Heading into the SEC Championship game against LSU, the Georgia Bulldogs’ receiving core will be without there top two receivers, and starting running back D’Andre Swift is a question mark at the moment.
Senior graduate transfer Lawrence Cager’s season is done due to an ankle injury he sustained last Wednesday during practice as the Bulldogs prepared for Georgia Tech, and freshman George Pickens is suspended for the first half for exchanging fist-a-cuffs with a Yellow Jacket in the third-quarter of the Tech game on Saturday. To add insult to injury… no pun intended… Swift left the game Saturday with an apparent injury to his left upper arm and shoulder area, which Kirby Smart stated was a shoulder contusion in the postgame press conference on Saturday. With those three out, there’s a chance for other receivers to step up and make big plays.
Senior wideout Tyler Simmons knows the talent is there, and believes that some of the younger guys can handle the pressure.
“It brings some excitement to the younger guys, and to some of the guys who haven’t made as many plays this year,” said Simmons. “It leaves the door wide open for a lot of plays to be made in the passing game, and just a lot of opportunity.”
The Bulldogs were in the exact same situation Saturday against Georgia Tech. Pickens was suspended for the first half for a violation of team rules, and Cager was out due to surgery on his ankle on Friday before the game. Pickens played a little bit in the third quarter and caught a touchdown pass, but quarterback Jake Fromm connected with eight other receivers in the 52-7 throttling of the Yellow Jackets.
It seemed like Fromm gained some confidence too in the win because in the previous week against Texas A&M he didn’t play so well, and Fromm was only 11 of 23 for 163 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs 19-13 win over the Aggies. Against the Yellow Jackets, he had a career day by throwing four touchdowns. Those four scores went to four different receivers which included Pickens, Simmons, Dom Blaylock, and Charlie Woerner.
“It’s very similar to last week,” said Kirby Smart. “As far as, ‘Hey, guys, you’re going to get an opportunity to play. Step up and make plays.’ We had some guys do that. We had some guys catch balls that haven’t caught balls in a long time or very little all year. And they made some good plays. You’re going to get one-on-one opportunities when you play in our offense because of the run game. So you have to win your 50-50 opportunities. You have to take advantage of it. And it will be very similar to last week in regards to not who we’re playing but the guys on the field.”
It wasn’t just the receiving core that made some plays either. In Swift’s absence, running backs James Cook and Brian Herrien each helped carry the load. Herrien ran the ball eight times for 46 yards and a score, while Cook had 30 yards on four attempts. Tyler Simmons also averaged 11 yards per carry as he ran for 22 yards on two carries. Redshirt freshman Zamir White also had six rushes for 30 yards.
Many think that Cook hasn’t been utilized that much this season, but Smart disagreed.
“When he’s been healthy, he’s been out there a good bit,” Smart said. “Some of them are what we call P-RO’s, which I talked about before. So they’re controlled by what the defense gives us, not by touches necessarily for him. In the last couple of weeks, we have given him a few more carries. It boils down to us, really, saying, all right, who are the best football players to give us the best opportunity to win. And he’s at a position where it’s more shared. To be a wideout and go out there and play wideout, that’s not a natural position for him. So the things he’s able to do, the things he’s really strong at, are best around the backfield. We happen to have other strong guys in those areas. So we’re trying to find ways to get him the ball.”
Throughout the year, Blaylock has earned the right for more playing time, and Smart thinks that he has developed a connection with Fromm.
“I think that’s been the case with each of the wideouts,” said Smart. “(Jake) has had so many different guys in the lineup that he’s familiar with them, he’s comfortable with them, I think he likes Dom, because Dom is a guy that is constantly working, he’s where he’s supposed to be, he runs the right route, he runs it the right depth. Jake has a trust with all those guys but he and Dom have grown for sure.”
Only time will tell about Swift’s injury and whether he will play Saturday or not, but it’s evident that Georgia has playmakers. It’s just a matter if they show up ready to play and how they are used.
The No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs take on the No. 2 LSU Tigers on Saturday in the 2019 SEC Championship Game set to kick off at 4:00 p.m. on CBS.
Here is the video from Kirby Smart’s Monday press conference: