Expectations are high for the 2021 Bulldogs after a busy offseason. The offseason included adding the 4th-ranked recruiting class according to 247 Sports and getting highly-touted transfers of Tykee Smith (Defensive Back, West Virginia), Derion Kendrick (Defensive Back, Clemson), and Arik Gilbert (Tight End, LSU). Junior quarterback JT Daniels opens the season as a Heisman hopeful after an impressive four games of starting action in 2020 in which he had 401 yards of passing in his debut and 392 yards of passing in a come-from-behind win against No. 8 Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl.
The Bulldogs will be without junior star receiver George Pickens against the Tigers after he suffered an ACL tear in March. There is no timetable set for his return, however; there is hope he could return at some point this season. Georgia may also be missing transfer safety Tykee Smith and sophomore tight end Darnell Washington as well to foot injuries. It is worth noting they are not officially ruled out. The expectation is now that freshman Brock Bowers will see significant playing time at tight end beside redshirt junior John FitzPatrick while transfer Arik Gilbert is away from the team due to personal reasons.
Coming off a season that saw a school-record 9 players taken in the NFL draft, the Bulldogs will have some new faces in a few key positions. No position group for the Bulldogs got hit as hard as the secondary as Georgia looks to replace the production of NFL first-round corner Erik Stokes and second-round corner Tyson Campbell. The expectation is for transfer defensive back Derion Kendrick to firmly lock down the top corner spot. Look for redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo who is the former No. 1 cornerback prospect and senior Ameer Speed to play opposite of Kendrick. Senior Latavious Brini looks to step into the starting slot corner role during the absence of Tykee Smith. Georgia’s rebuilt secondary group has a great mix of experience and young talent and will have their work cut out for them taking on a Tigers team with Heisman-hopeful quarterback sophomore D.J. Uiagalelei and great receiving group led by star receiver Justyn Ross. Ross played a major roll helping the Tigers win the national championship game in 2018 as a freshman contributing 6 catches for 153 yards and a score. He is coming off missing the entire 2020 campaign with a spinal injury.
Kirby Smart is known for having outstanding front sevens in his time at Georgia and this year looks to be no different. In order for the Bulldogs to knock off the No. 3 Tigers, the front needs to be dominant. Clemson is coming off an up-and-down-year in terms of O-line play ranking 66th in opportunity rate and 11th in the ACC in rushing yardage last season despite having a first-round pick at running back. Look for Georgia to try and dominate up front to take pressure off the rebuilt secondary. The front is led by senior DT Jordan Davis. Davis opted to return for his senior season despite being projected by many to be a first-round pick in last year’s draft. Look for senior Adam Anderson who is the former No. 3 OLB to replace second round edge Azeez Ojulari. In an interview, Adam said his goal for the season is to get 20 sacks and is looking forward to having more of an opportunity to showcase his whole skillset such as setting the run. Junior Nakobe Dean looks to step in and fill the middle linebacker spot after Monty Rice’s exit to the NFL. Dean played in every game last season and saw an increased role after a foot injury nagged Monty Rice last season. Georgia is also looking for increased production from the former top recruit junior Nolan Smith at OLB and junior defensive end Travon Walker. This is a very deep and experienced group with NFL talent all over it.
Georgia’s offensive line will have no easy task facing up against maybe the best defensive front in college football returning 9-of-11 starters on defense. This group will be looking for consistency after a 2020 campaign that featured a lot of shuffling and inconsistency. This group is led by senior LT Jamaree Salyer who has been highly regarded by NFL scouts in camp. They will be blocking for a very deep running back group with a mix of youth and experience. The expectation is for redshirt junior Zamir White to be the lead back and sophomore Kendall Milton to push him for reps throughout the season. Senior James Cook should be a key contributor in the passing game looking to build off a 225-yard receiving season in 2020. Look for all three to contribute situationally.
Georgia looks to have its best receiving corps since its 2018 national championship appearance. This is a deep group even with the loss of star receiver George Pickens. This unit is led by returning sophomore Jermaine Burton and redshirt junior Kearis Jackson. Jackson led the team in receiving yards last season with 514. Look for him to do his damage out of the slot. Jermaine Burton came on late and emerged as a favorite target for QB JT Daniels tallying 8 catches for 197 yards and 2 scores in Daniels first start against Mississippi State.
JT Daniels has emerged as a true leader of this team after spending a full offseason as the Bulldogs leading signal caller. Second-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken has made a career out of successful air raid attacks and it seems he finally has his quarterback at UGA with Daniels. Look for the Bulldogs to try and create explosive plays in the passing game and take the pressure off the offensive line against this great Clemson front.
The key to success for the Bulldogs will be to win the battle up front on offense and defense. The Bulldogs under Coach Kirby Smart and Todd Monken believe whoever wins the explosive play battle will ultimately come out on top each week. Look for Georgia to be very aggressive getting after the quarterback to take pressure off their secondary.
Both schools have the College Football Playoff on their minds and for Georgia, that path ultimately will be decided by their SEC play. This game is not meaningless by any means however as this resume building game is a great opportunity for Georgia to showcase their team on the national stage in hopes of impressing the playoff committee. Coach Smart clearly wants these games consistently for that reason after scheduling top out of Conference programs such as Ohio State, Oregon, and Clemson again. Clemson may be the betting favorite, but there is certainly a target on this Bulldogs teams back after being predicted by David Pollock and Lee Corso on College GameDay to win the College Football Playoff.