There are already some question marks regarding which running backs will suit up and play for Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 2020 versus the Baylor Bears, click here if you missed our look at Bulldog tailbacks that could be out and who will play, and there are probably as many as to what UGA’s offensive line will look like as well.
The Dawgs’ starting left tackle Andrew Thomas and starting right tackle Isaiah Wilson both announced on Tuesday this past week that they would forego their remaining college eligibility and enter the 2020 NFL Draft. Neither Thomas or Wilson plans to play in the Sugar Bowl as they get ready for the next phase of their football career.
Now, there is likely a third o-line starter that will not be available for Georgia.
After the news regarding Thomas and Wilson, the rumor mill was working overtime about offensive guard Ben Cleveland and that he was not going to be able to play due to academic issues. On Wednesday, Dawgs247 Jake Rowe broke a story that Cleveland’s dad had stated that the redshirt junior “had struggled with a couple of classes during the fall semester and was unable to earn credits for those.”
At the UGA football Early Signing Day and Sugar Bowl press conference, head coach Kirby Smart was asked whether or not he could confirm if Ben Cleveland would be able to play in the Sugar Bowl?
“Cannot confirm that, no, because there’s still things out there,” said Kirby. “So nothing’s final yet.”
Kirby was also asked on Wednesday about what the impact of being without Thomas and Wilson would be on the Georgia o-line going into the bowl game versus Baylor.
“For us, it’s not like this is something new. We’ve known this was the potential to happen with these two guys all year. We knew it as much as last year,” said Kirby. “So you’re always trying to look ahead, plan ahead, develop players, develop your roster. Those guys have been out games, both of them, in the last two years, so we’ve had to play without them.”
Kirby added: “There will be challenges, absolutely, and there will also be opportunity. With opportunity, a lot of times guys get to answer the bell. We’re going to get an opportunity to find out some other guys that can play the position. A lot of guys have been working really hard all year to develop that are going to get opportunities in this game.”
With Cleveland, Thomas, and Wilson not available, that leaves center Trey Hill, who has played in and started all 13 games for Georgia this season at center, and left guard Solomon Kindley, who has played in 12 games for the Bulldogs and started 10, as these anchors on the offensive line. So will be those “guys” that get an opportunity to step up?
After Hill and Kindley, sophomore Cade Mays is likely to see his 11th start of the season. Playing in all of UGA’s 13 games this year, the 6-foot-6 and 318 lbs sophomore started six at right guard, two at right tackle, and two at left guard; so, it is a question of whether Mays will be one of the starters on New Year’s Day for the Dawgs, but at what position he will at?
Jamaree Salyer could potentially get his second start of the year. The 6-foot-4 and 325 lbs sophomore started at right tackle vs. Murray State in Georgia’s second game on the schedule but has played in all but one of the UGA’s games this season. If it is decided Mays is the best option at right tackle, Salyer could be asked to take the job on the left side of the line, which are big shoes to fill given that Thomas has started 41 games at left tackle for the Dawgs.
If Mays and Salyer start at the offensive tackle spots, that leaves the right guard spot as Kindley likely would stay at left guard. If Justin Shaffer was still not recovering from a sprained neck injury he suffered versus South Carolina back on October 12th, he would be a strong candidate. Redshirt freshman Owen Condon is also out with an injury. 6-foot-4 and 305 lbs redshirt freshman Warren Ericson is a possibility, he has played in five games this season, or 6-foot-5 and 315 senior D’Marucs hayes, who has played in six games.
But the Georgia coaching staff could turn to one of a couple of true freshmen. Clay Webb, a 6-foot-3 and 295 freshman out of Oxford High School in Oxford, AL, who has seen action in a couple of games this year, versus Murray State and Georgia Tech. The other freshman, 6-foot-7 and 330 lbs Xavier Truss out of Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, Rhode Island. Truss has also seen limited action this year versus Murray State, Arkansas State, and Georgia Tech.
As with the situation at running back for Georgia, while not ideal, the Bulldogs have options due to the depth that the staff has recruited and developed along the offensive line.