Usually, 400 yards of total offense is enough to defeat the grandmaster that is Nick Saban.
The Georgia Bulldogs found out the hard way a year ago that said assumption isn’t necessarily always the case. The Bulldogs came five yards shy of upsetting Alabama in the SEC Championship game when Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray‘s tipped pass was hauled in by receiver Chris Conley at the five yard line as the clock expired.
The win would have sent Georgia into the BCS Championship Game against top-ranked Notre Dame in Miami. Instead, Alabama went on to win their third BCS crown in four years.
Now Mark Richt’s Georgia crew must offset that devastating loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game if they want to ring the doorbell again this season. Fortunately for the Dawgs, they’ve have time to lick their wounds and get back where it all started, pursuing a possible rematch with Alabama for the 2013 SEC crown. The journey started last week in Athens.
Based off the seeing eye, this team has all the pieces to rival a 2012 Georgia. The Bulldogs comes into this season picked by the media to win the SEC East for a third consecutive year, and ranked fifth in the latest USA Today poll.
Redshirt senior signal caller Aaron Murray returns for his fourth season at the helm to lead an offense that brings back 10 starters who set a season school scoring record of 529 points, 38 points per game and a nation-best average of 7.09 yards per play.
Georgia’s already-prolific offense regains two dynamic freshmen from a year ago in sophomore running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, nicknamed as “Gurshall” by many in the game.
The duet combined to rush for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns a year ago. Gurley broke Walker’s freshman record of 17 rushing touchdowns, rushing for 1,385 on 222 carries. Meanwhile, the elusive Marshall broke the program’s single game rushing record with 164 yards against fellow SEC East opponent Tennessee.
The Dogs’ offensive line returns all five starters from a year ago in tackles John Theus and Kenarious Gates, guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, center David Andrews and backup guard Kolton Houston, who has missed the previous three years due to a failed substance issue reprimanded by the NCAA. This is a major plus for offensive line coach Will Friend, who has seen many depth issues in recent seasons.
Juniors Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Arthur Lynch look to lead one of the best receiving corps in the SEC and nation. Lynch is considered one of the best tight ends in the country with 24 snags, 431 yards, and three touchdowns last season, and should be a serious contender for the Mackey Award come December.
The Bulldogs’ biggest question mark will no doubt be on the other side of the ball. Todd Grantham and the Dogs’ 3-4 defense will have to rebuild after losing 12 overall players, most notably starting linebackers Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones, and nose guard Kwame Geathers to the NFL.
The only returning starters are linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Amarlo Herrera, along with cornerback Damian Swann and defensive end Garrison Smith.
The defensive line with first-year position coach Chris Wilson will have to fill the nose tackle and the other defensive end position with first-year starters. Nose guard will be settled among the likes of John Atkins, Chris Mayes and Michael Thornton. The defensive end opposite Smith will come down to Ray Drew and Sterling Bailey.
The also inexperienced Bulldogs secondary will use Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews at the safety positions, with a combination of Sheldon Dawson, Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley at the two cornerback spots.
The Dogs must navigate their way through a brutal schedule, which presents them with three top-15 clubs in Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in their first four weeks. Don’t forget about their later date with Florida in Jacksonville on Nov. 2 that could prove whether or not the Dogs will win their division.
These battles should present a baptism by fire for a young defense that will play seven first-year starters.
Georgia must play conservative, disciplined football to have a chance to settle their unfinished business from last season — winning an SEC Championship and playing for a national championship come January.