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Dawgs have championship hopes in 2021

Another season for the Georgia Bulldogs is set to begin soon, and once again, there are championship aspirations in Athens.
Georgia Bulldogs take the stage at SEC Media Days
Georgia Bulldogs take the stage at SEC Media Days
Published: Aug. 14, 2021 at 12:42 AM EDT
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ATHENS, Ga. (WTOC) -Another season for the Georgia Bulldogs is set to begin soon, and once again, there are championship aspirations in Athens.

This year- many of those hopes rest in a Bulldog offense returning eight starters, and coming into their first non-COVID offseason under offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

“We have that continuity. We’re returning a lot of starters. We have a lot of great players. We brought in a great deal of freshmen, and we’re excited. We’re ready to make explosive plays,” said John Fitzpatrick, a junior tight end for UGA.

Explosiveness is the name of the game in college football these days. In a sport in which the last two national champions (Alabama and LSU) have averaged close to fifty points a game- the Dawgs hope 2021 is the year in which they provide their own offensive fireworks.

Leading the way for Monken’s offense- junior quarterback JT Daniels- who led Georgia to four wins to close out the 2020 season. Daniels took over after recovering from a knee injury suffered in the 2019 season at Southern Cal, and finished the season leading Georgia with more than 1,200 yards passing and ten touchdowns.

The Dawgs say Daniels is entering this season with plenty of confidence.

“JT’s a different type of quarterback because he brings a whole lot of swag,” said Georgia junior defensive back Lewis Cine. “He brings a California swag with him.”

Head Coach Kirby Smart sees progress in the QB.

“His mental growth and maybe his confidence in his relationship with receivers and tight ends has improved,” Smart said. “He’s in a much better position to be confident.”

Daniels will have plenty of weapons at his disposal. Even with star wide out George Pickens, now a junior, recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in spring practice- the Dawgs boast a stable of skill players most programs would envy.

Kearis Jackson, a junior wide receiver, is back after tying for the team with 36 catches and Zamir White, also a junior, leads a stable of running backs that rushed for more than 1,700 yards.

You can also add in former five star recruit- Arik Gilbert- transferring in after starting eight games at tight end for LSU in 2020. The six-foot-five sophomore will line up at receiver in Athens, and the early reviews are positive.

“He’s as advertised,” said Cine. “He’s big. He can move. He’s a big kid and he can really move.”

On defense- Georgia returns just four starters from a unit that was one of the best in the Southeastern Conference a year ago.

2020′s leading tackler, junior Nakobe Dean, will guide the defense from his linebacker spot- and senior tackles Jordan Davis and Devante Wyatt will anchor a stout defensive line.

Leading sack getter Azeez Ojulari is gone however- now lining up for the New York Giants. The Dawgs will turn to a number of players to fill that void- including Savannah-native Nolan Smith, a junior.

“Right now, every single day in our team meetings, we are showing a pass rush of the day and Nolan has been on there; who’s executing moves at a high level, so that’s something we are going to continue to look for,” said UGA Defensive Coordinator Dan Lanning. “There is definitely an opportunity sitting in front of Nolan, and I’m looking for him to take advantage of it and he has the skillset to do so.”

What appeared to be a young secondary is getting a boost from the transfer portal. Former Clemson Tiger Derion Kendrick, a senior defensive back, and West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith, a junior DB, each joined the Bulldog program this fall- the two made a combined forty starts at their previous schools.

With nearly three weeks to the season opener, Smart says the team is over 90-percent vaccinated, but adds his goal is for the team to be at 100-percent.

The Dawgs were picked to finish atop the SEC East in the preseason polls and were ranked No. 5 in the first Coaches Top 25 poll of the 2021 season.

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