Although spring football practice is on hold due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the current global pandemic, the Georgia football rosters are still set for the fall. Coming off a 12-2 season, the Bulldogs head into the 2020 season with high expectations. Bulldawg Illustrated is analyzing each opponent in a twelve part series that will continue for the next several weeks.
If the season ends up starting on time, the Georgia Bulldogs are set to face the Virginia Cavaliers on Sept. 7 in the Chick Fil-A Kickoff Classic at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
2019 Record: 9-5; Lost in ACC Championship Game to Clemson; Lost to Florida in the Orange Bowl
Key Losses: quarterback Bryce Perkins, wide receivers Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois, defensive lineman Eli Hanbeck, linebacker Jordan Mack and cornerback Bryce Hall
Key Returnees: wide receiver Terrell Jana, center Olusegun Oluwatimi, linebacker Zane Zandier and cornerback Nick Grant
For the first time in program history, UVA won the ACC Coastal Division and played in the ACC Championship game. While the outcome was not ideal, losing to Clemson 62-17, the Cavaliers got their first appearance in New Years Six bowl game, in which they fell to Florida 36-28 in the Orange Bowl.
“I’m really pleased with the trajectory and the metrics that we’ve hit in four straight years to build and become what I would consider a top-25 football program,” Mendenhall said. “Whether we finish there or not, I don’t know, but that’s where I consider us.”
UVA also defeated their in-state rival Virginia Tech for the first time in 15 years, and there is some confidence that the Cavaliers can build off their 2019 success heading into 2020.
But there will be some bumps in the road, and the top priority for is who will replace quarterback Bryce Perkins.
Since transferring to Virginia, Perkins set the UVA single-season passing record with 3,538 yards in 2019 and in just two season he set the school record with 7,910 all-purpose yards. In 2019, he broke his own single-season record for total offense with 4,307 yards.
With Perkins gone, the likely candidate to start at quarterback is sophomore Brennan Armstrong, who played in seven games last year. In 2019, he completed 15 of 20 attempts for 196 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Armstrong isn’t as athletic as Perkins, but he shown flashes of ability to run the ball. He has carried the ball 16 times for 93 yards in his two seasons in Charlottesville. Other options are RJ Harvey, Lindell Stone, and Ira Armstead. Mendenhall said his coaching staff isn’t opposed to bringing in a graduate transfer, but that is yet to be determined.
Another problem is that UVA will lose two of its top receivers from a season ago, and that is something that Mendenhall said was a strong suit of the team.
“I thought the receiver group was the strongest position group on the team last year, excluding Bryce Perkins,” Mendenhall said.
UVA’s Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois combined for 152 catches for 1,741 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. With those two gone, senior Terrell Jana and a few others will have to step up in their absence. Jana finished the season with 73 receptions for 878 yards and three scores. Against Florida, Jana had seven catches for 126 yards, which was one of three games where had more than 100 yards receiving.
The Cavaliers also return Billy Kemp IV (35 catches, 289 yards, one touchdown), Tavares Kelly Jr. (14 catches, 152 yards, one touchdown), Dontayvion Wicks (three catches, 61 yards, one touchdown) and tight end Grant Misch (one catch, six yards, one touchdown).
Despite losing quite a few skill players on offense, the Cavaliers return a veteran offensive line with a lot of experience. UVA returns all five of its offensive lineman that started against the Gators in the Orange Bowl.
Senior Dillion Reinkensmeyer will more than likely start at right tackle, senior Chris Glaser at right guard, junior Olusegun Oluwatimi at center, junior Ryan Nelson at left guard, and junior Bobby Haskins at left tackle. These five players have a combined 112 starts, but hope to improve up allowing 41.0 sacks in 2019 (ranked 122nd out of 130 FBS teams).
Another beneficial factor is that the Cavaliers return running back Wayne Taulapapa who rushed for 473 yards on 116 carries (4.1 yards per carry). He also had 12 scores on the year and hauled in five passes for 23 yards.
Last season, Virginia’s defense ranked No. 48 in the nation in total defense, and fourth in the ACC. That mark is pretty remarkable due to the amount of injuries that the Cavaliers suffered last year. Projected starting cornerback Darius Bratton tore his ACL before the season, and midway through the year, All-American senior Bryce Hall injured his left ankle, taking him out of competition for the remainder of the year.
This gave valuable playing time to other players like Nick Grant, Brenton Nelson, and Chris Moore. Grant took over the No. 2 cornerback position across from Hall before his injury, and then moved up the depth when that occurred. Safety De’Vante Cross then converted to cornerback to fill that vacant spot at corner. Nelson moved to starting safety, but would suffer a season-ending injury two weeks later, causing Moore to take over.
Hall is the only one leaving the program, but all the other defensive backs return. Especially all the underclassmen that played against Florida.
In the front-seven, the Cavaliers lose Jordan Mack and Eli Hanbeck, but senior inside linebacker Rob Snyder (Lawrenceville, GA native) is a player to watch. They also return Zane Zandler, who led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss last season.
Early Prediction: Georgia wins 42-17