Bulldogs recruiting highly, dealing with injuries
Jack Concannon | Friday, September 20, 2019
Two years ago, the 15th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs entered Notre Dame Stadium to take on the 24th-ranked Irish. The Bulldogs walked out with a 20-19 victory that appeared as a solid out-of-conference win for a Georgia team that had not finished a season in the top five since 2012.
To that point, the Bulldogs faced many of the same barbs that currently malign the Irish — a team that “can’t win the big one” or “can’t show up when it counts.” That narrative would be ripped apart by the end of the season that saw the Bulldogs go all the way to overtime of the College Football Playoff Title Game. Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart said the Notre Dame game was a launching point for the Georgia program.
“That game helped the trajectory of things. It was a big win for us,” Smart said. “It was a big win for Jake [Fromm] to go on the road and play in a place like that and to play well enough to win. It certainly helped things, but there have been a lot of games since then, too.”
Georgia has since established itself as a powerhouse under Kirby Smart. According to 247Sports, the Bulldogs pulled in a No. 1-ranked recruiting class in 2018, followed by a second ranked class in 2019. The team is pulling in recruits over nearby rival Alabama at a previously unseen rate. Two Atlanta-area recruits Smart failed to land are Irish sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble and freshman safety Kyle Hamilton. Smart praised the pair and said that he attempted to recruit them, especially Tremble whose father played at Georgia.
“We cross paths with Notre Dame on two or three kids per year. They do a great job recruiting, they have a great opportunity they’re trying to sell just like we do. Both of those two kids we recruited really hard,” Smart said. “We have lot of respect for both of them. They come from great academic backgrounds and have great families. Tommy’s dad played here right before I got here, each of them are great players.”
The Bulldogs offense is led by junior quarterback Jake Fromm. Fromm posted low yardage and touchdown totals in his first two games, but turned it on last weekend against Arkansas State in a 279-yard, three-touchdown performance. Fromm made his first career start against the Irish in 2017 filling in for the injured Jacob Eason, and hasn’t looked back since. Smart believes that experience will be key for Fromm and the rest of the upperclassmen on both teams.
“[It helps us] the same way experience has helped them — they have a lot of players who have played a lot of big games, so have ours. The guys who have not for them and us, that will be the biggest difference,” Smart said. “Most of these kids nowadays are coming out of high school having played in big games. We have a lot of guys who have played in big-time games, you hope that helps them.”
Part of what makes Fromm so successful is the strength of his offensive line. Left tackle Andrew Thomas is a lock for the top ten in the 2020 NFL Draft, and the team returns four of its five starters from last season. One of those starters, right tackle Isaiah Wilson, is currently dealing with an injury, but did return to practice on Monday. Wilson started all 14 games for Georgia last season, and is a critical piece of the offense.
Wilson is not the only Bulldog on the injury report. Sophomore cornerback Tyson Campbell left the most recent game with an injury, joining wide receivers Demetris Robertson and Tyler Simmons on the injury report. Smart had little to say about his injured players, but did have high praise for the way Campbell played before exiting with his injury.
“We think Tyler Simmons is going to be fine. We think D-Rob is going to be fine. We’ll find out today. Tyson Campbell we hope to be okay as well,” Smart said. “Campbell has been more confident. You can’t help but be more confident after you go through a rookie season playing in the SEC and playing opposite of De’Andre Baker. He got a lot of throws last year. He’s a year older, he’s a year stronger, it has allowed him to play with more confidence.”
Campbell is far from the only star in the Georgia secondary. Senior safety JR Reed played a team-high 813 snaps last season, starting all 14 games. He is the key to a Georgia secondary that is allowing just 180.4 passing yards per game this season. Smart was complimentary of his senior safety.
“He’s been high character and hard working. You get the best of JR every day at practice, he does not take a day off. That was even as he wasn’t eligible to play [due to transferring from Tulsa.] He performed well and played well as a sophomore when he played in this game and some other games that year,” Smart said. “He’s grown into a very confident, good leader. He helps the other guys in the secondary and the other guys on the defense know how to prepare for a game. In games like this, he gives them some comfort having a guy that has played in a lot of football games for us.”