The 2013 campaign did not go as Georgia fans, players or coaches expected. Injuries on offense and stunted development on defense derailed the Bulldogs despite a strong early start. Now, with (mostly) regained health and a new regime leading the defensive side of the ball, optimism lives anew.
As is often the case with Georgia, this team is talented enough to reach great heights—even levels not previously achieved during the Mark Richt era. The offense is loaded equally with weapons and leadership. The defense is jam-packed with potential stars eager for refinement.
Combine those elements with a schedule that is relatively favorable and a staff of hungry and diligent coaches, and this should be a memorable year for Bulldog fans.
|Title||Name||Years with Team|
|Head Coach||Mark Richt||14|
|Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach||Mike Bobo||14|
|Defensive Coordinator||Jeremy Pruitt||1|
|Defensive Line/Will Linebackers Coach||Tracy Rocker||1|
|Wide Receivers Coach||Tony Ball||9|
|Inside Linebackers Coach||Mike Ekeler||1|
|Offensive Line Coach||Will Friend||4|
|Tight Ends Coach||John Lilly||7|
|Running Backs Coach||Bryan McClendon||6|
|Sam Linebackers/Star Coach||Kevin Sherrer||1|
Two things stand out about the Bulldogs' coaching staff. First and foremost is the stability brought by Richt, whose 14-year tenure is as long as any current SEC coach at a single school. For a coach who is often underappreciated, Richt sure has demonstrated some staying power.
Conversely, the plethora of first-year assistants offers an equally intriguing element to the coaching staff. The departure of former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is well-documented and referenced often. Less obvious is the fact that none of his assistants remain with the program. When Jeremy Pruitt arrived from Florida State, he made quick work of finding talented assistants and filling his staff.
Already this coaching staff and its mix of old and new has cooperated on a number of fronts. The group closed the 2014 signing class with a fantastic sprint to the finish line. Collectively, this unit increased the intensity of practices by adding reps. And the staff has not wavered from its traditionally high standard of conduct for players both on and off the field.
Now, the most daunting task lies ahead. The 2014 season will be about players stepping up, but these coaches—and not just the new ones—must prove themselves as well.
What to Watch For on Offense
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|QB||Hutson Mason||Faton Bauta||Brice Ramsey|
|RB||Todd Gurley||Keith Marshall||Brendan Douglas|
|FB||Taylor Maxey||Detric Bing-Dukes||Christian Payne|
|WR||Michael Bennett||Jonathon Rumph||Justin Scott-Wesley|
|WR||Chris Conley||Kenneth Towns||Isaiah McKenzie|
|TE/HB||Jay Rome||Jordan Davis||Quayvon Hicks|
|C||David Andrews||Glenn Welch|
|OG||Greg Pyke||Dyshon Sims||Hunter Long|
|OG||Brandon Kublanow||Isaiah Wynn||Billy Seward|
|OT||John Theus||Kolton Houston||Watts Dantzler|
|OT||Kolton Houston||Mark Beard||Watts Dantzler|
|K||Marshall Morgan||Patrick Beless||Adam Erickson|
Hopefully, the theme for this year is "more of the same" from offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Star quarterback Aaron Murray may be gone, but fifth-year senior Hutson Mason seems more than ready to take over one of the most prolific offenses in the SEC.
At running back, a five-headed monster will be captained by Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley. The junior running back has accounted for 2,932 yards of offense and 33 total touchdowns on just 440 touches. If he stays healthy and gets enough carries, Gurley will run all the way to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
Interestingly enough, his own teammates may keep him from getting the statistics needed to compete for the nation's most prestigious award. He'll be joined in the backfield by:
- Keith Marshall: 1,207 yards of offense, 11 TDs over two years.
- Brendan Douglas: 517 yards of offense and four TDs as a true freshman last year.
- Nick Chubb: The nation's sixth-best running back in the class of 2014 per 247Sports.
- Sony Michel: The nation's third-best running back in the class of 2014 per 247Sports.
Mason will have plenty of weapons in the passing game as well. Michael Bennett and Chris Conley are two of the more consistent receiving threats of the Mark Richt era. Both players have been major contributors over the past three seasons.
