The 2021 Georgia Bulldogs will be looking to make the leap into the College Football Playoffs after missing the tournament in 2020. Kirby Smart’s stout-defense couldn’t overcome a limited offense for another season, but a slew of quality offensive playmakers are back to take the next step. Change is coming as the defense rebuilds.
We’re continuing our series of breaking down why certain college football favorites won’t win the College Football Playoff, in which we’ve taken a look at Alabama and Clemson. This week’s team under the microscope is Georgia.
At the focal point of the Bulldogs offense is junior quarterback J.T. Daniels. The former USC gunslinger had high expectations entering the year after it was announced that fellow transfer quarterback Jamie Newman would sit out the season to prepare for the NFL draft. Daniels’ pundits believed this was because he had won the job, but the reality is that Daniels was hampered by a knee injury.
His return to the field for five games showed solid promise and reason to believe the offense can transcend to a new level than what we’ve seen in some time. Daniels is an accurate passer with a quick release, and capable of hitting downfield passes to an impressive group of receivers. His chemistry with future first-round pick George Pickens is especially important to the success of the unit.
Daniels helped lead the Bulldogs to four wins in his four starts thanks to his efficiency. He completed 67.3 percent of his passes in those four starts, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and 10.3 yards per completion. These represent significant improvements over his mediocre results as a true freshman at USC.
Can the No. 3 quarterback in the 2018 class behind Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence take the next step? He’s going to have to. His strong arm and raw physical talent must be molded into a more consistent playmaker instead of a hit-or-miss passer.
His completion rate was inflated from schemed targets and dump offs, and smart defenses will force him to throw beyond short throws to increase his volatility. More time removed from an ACL tear, it’s fair to expect his mechanics to improve. Almost all of his issues reside in his footwork.
The key ingredient to defensive success for Smart is having a deep array of pass rushers. Losing both Azeez Ojulari and Jermaine Johnson could be massive. Former 5-star recruit Adam Anderson is looking to take Ojulari’s spot as the primary producer.
However Anderson hasn’t played much to this point despite the lofty pedigree. Kirby Smart has done well to rotate in talented underclassmen throughout his career but has opted against it in a large role. Anderson must show this was a mistake.
Losing Malik Herring at defensive end and Mark Webb at the Star spot leaves the unit relying on more youth in playmaking roles. Herring was a defensive leader and NFL-ready body, making him a veteran who can produce beyond the stat sheet. It’s hard to plug and play a younger player even if they’re more explosive and expect the same impact.
Starting out the season against Clemson immediately puts pressure on whoever replaces NFL prospects Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes and D.J. Daniel. It’s possible, if not likely, sophomore Tyrique Stevenson and freshmen Jalen Kimber and Kelee Ringo will take the reigns. These were blue-chippers for good reason but the level of play on the Bulldogs’ schedule in 2021 is immense.
Chances are they’ll have moments of major struggle. Physical talent aside, the communication in Smart’s versatile and fast-moving defense is critical to their success. And the offense hasn’t yet shown they can sustain a defensive failure on any given week.
The Bulldogs have as much raw talent as any team in the country but need to put all of the pieces together finally. LSU was able to accomplish this in 2019, and the door is open for Georgia to make a championship run finally. But they have to get out of their own way in order to be worthy of our NCAAF picks.