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Georgia Bulldogs won, but historic 2017 game served as springboard for Notre Dame, too
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Georgia Bulldogs won, but historic 2017 game served as springboard for Notre Dame, too

Georgia Bulldogs won, but historic 2017 game served as springboard for Notre Dame, too

Georgia Bulldogs won, but historic 2017 game served as springboard for Notre Dame, too

Georgia football-Notre Dame lost to Georgia but 2017 game was springboard for Irish too-Georgia Bulldogs-Notre Dame Fighting Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Sept. 9, 2017, is a historic date for the Georgia Bulldogs. It represents the day they invaded Notre Dame Stadium with a red and black surge that they’re still talking about around here.

But while it was Georgia that came out on top in that game, 20-19, and advanced to the National Championshig, the Fighting Irish also count that day as a sort of crossroads in the program’s resurgence.

No. 24 Notre Dame (1-0) was coming off 4-8 record the previous season and there were calls for coach Brian Kelly’s job. The Bulldogs (1-0), at No. 15, were the higher-ranked team and offered more promise in Year 2 under Kirby Smart. But as only the second game of the year, nobody really knew yet what either team had. Both were carrying only lopsided, season-opening victories over over-matched opponents into the contest.

In the end, two incredible plays lifted Georgia to victory: A Houdini of a touchdown catch by sophomore receiver Terry Godwin and a fourth-quarter sack-and-strip by senior defensive end. A 30-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship — placed on scholarship a day earlier — proved to be the difference.

Fromm

“It was huge,” Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said of getting that victory in what was his first career start. “Definitely up there as one of my special moments, being my first start, my first win, beating presitigious Notre Dame at their stadium. It’s incredible is what is was.”

Taking over for injured starter in the first quarter of the opener the previous week, the true freshman Fromm completed 16 of 29 passes for 141 yards and the 5-yard TD to Godwin. But he also lost a fumble and threw an interception. Georgia got 73 yards rushing and a TD from Sony Michel and 185 yards rushing overall and out-gained the Fighting Irish 326 to 265.

Afterward, the teams went their respective directions, but each team keeping the other in their rear-view mirrors. And with every passing victory — Georgia and Notre Dame both would reel of seven straight wins after that contest — came validation that it was two exceptional teams that did battle that warm night in South Bend.

Georgia would drop a game to Auburn, come back and avenge that loss in the SEC Championship Game, defeat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl and finally fall in close and dramatic fashion to Alabama in the National Championship Game.

The Irish dropped late-season road games to Top 10 opponents Miami and Stanford. But they vanquished LSU in the Citrus Bowl. With a final record of 10-3 and most of the team coming back, everybody knew Notre Dame had been rebuilt and would be a force to be reckoned with in 2018.

The Irish were indeed. They went 12-0 in the regular season before falling to eventual national champion Clemson in the Cotton Bowl in the semifinals of College Football Playoff. And while it wasn’t the ending they wanted, Notre Dame felt it was back where it belonged on college football’s grandest stage.

Now comes the return game. On Sept. 21 this fall, the Fighting Irish will make their first-ever visit to Athens and Sanford Stadium. Early projections have the Bulldogs as prohibitive favorites as Notre Dame lost seeks to replace a lot of production off its 2018 team. But thanks to that 2017 game that served as a launching-pad moment for both programs and the recruiting that has been going on ever since, the rematch Between the Hedges is already considered one of the top non-conference games in the nation in 2019.

DawgNation talked with several current Fighting Irish players who competed against Georgia in that 2017 game. We asked for them to recount what they remembered from that historic night, what it meant to their season and their thoughts on this year’s rematch on Sept. 21 at Sanford Stadium.

IAN BOOK, SR., QB, EL DORADO HILLS, CALIF.

Prominent recollection …

Book

“Got my first snap ever in college football in that game. It was a quarterback draw; never will forget it. (Starting QB) Brandon (Wimbush) got some turf in his eye, so I had to go in.”

What it meant …

“We’re never going to forget that game. We felt like we should’ve won that game and, you know, we came up a little short. It still stings. That’s what we’ll remember and we’ll use that for fuel, definitely.”

 Aftermath …

“You can always find a positive out of something. We came out knowing they were a good team and obviously we didn’t come out on top that night. But to see what they did the rest of the year showed us that we were a good matchup for them.”

