Each week during the football season, former Georgia and Chicago Bears kicking great Kevin Butler picked his Bulldog Players of the Week for Bulldawg Illustrated.
Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs, of course, finished the regular season with an 11-1 record, again winning the SEC East before dropping a 35-28 heartbreaker to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1. Now, as the Bulldogs get ready for their Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl date with the Texas Longhorns, College Hall of Famer Butler offers his thoughts on the Dawgs’ outstanding 2018 season.
As we headed into the season, I made the claim that I thought this offense would be more productive than last year‘s record-shedding offense,” said Butler. “Led by D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, Jake Fromm and a young tenacious offensive line this offense got better and better each week they took the field. The youth of this team was always a concern but as our offensive line challenged each other to get better because of injuries, this offense and its young players responded in a Bulldog-like way. Lamont Gaillard was a true senior leader to a very young offensive line. Our receiving corps was led by Terry Godwin and they all became a weapon as Jake distributed the ball to a number of receivers each and every game. Jim Chaney continued to call excellent games as Georgia continued to develop young talent. The future looks very bright for a young offensive unit that the Bulldogs bring out each week and with another fine recruiting class, Georgia’s offense will be at the top of the nation’s best for years to come.”
“Losing many seniors the year before from a great Georgia defense was the main concern going into the year,” said Butler. “We knew this Georgia defense was talented but the youth of the team was the foundation of fear going into the season. With the loss of Roquan Smith, the linebacking corps was at the top of the question mark list but Monty Rice, Juwan Taylor, Natrez Patrick and the two senior leaders, D’Andre Walker and Deandre Baker, helped shape a young defense into a nationally-ranked, intimidating defense. Jim Thorpe Award winner Baker made it almost impossible for quarterbacks to challenge him. Even when they challenged Baker he was never beaten all year long. With the emergence of the young defensive line, Georgia eliminated the nation’s No. 1 rushing game as they stuffed and dominated a much weaker and less talented Georgia Tech team. In fact their defensive performance drove Georgia Tech’s coach into retirement because the Bulldog defense is only getting bigger and stronger. This defense should respond to a Texas offense in the Sugar Bowl and help the senior class become the second-most winningest group in Georgia history.”
“This is a phase of the game that the University of Georgia has a strong history of dominating,” said Butler. “Before Coach Smart and his staff came to Georgia, Georgia’s special teams play was inconsistent at best. This changed upon Smart’s arrival and this year it continued to get better and better. When you talk special teams you have to talk kicker and punter. Georgia has two of the best in Rodrigo Blankenship and Jake Camarda. Rodrigo is a weapon. His consistency on field goals allows Georgia to be aggressive when they hit the opponents’ 35-yard line. His kickoffs eliminate any return opportunity that an opponent may seek and that is a powerful weapon to have. Jake is a very talented punter and will continue to get better … his raw talent offers Georgia the opportunity to flip the field and provides our defense with great field position. And with proper coaching, Jake will develop into a true weapon. Mecole Hardman is the most dangerous returner in the nation and that is proven each week with every team trying to avoid delivering the ball to him cleanly. No matter where the ball lands if Mecole picks it up, Georgia has a chance to score a touchdown. One of the biggest factors this year was for the young and talented athletes on our coverage teams to provide relentless and disciplined coverage. Georgia has the ability to win the special teams area every game and with the development of our talent this improvement should continue into next year.”