It certainly wasn’t the story of the night, but an interesting side note on the 2019 Sugar Bowl comes courtesy of the UGA defensive participation chart. With several key contributors out for various reasons, Kirby Smart and his staff played several freshmen who’d seen little or no time this season. How much that helps with 2019 remains to be seen, but it’s probably a bright spot from an otherwise forgettable loss.
Perhaps most notably freshman Divaad Wilson, who underwent offseason knee surgery saw his first action of the season and ended up playing 65 snaps on the night. The 6’0, 195 pound corner first appeared on the dress roster against Auburn, but could be in the mix at corner or star this spring. Under the NCAA’s “four game participation” rule, Wilson should be eligible for a redshirt for 2018.
Freshman Azeez Ojulari, also coming off knee surgery, had played 11 snaps in two games in 2018. He tallied 26 last night after being identified by Coach Smart as a player who made significant strides during bowl practice. Having seen time in three games, Ojulari should also be eligible for a redshirt.
Freshman linebackers Brenton Cox and Adam Anderson also saw double digit snaps in the Sugar Bowl. The pair of five star recruits struggled at times this season, but a year of maturation could turn each into an All-SEC candidate.
Freshman corners Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes took almost every defensive snap, and while we’ve seen a lot of both this season, it’s also safe to say last night was the first one of the 2019 season for them as perennial starters. Both have tons of physical talent and could grow into rock solid bookends for the next couple of seasons.
I certainly don’t want to deprive anyone of their hard-earned angst following this disappointing loss. But I would point out that this game did very little to change the trajectory of the Georgia football program. Kirby Smart will still return between 6 and 8 starters on offense, and likely 7 on defense (not counting Campbell, who started in place of Deandre Baker). The ‘Dawgs will also likely return key special teams contributors Rodrigo Blankenship and Jake Camarda, not to mention Mecole Hardman returning kicks.
At the end of the day Georgia came within a whisper of the college football playoff despite returning the fewest starters of any 2017 playoff team. They then got beaten fair and square by a very good Texas team that will be a playoff contender in 2019, just like the Red and Black. The future is still very bright in Athens, even if the present is a tad gloomy. Until later...