Sitting at 5-1 (or perhaps 6-0, if my first half predictions are mercifully inaccurate), Georgia will likely be sitting in the Top Ten entering the meat of their SEC schedule. Following a huge game against Alabama – which, again, could go either way, but slight edge to Alabama – and a tough road game at Tennessee, the Bulldogs schedule doesn’t get any easier. They will play a stretch of three straight SEC East games that will likely define their season. Take care of business, and they’re likely looking at an SEC Championship bid. Falter, and it’s another disappointing 10-2 or 9-3 season.
Georgia is the front-runner in the SEC East, and rightfully so. Can Mark Richt get them over the proverbial hump as they chase a spot in the College Football Playoff?
Here’s my analysis of the second half of the season:
2015 GEORGIA BULLDOGS SCHEDULE ANALYSIS: GAMES 7-12
October 17 – vs. Missouri (Homecoming), Time TBD, Network TBD
Georgia went into Missouri last season following the news that Todd Gurley would be suspended for four games. They were 2-1 in the SEC and desperately needed a spark to help them cope with the loss of their star. Cue Nick Chubb. Chubb was a battering ram against the Tigers, and the defense dominated Mizzou en route to a thrilling 34-0 win at Faurot Field. Still, Georgia watched Missouri clinch the SEC East for a second straight season. Last time Missouri came to Sanford Stadium, they throttled the Dawgs 41-26 in 2013.
There are a whole lot of revenge factors here for Georgia. They will look to bottle up Maty Mauk for a second straight season, and to capitalize on Missouri’s rebuilding defensive line. Look for Georgia to control the line of scrimmage with the run game, as they will be facing a pretty talented linebacker corps and secondary. Missouri also replaces a trio of wide receivers, which could prove costly against a solid Georgia defense. It is imperative the Dawgs don’t underestimate Missouri, as they have been the most confounding success story in the SEC over the past two years. That being said, Georgia will come out strong in front of a sold-out homecoming crowd. Georgia wins.
Prediction: Georgia 34-17
Record: 6-1 (4-1 in SEC)
October 31 – vs. Florida (Jacksonville, Fl.), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party never disappoints. The annual pilgrimage of the Bulldog and Gator faithful to Jacksonville is one of the most anticipated events in college football. Florida, under new head coach Jim McElwain, will be looking to prove itself as a program on the rise in 2015. Georgia entered last season’s matchup with all the momentum and the heavy expectation they’d beat their rivals handily. Instead, Florida unexpectedly dominated the Dawgs – racking up 418 rushing yards against one of the SEC’s better run defenses. New starting quarterback Treon Harris barely had to throw the ball, much to the chagrin of Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
Don’t expect Pruitt’s defense to overlook Florida again. They will more effectively contain the Florida rushing attack, especially with Florida breaking in a new offensive line. The Florida defense will once again instill a lot of fear in most opponents with Vernon Hargreaves III (and three other starters from last year) returning. For Georgia, they’ll look to build off the offensive success they had last season against the Gators – throwing for 319 yards and rushing for 141 yards against a solid defense. Nick Chubb should find success against a questionable defensive line. And the revenge factor will play a big role. Georgia stops Florida from derailing its season for a second straight year with a hard fought win.
Prediction: Georgia 24-20
Record: 7-1 (5-1 in SEC)
November 7 – vs. Kentucky, Time TBD, Network TBD
Kentucky started the season last year 5-1, but an 0-6 finish meant no postseason for an improving Wildcats program. Kentucky has the talent to surprise some people this season, and if anyone in the SEC overlooks them, watch out! There is talent at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The offensive line returns four starters. And though the defense looks to replace stars Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith at defensive end, that defense looks a lot scarier this season than it has in years.
Last season, Georgia took out its frustrations following the Florida loss on Kentucky, dominating the Wildcats 63-31 in Lexington. The Dawgs went 8-8 on 3rd down and racked up 559 yards of offense, behind Chubb’s 13.1 yards per carry and 4 TDs from Hutson Mason. Look for Kentucky to come out with a lot of energy in hostile territory and put some points up early. Still, Georgia will overpower the Wildcats at home on its way to a sixth SEC win.
