The Georgia Bulldogs finished the 2019 regular season 11-1 as SEC East champions with the only blemish coming in a midseason overtime thriller. Georgia has won at least 11 games in each of the last three seasons, and Kirby Smart has won 43 games in four seasons as the head coach at his alma mater.
However, the Dawgs were blown out 37-10 by LSU in the SEC Championship Game. The loss kept Georgia out of the College Football Playoff and sent the Bulldogs to the Sugar Bowl as a consolation prize for the second consecutive season.
Smart has raised expectations in Athens and across the Bulldog Nation. And while most fanbases across the country would enjoy 11 wins and a division title, many Georgia football fans are disappointed to see another decade come to a close with the Bulldogs missing out on a national championship.
Fortunately, even in the playoff era, college football isn’t an all-or-nothing sport, and Georgia has a great deal to celebrate. With that in mind, we offer our 2019 Georgia football team awards:
Offensive MVP: D'Andre Swift, RB
An argument could be made that quarterback Jake Fromm is the most important member of the Georgia offense, but Swift has been the best this season. Swift has gained 1,216 rushing yards and scored seven touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry as a junior — numbers that could have been more impressive if not for injuries that slowed him down at times (and especially in the SEC Championship Game when he carried the ball twice for 13 yards). A talented receiver out of the backfield as well, Swift also has recorded 24 receptions for 216 yards and a touchdown.
Defensive MVP: J.R. Reed, DB
He hasn't posted huge numbers as a senior, but safety J.R. Reed impressed enough to be recognized by coaches as a first-team All-SEC performer. Reed also was one of five national finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (given to the best defensive player in the country) and is up for the Jim Thorpe Award (given to the nation’s best defensive back). Reed, who has 48 total tackles and seven pass breakups entering the Sugar Bowl, made a key interception in the victory over Notre Dame and also scored on a 14-yard fumble return against Murray State.
Best Freshman: Azeez Ojulari, LB
For all its defensive success, Georgia hasn’t produced huge sack totals in recent years. Improving the pass rush and creating havoc plays were big points of emphasis for Smart in 2019, and Ojulari quickly emerged as a player capable of making an impact. A redshirt freshman, Ojulari has started all 13 games and leads the Bulldogs with 4.5 sacks (two more than anyone else on the unit) and 18 quarterback hurries in 12 games. He also has tallied 5.0 tackles for a loss among his 31 total tackles.
Best Play of the Season: Travon Walker sacks Bo Nix, clinches SEC East
There wasn’t really a clear-cut, awe-inspiring highlight play that will live on in Georgia football history, but there was one that had a direct impact on achieving one of the team’s goals. After building a 21-0 lead against Auburn, the Bulldogs lagged on offense, and the defense allowed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to let the Tigers back in the game. Auburn actually had the ball twice with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Tigers quarterback Bo Nix led his team into Georgia territory on the first such drive, but he threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 to turn the ball over on downs. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs couldn’t run out the clock and punted the ball back just 0:21 later to give Auburn another chance. Nix tossed three incompletions to open the second drive, and on 4th-and-10 from the Auburn 27-yard line, Travon Walker sacked Nix — sealing the SEC East championship, and a spot in the SEC Championship Game, for the Dawgs.
Best Performance by a Player: Lawrence Cager vs. Florida
Cager’s 52-yard touchdown catch against Florida, which pushed the Bulldogs’ lead over the rival Gators to 24-10 in the fourth quarter, would be a worthy candidate for Best Play of the Season, but it was part of an otherwise excellent overall player performance that should be celebrated further. Cager, a 6-foot-5 graduate transfer from Miami who sat out the previous game against Kentucky due to injury, returned to set career-highs with seven catches and 132 yards in his first and only appearance in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Best Game (Team Performance): 52-7 win over Georgia Tech
Georgia was dominant in its 30-6 victory over Vanderbilt in the season opener, as well as in the 55-0 win against Arkansas State in Week 3. (Bulldogs fans should be commended for the "Pink Out" they organized in support of Red Wolves head coach Blake Anderson and his late wife Wendy.) The 43-14 victory over Tennessee in Knoxville looks more impressive now than it did at the time given the Volunteers' midseason turnaround, and shutouts against Kentucky and Missouri showed the Georgia defense at its best.
Nonetheless, beating in-state rival Georgia Tech 52-7 in Atlanta — in a stadium featuring just as much red and black as gold and white — was certainly a satisfying way to end the regular season. The Bulldogs produced 500 yards of total offense for the first time in seven outings, easing some of the concerns about offensive play-calling (at least momentarily). Georgia also held the Yellow Jackets to just 2.4 yards per play — a season low — and just 139 total yards (fewer than 100 both rushing and passing, also a first for the year). The win capped an impressive regular season with an exclamation point and sent a message to new Tech head coach Geoff Collins that he has a lot of work ahead to close the talent gap between the two programs. It also solidified the SEC title game as a win-and-get-in for the Dawgs.
