10 Questions Georgia Football Must Answer This Offseason
10 Questions UGA Must Answer This Offseason
Like any other team in the country, the University of Georgia faces a number of questions with regards to their football program this offseason. The Bulldogs are coming off an unimpressive 8-5 campaign after being ranked in the top five in the preseason polls. A defeat to the Clemson Tigers at Death Valley in their first game of the season wiped away any hopes of a national title run early on and really set the tone for what was going to take place the rest of the way.
In that close 38-35 loss, Georgia looked great on offense under the leadership of senior quarterback Aaron Murray, but the defense was absolutely awful as the Tigers gashed the defensive unit under the play-calling of Todd Grantham. This became a bit of a theme as the season progressed, and Murray was counted on time after time to lead his team to victory by outscoring opponents due to the defensive struggles. However, the biggest theme of Georgia’s season has to be the injury bug that hit the whole team.
Injuries decimated a team poised for a big season right from the beginning. In their game against Clemson, UGA lost a player in the worst way possible when last year’s leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell went down with a knee injury during a touchdown celebration with teammate Todd Gurley. The Dawgs were able to replace his production early on and achieved huge wins over South Carolina and LSU at Sanford Stadium, but the excitement didn't last long when the injury bug started to hit again.
The kind of players UGA lost for either the whole season or an extended period of time after the LSU game makes you wonder how far the Dawgs could have gone this year. They had just beaten two top-10 teams in the SEC to start out 2-0 in the conference, and really looked like a team destined for the SEC Championship in Atlanta. However, when you lose players such as Gurley, Murray, Mitchell, Keith Marshall and Justin Scott-Wesley on the offensive side of the ball without even mentioning the injuries on defense, you knew the Dawgs were in trouble.
Luckily for Georgia fans, the season is over and they can focus on the 2014 season. I cannot imagine Georgia facing a similar fate this year, but the Bulldogs must answer these 10 questions in the offseason in order to avoid it.
10. Can Georgia Players Stay Out of Trouble?
Georgia players have a habit of getting into trouble during the offseason. Over the years, we've seen players such as Isaiah Crowell, Nick Marshall and Zach Mettenburger leave the program due to bad decisions, and it's starting to become a problem. This offseason, UGA already managed to have another guy get in trouble when CB Shaq Wiggins was pulled over for speeding and driving with a suspended license. When big-time players keep getting into trouble, it really impacts the team in a number of ways. First, how can Georgia expect to get off to a good start when starters have to sit out due to suspensions? Second, the offseason is a time to build team chemistry, and you cannot do that when players are forced to sit out practice because of their actions.
9. What Young Players Will Step Up?
Georgia definitely has a ton of young talent on both sides of the ball, but now that those young players have a year under their belt, who will rise up to become an elite player? I can see a number of players on the defensive side of the ball stepping up this year. Last season, the secondary of the Bulldogs was one of the youngest in the league and should improve drastically from a year ago. However, my pick for the breakout performer of the year is the young linebacker/defensive end Leonard Floyd. As a freshman, Floyd led the team in sacks with 6.5 and has the potential to do even more with another offseason to develop his talent.
8. Who Replaces Aaron Murray?
I feel sorry for the guy that has to replace one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the SEC. Murray had a great career with the Bulldogs and came very close to leading them to a national championship two seasons ago when UGA fell just short in the SEC Championship. It'll be hard for anyone to replace the production of Murray, but someone has to do it. Right now, Hutson Mason looks like the front-runner to take the starting job. In limited action last year, he led the Dawgs to a 1-1 record with a big win over rival Georgia Tech, but also took a bad bowl loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
7. Can UGA Get Off To A Good Start?
Over the years, Georgia has struggled to get off to a good start and it's really hurting their chances of reaching their ultimate goal -- a championship. Last year, UGA could not get the win over Clemson, but beat the Gamecocks, who usually give the Dawgs trouble in the early going. This season, Georgia fans will find out early if their team is a contender or a pretender as Clemson comes to town in the first game and then the Bulldogs travel to Columbia, SC to face South Carolina in a big SEC battle. Will this team be different, or will Georgia do more of the same? If UGA does more of the same, many fans will start to call for the firing of coach Mark Richt and his staff.
6. Where Are the Playmakers On Defense?
The defense last year was awful and unacceptable by Georgia standards. The Bulldogs recruit way too many good players on the defensive side of the ball to be as bad as they were last year. Last season, under the direction of defensive coordinator Grantham, Georgia gave up an average of 29 points per game, which ranked them at 79th in the country. A big reason for the lack of defense can be attributed to the fact that Georgia really had no playmakers on that side of the ball. In order for the Bulldogs to be better defensively, a bunch of players need to pick up their production in terms of sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions because nobody stepped up to be the next Jarvis Jones on this team last season.
5. How Will Mike Bobo Fare Without Aaron Murray?
A number of Georgia fans do not like Mike Bobo already and want to see the offensive coordinator out of Athens as soon as possible. Over the last couple of years, Bobo had the luxury of Murray at his disposal, which probably made him look a lot better than he really was as an offensive coordinator. However, he does not have Murray this season and it'll be interesting to see how he fares without him, because if the offense struggles with players such as Gurley on the roster, Georgia fans will call for Bobo's head.
4. Can Georgia's Running Backs Stay Healthy?
There's no question that if UGA wants to be successful this year, then the play of Gurley and Marshall will be the key to a great season. However, in order for them to carry the team on their backs, both must stay healthy and avoid injuries. Gurley is arguably the best running back in the country and if he manages to stay healthy, Georgia could be in for a huge season. When he went out with an ankle injury last year, the Bulldogs really struggled to move the ball and ended up losing a couple of games that they normally would not lose.
3. Can Mark Richt Win the Big One?
While Richt has done some great things in his time at Georgia, one thing he's failed to do is win a national championship. Year after year, Georgia gets some of the best talent in the country to only fall short of their ultimate goal every year. If Richt wants the fans to quit wishing for him to be fired, then he has to produce the results that the fans expect. He's won a couple of Sugar Bowls, which is good and all, but he has ultimately failed to get over the hump in order to win big one. Richt may need to change his ways as a coach because whatever he's done so far is just not good enough with the level of talent surrounding him.
2. What Impact Will Jeremy Pruitt Have?
The Bulldogs made an excellent hire at the defensive coordinator position in Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State. At FSU, Pruitt helped make the Seminoles the best defense in the country and was a major reason as to why they were able to win a national championship. Last year, one of Georgia's major weaknesses was their secondary, which is something that Pruitt specializes in. Before he went to FSU, he coached the secondary at the University of Alabama from 2010-12 and learned from the best in Nick Saban. Georgia fans should expect to see a way better defense than the one they witnessed under Grantham a year ago.
1. Can the Whole Team Stay Healthy?
Injuries plagued the Bulldogs last year as a number of key players went down on both sides of the ball such as Gurley, Murray and Mitchell to name a few. Whenever a team suffers that many injuries, the results are usually never good, as was the case with the Dawgs who finished at 8-5 on the season after being ranked no. 5 in preseason polls. If Georgia wants to improve their record from a year ago, then the team must stay healthy. I know it's impossible to predict when injuries will occur and to who, but let's face it -- Georgia was very unfortunate last season. If the injury bug doesn't strike again, the Bulldogs could be in for a great year if big-time players such as Gurley stay healthy. UGA has a roster full of talent at all positions and a new defensive coordinator who should greatly improve a terrible defense from last season as well. As much as it pains me to say it as a Georgia Tech fan -- watch out for the Dawgs in 2014.