Dawgs’ senior leadership has vaulted 2017 expectations, but an honest look shows some holes that must be shored up for success.
There is tremendous optimism around the Georgia football program, as the Bulldogs embark on the second season of the Kirby Smart era. A stellar freshman class, promise for the next two recruiting hauls with who has committed and who could join the fold, and the enthusiasm the young chieftain from Bainbridge has brought to his alma mater has the Bulldog faithful beaming with championship dreams and expectations.
Those expectations are high for 2017 as well.
A host of defensive returnees, a heralded recruiting class and the decisions of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to forego the NFL Draft and play their senior seasons for Georgia have the red and black faithful saying not just, “wait ’til next year,” but also “maybe this year.”
If this is the season for the Bulldogs to break back through, beat Tech, win the games Georgia is supposed to, get to at least 10-2 and earn a berth in Atlanta, there are some big questions that have to be answered in a positive manner.
Here are the biggest concerns for 2017:
With four highly recruited true freshmen and three talented redshirt freshmen, the future for the offensive line is bright. Sam Pittman is one of the best O-Line coaches in the game, thus a position that has been an Achilles heel with both performance and in recruiting for far too long, promises to be a strength very soon. Last year’s line struggled to say the least. Georgia was fortunate with injuries and returns three of the six regulars who played nearly, every snap return, though none are slated to start or play the same position as last season.
As the line gels, the defense and special teams will have to carry a heavy load.
Smart has stressed that improvement in the kicking game is the top priority for this season. The defense could be stellar, but it’s tough to play off the stop unity if it’s not complimented by the kicking game. This is the other far too often Achilles for Georgia over the past decade plus. Smart and the staff are driving to have special teams much better in 2017, and like the O-Line, hopefully, make it a strength in the very near future.
Finally, there is the passing game.
From protection to accuracy to avoiding drops to making the big plays and the big grabs, Georgia’s aerial attack must make a big jump for the Bulldogs offense to be championship caliber. Isaac Nauta is a gem at tight end, and there is a lot of competition at wide receiver. The Dogs need three or four to emerge. It is tough for quarterbacks to get excellent timing down with a slew of wideouts. Think back to the second half of 2007: Knowshon Moreno became the centerpiece of the offense, an inexperienced line gelled, and the Bulldogs settled in on a trio of receivers. The offense went from so so to extraordinary in the second half of that campaign that ended with the Bulldogs ranked No. 2 in the nation.
A majority of the questions in the passing game will have to be answered by sophomore signal caller Jacob Eason. He naturally had his ups and downs as a true freshman starter in the rugged SEC. Some of the bumps in the road endured by a freshman quarterback with a first-year staff should pay off this season.
For the first time since 2013 with Mike Bobo and Aaron Murray, Georgia will have the same offensive coordinator and quarterback as the year prior. Eason’s top goals are to become more accurate on all the throws, getting Georgia in the right sets, becoming more mobile, and limiting the turnovers.
As the Bulldogs fight for the ascension to the top of the college football world, the Bulldogs must greatly reduce the self-inflicted wounds. Smart and his staff are assembling a roster that should soon be one of the most talented in the country. That’s the ultimate combination – the margin for error on a team that doesn’t make many mistakes.
Over the last nine seasons, eight of college football’s national champions play in state’s that border Georgia. A lot of great players from the Peach State have been key contributors to those national crowns. “Why not us?” It’s been asked a lot. The natural resources are there, and Smart’s recruiting has Georgia on the cusp.
On the field, Georgia must stop losing games it is supposed to win. This was Clemson. Once they stopped losing to teams like Maryland, Wake Forest, and N.C. State, the Tigers got into big games and started winning those. Since 2012, Clemson has won postseason games against LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma again, Ohio State again and Alabama.
Just think where the mental health of the Georgia people and program would be had the Bulldogs beaten Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship Game (and subsequently Notre Dame for the national title), and held on in the fourth quarter on the last two Saturdays after Thanksgiving contested between the hedges?
Glory days are just around the corner, beating Appalachian State would check off a few boxes on the checklist of whether 2017 is the beginning of a new golden era of Georgia football.
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