Prediction: Georgia 56-21
Record: 8-1 (6-1 in SEC)
November 14 – at Auburn, Time TBD, Network TBD
Entering this game with an 8-1 record (based on my predictions), this heavy-weight battle between two of the SEC’s top teams will be quite a show. Auburn is replacing six starters on offense, including quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne. Luckily for the Tigers, most teams would take their replacements any day. Jeremy Johnson will take the helm at quarterback, stud wide receiver D’haquille Williams returns and talented freshman running back Roc Thomas joins JUCO transfer Jovon Robinson in the backfield. That offense will be fine.
On the defensive side, Will Muschamp takes the reins of a defense that ultimately failed at hurrying the quarterback last season. The Auburn defense is a bit of a question mark, and they will be employing the services of former Georgia safety Tray Matthews this season following his transfer year. The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry is all tied up (55-55-8 series history), and Georgia has won seven of the last ten meetings between the teams. Expect the Dawgs to tip the scales in their favor this season with a strong offensive performance and just enough defense to escape Jordan-Hare with a win, clinching the SEC East title for the first time since 2012 in the process.
Prediction: Georgia 38-31
Record: 9-1 (7-1 in SEC)
November 21 – vs. Georgia Southern, Time TBD, Network TBD
Georgia is 5-0 against Georgia Southern, with their last matchup against the Eagles coming in 2012. This Georgia Southern team is not the same as those other five. Last season, the Eagles came within a point of upsetting NC State on the road, and held a late lead against eventual ACC Coastal Division Champion Georgia Tech before falling 42-38. Georgia Southern transitioned to the Sun Belt and swept the conference in their first season in the FBS.
The triple-option rushing attack, which gained 381.1 rushing yards per game last year, will be a great tune-up for Georgia Tech the following week, but Georgia would be wise to take the Eagles seriously. Will Georgia Southern beat the Dawgs in Sanford Stadium? No. Will they show that they are a force to be reckoned with on their path to relevancy? Absolutely. Georgia Southern’s defense will likely be overwhelmed by Chubb and company, but they might put up more points on the Dawgs than the Bulldog faithful would like.
Prediction: Georgia 56-24
Record: 10-1 (7-1 in SEC)
November 28 – at Georgia Tech, Time TBD, Network TBD
In what will likely be remembered as the ‘Squib Kick’ game in Athens, UGA will travel to Atlanta looking for revenge against a Georgia Tech team that beat the Dawgs in overtime due to a coaching gaffe toward the end of regulation. The Dawgs will try to erase the memories of Georgia Tech players dancing on the ‘G’ in Sanford Stadium, taking parts of the historic hedges and celebrating a win that was in Georgia’s grasp before it slipped away. Georgia Tech returns quarterback Justin Thomas, but lose its trio of running backs in Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins, who were responsible for 2,218 yards in the triple-option offense. Still, the offensive line will be strong, which is one of the biggest factors in running a successful option.
Thankfully for Georgia, Tech’s rushing defense will likely not improve much from last year, and if Chubb and the rest of the running back corps can gain some yardage in chunks, all the pressure will fall back to the Tech offense. First downs for the Georgia defense will be the key. If they can be effective against the triple-option early in series, they might force some mistakes on second or third down. Georgia is 12-2 in the last 14 meetings between the two teams, and expect them to reclaim their hold on the slogan, “We run this state”.
Prediction: Georgia 38-28
Record: 11-1 (7-1 in SEC)
A lot can happen over the course of a season, which Georgia fans know all too well after the past two seasons have unraveled due to injuries and suspensions. Georgia has a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and in a weak SEC East, they should head to Atlanta in December with a chance to clinch a spot in one of the College Football Playoff semifinal games. The Dawgs know exactly what they are getting at running back – brute strength and durability. The major question mark will be how effective they can be in the passing game. Even with a middle-of-the-pack passing attack, Georgia should be able to open up the run game enough to see sustained offensive success.
On the defensive side, Georgia will need to carry over its opportunistic play from last season and create turnovers. There is a ton of talent for Pruitt to work with, and it is expected that Georgia boasts one of the more effective defenses in the SEC. For many years, Georgia fans have gotten used to the preseason hype turning into postseason disappointment. With the Bulldogs schedule this season, they have a solid chance of doing something very special this year.
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