Georgia Football: Know Your Enemy, Belk Bowl Edition
Louisville was a tough team to peg in the preseason. They lost their coach, Charlie Strong, to Texas, along with a first round pick at QB (Teddy Bridgewater) and 7 starters from the nation’s #2 scoring defense. They made a step up in competition from the AAC to the ACC. And their new coach? A guy who left them (and the Falcons) (and, to an extent, Arkansas) high and dry just seven years prior, the ultimate wild-card, Bobby “doesn’t matter, had sex” Petrino.
That’s really about as much turnover and uncertainty as a team can expect to have in one offseason, but to the Cardinals’ credit they delivered in year 1 in the ACC. Excepting an early-season loss at Virginia, the Cards breezed through their lightweight ACC counterparts (Syracuse, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Boston College), lost very close games to their competitive draws (Florida State, Clemson), and added two decent nonconference wins (Notre Dame, Kentucky) to close the season. At 9-3, this shapes up to be a pretty tough matchup for the Dawgs.
Let’s start on this side of the ball, because you may be familiar with the guy in charge. Todd Grantham, who coached Georgia’s defense off a cliff last year, emerged as the DC at Louisville and was nearly fired before coaching a single game. At that point, one would have added Grantham to the list of potential causes for a Louisville dumpster fire…but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
UL’s defense finished 6th in the country, allowing 293 yards per game on less than 4 and a half per play. Teams behind them? Michigan State, Alabama, Florida, and Ole Miss, to name a few.
It starts up front with a very experienced defensive line. Sheldon Rankins, Lorenzo Mauldin, Dieontrez Mount, and B.J. Dubose all accounted for at least four sacks, and all but Dubose had at least 10.5 tackles for loss. In the games I saw them play this year, I was impressed with their ability to get off 1-v-1 blocks and into the backfield to blow up the run. That’d come in handy against Georgia’s rushing attack.
Safety Gerod Holliman is the name you absolutely MUST know on this D. The junior tied an NCAA record with 14 (fourteen!) interceptions on the season. Hutson Mason, familiarize yourself and avoid at all costs.
Not pictured are two former Dawgs who will join the UL secondary next year: Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq ‘E-Harmony‘ Wiggins.
As far as Petrino’s system goes, UL’s offense was quite balanced in year one. They were 47th in total offense, but only 50th in passing. Will Gardner missed four games with injury, but was the best the Cards had to offer at QB, throwing 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Expect to see freshman Reggie Bonnafon in some packages as well for the Cardinals, as he played in 9 games this year.
Last I checked, Georgia didn’t play Alabama this year, thus avoiding Amari Cooper. I bring this up because it means DeVante Parker will be the single best receiver the Dawgs’ young secondary has faced this year. #9 stands 6’3 211, and in only six games (he missed the start of the season with a leg injury) amassed 735 yards and 5 TD’s on 35 catches. Opposite him are aptly-named James Quick and Eli Rogers, who led the team with 40 catches. All three are home run threats.
Ready for another SEC blast from the past for the Cardinals? Michael ‘seriously, his knee was down’ Dyer. Yeah, the one from Auburn the year Cam was there. Playing at at least his third school, Dyer, Domonique Brown, and Brandon Radcliff split the tailback duties for Louisville. They’re good for 10-12 touches apiece in the Belk Bowl.
This is not a team that Georgia’s fans or players should take lightly. The revenge factor from Grantham and the D may well be in place, the D-line and receiving corps represent legitimate problems, and a loss could lead to more transfers to the greener pastures (some kind of Churchill Downs reference– the pieces are there) from Athens to northern Kentucky.