You’ve probably noticed that we’re currently well into a series of posts previewing the minutiae of the 2019 University of Georgia football season.
But it’s also worth taking the time to answer some of the big questions about the 2019 season. The truly existential challenges for the upcoming season. There are quite a few. In true old-school sports blog style, let’s answer five of them.
Who is Georgia’s most important offensive player for 2019?
Jake Fromm. It’s obviously Jake Fromm. I’d like to take some sort of unexpected angle here but that would be disingenuous. Georgia will struggle offensively if Jake Fromm struggles when he’s on the field. Fortunately, when he has been on the field over the past two seasons Jake from State Fromm has been consistently excellent.
So this year’s objective? Keep Jake Fromm upright and comfortable. It would be nice if he progressed a little on some of the “NFL throws”, like the 20 yard outs and lightning posts that turn a good quarterback into an unstoppable one.
But that’s not strictly necessary for the Bulldogs to succeed in 2019. 26 touchdown passes and 5 interceptions would be perfectly sufficient. Just let D’Andre Swift, James Cook, Brian Herrien, Zamir White, and the ten-deep horde of large angry road graders up front handle the rest. The only truly panic-worthy offensive scenarios for your ‘Dawgs in 2019 involve someone other than #11 taking snaps that matter in a game that matters. So if you see Jake Fromm riding a bicycle without a helmet, eating Japanese puffer fish, or crossing the street against the signal, for the love of Uga, intervene immediately.
Who is Georgia’s most important def ensive player for 2019?
The guy who’s replacing Deandre Baker at cornerback. It sort of looks like that will be some combination of redshirt sophomore Eric Stokes and sophomore Tyson Campbell. It could be JUCO transfer D.J. Daniel, in whom the coaching staff seems to have a good bit of confidence, or even freshman Tyrique Stevenson.
Before becoming a first round NFL Draft pick Baker completed his entire Thorpe Award-winning senior season in Athens without giving up a single one-on-one touchdown. Zero. That’s mind-boggling, moreso when you consider how many times an anemic UGA pass rush left him hip-pocketing SEC receivers for three to four seconds.
I think Georgia will be better at getting to opposing QBs than they were in 2018, in part because they will have to be. If the Bulldogs return to Atlanta to face Alabama in the SEC Championship Game they will have faced six of the seven wide receivers voted 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team all-conference by the league’s coaches* (missing only 3rd teamer Justin Jefferson of LSU). Finding a suitable replacement for the guy who locked down a full third of the field throughout 2018 is imperative.
*Three of the six play for Alabama, by the way. More on that in a moment.
What will be the biggest change from 2018?
Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think we see the tight ends more. Jim Chaney is a good offensive coordinator. But turning Isaac Nauta and Jackson Harris into glorified door stops when both had demonstrated the ability to contribute in the passing game was borderline professional negligence.
The Bulldogs are currently in the thick of things for three elite tight ends in the 2020 recruiting class. Part of that is new tight ends coach Todd Hartley’s relentless recruiting. Some of it is a depth chart that looks sparse after Charlie Woerner and Eli Wolf graduate after this season. But some of it is absolutely new offensive coordinator James Coley selling a higher profile in 2019.
Woerner has been impressive when he’s caught the ball and Wolf seems to me both quicker and a more physical route runner than I’d expect. With Jake Fromm fully in control of the offense and a young wide receiver group, it’s hard to imagine the tight ends being used less, right?
What is the most important game on the 2019 schedule?
I’m going slightly off-menu here and saying the SEC Championship Game. No, it’s not a fait accompli that Georgia wins the SEC East. But it is safe to say that if the Red and Black don’t then the pivotal game on their schedule will have been a surprising loss to South Carolina, or a gut-wrenching defeat by Auburn, or some other of the Black Swans that dot every SEC schedule. Every game is the most important one until you win it.
And in the grand scheme of things, Georgia needs to win an SEC Championship Game, preferably against Alabama. Everyone is thinking it. Some of us are just willing to say it out loud. At a certain point for Kirby Smart to get this program where it wants to go he will need to put his team on a bus, ride west to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and become the first Saban assistant to beat the old boss.
Mark Richt couldn’t do it, and by 2015 that fact had become obvious. Supplanting the Crimson Tide with Richt at the helm had become a battle of attrition, hoping against hope that Saban would commit some uncharacteristic unforced errors, lose interest and move to Lake Burton full-time, or get kidnapped by separatists from the breakaway Republic of Wetumpkastan. Over time each of these looked less likely.
That’s why Kirby Smart now he the job he has. It’s unclear what Georgia would do if it becomes clear that Smart can’t be the guy who beats the guy. But a 2019 season that ends with a third straight loss to Alabama would feel a little Marv Levy-like. Until Georgia beats Alabama on the big stage, every other game is table stakes.
Okay, Smart Guy, how is the 2019 season going to turn out from a win/loss and post-season perspective?
Georgia plays a tougher schedule than I believe the Bulldogs are getting credit for. Don’t get me wrong, Kirby Smart’s team will likely be favored in every regular season contest unless injury (see injury to Fromm, Jacob supra) occurs.
But a lot of those games have the potential to be uncomfortably close. Notre Dame is a top 10 team. Florida, at least in poll voters’ minds, is as well. Texas A&M will be better in year two under Jimbo Fisher, as will Tennessee in the second campaign of the Jeremy Pruitt era. Auburn will be characteristically tenacious and the South’s Oldest Rivalry will be characteristically unpredictable.
The odds of Georgia losing any single one of these games is low. The odds of Georgia stubbing it’s toe in just one of them taken collectively is in my view much higher. I believe in the end Georgia finishes this regular season 11-1 and champion of the SEC East, per recent tradition.
Again, that’s where things get interesting. Much as the probability of Georgia losing to someone in twelve 2019 tries is estimable, the odds of Georgia being this close to Alabama three years in a row, only to lose in gut-wrenching fashion three times, are low. It could happen. A dedicated empiricist would argue that it will happen. But I can’t help but believe that if only Georgia can get back for a third shot at the champ, this is the year Kirby finally lands the knockout blow on Saban. Hey, if you can’t be a college football optimist in August, when can you? Until later...