Georgia (7-2) is coming off a disappointing season where the presumed starting quarterback opted out two weeks before the first game, nagging injuries plagued the team in the biggest matchup of the season, and Senior Day was canceled due to Vanderbilt having “COVID-19 protocol issues” within the program.
Still, the Bulldogs have a lot to play for as the team prepares for the matchup against Cincinnati (9-0) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, which will take place on New Year’s Day at noon EST.
Regardless of the roller coaster that has been 2020 for Georgia, there’s still a lot to play for as this bowl game could have implications for the program heading into 2021. Also, though the Bulldogs didn’t get the end result they wanted, the matchup against the Bearcats is intriguing.
The Bearcats will be spiteful, so Georgia can’t overlook them…
Cincinnati is coming off the program’s first American Athletic Conference championship, while they were snubbed of a College Football Playoff spot after going undefeated. This matchup is truly a Power 5 ‘blueblood’ against a Group of 5 ‘program on the rise.’ The Bearcats will be ready to shock the world, while Georgia will have to remain intact, and shutdown the AAC conference champion.
It’s easy to say that Georgia could be unmotivated, but rest assured that head coach Kirby Smart will have his team ready.
“We’ve had success in bowls, we’ve had failures in bowls,” Smart said on Sunday. “We lost the Sugar Bowl, we won a Sugar Bowl. Those two things most stick out in my mind are the approach each team took to those games. It was so important to so many in terms of the Baylor Sugar Bowl, the way the kids approached it. For the Texas Sugar Bowl, it wasn’t that way. Everybody didn’t approach the game the same way. I think we learned a valuable lesson as a staff that it’s not necessarily who you play with but what their mindset is when you go play a game in a bowl game.”
Unlike Cincinnati, Georgia is expected to be dealing with several opt-outs as these players will be more than likely preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft. According to UGASports.com, seniors like inside linebacker Monty Rice, offensive lineman Ben Cleveland, safety Richard LeCounte, tight end Tre’ McKitty and cornerback D.J. Daniel – are all expected to sit this one out. It’s also reported that cornerbacks, Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes, might opt-out as well.
Smart said he wishes he knew how many players will be missing this game.
“I don’t completely know the answer to that yet. We don’t know exactly who’s going to be in and who’s going to be out,” Smart said. “There’s still water under the bridge in terms of kids making decisions, and we’ve got several seniors with draft prospects; we’ve also got juniors with draft prospects who are having to make decisions.”
Smart also said that the coaching staff has made sure to communicate to those players that they have all of the information in front of them before making the decision.
“What I’ve encouraged them to do is to be thorough, make sure they get good information and make the best decision—but in a timely manner so we can prepare and get ourselves ready,” Smart said. “We want to get ready as soon as we can for Cincinnati. Seeing them play last night let me know right now, we’ve got a lot of preparation to do to get ready. I don’t know who will be in and who will be out yet. But the guys who are out there are the ones we’re going to coach and get ready to play.”
What happened last year…
Last season, Georgia dealt with several opt-outs before the Sugar Bowl against Baylor, although mainly on offense. But the Bulldogs still put on a clinic on both offense and defense against the Bears.
For example, running back Zamir White has his best game (at that point) rushing for 92 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. Also, wide receiver George Pickens had a career-high of 12 receptions for 175 yards and a score. Both of those players’ performances foreshadowed what they would accomplish in 2020.
White is currently Georgia’s leading rusher as he’s racked up 740 yards on 133 attempts with 10 touchdowns. Pickens, who had a slow start to the season, is the team’s third-leading receiver with 378 yards and five scores.
That just goes to show you that games like this still matter in looking forward to 2021.
To what this year holds…
This season, it seems like Georgia will take a hit heading into the bowl game on the defensive side of the ball. LeCounte has been missing in action since his motorbike incident following the Kentucky game, so junior Christopher Smith has taken over at strong safety. Sophomore Lewis Cine has been playing all season, but expect freshman Major Burns to get some snaps against the Bearcats.
Georgia’s defense is already low on cornerbacks, and if Stokes and Campbell decide not to compete, it could get worse as Daniel is expected to miss this contest as well. Nevertheless, that leaves more playing time for redshirt junior Ameer Speed and freshman Jalen Kimber. At the linebacker position, seniors Jermaine Johnson and Monty Rice are slated to not play. So, that leaves more snaps for sophomore Nolan Smith, juniors Adam Anderson and Quay Walker.
All those players mentioned to still be competing, have either played and made an impact already, or are finally going to see the field a lot more. However, that doesn’t even count the numerous defensive backs and linemen who weren’t even mentioned. All of those named and unnamed will be the future of Georgia’s defense as they start to prepare for Clemson after Jan 1.
Georgia’s offense now boiling hot…
Georgia’s offense has been proficient for the first time in a while since Southern Cal transfer J.T. Daniels has taken over at quarterback. The Bulldogs have totaled 125 points in the last three games when the offense has been led by Daniels. The redshirt sophomore has racked up 839 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception in that time.
Even though the run game suffered against Mississippi State, since then the Bulldogs have put 648 total rushing yards on 91 carries, which is 7.1 yards per attempt. Freshman Daijun Edwards has really come on fast while as well. White, sophomore Kenny McIntosh and junior James Cook also are still performing at a high-level. Also, freshman Kendall Milton is expected to return against Cincinnati.
Georgia’s wide receivers have started to flourish since they finally have a quarterback that can get them the ball. As mentioned before, Pickens has recently started to shine after dealing with an upper-body ailment for the majority of the season. Redshirt sophomore Kearis Jackson has been a nice surprise as he leads the team in receiving with 33 receptions for 467 yards and three scores. Freshman receiver Jermaine Burton will continue to improve as he currently has 26 receptions for 398 yards with three scores. Look for freshman Arian Smith to also be a factor, as his sprinter speed will help the offense tremendously in 2021.
The offensive line will get shuffled around as Warren Ericson, who started his first game last year against Baylor, will get the start at center for Trey Hill. But also don’t be shocked to see freshman Sedrick Van Pran get some snaps. With Cleveland opting-out, Ericson could shuffle to right guard and Van Pran could move to center. Guys like Warren McClendon, Xavier Truss, Broderick Jones and Clay Webb could also get playing time, too.