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Who is Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East?
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Who is Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East?

Who is Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East?

Who is Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East?

Georgia-SEC East-South Carolina-challengers

When it comes to the SEC East this coming football season, Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs are the consensus favorite. So far this offseason, the chatter mainly has been centering around which team in the division could be their biggest challenger.

Early money seems to be on South Carolina. USA Today, among others, has said Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks “look like Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East.”

Georgia’s defense stopped South Carolina’s offense when it counted last year. (Steffenie Burns/UGA)

In part, the belief that the Dawgs should be on upset alert for the game against South Carolina is because the annual Border Bash is reverting this year to its traditional spot as the Dawgs’ conference opener after taking place midseason the past couple of years. After a less-than-challenging season opener at home in Athens against FCS visitor Austin Peay, kicking off SEC play the next week at Columbia could be a stern test for the Dawgs, who are replacing a bunch of key players from last year.

Playing in Columbia traditionally is tough, and it’s also noteworthy that, last year in Athens, the Gamecocks put up a stiffer fight than most of Georgia’s opponents. At the time, I called it a “workmanlike win” for the Dawgs, marred by sloppy play, too many penalties, and a turnover on the opponent’s 4-yard line.

The Georgia pass defense also was somewhat porous at times against the Gamecocks’ air attack, particularly on third down, and the Dawgs’ rush couldn’t get consistent pressure on quarterback Jake Bentley, who completed 21 of 35 passes.

But when it counted, the Georgia defense held, and Georgia’s Jake Fromm proved he could throw the ball, too, tossing 2 touchdown strikes as the Dawgs won 24-10.

Another factor in those upset alerts for the Dawgs at Columbia is South Carolina’s apparent status as the choice of the nation’s sports media as the SEC’s “most improved” or “up-and-coming” program.

That appears to be based mostly on the fact that the Gamecocks having a talented, experienced quarterback in Bentley, and the return to health of highly rated wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who missed most of last year (including the Georgia game) with an injury .

Expectations are that under new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon — a former Georgia player and assistant coach) —  the Gamecocks will be more dangerous offensively than last year, when they were very inconsistent. Plus, there’s this popular belief that Coach Boom’s defense will be improved from last year simply because he’s usually had good defenses in the past.

USA Today’s Paul Myerberg even listed the Gamecocks— who are ranked No. 24 in the paper’s post-spring rankings, with Georgia at No. 6 — as his “dark horse” contender for the conference championship, which he expects to be won by Alabama.

Of course, the preseason media darling doesn’t always pan out, and hype has a way of evaporating in the face of hard reality, as happened a few times with Tennessee during the Butch Jones era.

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock could challenge a rebuilding Georgia defense. (Perry McIntyre Jr./UGA)

Also, remember how Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State Bizarro Bulldogs entered their game against the Dawgs in Athens last season as probably the hottest team in college football, on the heels of a shocking upset of LSU. It only took the Dawgs one play to put that notion to rest — a terrific flea-flicker pass for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage — a play that Fromm says was his favorite of the season. Georgia went on to a fairly easy win.

Still, that early date against South Carolina does look like the Dawgs’ first major challenge of the new season.

However, it’s not the only potential upset that college football observers see on Georgia’s schedule.

Some think Missouri’s Drew Lock, who’s had some success — though not enough — throwing against the Dawgs the past couple of years, might prove too much for a rebuilding Georgia defense. Still, former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who spent the past five years coaching receivers for the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, is Mizzou’s new offensive coordinator — a job he’s never held before. I’m not convinced Missouri is going to be an offensive juggernaut, and the Tigers defense probably will continue to be a weak link.

Others think that last year’s Georgia blowout of Florida was an aberration and that the Gators, with former Mississippi State coach Mullen now in charge, immediately will return to SEC East contender status. Again, I’m not convinced. Florida still is looking for a quarterback, and must rebuild its offensive line.

Plus, Todd Grantham is the Gators’ new defensive coordinator, which should put a big smile on the faces of Georgia’s offensive staff. Yeah, Grantham improved Mississippi State’s defensive numbers last year, but he wasn’t able to handle the Dawgs. And his other game as a defensive coordinator against Georgia since leaving Athens — the 2014 Belk Bowl when he was with Louisville — also went the Dawgs’ way. 

