Over the weekend Seth Emerson took a look at a big preseason concern: going into the season well under the 85-scholarship limit. As it turned out, Georgia’s low scholarship total wasn’t a detriment. Even with fewer than 70 players who signed with the team out of high school, the Dawgs came within yards of a national title shot and still stand a good chance of finishing as a top 5 team.
Mark Richt reflected:
"We didn’t have a lot of injuries," Richt said. "We did have a couple ACLs, as we know, and Abry (Jones) we lost for a good bit of time. But overall we didn’t have a massive amount of injuries. You don’t play 85 guys in any one season. You might play a core of about 35 guys, 40 guys. So we were blessed to have guys stay healthy and we just played well together."
It’s true that Georgia’s low numbers didn’t torpedo the season. That’s not to say though that Georgia didn’t feel the effects of attrition. It showed up most of all along the lines. The Dawgs were nominally deeper at offensive line than they’ve been in a while, but in practical terms it wasn’t a deep group. Georgia started a true freshman at right tackle, and there were some very public growing pains for the promising newcomer. Georgia’s left tackle is a converted guard who could move back inside if the 2013 recruiting class pans out. That’s not to bag on Theus or Gates – if anything, they were better than expected. Only better defensive fronts like South Carolina caused problems for the unit.
If we’re going back to preseason storylines, the emergence of David Andrews at center is one of the bigger individual reasons why the line had the year it did. Just a couple of weeks before the season the starting center position was still a question worth asking. Andrews had just minimal experience in mop-up time as a freshman, and the other option at center was converting a starting guard (Burnette). As with the tackle spots, the plan had to work, and it did. The numbers didn’t matter, but the margin for error was nonexistent.
We might also become more aware of depth issues along the defensive line in the bowl game. With Jenkins out and Abry Jones limited in his comeback, Georgia’s bodies up front are very limited. We saw some of these effects in the SEC Championship. Georgia just didn’t have any answers up front as Alabama put together sustained drives on the ground in the second half. Of course many teams have issues stopping the Alabama ground game, but the Smith-Geathers-Jenkins line got very little relief. The Tide weren’t able to shut down Georgia’s offense either, but they were at least able to be a little more versatile with their personnel on the defensive front. Now without Jenkins, we’ll see more Washington and Drew, but it will also mean that more is asked of Geathers.
Admittedly these are picky points, but little details like that show up and become magnified when great teams face each other. We could also add the secondary to areas where low numbers caused some shaky moments, but the early schedule allowed Georgia to navigate those waters without it showing up in the wins and losses.
Scholarship numbers aren’t a static one-year issue, and we’ll be talking about it again next year as we try to piece together a defense. Even with a big signing class, impact true freshmen like Jordan Jenkins are few and far between. We’ve looked at the disappearing 2010 signing class last year, and those are the guys who would be the veteran core of a 2013 team.