Biggest Surprise: Brian Herrien, RB
Georgia's running back room is loaded with talent. D'Andre Swift is one of the best players in the country, and like him, backups Zamir White and James Cook arrived in Athens as ballyhooed recruits with huge expectations. Yet, even though he was challenged for playing time from blue-chip prospects every season, Herrien has emerged as a dependable player and carved out a solid four-year career as a complementary back. Though his impact goes beyond the stat sheet, Herrien has already set career-highs with 490 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 103 carries as Swift’s top backup this season. He also has 16 catches for 110 yards and a score and is a contributor on special teams as well.
Biggest Disappointment: 37-10 loss to LSU in the SEC Championship Game
Losing to South Carolina was a major disappointment. Georgia lost at home, in overtime, to a team that would finish 4-8 — after its star quarterback threw three interceptions (including a pick-six) and its All-American kicker missed a 42-yard field goal. But as bad as it was, losing to the Gamecocks didn’t exclude the Bulldogs from winning a conference title or earning a spot in the College Football Playoff. The 37-10 loss to LSU closed the door to both.
And losing the way the Bulldogs did in Atlanta was very disheartening. The Dawgs’ talented defense, which had been a strength all season, was no match for likely Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and the Tigers. Georgia’s offense also sputtered (again) and against an LSU defense that had been far from dominant all year. Fromm tossed two interceptions and couldn’t lead the Bulldogs into the end zone until the fourth quarter, when the game had long been decided, and Swift was a non-factor.
Georgia fans have had their fair share of heartbreaking losses over the last three seasons, but the Bulldogs have rarely been non-competitive in big spots. Yet against LSU, the Dawgs were completely outmatched.
Senior That Will Be Missed Next Season: Tyler Clark, DL
Georgia is going to miss many important members of its senior class. J.R. Reed, Lawrence Cager, Brian Herrien, kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, receiver Tyler Simmons, tight ends Eli Wolf and Charlie Woerner, and linebacker Tae Crowder are just some of the players who will leave following impactful seasons and careers. The Dawgs are sure to miss a few juniors leaving early for the NFL draft as well, most likely D'Andre Swift, All-American tackle Andrew Thomas and potentially Jake Fromm. But we’ll go with Clark, who has been a mainstay in the middle of the Bulldogs defense over the last three seasons.
Clark made his 13th start of the season, and his 35th overall, against LSU. Only Reed (42) has made more starts among Georgia defenders, and only Fromm and Thomas (41 apiece) have started more games on the roster. And Clark’s impact has been huge. Not only does he eat space up front, Clark also leads the team with 8.0 tackles for a loss to go along with 2.5 sacks and eight hurries to provide a much-needed pass rush from the interior.
Player to Watch in 2020: George Pickens, WR
The biggest question mark on the Georgia roster coming into the 2019 season was the receiver position. Signing Pickens, who had been committed to Auburn for years, was a huge boost. A five-star recruit, Pickens finished the regular season as the team's triple crown leader in receiving with 37 catches, 552 yards, and seven touchdowns. He also appeared in all 13 games and made a few highlight-reel catches along the way.
But Pickens also made several freshman mistakes. He didn’t play in the first half against Georgia Tech because of an undisclosed violation of team rules, and not long after he scored on a 41-yard touchdown against the Yellow Jackets, Pickens was ejected for fighting and subsequently suspended for the first half of the SEC Championship Game. With Cager out because of an ankle injury, D'Andre Swift slowed because of his shoulder, and fellow freshman standout Dominick Blaylock suffering a torn ACL early, Jake Fromm sorely missed Pickens.
Pickens is rangy (6-3, 190) and athletic and could become one of the best receivers in the SEC. He’s even talented enough to be a first-round NFL draft pick. But receiver is likely to be a question mark again in 2020, and Georgia will need Pickens to step up (and stay on the field) to provide some answers.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Quarterback
Jake Fromm has completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 2,610 yards and 22 touchdowns and tossed five interceptions (all coming in Georgia’s two losses) across 13 starts this season. He has started 41 of 42 career games, having taken over in Week 2 of his true freshman season in 2017. He’s already had a productive and successful college career, and likely has a long professional career ahead. But is Fromm ready to make the jump now? If not, the Bulldogs should be in good hands in 2020. However, following the departure of Justin Fields to Ohio State last season, should Fromm decide to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft, inexperience at quarterback would be a huge concern.
Georgia could turn to either Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on turned junior college transfer who has thrown for 260 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in five appearances. True freshman D’Wan Mathis, who, like Bennett, is as a member of the 2019 recruiting class, has yet to appear in a game this season while recovering from a brain cyst. Freshman walk-on Nathan Priestley is the only other signal-caller to see action. Carson Beck, a four-star recruit from Jacksonville, Florida, is the only quarterback prospect currently committed to the Bulldogs in the 2020 class.
Is the quarterback of the future already on the roster, or would Beck be ready to compete for the job as a true freshman? Might Georgia jump into the transfer portal in hopes of a quick fix? Expect those, and many similar questions, to dominate the offseason should Fromm choose to turn pro.