Georgia defensive back Tyrique McGhee sacked Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks last year, forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

As for the rest of the SEC East, most analysts expect Jeremy Pruitt to face tough sledding in his first year as Tennessee’s new head coach. Jones didn’t leave him much to work with. SEC sports information directors recently picked the Vols to finish last in the division in 2018.

As for Kentucky, the Wildcats may have Benny Snell, probably the conference’s best returning back, but that’s not enough, and Vanderbilt don’t appear any stronger than last year.

Actually, the biggest threats to Georgia’s return to the conference championship this season appear to reside in the SEC West.

The Oct. 13 trip to Baton Rouge to play LSU concerns some fans, mainly because it’s always tough to play the Tigers at home. But while LSU’s defense again should be pretty good, their offense remains suspect, with the departure of their two best running backs and their offensive coordinator.

Really, the toughest game on Georgia’s regular season schedule once again should be Auburn, with whom the Dawgs split a pair last year, winning the one that counted the most in the SEC Championship Game.

No matter how that game turns out, Georgia remains the favorite to take the East’s spot in the SEC Championship game and even be  a possible contender for the College Football Playoff.

As Lindy’s preview summed up Georgia’s prospects: “A return to the SEC title game is the baseline of what would be acceptable.”

No pressure, Kirby.

The post Who is Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East? appeared first on DawgNation.

