After a long off season and the summer doldrums, Georgia fans are ready to watch their Dawgs once again take the field, and Jeff Dantzler and Murray Poole know this 2016 team inside and out. Here are the Bulldogs to watch on Saturday.
KIRBY SMART (HEAD COACH)
Since he succeeded Mark Richt on Dec. 6, 2015 as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, Kirby Smart has seemingly done everything right in his quest to return the football program back to championship status. Smart quickly assembled what appears to be a stellar coaching staff. He signed a 2016 Top 10 recruiting class that featured arguably the nation’s No. 1 prep quarterback in Jacob Eason. Smart called for a Sanford Stadium capacity turnout of 93,000 fans for the annual G-Day Game and saw that challenge become reality for the spring game on April 16, and in preseason camp leading up to Saturday’s season opener in the Georgia Dome, Smart brought an, well, Alabama- like discipline and tough-love coaching style that is expected to serve his team well in the coming football seasons. Now — as Smart and his assistant staff are well aware — they have to win football games. Richt, in his 15 years at Georgia, averaged nearly 10 wins per season. Smart will not only be expected to do that but win SEC championships (something the Bulldogs haven’t accomplished since 2005) and, also, put Georgia into the national championship picture.
LORENZO CARTER (LB, #7)
Following a stellar freshman season and a somewhat lackluster sophomore campaign, there’s no question that this 6-6, 242-pound Norcross product is a major key for Mel Tucker’s Georgia defense this fall. And in this season opener against the Tar Heels in the Georgia Dome, Carter will be expected to cause havoc for North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky coming off the edge from his outside linebacker spot while also being a major force in slowing explosive tailback Elijah Hood and the Heels’ run game. Indeed, it’s doubtful if the Bulldogs can become one of the SEC’s best defensive units without Lorenzo Carter living up to his vast potential. No more “looking like Tarzan but playing like Jane” for a guy who came out of Norcross High School as a first team Parade All-American.
DOMINICK SANDERS (DB, #24)
Coming off an eight interception season, Sanders has served notice that he has the potential to be one of the best defensive backs in college football.
But Smart is pushing for even more, trying to light a fire by saying he was a “second team All-SEC type player.” Georgia needs for him to be a first team All-American type player. The defense has a lot of talent. A lot of it young, particularly up front. There are a lot of four and five star recruits who performed well in supporting roles a year ago who will now be asked to lead the way. Sanders is the player Trubisky will be watching for. He has a great nose for the football and big play ability. Georgia is the home to some of the greatest defensive backs to ever play. In the “two-platoon” era that coincided with Vince Dooley’s arrival in Athens in 1964, the Bulldogs have been home to three College Football Hall of Famers — Jake Scott, Scott Woerner and Terry Hoage; several other All-Americans, including Bill Krug, Jeff Hipp, Jeff Sanchez, John Little, Champ Bailey, Sean Jones and Thomas Davis; and many more who have left a major imprint on the program with memorable plays and performances, such as Chris Welton, Ronnie Harris, Ben Smith and the Bulldogs current head coach. Sanders can put himself in that company. But to do that, he needs to not only play great, but help lead Georgia to a special season.
NICK CHUBB (TB, #27) AND SONY MICHEL, (TB, #1)
Tailback U anyone? How about both of these guys and Todd Gurley were on the same team in 2014, but a lot of games were missed due to a variety of reasons. Now the question is, will Chubb’s knee and Michel’s arm be 100 percent and ready to go? On the bright side, if both are ready to roll, Georgia has a tailback one-two punch that only LSU can rival. Both can do it all. If one is ready, the Bulldogs would probably take that deal. If both are, these two can carry so much of the load while the rest of the numerous offensive question marks sort themselves out. These are special players who do do it all on the field, and they are both hungry to shoulder the load for the dawning of the Kirby Smart era.
ISAIAH MCKENZIE (WR, KR, PR, #16)
Already one of the most accomplished return men in Georgia history, McKenzie will be a huge key for the Bulldogs throughout the season, especially early as so many offensive question marks get worked out. Whether it’s on punt returns, kick returns or spot offensive plays, McKenzie could give Georgia that needed difference-making burst. Consistency and ball security are a key for one of the Bulldogs most potent weapons. The Heels may very well adjust how they kick and punt to account for “Joystick Izzy.”