Georgia Football: Jeremy Pruitt's 5 Toughest Challenges in 2014
One has to wonder what Jeremy Pruitt expected when he was hired by Georgia. Surely, it wasn't this much drama in his first offseason.
After he was hired in January, a slew of assistant coaches departed, and he led a search for their replacements. He then rallied the troops for an impressive recruiting closeout on national signing day. He's seen players from his defense placed under arrest, dismissed from the team and transfer to other schools of their own volition. He's brought an offensive playmaker (J.J. Green) to his side of the ball and lost a former starter (Brendan Langley) to the offense.
He's done all of this while trying to rebuild a defense that was severely disappointing in 2013. And yet, his real tests have not yet begun.
Here are five opposing offenses (in order of scheduling) that will present Pruitt with his toughest challenges in 2014.
Clemson: August 30
The Clemson Tigers lost their starting quarterback, two leading receivers and best running back to graduation and the NFL draft. But offensive coordinator Chad Morris isn't paid $1.3 million per year to worry about departing talent. So it's a safe bet he's not concerned about Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant or Roderick McDowell.
Instead, he is focused on keeping Pruitt and Georgia's defense off guard in the season opener. The Tigers have averaged more than 40 points per game in each of the last two seasons, and if the explosive offense that Morris likes to run can reload, that will be a realistic possibility again in 2014.
For Clemson's offense, the largest question mark is the quarterback position, where incoming freshman Deshaun Watson hopes to compete for a starting job. "I can move in the pocket and can run," he told Jared Shanker of ESPN.com. "I make good decisions and can make any throw. I'm a leader and I'm a team player."
If that self-assessment rings true, the Tigers may have a viable starter for years to come. But regardless of Watson's capabilities (and he may not even win the starting job), this Clemson offense will challenge Pruitt's defense as it looks to find its way in Week 1.
South Carolina: September 13
Playing in Columbia, South Carolina, is never an easy thing for the Bulldogs. Heat, humidity and a hostile crowd will all be factors in this early-season matchup.
And so will Mike Davis.
He had a breakout season as a sophomore last year when he rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and racked up 11 rushing touchdowns while adding 352 receiving yards. When you combine his hard-nosed running style with an experienced offensive line and the aforementioned hot temperatures, South Carolina's game plan may be to wear down Pruitt's defense.
And the South Carolina passing game shouldn't be ignored either. Connor Shaw may be gone, but his replacement Dylan Thompson has proved himself more than capable. Over the past two years Thompson has thrown for more than 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns.
This game could expose one of Georgia's biggest weaknesses on defense—a lack of established depth. Pruitt won't need 11 game-ready players for this contest. He'll need 22.
Missouri: October 11
Like Clemson, Missouri enters the 2014 season devoid of several reliable weapons. Quarterback James Franklin, running back Henry Josey and wide receivers Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington must be replaced. But by this midseason date, those positions should be filled.
At quarterback, Maty Mauk will be the leader of this offense. As a freshman he threw for 1,071 yards last season while connecting on 11 touchdown passes and tossing just two interceptions in relief of an injured Franklin. And his elusiveness should not be ignored. He accounted for 229 yards on the ground on 41 carries.
Missouri likes to spread the ball around on offense. Last year five players rushed for 500 or more yards, and three receivers hauled in more than 650 yards worth of catches. Expect that trend to continue for the Tigers and their multidimensional offense.
A plethora of Missouri weapons could present a problem for Pruitt as he plans for this matchup.
Florida: November 1
Remember that Florida offense that ranked 114th in the nation in scoring last year? You know, the one that scored less than 19 points per game?
It's going to be better in 2014. And not just because statistically it has to be.
Last year Kurt Roper led Duke's offense to nearly 33 points per game. This year, he's the offensive coordinator at Florida and learning his way around a more talented roster this offseason. Quarterback Jeff Driskel will be back from injury. He'll be joined in the backfield by a host of reliable running backs, and he'll have a number of returning targets downfield.
To be clear: This offense isn't going to shatter records, but noticeable improvements will be present.
A chippy rivalry like this one could present challenges for Pruitt.
Auburn: November 15
Auburn may have lost a stud offensive tackle and a Heisman finalist at running back, but this offense isn't going to slow down.
Nick Marshall, a former Georgia Bulldog, will lead the offense from his quarterback spot, where he racked up more than 3,000 yards of offense and 26 total touchdowns last season. Tre Mason may be gone, but the Tigers still return four of their five leading rushers from a 2013 squad that accounted for just shy of 4,600 yards on the ground.
If and when Auburn needs to throw the ball, Sammie Coates (900 receiving yards in 2013) is back, as Marshall returns each of his top four targets from a year ago.
This offense could be even more prolific than it was in 2013, and that presents a challenge for any defensive coordinator. But Pruitt did manage to hold Auburn to 31 points in the BCS National Championship Game in his final game with the Florida State Seminoles.