot-11 frame and sizable wingspan will make him one of the bigger corners the program has on the depth chart.
Work left to do
Ohio State and Alabama are the only programs that have collected more talent so far than Georgia’s 15 commits. The big thing is Georgia brings in great players and ranked classes every year. Steve Spurrier once said that Georgia always gets great players but wondered happened to them. The Bulldogs have had an averaging final recruiting ranking of No. 8 nationally since 2012.
The difference this year is Georgia is recruiting at an even higher level but also adhering to a template that calls for a physical downhill run team that necessitates that surge up front. This year’s team hasn’t had the pieces to consistently do that and that’s what Smart and his staff prioritized by nailing down commitments from such a highly-regarded class to this point.
What’s left? Here’s what UGA will focus on down the home stretch in recruiting leading up to National Signing Day on Feb. 1.
- More talent at WR: 4-star WR Jeremiah Holloman would be the perfect fit to stretch the field.
- Size and speed at LB: Look for Georgia to add up to five more LBs to this year’s class. They will all be fast or big. Preferably both.
- Another big OL: The Bulldogs need to add another big tackle from the prep or JUCO ranks.
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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.