CFN Preview 2013 - Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia RB Todd Gurley
Georgia RB Todd Gurley
Posted Jul 17, 2013 2013 Preview - Georgia Bulldogs. Will the stars line up this fall for Mark Richt? Enough to result in an elite season? CFN's lead SEC Columnist Russ Mitchell thinks so - to the tune of 12-0.

Georgia Bulldogs

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Head coach: Mark Richt
13th year: 118-40
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 26, Def. 20, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best Georgia Players
1. QB Aaron Murray, Sr.
2. RB Todd Gurley, So.
3. OG Chris Burnette, Sr.
4. OT John Theus, So.
5. LB Jordan Jenkins, So.
6. RB Keith Marshall, So.
7. WR Jonathon Rumph, Jr.
8. WR Malcolm Mitchell, Jr.
9. FS Tray Matthews, Fr.
10. DB Josh Harvey-Clemons, So.
2013 Schedule  
8/31 at Clemson
9/7 South Carolina
9/21 North Texas
9/28 LSU
10/5 at Tennessee
10/12 Missouri
10/19 at Vanderbilt
11/2 Florida (in Jax)
11/9 Appalachian State
11/16 at Auburn
11/23 Kentucky
11/30 at Georgia Tech
One missed pass away from possibly winning the national title.

Georgia saved its best for last, with freshman Todd Gurley running up, down and over the eventual conference and national champion Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game. Gurley had a 122-yard performance, averaging 5.3 yards per carry with two touchdowns and no fumbles, while the Dawgs amassed nearly 400 total yards of offense.

But Alabama ran for a few yards of its own - 350 to be exact, and won.

And that's sort of the point when it comes to Georgia. It always does a great job, but someone else is always doing it better.

So how do the Dawgs finally get over the hump and complete that one extra pass to play for the whole ball of wax? Consistency.

Georgia finished the season ranked sixth in the conference in total defense, but was nearly last in run defense, ahead of only Tennessee and Auburn, who couldn't slow down a toddler in 2012. Just when it seemed like there was something positive – the pass defense – that came mostly from teams choosing to pound away on the run D.

So which Georgia is going to show up this year?

Is it the one that fought the Tide tooth and nail to the finish and closed strong in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska? Or is it the team that needed six Florida turnovers to win its first signature SEC game since 2008, and embarrassed itself while being undressed earlier in the year by the South Carolina Gamecocks?

Is it going to be the one that camped out in Missouri's backfield all game long thanks to all the million-dollar talent, or the one that couldn't get the NFL upside on defense to play to its level?

"But look how Georgia closed out year," you say. Yeah, but again, the consistency wasn't there. After squeezing past Florida in an ugly-but-effective border war, it was Georgia's defense that seemed to get better, allowing just four touchdowns over the last four games, with two of those coming in a throwaway FCS scrimmage. Good.

However, once again how much weight should be placed on those games against an improving Ole Miss, a truly horrific Auburn, Georgia Southern and a struggling Georgia Tech? Bad.

For the past several years, Georgia has had it all: good recruiting, favorable schedules, a supportive administration and fan base, a quarterback the media fawns over, talented defensive players and apparently good coaching and the benefit of playing in the weaker SEC East.

And yet, there's been something missing, for at no point have the Dawgs consistently played at an elite level. As a result, the last time they claimed SEC supremacy was 2005 - eight years ago. Since then, the conference won seven straight national titles, and the Dawgs haven't had their turn in the rotation.

And here we are again.

Will this be the year Richt & Co. put it all together and play elite football for an entire season? Georgia has some weaknesses, but for the most part the pieces are in the right place – especially on offense - with talented young players looking to slide into openings. The schedule is only marginally tougher, with the LSU Tigers rotating in from the West, but that's a home date.

It's all there. Everything is in place for the program to take its cut and get into the BCS championship. Everything except for one more pass and those final few seconds of last year's SEC championship game.

Georgia is due. Consistency might finally turn into a positive in Athens.

What to watch for on offense: The receivers, but only by process of elimination. Georgia's offensive line might have been the most underperforming SEC unit from 2008 to 2011 – not merely compared against other offensive lines, against all positions. However, 2012 saw solid improvement, and with virtually the entire line returning it looks to be at its best since the mid-2000s. Both Gurley and Marshall did it as freshman; they're faster, stronger, bigger and more experienced today. Quarterback Aaron Murray will continue to put up Xbox-like numbers. So now it's up to the receivers to produce. Jonathon Rumph is the real deal. The 6-5, 210-pound JUCO transfer should step in and turn heads on Day One. Malcolm Mitchell gets to focus on offense after last season's circus of moving around positions, along with Michael Bennett, who all offer Murray height, speed and talent.

