Closer look: Why Georgia couldn’t make promises Arik Gilbert needed to hear

Georgia football-Arian Smith-Kelee Ringo-speed
Arian Smith's target share will increase dramatically next season, as will tight end Darnell Washington's.
Sean Rayford/AP

ATHENS — Arik Gilbert’s decision to transfer from LSU to Florida instead of Georgia can be summed up with four words: “There’s only one ball.”

It surely wasn’t hard for Gilbert to determine there’s an opportunity for more passes to be thrown in his direction at Florida, where the Gators are replacing projected first-round pick Kyle Pitts, than he could have received at UGA.

The Bulldogs would have been an attractive option because they’re in position for a College Football Playoff championship run and they play in a pro-style offensive system.

But Gilbert would have likely needed to wait to the 2022 season to get the sort of volume he was enjoying at LSU, where he averaged nearly 7 targets per game (6.8) including 18 targets in his final two games before opting out.

Florida is in the midst of a rebuild with Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask moving on and questions at quarterback.

The volume available in the Gators’ passing game, however, is indisputable.

The Gators are losing their top three pass catchers — Pitts and receivers Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes.

Those three players combined to account for more than half of Florida’s catches (151-296, .510) and receiving yards (2343-4272, .548) in addition to 32 of the Gators’ 42 TD passes (.761) during the regular season.

Georgia, meanwhile, returns 170 of 178 catches (.955) at the moment, along with 2,364 of 2,499 receiving yards (.945) and 18 of 19 TD catches (.947).

So while some can and will make more of the decision made by Gilbert, a former Marietta High School  5-star prospect, it comes back to players and programs finding the right arrangements.

If Gilbert’s top priority is as many or more targets as he had at LSU in 2021, he’s better off with Florida.

Like any other year, Georgia is better off without having any players in the program who are dissatisfied with their roles or recruited on false pretenses, as that tends to lead to team chemistry issues.

Monken can and will add plenty of tweaks and twists to the Bulldogs’ offense in 2021, but some elements are more obvious than others, including a ratcheted-up use of tight ends with Darnell Washington the big benefactor.

The offensive backfield has the look of a mashup, with the starting role and handoff distribution very much up in the air.

But the backs will continue to be a part of the passing game with James Cook’s explosively in the open field, and Kenny McIntosh’s reliable hands and route-running abilities topping the options there.

At receiver, George Pickens and Jermaine Burton project to be UGA’s top targets next season. Dominick Blaylock might also get back into the go-to role depending on how quickly he’s able to get back into form after last year’s knee injury.

Much of what Monken schemes up and where JT Daniels ultimately goes with the football is determined by how defenses choose to play UGA, but it’s clear the Bulldogs have options at every position.

The final four games last season, with Daniels at quarterback, provided a sampling of how target share might work out over the course of the 12-game 2021 season.

In those final four contests, Georgia played

•  a pass-heavy game (41 called pass plays, 20 carries) with Mississippi State

• a run-heavy game (18 pass, 44 carries) at South Carolina

• a blowout win game (30 pass, 43 carries) at Missouri

• a come-from-behind game (42 pass, 21 carries) vs Cincinnati

Looking at how the 119 targets broke down over those final four games, it’s pretty clear there’s already an issue finding enough of the football to go around.

Over the final four games of last season:

• Pickens caught 23 passes off 33 targets for 373 yards.

• Burton had 17 catches off 24 targets for 274 yards.

• Kearis Jackson had 9 catches off 13 targets for 118 yards.

• Darnell Washington had 5 catches off 8 targets for 107 yards.

• John FitzParick had 5 catches off 7 targets for 49 yards.

• Arian Smith had 2 catches of 2 targets for 86 yards.

The Georgia running backs combined for 12 catches off 17 targets for 128 yards.

The only player who caught a pass the final four games who is not returning — at this time — is tight end Tre’ McKitty, who had 3 catches on 4 targets for 51 yards.

Then, one must also consider:

• Arian Smith and Darnell Washington will see their target shares increase significantly in 2021

• Blaylock returns from injury this season

, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint did not play (injury) the final four games of the season

• Kendall Milton did not play (injured) three of the final four games of the regular season

• Demetris Robertson is still pondering returning to the team

Better that Georgia did not make promises to Gilbert that it could not keep, as it will have its hands full maintaining its current roster of receivers into the start of fall camp.

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