A four-loss Georgia season is always a disappointment for Bulldogs fans, but with sky-high expectations in place entering the 2013 season, the Dawgs’ shortcomings this year leave fans especially bewildered.
A young defense showed its youth and inexperience for the entirety of this year’s campaign and failed to consistently display improvement, despite occasional stretches of competence. On the offensive side of the ball, Georgia’s best players struggled to stay healthy, and the Bulldogs’ prolific attack diminished as the season wore on.
Fortunately, the defense should improve in 2014, and the offense returns a host of weapons. Here’s an update on the state of the Georgia football program as this season winds down.
Recruiting information via Rivals.com.
Todd Gurley, one of the nation’s best running backs, will be back for his junior season and will run behind two returning starters (John Theus and David Andrews) and two returning contributors on the offensive line who played significant time in 2013 (Watts Dantzler and Mark Beard). He’ll be joined in the backfield by fellow junior Keith Marshall, who should be back from an ACL injury.
Additionally, Mason will have a plethora of weapons in the passing game as Michael Bennett and Chris Conley will run routes alongside receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell (both recovering from knee injuries of their own) and tight end Jay Rome.
Returning Georgia players represent more than 4,100 career rushing yards and 45 rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, over 5,700 receiving yards and 49 touchdown catches will be back in 2014.
Defensively, only one starter (senior Garrison Smith) is likely to depart. The following playmakers will be expected to lead what should be a much-improved defensive unit:
- ILB Ramik Wilson: 128 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks
- ILB Amarlo Herrera: 107 total tackles, five tackles for loss, one forced fumble
- SS Josh Harvey-Clemons: 66 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one interception, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries
- OLB Leonard Floyd: 47 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles
- OLB Jordan Jenkins: 38 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, four sacks, two fumble recoveries
- DE Ray Drew: 39 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, six sacks
According to Rivals.com, Georgia’s 2014 recruiting class is currently ranked 10th in the nation thanks to 16 total commitments (one 5-star recruit, 10-4-stars).
Top Remaining Targets
Georgia remains in pursuit of in-state product Lorenzo Carter. Carter is a 6'5", 235-pound defensive end with offers from just about everyone as the state’s top-rated recruit and the nation's third-best prospect at his position. To bring Carter in, the Bulldogs will have to fend off the likes of Florida State, Florida and Alabama.
The Bulldogs are also big on Dontavius Russell, a 300-pound defensive tackle out of Carrollton, Ga. Russell projects well into Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme and has a tall frame to support added muscle and weight. Georgia is currently the leader in his recruitment, but Alabama and Auburn have also been calling.
Dante Sawyer, another in-state defensive prospect, is another player that the Bulldogs would love to have in the fold. The 6'3" defensive end already has a collegiate body and could contribute immediately as an outside linebacker before bulking up to play as a defensive end in the 3-4. Georgia is his current leader, but a number of Pac-12 schools (Southern Cal, UCLA and Arizona) are close behind.
Storylines in Recruiting
Georgia has two objectives on the recruiting trail between now and signing day. First of all, the Bulldogs must hold players like Sony Michel (a 5-star running back out of Florida), Nick Chubb (a 4-star running back from Georgia) and Malkom Parrish (a 4-star defensive back) to their commitments. These players will primarily be relied upon to provide depth in 2014, and other schools may be able to offer more immediate playing time. The Dawgs must keep these players focused on the bigger picture of the long-term success that is being built in Athens.
Secondly, Georgia needs to secure the state’s border. Seven of the Peach State’s top 25 recruits are currently uncommitted. Landing a majority of those prospects will help the Bulldogs rise up the ranks, but more importantly, build a foundation for the future.
It's hard to quantify the impact Wiggins had within a wretched Georgia pass defense, but the true freshman was a rare bright spot in the secondary. After earning a starting spot in the season’s fifth game against Tennessee, Wiggins started six consecutive games before going down with an injury.
While on the field, Wiggins proved capable of making open-field tackles, making plays and covering as well as anyone on the team. Look for him to have an even better sophomore campaign.
In just one season, Davis has already had a record-setting career with the Bulldogs. In fact, his first career reception set the school record for longest catch in school history at 98 yards. Georgia boasts an inordinate amount of talent at the receiver position, but Davis’s speed and elusiveness set him apart. Look for him to break through the crowded depth chart in 2014.
Earlier this month, Georgia head coach Mark Richt was adamant that his coaching staff would be back in 2014. He told Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph that unless other opportunities presented themselves to his assistants, they would be welcomed back in Athens. He added, "Continuity is a good thing."
That being said, there is still a warm seat reserved for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Fortunately for him, much of his unit's poor performance in 2013 has been explained as a byproduct of youth. But with 10 starters returning next year, he better hope for an improved on-field showing.
Things are starkly different on the other side of the ball. Don’t be surprised to see offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's name pop up in the rumor mill for head coaching vacancies. Although maligned by a large portion of Georgia fans, the production of his offense is hard to question. Over the past two seasons, the Bulldogs have scored 30 or more points on 19 occasions while averaging just shy of 38 points per game.
With loads of talent returning on both sides of the ball, next year’s Georgia squad should once again be in position to contend for an SEC East title, if they can stay healthy.
The Bulldogs open the season with a home game against Clemson, and as always, they’ll have to take on Auburn (this time at home in Sanford Stadium), but the rest of the Georgia schedule is fairly favorable. The Dawgs dodge Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M from the SEC West and get improving Vanderbilt and Tennessee teams at home.
Road games at South Carolina (Sept. 13) and Missouri (Oct. 11) will likely make or break the season for the Bulldogs in 2014.