Led by All-American linebacker Roquan Smith, the Bulldogs' defense is a big reason why they won the SEC and are in the College Football Playoff
Year 1 of the Kirby Smart era of Georgia football was a letdown, but the Bulldogs made a huge jump in Year 2. Smart led the Bulldogs to an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff after capping off a 12-1 season with a 28-7 victory over Auburn in the SEC Championship Game — revenge for the ugly 40-17 loss to the Tigers in the regular season. Now, as Georgia prepares for its Rose Bowl showdown with Oklahoma with a shot at a national title on the line, we make our picks for the Georgia 2017 team awards.
Offensive MVP: Nick Chubb, RB
There is no shortage of candidates for Georgia’s Offensive MVP in 2017. The Bulldogs boast a deep, well-rounded and efficient offense stocked with talented players. In a tight race, the best of the bunch during the regular season was Chubb, who gained 1,175 rushing yards and scored 13 touchdowns as a senior — pushing his career totals to 4,599 and 42, respectively, with at least one game left to play.
Defensive MVP: Roquan Smith, LB
Though the Bulldogs have just as many talented defenders, this honor is more clear-cut. Smith earned All-American honors in 2017, was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and also took home the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. Smith leads the team and is fourth in the SEC with 113 total tackles. He also has a team-high 5.5 sacks and is second with 10.5 tackles for a loss. The only real question is will he be back next year or is he off to the NFL?
Best Freshman: Jake Fromm, QB
There was chatter over the summer that Fromm (above, right) would push incumbent starter Jacob Eason for the starting quarterback job, and an injury to Eason in the season opener against Appalachian State opened the door for the true freshman, who capitalized. Fromm started the next 12 games, and completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,173 yards and a solid 21:5 touchdowns-to-interception ratio along the way.
Best Play of the Season: Davin Bellamy Strip Sack vs. Notre Dame
Leading 20-19 on the road against No. 24 Notre Dame, with 1:37 left to play, the Georgia defense lined up for a 1st-and-10 from the Fighting Irish 36-yard line. As quarterback Brandon Wimbush dropped back to pass, Davin Bellamy came off of the edge, blew past left tackle Mike McGlinchey (a likely first-round draft pick), offered a quick swim move and hit Wimbush from behind for a sack. The hit jarred the ball loose, and Lorenzo Carter recovered for the Bulldogs to secure the victory.
Best Performance by a Player in 2017: Fromm vs. Mississippi State
Other than a 696-yard performance against Missouri, the Georgia offense didn’t often put up huge numbers in 2017. Instead, the Bulldogs relied on efficiency, and executed on good play-calling. Fromm’s performance against Mississippi State was the perfect example.
Ranked No. 17 entering the contest, State was a trendy upset pick. Instead, Fromm completed a perfectly thrown 59-yard pass to Terry Godwin on a flea-flicker on Georgia’s first play from scrimmage, and the outcome was never in doubt as the Bulldogs romped 31-3. Fromm finished 9-for-12 for 201 yards and two TDs (the second a 41-yard catch-and-run to Isaac Nauta) without an interception.
Best Game (Team Performance): SEC Championship Game
Simply put, Auburn dominated Georgia when the two met at Jordan-Hare Stadium in November. The Tigers imposed their will on both sides of the football, and the Bulldogs didn’t help matters by making several silly mistakes, including poorly timed penalties and a key special teams turnover.
Given the lopsided nature of the regular season loss, the 28-7 victory in the SEC Championship Game rematch was even sweeter. Georgia improved its offensive performance from 230 total yards and 46 rushing yards in the first meeting to 421 total yards, including 238 on the ground, in Atlanta. The Bulldogs also regained their rhythm on defense, holding Auburn to 259 total yards after surrendering a season-worst 488 (176 more than any other opponent gained all season) in the first game.
Defining Moment: 42-13 Win Over Kentucky
Perhaps a curveball since Georgia picked up a huge non-conference victory over Notre Dame and notched huge wins over a ranked Mississippi State squad, as well as lopsided victories over rivals Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech by a combined score of 121-14. And, it’s certainly worth noting the rematch victory over Auburn was the most important win of the season given the fact it secured the Bulldogs a place in the College Football Playoff.
Nevertheless, the defining moment of the season came the week after Georgia was drubbed by Auburn. Having been physically dominated by the Tigers while ranked No. 1 in the nation could have been a death knell for the Bulldogs. It’s common given the emotion in college football for one week’s disappointment to spill over into the next, and one loss quickly turns into two. However, instead of wallowing in defeat, Georgia responded with a dominant performance over a seven-win Kentucky squad to secure the SEC East and set the stage for revenge in Atlanta.
Biggest Surprise: Javon Wims, WR
Wims didn’t get a ton of action as a junior in 2016, catching just 17 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown. The junior college signee with good size (6-4, 215) was largely an afterthought as the team’s fifth-leading receiver in his first season in Athens. However, Wims forged a strong on-field bond with true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, and emerged as the go-to wideout for Georgia in 2017. He led the team with 38 receptions and 631 yards and tied for the team lead with six TD grabs.
Biggest Disappointment: Loss at Auburn
There’s just one blemish on the schedule to date, which makes the loss to Auburn easily the biggest disappointment of the regular season. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, the performance was a complete outlier on both sides of the football, and Georgia rebounded to win the rematch in the SEC Championship Game.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Lorenzo Carter, LB
Georgia must replace quite a few important seniors from the 2017 squad, including offensive playmakers Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Javon Wims, All-SEC defensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, and other defenders like Davin Bellamy, Dominick Sanders, Aaron Davis, and John Atkins, among others. However, Carter may be the most difficult player to replace.
Carter came to Georgia as a five-star recruit, and though he showed flashes of brilliance during the first three years of his college career, didn’t rise to the sky-high expectations that come with being such a ballyhooed prospect. But Carter was a consistent threat on the outside as a senior and put constant pressure on opposing offenses during the regular season, leading the squad with nine QB hurries and ranking third with 47 total tackles, 4.0 sacks and 7.0 tackles for a loss. He also came up big in big games. Carter recorded sacks against Notre Dame and Florida, as well as a combined 4.5 TFLs against the Fighting Irish, Mississippi State, Florida and Auburn.
Player to Watch in 2018: D’Andre Swift, RB
Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will be out of eligibility in 2018, which leaves the dynamic Swift as the top returning rusher. Swift, a true freshman, gained 597 yards and scored three touchdowns on just 73 carries — an eye-popping 8.2 yards per carry. Swift also has been a reliable receiver out of the backfield with 15 catches for 146 yards and a TD. His talent was on full display in the 64-yard touchdown run that iced the SEC Championship Game. Expect much bigger numbers next year.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Can Georgia Rebuild its Defense?
Georgia finished the regular season ranked third nationally in scoring defense (13.2 points allowed per game) and fourth in total defense (270.9 total yards allowed per game), while limiting opponents to 4.45 yards per play, which ranked sixth in the FBS. Only one opponent gained more than 312 yards of offense in a single game during the regular season, and only two reached 20 points.
However, the Bulldogs must replace at least seven key senior contributors from the unit, and are also likely to lose linebacker Roquan Smith as an early entrant to the NFL draft — and one or two others could follow. That means quite a few new faces for 2018. Head coach Kirby Smart has recruited very well, but time will tell if the loss of experience would necessitate a rebuilding year.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.