22 August 2013

2013 UGA Football Preview

 * From the September 2013 edition of About Covington to Madison magazine. Click here to see the column as it appears in the magazine.
It's that time of the year again. College Football is just around the corner and that makes me a very happy man. For many of us, this is the best time of the year. Autumn is always so nice – the temperature starts dropping, the leaves start turning, and the Georgia Bulldogs hit the field. And for my readers who might pull for that North Avenue school or somebody else, what can I say – I'm a Dawg. You might just have to skip this one.

Five yards. Five lousy yards are what separated our beloved Dawgs from a shot at our first national championship since 1980. A fingertip on the ball, and an instinctual catch by one of our best players just short of the goal line sealed our fate that December night in Atlanta. Now, almost nine months later and with a new season about to begin, and the expectations couldn't be higher. Even with some key losses on the defensive side of the ball, UGA is currently ranked #5 in both the AP and USA Today pre-season polls. There will be lots of pressure, not to mention a grueling September schedule. With that said, these Dawgs - our Dawgs - have a real and legitimate opportunity to do something very special this year. Let's break it down:

Offense: Enough can not be said about how good and explosive of an offense we might have this year. Many experts agree that UGA may very well have the best combination in the country of the offensive skill positions: quarterback, running back and receiver. Add to that a deep and experienced O-line and two of the best tight ends in the conference, and this 2013 edition seems poised to knock off the 2012 UGA offense as the school's most prolific in history. QB Aaron Murray is on everybody's Heisman short list, and he will almost surely leave UGA as its greatest all-time passer. The running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall is second to none and we've got a couple of killer fullbacks as well. Add to that a receiving corps that is just absolutely stacked. Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley, two of last year's leading receivers, will benefit from the return of Mr. Hands, Michael Bennett. Look for Rantavious Wooten to really break out and expect to see our tight ends get in the mix as well. There is not a school anywhere in America that has two tight ends as good as Artie Lynch and Jay Rome in my opinion. And while many in the Dawg Nation have had their gripes about offensive coordinator and play-caller Mike Bobo, it really seems to me that he has turned the corner the last two seasons. His past borderline obsession with equally mixing run and pass and a tendency for scripted play-calling has dissipated. To me, he now calls as good a game as anybody in college football.

Defense and Special Teams: There has been much consternation and hand wringing in the Bulldog Nation about our defense. So we lost 8 starters to graduation and the NFL draft. So what? When you recruit like UGA does, you simply reload. The way I see it, from top to bottom, the 2013 defense will be much better than the 2012 edition. Really, go back and look at the stats – last year's defense wasn't all that. Not even close to the 2011 D. Yes, we had some unbelievable talent, but we lacked depth...and maybe even some cohesiveness as well. I expect to see our guys really get after it this year and to very much play as a unit. Jordan Jenkins, the phenom sophomore LB, will set the tone. Defensive end Garrison Smith will be the unit's leader and will be second only to Jenkins in terms of big play ability. I'm really not concerned about our front 7. I'm optimistic about the line and our linebackers. The secondary does have some question marks. No doubt about it. But in terms of pure talent, the two-deep for all four positions are as good as any program in America. But, with the exception of CB Damion Swann, they're all pretty young and untested. I think by the month of October, we will have one of the premier defenses in the SEC. It would be nice if we had an easy run in September, but we don't. More on that later. Also, look for the Georgia D to play out of the 4-2-5 alignment against pass-heavy teams in addition to its usual 3-4-4 formation.

In addition to defense anxiety, there are many who are nervous about our special teams' play. Vince Dooley once said that the keys to winning in the SEC were being able to run the ball, strong defense, and a solid kicking game. By kicking game, he was referring to special teams, and I think the key word there is “solid.” We will have solid, not great, special teams play. Colin Barber returns as our punter and he will do a fine job. We're not sure who our kicker is going to be the first game of the season, but there are reports that walk-on Adam Erickson is more than capable if Marshall Morgan can't play. Kick-off coverage has greatly improved since Coach Richt has realized that you've got to have your best talent on the field in that situation. I truly think we're fine in this phase of the game.

Overview: Obviously September is just a crazy grind. Three top-12 teams in our first four games. It's going to be tough. The big question is this: will the offense be good enough to carry the load until the defense gets
their legs under them? I think the short answer on that is yes. It all starts August 31st in Clemson. That's going to be one heck of a ball game. And by the first of October, we'll know if we're legit or not. I feel pretty darn good about it. Don't overlook LSU – they are as good as anyone in the country. And I have this sneaking suspicion that Tennessee is going to play us tough as nails up in Knoxville that sixth week of the season. And naturally Jacksonville will be huge. A win against the Gators will give UGA a three game winning streak and four of the last seven. My prediction for the 2013 Dawgs: UGA will trip up against LSU after impressing everybody with strong wins against Clemson and South Carolina. A smack down of Florida in Jacksonville and later, a great win against Alabama in the SEC championship game, help the Dawgs leapfrog an undefeated Louisville team to play in Pasadena for the national championship against Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.