Part five of a six-part series, highlighting what the Georgia football team needs to win championships in 2019.
If Georgia’s offense excelled at one thing in 2018, it was spreading the wealth. The Bulldog offense, designed by offensive coordinator Jim Cheney and piloted by sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm made sure to keep defenses guessing by getting the ball to numerous players.
D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield by far had the bulk of those touches, combining for 359. Holyfield, James Cook and Justin Fields each had over 40 touches, and five different receivers caught between 23 and 43 passes.
Otherwise, this wouldn’t be a question heading into 2019, but all five of those receivers are gone. One graduated (Terry Godwin), one dismissed (Jeremiah Holloman), and three leaving early for the NFL Draft (Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman and Isaac Nauta). Holyfield also left early and Fields transferred. Of Georgia’s 789 offensive plays in 2018, 12 departing players accounted for 387. Plus, Cheney is gone.
To have continued success on offense, Georgia needs players to step up in the running game and the passing game. D’Andre Swift needs quality from his backups and Fromm needs a target at every position.
SWIFT IS A CENTERPIECE, NOT A WORKHORSE
While there’s no doubt Swift could carry a team on his shoulders. He’s strong, fast and agile, and after two seasons, knows how to get every inch out of a play. But gone are the days in which one running back can account for 60-percent of a team’s offense and lead his team to success. Defenses are too strong and too athletic.
Swift can have the most carries, but he can’t crowd the room. For Georgia to succeed, Brian Herrien, Cook and Zamir White need large roles in the backfield. If Georgia can dominate a game, while only giving Swift 15 touches, that’s an outstanding day. The healthier the Philly Flyer can be later in the season the better.
Dispersing the ball to numerous running backs does more than just keep Swift fresh, it also gives the defenses more to think about, especially in multi-back formations. And it helps that all four backs are so diverse.
Cook is the prototypical scat-back and will likely play deep in the backfield, near the line as a wingback, and in the slot. Herrien is a bit of a workhorse despite his size. He’s not a big play back, but he never seems to let the team down. White is an all-around back like Swift, but his game leans more towards power than Swift’s.
Granted all are healthy and ready for Southeastern Conference football, the four of them will combine for a stable of backs as good as any the sport has ever seen.
USE THE TIGHT ENDS
Up until last year, a common complaint with Georgia’s offense has been a lack of involvement by the tight ends in the passing game. Nauta was fourth on the team with 30 receptions, and third with 430 yards last season as the former No. 1 ranked tight end left Athens on a high note.
But that came after a nine-catch sophomore season. And other, highly sought after, tight ends have struggled to carve out their role in Georgia’s passing game lately. Jeb Blazevich, No. 3 tight end in 2014, only caught eight passes in his final two seasons after a great freshman year. Jackson Harris, No. 5 tight end in 2015, caught just eight passes in his entire career. Rising senior Charlie Woerner had his first double figures season last year with 11 catches.
It’s not like those players didn’t see the field. They were all featured prominently at one point as extra blockers. But to maximize success on offense, the tight ends need more involvement in the passing game, especially Woerner. He’s not a typical tight end with the ball in his hand. After the catch, he lives up to his namesake, whether it’s hurdling players against Missouri in 2017, or being an all-around difficult player to bring down against Vanderbilt.
Georgia also has sophomore John Fitzpatrick and freshmen Ryland Goede and Brett Seither. Goede is probably the most talented of that group, he was a top 10 tight end coming out of high school and is pretty similar to Nauta. But he’s coming off an ACL tear. Fitzpatrick has bulked up since arriving and should get on the field as a blocker, he’s an unkown as a receiver. Seither is the opposite. He’s known as a receiver who needs to work on blocking.
TOTAL UNKNOWNS AT RECEIVER
Week one of this column series was all about wide receivers, so there’s no need to go into too much detail here, but Georgia certainly has some questions to answer at receiver. Georgia’s five leading receivers in yards and touchdowns are gone. The best returning wide out is Tyler Simmons, who caught just nine passes.
Georgia can’t help but to spread the wealth in the passing game, at least early on as there are no standouts statistically. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no standout talents. Demetris Robertson is a former five-star transfer from California. He’s had a year to learn the playbook, prepare for SEC football, heal up from a season-ending injury and invest in, what head coach Kirby Smart calls, the “Georgia way.”
Simmons is a speedster whose role on offense improved as 2018 progressed. There’s some development talent in Kearis Jackson, Matt Landers and Trey Blount who could shine as well. Then there’s Miami graduate transfer Lawrence Cager, who led the Hurricanes in receiving touchdowns in 2018.
But the most exciting receivers going into 2019 are George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock. Both ranked in the Top 40 overall in the 2019 class with Pickens being a five-star prospect. Excluding athlete prospects, they’re the best receivers signed by Georgia since 2009.
Ideally, all these receivers will form combinations that’ll confuse and embarrass defenses. They have the talent to do so. But it all comes down to how ready they are for Saturday’s in the SEC.