What’s up with the Georgia Bulldogs? We reached out to Bulldogs beat writer Mike Griffith (@MikeGriffith32) of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and DawgNation and the 2017 Football Writers Association of America’s beat writer of the year, to offer his insight:
The team was heartbroken (after the SEC championship game) in the post-game locker room, having outplayed Alabama throughout most of the game and led for 281 of 290 plays against the Tide in the past two meetings. There’s enough youth on the team (68 percent of roster is freshmen and sophomores) that the competition for future playing time has led to spirited, intense practices. Jake Fromm has been a strong leader, and he has brought a resilient air into the bowl practices.
Baker was the most valuable player on defense, as he has shut down the best receivers in the SEC throughout the season, allowing Georgia to shade the side opposite of him. Baker’s absence is worth at least seven points to the Texas offense if not more, and the fact any of the Georgia players would skip the game threatens the laser-sharp focus and buy-in the Bulldogs have exhibited all season.
How effective have D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield been in the backfield?
Elijah Holyfield carried the run game the first half of the season with his physical, determined style of play. Swift, however, is a game breaker capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Swift’s return to health following the bye week has been crucial to Georgia’s offensive resurgence since its loss at LSU.
What can you tell us about this Georgia offensive line?
Georgia arguably has the best offensive line in the nation, as it’s big, strong, deep and surprisingly young. All but center Lamont Gaillard will return next season. With Baker bailing out on the game, Georgia’s offensive line passes the secondary as the most elite unit on the team.
Name one player that Texas fans aren’t talking about — but should be.
Outside linebacker D’Andre Walker, the Bulldogs’ sack leader. Georgia didn’t blitz much this season, or Walker would have had more sacks. Walker was a one-man wrecking machine against Alabama in the SEC title game, and the Bulldogs held a 28-21 lead when he exited the action early in the fourth quarter. Had Walker not aggravated a groin injury, the outcome could have been different. Walker hasn’t practiced in pads since the SEC title game, but Kirby Smart said he expects him back.
Texas fans will want to keep tabs on his status for the game — you can bet the Longhorns coaching staff will, too.
Is there any food or entertainment that you are looking forward to while in New Orleans?
I’ve been to New Orleans several times, having lived in Mobile while covering Alabama in the 1990s, and coming down here for several national championships and last year’s playoff game between Alabama and Clemson. The food is always great, particularly the gumbo and bread pudding. New Orleans is more of an experience than a place to visit, and it’s delightfully different every time.