Progression since named starter …

“Just getting through all my reads, trusting everybody, building chemistry with everyone, receivers, running backs, O-line, just knowing exactly where everyone’s going to be at the right time, defensive recognition. Just working on that and film study every day.”

Visiting UGA in September …

“I’m really trying to stay in the present this whole spring, but it’s hard not to notice the schedule. We’re extremely excited for all the challenges we have coming. Obviously, everyone knows about Georgia. It’s going to be a great game. We’re all excited for it and it will be here quicker than you know.”

JALEN ELLIOTT, SR., SAFETY, RICHMOND, VA.

Memories …

Elliott

“I just remember it was a high-intensity, high-emotion game. It was big for us to come out and make a statement that we could play with anybody and Georgia was a great test for us. They were a team we knew had been very successful over the years and we wanted to come out and make a statement against them and play together and show that we were progressing as well.”

Effects of loss …

“I think that game propelled us and showed that we could play with anybody if we played together and if we stuck to the traits our coaches give us and talk about every day. It was early in the year, so you have to take everything that happens then with a grain of salt. It was important to remember that it was early in the year and that we made some good plays and some bad plays but, at the end of the day, it was 20-19. You win or lose by one (point), you understand there were plays in the game that could’ve made it go the other way. When you looked at it that way, we understood that we had the pieces, that we just had to put it all together. That was huge for us.”

Georgia’s true freshman quarterback …

“We saw that (starting quarterback Jacob Eason got hurt), but we knew that, ‘man, both of these are good quarterbacks.’ So we prepared like (Fromm) was a four-year starter. He came in and was kind of calm and cool under pressure. He had some running backs who kind of took the pressure off of him in (Nick) Chubb and Sony (Michel). That was huge for us, too, because we were young in the back end. It was important for us (safeties) to come out and make a statement in that game as well. We embraced the challenge.”

On the Terry Godwin TD catch …

“Oh, man, I was running to it! I saw it. That was J-Love who was on him, (cornerback) Julian Love. He’s an All-American, a big-time guy. So that was just an unbelievable catch.

On having to go to Georgia this time …

“We’re circled on everybody’s schedule, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s how we talk about it. We know we’re going to get people’s best and we’re going to give them our best, too. So we take it a week at a time. We don’t want to overlook anybody because we play such a tough schedule. Every game on our schedule means so much since we don’t have a conference championship. We’re an independent, so we never try to look too far ahead. But we love playing the Michigans and the Georgias and the Big Tens, but we know we have to lock into all those other games before we get to those points.

On rebuilding the defense …

“I think we have all the pieces there. It’s about us coming together and just working through the kinks of being younger and making sure we all do our jobs. If we all play 11 as one and do our job we’ll be all right.

Connections to Georgia …

“I have some cousins down there. And I was recruited by them, by Coach (Mark) Richt. They were in my Top 3. So I liked Georgia a lot.”

The chance to play in Sanford Stadium …

“It’s definitely going to be unbelievable. You saw when they came to Notre Dame that they like playing in games like this. We’re just thankful for the opportunity to come down there to Georgia and we expect them to give us their best. We can’t wait. I haven’t been there since I was recruited and I’ve never seen it full, so I’m ready. It should be fun.”

CHRIS FINKE, SR., WR/KR, DAYTON, OH.

What he remembers …

Finke

“The first thing that pops into my mind about that game was a play on a third down on our second-to-last drive. It was thrown to me and I missed the ball and we had to punt. Yeah, that’s what I remember. We got the ball back and we ran the same play again and I caught it that time. But then we fumbled and turned the ball over and lost.

Score and situation …

“It was the fourth quarter, about three minutes left, we were down one. It was third-and-10. The ball came over the middle for me and I didn’t catch it.”

Attitude coming in and going out …

“We were coming off a bad year, but we’re never a team that thinks we don’t have what it takes. I think we were ranked 24th at the time and we were playing Georgia and we knew there was a lot to lose. But when you see them in the championship game, we thought back to our game and realized if we do a few different things we could have won the game. We felt pretty good about that but also kind of bad. We came up just short or that could’ve been us, things could have been different.”

