Greetings! We’re back with part two of our UGA football preview for 2013. In case you missed it, you can check out part 1 here, and with just over 24 hours until kick-off, things are getting tense! This offense has the chance to be special, and even if they fall just short of that, it should be a fun ride with the Dawgs have the ball. Let’s go.
Aaron. Murray. When you go down the list of quarterbacks that you feel safest with in the entire country, you wouldn’t have to go far until you reached Aaron Murray. He’s a four-year starter, a potential Heisman candidate, and he’s coming off of a season in which he was second in the country in quarterback efficiency. Sounds good, right? Well, Murray isn’t the flashiest guy, but he’s an elite player at this level. If we’re asked to project, I would think Murray may take a small step back in yardage from his 3,893-yard mark last season, but he’s a 3,500+ yard player with 30+ touchdowns and the potential for single-digit interceptions. In short, he’s a monster.
Behind him, Georgia will turn to redshirt junior Hutson Mason if anything happens to Murray. He has performed very well in 47 career pass attempts (obviously a small sample), but he’s the front-runner for the job in 2014 and the former Lassiter High School product probably wouldn’t be a disaster if forced into action.
While we’re talking about Heisman candidates (like Murray), Georgia is blessed with a second in running back Todd Gurley. As a true freshman, he emerged virtually out of nowhere to run for 1,385 yards on just 222 carries (6.2 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns. There are semi-real conversations about Gurley as the best tailback in the program since Herschel Walker, and I’d have to co-sign that sentiment if he can repeat his freshman performance. Frankly, he’s one of the best running backs in the nation, and if it wasn’t for the presence of the next guy we’ll discuss, he would be a Heisman front-runner instead of a Heisman darkhorse.
The second back for the Dawgs is Keith Marshall, and he’s a beast in his own right. In fact, Marshall was the much more heralded recruit coming out of high school (in the same class at Gurley), and he actually exceeded Gurley in yards per carry (6.5 to 6.2) last season. He’s about 15 pounds lighter and 2 inches shorter than Gurley, but that doesn’t mean he’s power-less, and Marshall would be an absolute superstar if given the job alone.
For insurance purposes, Georgia would likely turn to true freshman speedster JJ Green for a change-of-pace or injury fill-in. He’s very small at 5-8 and under 190 pounds, but the workload will never be large, and he could be effective in small doses.
It’s been a whirlwind career for junior Malcolm Mitchell, but it looks like the stars are aligning for him as the undisputed #1 receiver. Mitchell spent some time in the secondary in previous seasons (weirdly) and had some off-field issues, but he still caught 40 balls for 572 yards as a sophomore (2nd on the team in both categories), and he’s got 1,000-yard upside with Murray tossing him the rock.
On the other side, junior Michael Bennett gets the nod. Bennett is coming off of a long-term injury to his knee during the 2012 season, but before he left, he caught 24 balls for 345 yards in limited action. He’s not quite the pure talent that Mitchell is, but his per-game numbers have been comparable, and he’s a good player.
The “other guys” are led by Chris Conley, who will probably be the starter in 3-wide sets. He had 6 touchdown catches (in just 20 overall grabs) last season, and at 6-3, he could be a valuable target down the field and in the redzone. Behind him, there is talent in guys like Justin Scott-Wesley and Rhett McGowan, and the drop-off wouldn’t be too steep if the injury bug hits.
It hasn’t always been pretty for the maulers up front in Athens, but this group could be very, very good. The unit has 101 total starts among them (a ton for a college team). John Theus is probably the highest-touted player after starting 14 games as a freshman, and he was a freshman All-American last year. Alongside him at tackle, Kenarious Gates has NFL upside at 6-5 and 318 pounds, and as a senior, he’s probably the leader on the line.
The other competitor for the “leader” spot is Chris Burnette, who was 2nd-team All-SEC last year at guard. He, along with David Andrews and Dallas Lee, will anchor the middle of the line, and they’ll be charged to open massive holes for Gurley and Marshall.
As an offense, the Bulldogs possess a unit that is virtually unmatched nationwide. There is no defined weakness, and even the general unproven nature of the wide receivers is alleviated with the depth of talent at the position, In addition, I can’t count on one hand the amount of programs that can boast two legitimate Heisman candidates (Alabama and Oregon is the entire list), and with talent everywhere, the offensive side of the ball is an area of zero worry for Mark Richt and company.
Alabama is still the major hurdle in the SEC, and as a result of that, I would fall short predicting an SEC title for Georgia. However, I can certainly see a scenario where the Bulldogs run through their regular season unblemished, despite a gauntlet of a schedule that sees Georgia open with back-to-back top-ranked opponents in Clemson and South Carolina. I am going on record with an 11-1 prediction that includes a loss to LSU at home (arbitrary, but still) and a berth in the SEC title game, and anything short of that will likely be considered a disappointment by this rabid fan base. This is one of the best chances that Bulldog Nation will have for a national title, and it’s going to be a fun ride.