When healthy, who is Georgia's best receiver?
Meanwhile, Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell, arguably Georgia's two best big-play threats in the passing game, should be back from knee injuries at some point.
Mitchell suffered a minor setback during fall camp, but Scott-Wesley is making strides, which Mark Richt pointed out to Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer, saying, "He gets work. We just don't have him in a contact situation right now. He's getting better. We're just not ready to get him in a full-speed situation right now."
Assuming the offensive line can stay healthy, this should once again be an explosive offense. The run/pass balance may move slightly toward the ground game, but Bobo will strive to keep defenses on their toes.
What to Watch For on Defense
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|DE||Sterling Bailey||Josh Dawson||Ray Drew|
|DT||James DeLoach||John Atkins||Toby Johnson|
|NT||Mike Thornton||Chris Mayes||Lamont Gaillard|
|LB||Jordan Jenkins||Davin Bellamy||Keyon Brown|
|MLB||Ramik Wilson||Reggie Carter||Ryne Rankin|
|MLB||Amarlo Herrera||Tim Kimbrough||Kosta Vavlas|
|OLB||Leonard Floyd||Lorenzo Carter||Shaun McGee|
|Star||Dominick Sanders||Quincy Mauger||J.J. Green|
|CB||Damian Swann||Devin Bowman||Kennar Johnson|
|CB||Shattle Fenteng||Sheldon Dawson|
|S||Corey Moore||Quincy Mauger||Dominick Sanders|
|S||Aaron Davis||J.J. Green||Malkom Parrish|
|P||Collin Barber||Adam Erickson|
The new defense is still very much a work in progress under Pruitt. Coming into fall camp, the front seven was expected to be the cornerstone of this unit. As Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution observed earlier this week, even the front half of the defense is chaotic:
The defensive line situation was kind of hard to figure. I hardly ever saw the Bulldogs line up in a traditional three- or four-man front, with a nose, tackle and end. Sometimes [Jordan] Jenkins was in a stance at an end position and often an end like Sterling Bailey or Josh Dawson was lineup inside as a 3-technique tackle. The one consistency I saw was senior Mike Thornton was almost always the nose with the No. 1 defense and looked very quick and effective in that role. Big John Atkins also stood out and even came up with an interception off a batted pass at one point. This is going to be a very interesting group to watch under Tracy Rocker’s tutelage.
It should come as no surprise that it took some time for the secondary to settle in as well. After three defensive backs with starting experience (Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins, Tray Matthews) left the program and another (Brendan Langley) moved to offense, this unit was in need of a makeover. It certainly got one thanks to three newcomers—Shattle Fenteng, Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis—who are slated to be atop the depth chart in the secondary.
Ultimately, Pruitt will move a lot of pieces in a lot of different places to show a lot of different looks. That's what made his attacking defense so successful at Florida State last year. Accordingly, it's conceivable that every player on the three-deep depth chart could become a factor in any given situation. Watching that develop should be a unique experience for Georgia fans, especially if it yields on-field results.
A number of players, led by Marshall, are back from season-ending 2013 injuries, but a few remain sidelined. Keep an eye on the health of the following players:
|Player Name||Injury||Expected Return Date|
|Jay Rome||Foot||Rome is day-to-day with his recovery.|
|Malcolm Mitchell||Knee||Georgia is hoping to have Mitchell back early in the season.|
|Justin Scott-Wesley||Knee||Scott-Wesley is practicing without contact. He's doubtful for the Clemson game.|
|Merritt Hall||Concussions||Sadly, Hall's career with the Bulldogs ended as a result of multiple concussions.|
Compiled from Multiple Sources
The most permanent injury news relates to Merritt Hall, who was medically disqualified last week. He will be missed as a fierce lead blocker from his fullback position.
As for the other three offensive stars, outlooks are relatively optimistic. While it's unlikely that all three are on the field against Clemson, that possibility has not been completely ruled out. Rome seems the closest to seeing the field, followed by Scott-Wesley, who has at least been on the field running routes.
