Here are my Bulldogs to watch in the Liberty Bowl on Friday, December 30th.
NOTE: Article was written a couple of weeks prior to Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel announcing that they would be returning for their senior season.
ROQUAN SMITH (ILB, #3)
This 6-1, 225-pound sophomore has been the Bulldogs’ leading tackier the season long from his inside linebacker spot. The highly-recruited Smith, out of Macon County High, picked Georgia over UCLA after a highly-publicized signing ceremony and is a sure-fire all-star candidate. This season Smith has recorded 82 total tackles including five tackles-for- loss and five quarterback pressures. In the Bulldogs’ tough loss to Georgia Tech, Smith notched a career-high 13 tackles. Against TCU’s balanced offensive attack in the Liberty Bowl battle, Smith will be expected to lead the Georgia defense with another banner defensive showing.
SONY MICHEL (TB, #1)
While splitting time with fellow junior Nick Chubb, Michel has been one of the most productive tailbacks in UGA’s football history. Entering the Dec. 30 Liberty Bowl game against TCU, the 5-11, 222-pound Michel has rushed for 753 yards on 137 carries (a 5.5 yards-per-carry average), which ranks second on the Bulldogs to Chubb’s 988 rushing total. Playing in 11 of Georgia’s 12 games, Michel posted a career-high 170 yards rushing against Georgia Tech. He is also the Bulldogs’ fourth-leading receiver this fall with 20 catches for 110 yards. Becoming the No. 1 tailback in 2015 after Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee, Michel finished the season with 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns and his 2,324-yards career total is 10th best in the program’s history. In what could be his very last game in the red and black, a big performance from Sony Michel could be key to the Bulldogs gigging the Horned Frogs.
DOMINICK SANDERS (S, #24)
With his three interceptions this season, Sanders now has a total of 12 career picks for 296 yards in returns. Sanders’ 12 interceptions is only four behind the all-time UGA best of 16, the record held jointly by Jake Scott and Bacarri Rambo, and is one behind what his present coach, Kirby Smart, recorded in his playing time at Georgia. The 6-0, 193-pound junior strong safety has also recorded 31 tackles this season, a sack and seven pass breakups. Seemingly always around the football when it goes in the air, Sanders and his fellow defensive backs will have to be at their best in the upcoming Liberty Bowl when they face the Horned Frogs’ 3,000-yard passer, Kenny Hill, and his go-to receiver, TCU running back Kyle Hicks. Look for Sanders especially to be up for that challenge!
KIRBY SMART (HEAD COACH)
Smart’s debut season as the Bulldogs’ head coach mirrored the proverbial see-saw … up and down, up and down the year long. Certainly the 7-5 regular-season finish wasn’t what Georgia fans anticipated, or what Smart anticipated either, as bitter home defeats to Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech – as well as the loss to the hated Gators in Jacksonville – offset big wins over nationally-ranked North Carolina and Auburn. But Smart worked diligently in his first season to change the culture of Georgia football, putting in the type of system he learned under Nick Saban at Alabama, and the “process” if you will, is expected to pay huge dividends in the future as Smart stacks one lucrative recruiting class upon another. An eighth victory for Smart in the Liberty Bowl vs. TCU would indeed be a springboard into the 2017 season and, remember, that’s the same number of wins Mark Richt posted in his first season at UGA in 2001.