The Georgia football team is coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history in 2017 which saw the Dawgs win the SEC and the Rose Bowl. Now that the 2018 season is almost here, Georgia is looking to re-load and bounce back from a heartbreaking loss to Alabama in last year’s national championship. Can Georgia make it back to the College Football Playoff despite losing several players from last year’s team? Here are three things the Dawgs must do to get back to the playoff this season:
1. Run the football
Georgia runs the football as well as any program in the country. The Dawgs always seem to be blessed with an embarrassment of riches in the offensive backfield and 2018 should be no different. Lead by preseason Heisman Trophy contender D’Andre Swift, Georgia’s running attack actually has a chance to be even more potent than it was in 2017. Georgia has five legitimate running backs on its roster who could all arguably start at most SEC schools. Georgia must be able to run the football effectively in 2018 to contend for a national championship.
With Jake Fromm entering his second year in Georgia’s system and the team looking to open up the passing game a little more this season, there will be plenty of running lanes for Swift and others to blast their way through. Teams Georgia will face this season will be committed to stopping the run. However, the Dawgs don’t need to shy away from what they do best. With extreme depth at running back and on the offensive line, expect a heavy commitment by this Georgia offense toward running the football.
2. Avoid distractions
Georgia is going to be faced with many potential distractions this season. The main one will be the constant media attention and questions the coaches and players will receive about the team’s epic collapse against Alabama back in January. And while Kirby Smart has effectively warded off these questions during the offseason, expect the media pressure to only intensify as the season rolls along. People want to know if Georgia has mentally recovered from being so close to a national championship last year but having it ripped away by Alabama in walk-off fashion.
Another potential distraction, although less likely, could revolve around the quarterback position in Athens. Jake Fromm enters his sophomore season after leading the Dawgs to the national championship game during an incredible true freshman season. And while most people in Fromm’s position wouldn’t have to fiercely battle to keep their starting job, Fromm is engaged in that battle every day with true freshman Justin Fields. Fields is a dual-threat quarterback who was the number one overall high school football recruit for the 2018 class. Fields has been described as a once in a generation type talent by some, and for good reason. At 6’3″ and 225 pounds, Fields has a cannon for an arm to go with sub 4.5 speed and a killer football IQ.
Kirby Smart will almost undoubtedly be able to handle having two very talented quarterbacks on the roster without it being a distraction. He’s proven he can do that by how he handled things in 2017 with Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason. But if Fromm gets injured or struggles early in 2018, things could get interesting if Justin Fields gets an early opportunity to play in a meaningful situation. None of this is to say Fromm will actually struggle, but Fields possesses so much talent that it may be hard to keep him off the field regardless of how Fromm performs. Although it’s easier said than done, it’s going to take a committed effort from all those involved to block out the noise from the 2017 season and not allow any new distractions get in the way of Georgia’s 2018 goals.
3. Beat South Carolina…convincingly
While some may disagree with me, I believe Georgia’s early season match-up against South Carolina is the team’s most important game in 2018. And for the Dawgs to get where the team wants to go in 2018, Georgia doesn’t just need to beat South Carolina…the Dawgs need to throttle the Gamecocks.
Of course, that’s much easier said than done. But there are many reasons why this game is extremely important for Georgia. First, South Carolina is probably the only real threat to Georgia in the SEC East. The Gamecocks had a respectable season last year and have been building momentum with recruiting and offseason hype (whether that hype is deserved is a discussion for another day). If Georgia were to lose this early game against the Gamecocks, South Carolina would control its own destiny for the rest of the season and could potentially win the SEC East with a strong 2018 campaign. If Georgia wins this game in a close contest, people may start to wonder if South Carolina is closing the gap in the SEC East. That’s why Georgia needs to win this game in convincing fashion so that the college football world knows this team isn’t going anywhere.
The game against South Carolina is also important because it’s Georgia’s first real test of the 2018 season. In just the second game on the schedule, the Dawgs will travel on the road to face an SEC opponent. The atmosphere and hype surrounding this game will be intense and there will surely be people who have Georgia on upset alert in this game. How Georgia performs in this game will tell us two things. First, it will tell us how well the Dawgs have done in replacing all of the talent the team lost from 2017, particularly on defense. Will this Georgia team show that it’s simply reloading, and not rebuilding, on defense or will there be a clear talent gap between this year and last year’s team? Additionally, how Georgia performs in this game will show where the team is mentally after the aforementioned loss to Alabama in January.
The only scenario where all these doubts are definitively put to rest is Georgia beating south Carolina by at least two touchdowns. Again, that may or may not happen but if Georgia loses this game or struggles to grind out a win, many will wonder if Georgia is going to be taking a step back in 2018.