Ideally and realistically, getting two of these three Dawgs back in time for the trip to South Carolina on September 13 would be a huge bonus for Georgia.
While it would be easy to identify Mason as the team's X-factor in his first full season as the starter under center, fans for the most part know what to expect out of him—poise and sound decision-making.
To the contrary, two Bulldogs who recently changed positions could add tremendous but unmeasured value to the team in 2014.
Last year, J.J. Green racked up nearly 500 yards of offense as a running back, spelling Gurley and Marshall as they battled injuries. This year, he's a defensive back.
The move, which was initiated by Green, could tremendously help a defensive secondary desperately in need of athleticism and playmaking ability. He showed both of those attributes last year, and he's already put himself in a position to play in Pruitt's secondary.
On the offensive side of the ball, look for Hicks to add another wrinkle to Bobo's ever-evolving offense. As a tight end, H-back or even his familiar fullback spot, look for Hicks to be used more often than he was in 2013. Hicks showed flashes of stardom early in the season last year, but prolonged struggles in pass protection kept him off the field. This year, he should be in position to succeed.
Quayvon Hicks getting the ball in space... sounds like a good idea. Let him build up speed like the Juggernaut... pic.twitter.com/S5MLdrblww— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) August 2, 2014
|Aug. 30||Clemson||Athens, GA|
|Sept. 13||South Carolina||Columbia, SC|
|Sept. 20||Troy||Athens, GA|
|Sept. 27||Tennessee||Athens, GA|
|Oct. 4||Vanderbilt||Athens, GA|
|Oct. 11||Missouri||Columbia, MO|
|Oct. 18||Arkansas||Little Rock, AR|
|Nov. 1||Florida||Jacksonville, FL|
|Nov. 8||Kentucky||Lexington, KY|
|Nov. 15||Auburn||Athens, GA|
|Nov. 22||Charleston Southern||Athens, GA|
|Nov. 29||Georgia Tech||Athens, GA|
Most experts believe that either Georgia or South Carolina will win the SEC East. With the programs at Florida and Tennessee struggling to regain momentum and Missouri needing to restock a host of weapons, that assumption is not entirely unfounded.
Accordingly, Georgia's battle with the Gamecocks is greatly important. South Carolina has a more difficult overall schedule, so a loss to Steve Spurrier and Co. won't necessarily doom the Dawgs' chances of winning the division, but an early-season win sure would be nice.
Additionally, a win against Florida is always nice. Georgia has won three consecutive matchups with the Gators for the first time since 1987-1989, but a fourth win would be especially sweet. This is always an unpredictable game. Even last year, when Florida floundered to a 4-8 record, Georgia barely managed to survive. A loss to the Gators in 2014 could break the Bulldogs' season.
And of course, Georgia would love to exact revenge for a heartbreaking 2013 loss at Auburn. By most accounts, big things are expected out of the Tigers in 2014, but Georgia almost ruined their dream season last year. Payback would be especially sweet within the cozy confines of Sanford Stadium.
The accuracy of two specific assumptions will define the 2014 season for the Georgia Bulldogs.
First and foremost, the offense must continue to perform at the level fans have grown accustomed to. Murray may be gone and the ground game may get more carries this year, but the Dawgs need to continue to march down field on long, methodical drives.
Secondly, the Georgia defense must take steps forward under Jeremy Pruitt. Most expect the unit to improve, and many hope it already has. But these dreams need to come to fruition for the team to maximize its potential.
Neither of those assumptions is a given, but it's not unreasonable to presume satisfaction in both areas either.
Without question, the most daunting game on the schedule is the trip to South Carolina. Outside of that outing, Georgia may be favored in every game on the schedule. An accommodating schedule also gives Georgia a relatively easy seven-game stretch from September 20 through November 8.
Continued offensive prowess, an improving defense and a favorable schedule will yield an 11-1 regular-season record (7-1 in SEC play) with a lone loss coming to South Carolina. Despite the loss to a division rival, this should be enough to get the Dawgs back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
Todd Gurley won't win the Heisman Trophy, as he won't have the numbers to captivate voters in an increasingly stat-driven contest. He will, however, win the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.