Injuries and a struggling defense derailed Georgia’s East Division title hopes last season. But with a full offseason to recover from last year’s ailments, combined with the addition of Jeremy Pruitt as the team’s defensive coordinator, two of the biggest question marks facing the Bulldogs have been answered.
However, Georgia opened spring practice with one glaring question mark on offense. Is Hutson Mason ready to replace Aaron Murray? Mason started the final two games last season and has waited for his chance to start. This is Mason’s first spring to work as the starter, so all eyes in Athens will be on his performance.
Georgia has claimed at least a share of the East Division in two of the last three years. If the defense takes a step forward as expected, and Mason settles into the starting role, the Bulldogs could be the team to beat in a top-heavy East.
Georgia Bulldogs 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 18
Spring Game: April 12
Three Things to Watch in Georgia’s 2014 Spring Practice
1. Hutson Mason’s development: Prior to 2013, Mason threw just 47 passes in a Georgia uniform. But once Aaron Murray was lost for the year against Kentucky, he was pressed into his first extended action. Mason performed well in his limited audition, throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns in a win over rival Georgia Tech, and he completed 21 of 39 passes for 320 yards in an awful weather day in the Gator Bowl. As with any first-year starter, Mason has room to grow and will have his share of ups and downs. And Mason’s development took a hit this spring, as top receiver Malcolm Mitchell is out due to a leg injury. Georgia is also breaking in three starters on the line, but center David Andrews should ease Mason’s transition into the full-time role. This spring is Mason’s first chance to have a full offseason of workouts with the No. 1 offense, which should pay huge dividends for his performance in 2014.
2. New faces on the line: Three starters are gone from a line that allowed only 22 sacks last year. As mentioned above, the key cog in the line will be center David Andrews, who should be a candidate for All-SEC honors. Having Andrews back is a huge plus for a team breaking in a new quarterback, but the Bulldogs still need to round out their starting five. Kolton Houston and John Theus are expected to win the starting jobs at tackle, while Mark Beard, Watts Dantzler and Brandon Kublanow appear to be the frontrunners to battle for time at the guard spots. Line coach Will Friend has plenty of options and talent at his disposal and finding the right mix is crucial with two talented defenses to open the season (Clemson and South Carolina).
3. Pruitt’s stamp on the defense: Georgia’s hire of Jeremy Pruitt is one of the top coordinator additions of the offseason. Prior to his highly successful one year at Florida State, Pruitt was an assistant at Alabama, so he’s no stranger to life in the SEC. Despite having one of the league’s most-talented rosters, the Bulldogs have not finished higher than fourth in the SEC in total defense since 2008. Considering previous coordinator Todd Grantham ran a 3-4 approach, Pruitt’s multiple looks on defense should make for an easy transition. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Georgia, as 10 starters are back, and the linebacking corps could be the best in the SEC. The Bulldogs created only 15 takeaways last year, so creating more turnovers will be a priority for Pruitt this spring.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11
Picking a favorite in the East will be an interesting discussion among preseason prognosticators. A case can be made for Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri, and Florida shouldn’t be forgotten about thanks to a favorable home schedule. Even though the Bulldogs are replacing a prolific quarterback in Aaron Murray, there’s enough returning to make a run at the SEC title. Running back Todd Gurley should be an All-American in 2014, and assuming Malcolm Mitchell returns to full strength, the receiving corps will be one of the best in the SEC. With Pruitt calling the plays, Georgia’s defense will take a step forward in 2014. Road trips to South Carolina and Missouri, but there’s enough talent on this roster for Mark Richt’s team to win the East Division.