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Georgia Sports News

  • ATLANTA (AP) - The Baby Braves are all grown up. It's almost time to celebrate. With another gutty performance that pushed Atlanta to the brink of its first NL East title since 2013, the Braves bounced back from Ronald Acuna Jr.'s defensive blunder with a five-run seventh inning that carried them past the Philadelphia Phillies 6-5 Friday night. Ozzie Albies sparked the comeback with a two-run homer and Johan Camargo finished it off with a two-out, two-run single, giving the youthful Braves a chance to celebrate as soon as Saturday afternoon with one more victory over the second-place Phillies. 'Man, this might be doable,'' manager Brian Snitker deadpanned. Acuna misjudged Wilson Ramos' liner to left in the top half of the seventh, turning what should have been an out into a two-run double. Pinch-hitter Jose Bautista tacked on a run-scoring single, giving the Phillies a 4-1 lead. It didn't last long. Tyler Flowers led off the bottom half with a single off Pat Neshek (3-2), and Albies followed with a drive into the right-field seats for his 23rd homer. Dansby Swanson walked and Lucas Duda followed with a pinch-hit single before Neshek finally got an out - on a grounder that bounced off the third-base bag and was backhanded by Asdrubal Cabrera, who threw home to get Swanson trying to score. That was only a brief respite for the Phillies. Luis Avilan surrendered a run-scoring double by Ender Inciarte into the right-field corner. With two outs and the bases loaded, Camargo came through on a 3-2 pitch by lining a single to left to put the Braves ahead for the first time all night . 'There's an 'it' factor with teams,' Snitker said. 'You don't know how they get it. But when they've got it, it's really something special.' Acuna and Inciate celebrated at home plate, while Camargo pumped his fist emphatically at first, knowing he had pushed the Braves another step closer to the postseason. The Phillies dropped 7 1/2 games behind the Braves, while the Washington Nationals were eliminated from the division race. After their last NL East title, the Braves went through a massive rebuild that led to three straight 90-loss seasons. With some of baseball's brightest young stars, including 21-year-old Albies and 20-year-old Acuna, they're pushing for the playoffs far sooner than most people expected. Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman are the only holdovers from Atlanta's last playoff team. 'We were talking about it the other day,' Teheran said. 'It's been a while since the last time we did this. We're excited. We have a new team. I'm excited to see the guys do it for the first time. It's going to be different for me. I was a rookie the last time we did it.' After giving up a leadoff homer to Cesar Hernandez, Teheran turned in one of his best outings of an inconsistent season. He didn't allow another hit until pinch-hitter J.P. Crawford started the sixth with a triple off the right-field wall. Teheran escaped that jam by striking out Roman Quinn, getting Hernandez on a grounder to second and retiring Rhys Hoskins on a fly ball to right. But the Braves defense let Teheran down in the seventh. With one out, Justin Bour walked and Carlos Santana singled before Ramos sent a liner to left field for what should have been the second out. Acuna completely misjudged the ball, however, realizing too late that it was over his head. After a futile leap, the rookie had to go all the way to the wall to retrieve it, as both runners raced home to break a 1-all tie. Jonny Venters (4-0) claimed the win by getting the final two outs in the seventh. A.J. Minter earned his 15th save despite giving up a run in the ninth , striking out Quinn to end the game with a runner aboard. ROUGH OUTING After a very effective season, Neshek had one of his worst outings. The side-arming right-hander was charged with four runs while recording just one out, bouncing his ERA from 1.16 to 2.66. Neshek claimed home-plate umpire Gerry Davis missed several pitches that should have been called strikes. 'When you leave it in thee ump's hands, that can happen,' Neshek said. 'It just didn't go my way.' TRAINER'S ROOM The Braves will likely want former closer Arodys Vizcaino to pitch in back-to-back games before deciding whether he deserves a spot on a postseason roster. Vizcaino has allowed three hits and two runs in three innings since returning from the disabled list a week ago, but he had his most impressive performance with a scoreless inning against the Phillies in the series opener Thursday. The hard-throwing right-hander had 15 saves before he went on the DL with shoulder inflammation. He missed 55 games. UP NEXT The Braves are skipping LH Sean Newcomb's spot in the rotation, moving up RH Mike Foltynewicz (11-10, 2.90 ERA) to make Saturday's start against Phillies RH Jake Arrieta (10-9, 3.77 ERA). Newcomb has a 7.44 ERA over his last seven starts, endangering his spot in the possible playoff rotation after he spent much of the season as one of Atlanta's most effective pitchers. Newcomb will be available out of the bullpen for the remainder of the weekend but could still make another start in the final week of the regular season, according to Snitker. ___ Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry ___ For more AP baseball coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
  • FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman will miss his second straight game with a knee injury, and the Falcons also will be without starting defensive end Takk McKinley when they host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Coach Dan Quinn declared both players out Friday, extending a rash of injuries that have plagued the Falcons (1-1) already this season. Freeman went down with a bruised knee in a Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, while McKinley sustained a groin injury that kept him off the field in the closing stages of last weekend's 31-24 victory over Carolina. Tevin Coleman took over as the primary running back against the Panthers, rushing for 107 yards, and rookie Ito Smith also was effective. The loss of McKinley means Brooks Reed will likely move into a starting role vs. the Saints. The Falcons also will be missing backup end Derrick Shelby, ruled out with a groin injury, and reserve linebacker Corey Nelson (calf). Atlanta already has lost safety Keanu Neal and offensive guard Andy Levitre to season-ending injuries. Linebacker Deion Jones (foot) will have to miss at least eight games after going on injured reserve. ___ For more AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NFLfootball and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • Georgia football fans can get their statistical fix each week with By the Numbers — a stats-based look at how UGA coach Kirby Smart is doing in his attempt to keep the Bulldogs on top of the SEC and continue the program’s pursuit of a national championship. This week’s edition of By the Numbers looks at Georgia’s missing pass rush through three games and how that could improve before season’s end. Georgia’s defense hasn’t had much success getting to the quarterback this season. A fact that hasn’t been a problem yet for the Bulldogs, but could be an issue before season’s end if it doesn’t improve. UGA — as has been widely discussed — is last in the country through three games with just one sack. However, coach Kirby Smart apparently isn’t too concerned. “I’m looking more at total yards per completion and how many points they put on the scoreboard. That’s what matters to me,” Smart said when asked about not getting quarterback pressure on Middle Tennessee State last Saturday. “I know everybody wants sacks. Everybody wants pass rush, but if you put a stop watch on it and you take the whole [MTSU] offensive line off the field and don’t block anybody, I don’t know that we could’ve got there.” Smart probably has a point in that regard. The Blue Raiders did get rid of the ball quickly vs. UGA, and the stats Smart says he’s monitoring closely — yards per completion for opposing offenses and points allowed — are areas in which UGA’s excelled. The Bulldogs are tied for second in scoring defense (allowing 8 points per game) and tied for sixth in passing yards per attempt allowed (4.8). Yet that analysis ignores an obvious point. Simply put, national championship contenders sack quarterbacks. UGA made the Playoff in 2017 with 34 sacks, but dating back to 2014, 11 of the 15 other teams who’ve made the Playoff had more sacks than that. The average number of sacks for a Playoff team over that span: 39. Quarterback pressure is also among most predictive metrics for determining a team’s success in another crucial area: turnover margin. Stats guru Bill Connelly uses “sack rate” in his formula for his S&P+ rankings because as Connelly explains, “sack rates are one of the only reliable, non-random factors that contribute to a team’s turnover margin.” Smart could be forgiven if he ignores that logic. Despite not getting many sacks, collecting turnovers hasn’t been a problem for UGA yet. The Bulldogs have recovered two fumbles and intercepted three passes through three games — good enough for a +1 turnover margin (tied for 18th-best in the country). However, history says that might not be a pace UGA can continue for the rest of the season. Six of the last nine SEC teams to finish in the top three in the conference in turnover margin were also in the top three in sacks. The blunt truth is UGA’s pass rush needs to improve, and the good news is that’s entirely possible to happen. Improving the pass rush is something Smart’s been doing since he arrived in 2016, and he’s done it without having to blitz often — which can put the secondary in a disadvantageous position. “That’s one of the big things we’ve tried to improve,” Smart said of his pass rush last August. “You can improve your pass rush by bringing more guys, or you can rush four better. Obviously, I like to rush four better than bringing more guys. So we’ve tried to find ways to do it. It’s not always been exactly what we wanted — what we want to create — but it’s certainly improving.” Smart’s words proved prophetic. UGA’s 34 sacks last season were five more than the Bulldogs recorded in 2016, and 13 more than UGA had in 2015 — Mark Richt’s final year as UGA coach. One of the factors that could raise UGA’s sack total by season’s end is the emergence of freshmen such as outside linebacker Brenton Cox — a former 5-star recruit from the Bulldogs No. 1 rated 2018 signing class. Cox has played in every game thus far for Georgia without making much of a dent in the stat sheet. That could change soon. “Brenton has grown and progressed,” Smart said this week. “He probably hasn’t shown up in games as much as he has in practice. He hasn’t had many opportunities to get out there and flash and do what I think he can do… He’s getting better with each and every game. He’s a competitor.” As Cox’s competitive fire allows him to become more of a part of the defensive game plan the Bulldogs’ stats could benefit, and it isn’t inconceivable UGA could end up coming close to the sack total it amassed last season. Saturday will be the Bulldogs fourth game. Through that same span in 2017 UGA had just seven sacks. If Georgia creates any sacks vs. Missouri it won’t be too far off the pace it set a year ago. But as Smart has said, it can’t chase sacks at all costs because pressuring Tigers quarterback Drew Lock can be tricky. CFB Film Room tweeted this week that Lock has an adjusted completion percentage (which accounts for drops and throw aways) of 64.3 percent when facing pressure. That means if the Bulldogs come after him, they better get to him. Otherwise, he can make them pay. Ultimately, Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker know UGA needs more pressure on quarterbacks, and regardless of how either might downplay the stat, they’d love to get sacks. However, neither wants to dial up blitzes to accomplish that. It’s probably the correct philosophy — especially against Lock. What many UGA fans are hoping for is a glimpse of improvement — either from Cox, or