Key returning starters: QB Greyson Lambert, RB Nick Chubb, RB Sony Michel, TE Jeb Blazevich
Coordinator Jim Chaney’s dilemma is deciding whether to stick with Lambert, who won 10 games as a starter, or hand the offense over to freshman Jacob Eason, who is raw but can make throws most college quarterbacks can’t. If Chubb (knee) and Michel (arm) can return healthy from injuries, the running game will take pressure off the quarterbacks.
Key returning starters: DT Trent Thompson, LB Tim Kimbrough, CB Aaron Davis, CB Malkom Parrish, S Dominick Sanders, S Quincy Mauger
The front seven is young, and coach Kirby Smart will miss the depth he left behind on defense at Alabama. If Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy can rush the passer nearly as well as Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, the veteran secondary should allow the Bulldogs to fluster opponents’ passing games.
Leader in rushing: Chubb. The star runner averaged 8.1 yards a carry before injuring his knee last season.
Leader in receiving: WR Terry Godwin, who caught 35 passes in ’15 as a freshman second option behind Malcolm Mitchell.
Leader in sacks: Junior LB Davin Bellamy (3 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss in a limited role in ’15) is the one departed pass rushers Floyd and Jenkins suggest will spend the most time in the backfield.
Leader in interceptions: Sanders. The junior picked off six passes in ’15 and set a school record for interception return yardage (205).
Opposing coach's take
"The defense shouldn’t have much of a learning curve because [former coordinator] Jeremy Pruitt ran a very similar scheme to what Kirby Smart is bringing from Alabama. Kirby’s defenses at Alabama were so well-coached. And because you know where they’re going to be, you’ve got to find a way to use that against them. You have to find ways to exploit that and make some plays where they’re not expecting them to come from. Smart won’t have the depth upfront that he had at Alabama. He’s not going to be able to roll in fresh guys without a drop-off, and he’s got a lot of questions to answer on the line. What he does have is guys in the secondary who have played a lot of football. They had the top defense against the pass last year. It’s a good bunch, especially [junior] safety Dominick Sanders.
[Coordinator] Jim Chaney is going to make that offense tougher, and they’re going to have more of an identity. They’re going to run the ball. They’ll use formations to create mismatches and some shifts to make you move. And when they have [running backs] Nick Chubb [747 yards in six games] and Sony Michel [1,161] back there, they’re scary. Chubb may take a few games to regain his form [left knee], but he’ll get there. It’s hard to know what they’re going to do at quarterback. [Freshman] Jacob Eason is talented, but [senior] Greyson Lambert is steady.”
Will Georgia coaches hand the offense over to freshman QB Jacob Eason? And if they do, when? Eason has a special arm, and if the Bulldogs turn to him, expect the offense to regain some balance. In ’15, Georgia ran 60 percent of the time, and rushing accounted for 50 percent of the Bulldogs’ yardage. With backs like Chubb and Michel, that will work against most opponents, but to win championships, the passing game must carry more of the load.
Numbers to know
1: Rank in pass defense last year [156.5 yards per game]. Every starting DB is back, led by safety Dominick Sanders, who had six picks.
8.1: Yards per carry for running back Nick Chubb before he hurt his left knee in Week 6 as a sophomore last year.
3: Sacks for then sophomore OLB Davin Bellamy, who must fill the pass-rushing void after the departures of Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins.
10–2: Record with QB Greyson Lambert starting as a junior in '15, though he could lose his job.
7: Average first-season wins of the last eight coaches hired in the SEC. Kirby Smart is making his debut in Athens.
|Sept. 3||North Carolina [in Atlanta]|
|Sept. 10||Nicholls State|
|Sept. 17||at Missouri|
|Sept. 24||at Ole Miss|
|Oct. 8||at South Carolina|
|Oct. 29||Florida [in Jacksonville]|
|Nov. 5||at Kentucky|
|Nov. 26||Georgia Tech|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|