Know Your Enemy: What to Expect from Georgia in the SEC Championship
LSU is now four days away from its first SEC Championship appearance since 2011, once again taking on the Georgia Bulldogs. The Tigers, who are currently 6.5 point favorites to win the SEC, leave for Atlanta Thursday where they are sure to see plenty of red and white.
We caught up with Bulldog Maven writer Brooks Austin, who was able to provide status updates on some key Georgia players that are question marks to play Saturday.
A lot has been made this week in Baton Rouge about the offensive and defensive lines for Georgia and how they present the biggest challenge. What have you seen from those two units that make them so successful and why?
Kirby Smart and his staff have made it a priority to go out and recruit the best offensive and defensive linemen available since his arrival at Georiga, something that the previous regime didn't quite do. Offensively they are as talented and deep as any unit in all of college football and it starts with Andrew Thomas who is set to be the first tackle off the board in this spring's NFL Draft. Offensive line coach, Sam Pittman rotates linemen in and out of the starting lineup on a game to game basis, even series to series sometimes, which is something most programs don't do, but it's a testament to that depth we talked about.
Defensively, it's a similar approach. They will rotate fresh bodies into the game at all times. They don't have a ton of sacks or tackles for loss. In fact, Georgia ranks in the bottom half of the SEC in both categories, but they are as gap sound as any team in college football. It is the primary reason for their success against the run this season. Jordan Davis and Tyler Clark do a fantastic job of maintaining the line of scrimmage at the point of attack which allows linebackers like Monty Rice and Tae Crowder to rack up tackle
I know many fans are wondering which Jake Fromm is going to show up this weekend. What can you attribute to his dip in accuracy this year and just how has he handled criticism this season?
We can start with the excuses first. Georgia lost it's top-five receiving targets from a year ago and their leading receiver is a true freshman in George Pickens. It's not the entire reason for Fromm's statistical drop off this season, but he's still building continuity with a really young group. Another thing that hurts Fromm's completion percentage numbers is that he's more than comfortable throwing the ball away instead of forcing the ball. Which is why he has an SEC low, 3 interceptions on the season. If I had to point to a direct flaw in his performance this season, there's been a lot of buzz surrounding his mechanics. It's something that former UGA quarterback, DJ Shockley alluded to this week.
As far as how he has handled criticism, no one is a bigger critic of his performance than himself. I think he's shaken it off fairly well. It doesn't help that Justin Fields will likely be in New York for the Heisman ceremony though.
How heavy will Georgia rely on D’Andre Swift, particularly since he was injured last week? Is there an update on him and how will the Bulldogs manage his workload this week in practice, if at all?
Following the game against Tech, Kirby Smart downplayed Swift's injury saying that it was just yet another shoulder contusion that he's dealt with for a good part of the season. However, in yesterday's press conference Smart changed his tone saying that he was hopeful Swift would play. I don't know how much of that is coach speak, but Swift is an extremely tough football player and will most likely give it a full go this weekend.
With regards to how much they intend to use him Saturday, he typically has seen about 60 to 65% of the carries in games this season, and assuming he plays I don't expect that to change much. But if it does, Brian Herrien and Zamir White are serviceable replacements.
Receiver is another question mark, particularly in the first half with Pickens missing the first half and Cager likely out. Who do the Bulldogs turn too in the early stages of the game and why?
You can upgrade that "likely out" to a just being out with regards to Lawrence Cager. The senior graduate transfer underwent ankle surgery just last week and is expected to be out till at least postseason play. Expect to see Georgia try and establish the run game in the first half - as they always do - until Pickens returns.
There are still weapons for Fromm to throw to, however. Freshman, Dominick Blaylock will be called upon early I would imagine, and the senior Tyler Simmons is finally fully healthy and played fairly well last week against Georgia Tech.
I think this game will be a lot closer than most in our industry tend to believe. Since 2000 the SEC's top-ranked defense has played for the SEC title 8 times. Those teams are 8-0. Dawgs win 31-28.