Erik Evans, ladies and gentlemen, playing the Metchie and Williams card:
Last year, a decade of Top 5 recruiting paid off for the perennial also-ran Dawgs, as an experienced Georgia team was able to field healthier elite depth to out-talent the Tide down the stretch.
Well, that ain’t gonna happen this season, bitchez!
The reigning champs are obviously going to get some love, on talent potential even if not demonstrable production. The passing game should be serviceable with one outstanding guy on the outside and the nation’s most dangerous TE getting throws from a reasonably accurate game manager. The running game (and OL) took a hit, but there is still more than enough in the tank to likely run through a retooling East. But, unlike the West, the East’s rebuild makes everyone instantly better. While the Dawgs eyes maybe on Florida and Tennessee, don’t overlook a UK squad with a competent passing attack, and the annual trap game at South Carolina.
The greatest issue however is one of depth — the same bugaboo that bit Alabama last season. UGA lost 11 players by way of the NFL. But the portal exodus after the season was more concerning: 17 guys are gone. It is very hard for anyone to lose 28 players, no matter how well they’ve recruited, and have the next-man-up be as good as the folks on the two-deep. I suspect it will matter at least once, and perhaps twice, to keep UGA out of the Natty.
I don’t know where he learned his math, but those numbers don’t quite jive with reality. The Dawgs had 15 players taken in the NFL draft, 14 of whom were starters. Here’s how that breaks down today:
Georgia lost 14 starters as well as 33 lettermen from the 2021 team. On the flip side, the Bulldogs return 13 starters — 7 on offense, 3 on defense and 3 on special teams — and 55 lettermen for the upcoming season.
Georgia’s returning starters on offense are Bennett, Bowers, McConkey, wide receiver Adonai Mitchell, center Sedrick Van Pran, right guard Warren Ericson, and right tackle Warren McClendon. Defensively, the returning starters are outside linebacker Nolan Smith, defensive back Kelee Ringo and safety Christopher Smith. As far as special teamers, the returning starters are long snappers William Mote and Payne Walker as well as kicker Jack Podlesny.
As far as how “the next-man-up be as good as the folks on the two-deep” goes, here’s Jordan Hill’s breakdown:
- Quarterback. “Georgia won’t have a quarterback competition this fall with the return of Bennett, who proved himself capable last season en route to the Bulldogs’ national championship.”
- Running back. “… Georgia’s three returning scholarship running backs account for 163 carries for 809 yards and 7 touchdowns last season.”
- Receivers. “Losing Burton was a significant blow for Georgia as was losing George Pickens, who didn’t get to truly shine last season after spending most of the fall working his way back from a knee injury. The tight end room is arguably the deepest in the country, and Bowers is expected to produce once again while fellow tight ends Arik Gilbert, Darnell Washington and Oscar Delp look to contribute, too. Georgia has plenty of options at wide receiver going into a new year; the question will be who separates himself from the others in order to play a bigger role.”
- Offensive line. “Let’s start by considering the starting offensive line from G-Day, which featured left tackle Broderick Jones, left guard Xavier Truss, center Sedrick Van Pran, right guard Devin Willock, and right tackle Warren McClendon. Looking at those five offensive linemen specifically, they’ve combined to appear in 101 games with 45 total starts between them… and between these 12 offensive linemen, they have 148 games and 66 total starts under their belts.”
- Tackling. “In total, Georgia returns 27 defensive players who at least recorded 1 tackle last fall; combined, these players were responsible for 187 tackles once last season came to a close in January.”
- Sacks. “In total, Georgia returns 10 players who at least had 0.5 sacks last fall. Those 10 players combined for 20.5 sacks in total in 2021.”
- Interceptions. “In total, Georgia returns six of the nine players who had at least one interception in 2021. Three of the four players who had pick-sixes are back: Smith (against Clemson), Dumas-Johnson (against UAB), and Ringo (against Alabama).”
- Special Teams (Kicking). “Podlesny is all set to be Georgia’s placekicker once again, but the battle to replace Camarda as the kickoff specialist doesn’t appear to be decided yet. Podlesny and Zirkel battled during the spring for the job; during the G-Day game, Podlesny had 6 kickoffs with 1 touchback and a 54.0 yard average, while Zirkel had 5 kickoffs with no touchbacks and a 51.6 yard average. Thorson looks to be the favorite to replace Camarda at punter, though the window for Jones to win the job isn’t shut just yet.”
- Special Teams (Returns). “Georgia is in great shape when it comes to bringing back established return men from last season. All six players who were credited with returning a punt are back in 2022, with the lead man being wide receiver Kearis Jackson. Combined, these players had 33 returns for 323 yards.Three of the four kick returners from last season are back, with the only departure being White, who only fielded two kickoffs in 2021. Between McIntosh, Kearis Jackson and Mekhi Mews, that’s 15 returns for 285 yards back from a year ago.”
In terms of inexperience, when the one glaring hole you’ve got in the two-deep is at punter, life ain’t that bad. With all the blowouts last season, there were plenty of opportunities for backups to play and gain meaningful experience. Does that mean I expect the defense to go out there and not miss a beat? Hardly, especially early. But methinks Erik is engaged in a wee bit of wishful thinking there. Or projection, at least. I’ll go out on a limb and say Georgia’s “less experienced depth” will show out better in ’22 than Alabama’s did in ’21.