a veteran presence like D’Andre Walker, the only Bulldogs player with more than one quarterback pressure so far. If that improvement comes against Missouri, UGA could be well on its way to re-establishing the credentials that made it Playoff-worthy in 2017. The post By the Numbers: Still plenty of time for UGA pass rush to improve appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ST. LOUIS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart loves to talk about his big, physical offensive line and how it wears out defenders. Opponents, like Missouri coach Barry Odom, dread the challenge the Bulldogs’ offensive front presents. “I think they’ve got as talented of a run-oriented system when they decide to go run the ball   as we’ve seen,” Odom said. “If you are out of your gap or out of your assignment a little bit, it will get exposed quickly.” The No. 2-ranked Georgia football program will taken on Odom’s Tigers in a noon (Eastern) kick on Saturday in Columbia in a battle of unbeaten SEC teams. As much attention as quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Drew Lock draw, the line of scrimmage could ultimately decide the outcome as both teams look to stay in favorable down-and-distance situations. The key to that is often first down production, and Odom knows the Bulldogs love to dictate the flow with their power run game. “Once we encounter one of their big dudes up front, we have to do a great job using our hands playing through and off the blocks,” Odom said this week, “because there’s times — the way they play and get to the next level of defenders, which would be our linebackers and sometimes drop down safety — that they can overwhelm you a bit with the way they play in the run game.” Georgia is averaging 272 yards per game on the ground, 13th-best in the nation, and fourth in the SEC. The Bulldogs offensive line leads the way, from left to right: • LT Cade Mays (6-foot-6, 318 pounds) • LG Solomon Kindley (6-4, 335) • OC Lamont Gaillard (6-2, 308) • RG Ben Cleveland (6-6, 335) • RT Isaiah Wilson (6-7, 340) “Our offensive line is   physical, they’re big, they lean on you,” Smart said. “It just wears on you.” The Bulldogs are splitting the carries at the tailback position four ways between leading rusher Elijah Holyfield (200 yards, 9.1 yards per carry), D’Andre Swift (119 yards, 5.0 yards per carry), James Cook (105 yards, 4.8 yards per carry) and Brian Herrien (91 yards, 7.0 yards per carry). Holyfield broke a 66-yard run against Middle Tennessee, and his hard-charging, physical style of play has impressed Smart and Odom. “He practices tough, physical; every day for him is physical,” Smart said. “He’s not a guy you have to motivate. He loves the game. He practices hard …. He likes contact, and he’s a bowling ball. He’s hard to bring down. He’s really tough.” Odom has seen plenty of film of No. 13, too. “He’s a strong runner, he’s got really good quickness on making his first initial jump cut, and then getting back vertical,” Odom said. “.Strong, strong power runner, really good in block protection when they throw the ball when he’s in there, he’s an impressive guy.” Odom said the Tigers, who rank 74th in the nation in total defense (379.7 yards per game) have a challenge on their hands. “We need to tackle well, we need to make sure that we play assignment sound,” Odom said. “When they do throw the ball we have to be good in our coverage zones, either n zone or man to man, we have to have really great eye discipline.” Elijah Holyfield is a physical runner. Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images The post Georgia football run game ‘can overwhelm you,’ per Missouri coach Barry Odom appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Georgia football is the No. 1 topic every day on DawgNation Daily — the daily podcast for Georgia Bulldogs fans. Catch up on everything happening with UGA athletics with host Brandon Adams and the cast of DawgNation experts as they break down the latest Georgia football recruiting news and discuss UGA coach Kirby Smart’s quest to keep the Bulldogs on top of the SEC. On episode No. 787 (Sept. 21, 2018) of the podcast, Georgia fans can hear a discussion about Georgia coach Kirby Smart and the upcoming game vs. Missouri. Georgia football podcast: Kirby Smart’s search for ‘one defining moment’ could come vs. Missouri Beginning of the show: Georgia coach Kirby Smart has spoken before about his belief that UGA needs to overcome some adversity at some point this season if the Bulldogs are to be as good as they were in 2017 and have the same quality of leadership displayed along the way to the College Football Playoff. I’ll talk on the show today about whether the Missouri game will provide that opportunity for UGA. 10-minute mark: I’ll share the Kroger Checklist and discuss the emergence of safety Richard LeCounte. 15-minute mark: DawgNation’s recruiting insider Jeff Sentell joins the show. Some of the topics covered include… 4-star defensive lineman Derick “Rambo” Hunter’s recently released top five Reaction to 4-star defensive lineman — and Florida State commit — Quashon Fuller’s recent tweet about UGA Whether turmoil at Auburn hurts the Tigers’ chances of swaying 5-star wide receiver Jadon Haselwood’s UGA commitment And the latest on 5-star offensive lineman Clay Webb 30-minute mark: I take a look at other SEC headlines including wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers decision to transfer from Auburn, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher’s attempt to become the first former Nick Saban assistant to beat his old boss, and a look at the hype building for the Florida-Tennessee game. 35-minute mark: I discuss why freshman outside linebacker Brenton Cox could emerge as a major contributor for UGA by the end of the season. End of show: I update the Gator Hater Countdown and discuss the likelihood of seeing another stadium emptied early by a dominant UGA performance on the road. The post Georgia football podcast: Kirby Smart’s search for ‘one defining moment’ could come vs. Missouri appeared first on DawgNation.