What to watch for on defense: Besides a lot of new faces? There are a number of questions marks, but it all starts with stopping the run. Would Georgia have beaten Alabama last season if it had slowed down Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon? Perhaps. Perhaps Alabama would simply have relied more on quarterback AJ McCarron. But even with a 2013 schedule absent a lot of top flight running backs, the Dawg front seven must improve from 2012 to ensure itself a repeat trip to Atlanta. Enter junior nose guard Mike Thornton, who will step into the middle of the line. At 6-1, 290-pounds, Thornton is on the lighter side, but he had a solid spring. Then there are high expectations that junior defensive end Ray Drew and sophomore linebacker Jordan Jenkins will take the next step up and become stars to go along with some key young players, like 6-4, 335-pound redshirt freshman end John Taylor, giving everyone the first hint of why so much hype followed them during the recruiting process. Finally, with a new defensive line coach who favors a rotation scheme, expect to get to know ALL of the three deep linemen in a big hurry. Given that Georgia's second-string line actually outplayed the first in the spring G-Day game while facing the first team offense, this new strategy might bear fruit.

The team will be far better if … the defense can tackle a running back. Everywhere else the improvements need only be marginal. Georgia's net punting and punt returns were below average, but they should improve in 2013 given the talent returning. You could argue that Murray should do a better job taking care of the football, but next to Georgia's woeful 2012 run defense, that's a minor issue.

The schedule: Once again, a very manageable schedule – if there is such a thing in the SEC. Perhaps not as simple as in previous years, but again, the Clemson game is a throw away – it's early, and even a loss won't derail the Dawgs' chance at a national title. The biggest disadvantage on the schedule is having to play South Carolina the week after Clemson, but the Gamecocks must travel to Athens. Georgia basically gets two bye weeks before LSU - a home game vs. North Texas being the de facto - plus a bye before Florida.

If you look a little deeper, it's even easier. Care to guess the 2012 regular season conference records of Georgia's four road trips this year? UT was 1-7, Vanderbilt 5-3, Auburn 0-8, & Tech 5-3…for a sparkling 11-21 (.343).

Best offensive player: Sophomore RB Todd Gurley. Again, if Murray was 6-4 instead of 6-1 and could concentrate for an entire 60 minutes, he might be a slam-dunk No. 1 overall draft pick. Murray's football smarts, accuracy, and arm are beyond reproach, but he still seems to lose his focus at times during a game, and he turns the ball over too much. Comparatively, Gurley does almost everything right, and just might be unstoppable with more weight, strength and experience. He surpassed the 100-yard mark nine times in his freshman season, and while Marshall plays an important role, it became clearer as the year went along that Richt was going to live and die with Gurley. Moreover, he has a level head – something that's been in short supply for Georgia tailbacks of late. If Gurley were any better he'd be two people.

Best defensive player: LB Jordan Jenkins. J2 x2??? It's going to be a drop off from Jarvis Jones. Jones did far more than simply lead; he did it all by himself when his defense couldn't. He won the Missouri game when it was close in the fourth quarter, and he won the Florida game by putting the fear of God into Gator quarterback Jeff Driskel, while repeatedly taking the ball from him. There is no player like Jones on this Georgia roster – certainly not on defense. Jenkins has the best chance. As a freshman, Jenkins only started six games, yet he had 31 tackles, five sacks, three tackles for loss and 23 quarterback hurries. At 6-3, 257-pounds, he's going to be a terror on the outside.

Key player to a successful season: Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. His defense must perform better for Georgia to reach elite status, but overall, the season will come down to whether or not Murray is fantastic. Georgia will count on its offense this year the way Alabama has counted on its defense in past seasons. If Murray's impressive productivity slips or if he makes too many mistakes, Georgia won't win the East, let alone the SEC. Fortunately, he's experienced, has benefited from having the same offensive coordinator, and has more talent around him than at any point in his career.

The season will be a success if … Georgia wins the national championship. Winning the SEC title is a must to take that next step, but going 12-1 with an SEC Champion t-shirt won't cut it. If you're an elite SEC team, you win the national title or you don't.

Key game: September 7 vs. South Carolina. The LSU game is critical too, but it comes after a practice game against North Texas plus a bye week. South Carolina comes to town eight days after the Bulldogs must fight a decent Clemson program in South Carolina. Moreover, as an East opponent, the Carolina game counts twice in that it gives Georgia a game in hand should the two programs finish with identical records.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles: Opponents 37 (lost 17) - Georgia 15 (lost 8)
- 3rd Quarter Scoring: Georgia 177 - Opponents 42
- Penalties: Georgia 96 for 749 yards - Opponents 70 for 557 yards

- 2013 Georgia Preview | 2013 Georgia Offense
- 2013 Georgia Defense | 2013 Georgia Depth Chart