The Georgia Bulldog football team, or at least what’s left of it, put together a gutsy performance tonight in New Orleans. They won the Sugar Bowl over the #7 team in the country 26-14. It’s okay for you to feel good about that.
The defense was, of course, the UGA defense. It held Baylor scoreless in the first half, playing the brand of physical football it honed through the course of the SEC schedule. That was in large part thanks to a group of freshmen and sophomores who will form the nucleus of the unit going forward.
Nolan Smith is a nightmare to block, as advertised.— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) January 2, 2020
The offense didn’t always click. But you can’t say it was predictable. James Coley spread the ball around to 6 rushers (not counting Jake Camarda, who picked up a first down on a fake kick just to show Justin Fields it could be done).
Jake Fromm halted his string of sub 50% completion games by hitting 20 of 30 passes for 250 yards, with 12 of the completions and 175 of the yards going to George Pickens, who was named the game MVP. Pickens looks like the clear leader of that receiving unit going into 2020, and a player Coley can certainly build around.
Zamir White looked like the starting tailback for the University of Georgia, and that was exciting as well. With 18 rushes for 92 yards (both career highs) Zeus may well have established himself as the likely 2020 starter after a full season removed from his knee surgery.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about this night was the energy with which the coaching staff and players approached the game. This team wanted to win, and played all the way to the final snap. This game was something to build on. It felt a lot more like the start of 2020 than the end of 2019.
So what is the epitaph of the 2019 Georgia Bulldogs? They were a very good football team, the kind we’d be celebrating effusively if this were the Mark Richt era. Kirby Smart has now won 12 games twice in his four year head coaching career. Mark Richt did the same in 15 seasons.
They did all that despite the best receivers on the roster being a graduate transfer and a true freshman. And despite a raft of injuries to key contributors. And a coaching staff that frankly struggled to deal with each of those issues for much of the year.
What does all of this mean for 2020? Well, we’ll soon see. We’re still waiting on decisions from Jake Fromm and a handful of other upperclassmen who could head to the NFL. Richard LeCounte, Monty Rice, and Eric Stokes in particular could really affect this defense positively or negatively based upon their choices.
Fromm’s postgame interview with Holly Rowe did not sound like the interview of a player coming back or even undecided about his decision. It sounded a lot like he’s ready to move on to bigger things. Say what you will about the back half of this season for Fromm, I can’t imagine anyone can say with a straight face that they believe any signal caller on the current UGA roster is an immediate upgrade. If there’s a potential weakness to this team in 2020, that could very well be it. If Fromm is back, it’s hard to find a real glaring personnel weakness.
It’s also a safe bet that some of the blue chip talent Kirby Smart has accumulated over the past couple of cycles will transfer out for more playing time. Especially on defense, there are players in the locker room who will need to be convinced that they need to stay in Athens to be a part of something special.
Say what one will about Fromm, it’s clear that he has a budding confidence in George Pickens, and could benefit greatly from a chance to play with the stellar receivers in Georgia’s 2020 signing class (to say nothing of a healthy Dominick Blaylock, Kearis Jackson, and Tommy Bush). I don’t think that will happen, and it worries me greatly.
But it’s a worry for another night. For now our Georgia Bulldogs have finished 12-2, champions of the SEC East and Sugar Bowl. That’s a dang good year. Ever and always....