This season …

“We’ve got some guys stepping into roles to fill the places of people who have left. We have a lot of guys coming back, too, but, particularly in the receiver room. We’ve got Miles (Boykin) leaving and Chase Claypool stepping into his role. We’ve got Mike Young stepping into a bigger role, too, and we have some younger guys kind of figuring out where there fit and making plays and trying to move into a role. We’re going to need more than a few guys to make some plays for us and the line’s looking good and Ian Book is looking good.”

On his quarterback …

“I think this spring has been really good for Ian. This has been the first spring he’s come in as the starter, even though he started playing last year. He’s the No. 1 guy now and knows he’s the number one guy and he’s been delivering balls with confidence and just playing really well all spring. I think having that weight lifted off his shoulders, when you’re No. 2 and have a two-quarterback situation going on, has helped him.”

Going ‘between the hedges’ first time …

“I’m sure it will be an exciting atmosphere. SEC games, especially when it’s a big opponent, you see their games on TV all the time and how everybody shows up and it’s a big stage and a big event all the time. So, it’s going to fun, I think. We’re trying not to look too far past anybody, but we know that will be a cool atmosphere to play in.”

DAELIN HAYES, SR., DL, BELLEVILLE, MICH.

2017 Georgia matchup …

Hayes

“That was my sophomore year, second game starting. Theoretically, there’s no one game that’s bigger than the other. But that game had a particular buzz about it. It was a night game and it was like my first time starting against an SEC opponent. Obviously, growing up you know who Georgia is. Georgia, Bama, those types of teams you know. So it was an awesome opportunity to compete versus a team that historically is one of the best. So that was cool.”

Coming up short …

“We got to 9-1 that year, or 8-1, or whatever, and I remember that loss served as a blemish for us at the time. But it motivated a lot of us, too. Because, at the time, we were coming off a 4-8 season and that was a loss in our second game of the year. So we had a lot of doubters. But I remember being (8-1) and still kind of being overshadowed by that loss.

“I remember seeing a clip of Coach Kelly and somebody asked him if this had the same vibes as last year. I saw that bothered him, because we knew the work that we’d put in and we knew what kind of team we were going to be before that. So I remember from the outward perspective there being a sense of panic, but for us it really served as a motivation point and somewhat of crossroads. It was, like, ‘do we dwell on this or do we move on?’ We decided to impose our will. I think Drue (Tranquill) said it after the game, ‘our defense and our team is going to impose our will on opponents moving forward,’ and we did.”

Momentum from last season …

“These last two years, we’ve proven that what we do in the offseason, the attention to detail and the work ethic that our team developed and the culture that we established that year, that it works. So our guys take solace in that and they believe in that. It’s not so much who we’re playing – we often say that they’re faceless opponents – but we have to go out and do what we have to do and take care of ourselves. So we’re just staying true to our process. We’ve hit more this spring than we ever have, in my opinion. Scrimmages, half-lines, live periods, all that stuff, we’ve done a lot of it. It’s been a physical offseason, to say the least.”

Recollections of Fromm …

“I remember Chubb and Michel. That was more of the focal point for us. You stop Georgia’s run game then they’d have to put the ball in the freshman’s hands. That was a chance we were willing to take at that time. Like anything, you always have to stop the run. We know they’re going to come out, be physical, try to impose their will through their run game. That’s something we know we have to do. Once we establish that our defense isn’t going to get ran through, then we’re going to unleash our pass-rushers and get to the quarterback. We want to keep him from being comfortable and that’s something we pride ourselves on being able to do. We’re always the tip of the spear for our defense.”

Playing at Sanford …

“I’m excited. I’ve never been down there. I don’t think I’ve been to the state of Georgia since I was, like, 8. So it’ll be cool to go back. I know it’ll be hot. I know we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

TOMMY KRAEMER, SR., GUARD, CINCINNATI, OH.

Build-up for 2017 game …

Kraemer

“That was my second season and my first year starting. We were coming off a 4-8 year and everyone was pretty disappointed. It was kind of sad all around, really. That winter, Coach (Matt) Baylis came in (as strength coach). Coach Kelly kind of cleared a little house on his staff and we were all juiced up. The entire season, Georgia was circled. I mean, we played Temple first and obviously you can’t overlook opponents, but Georgia was going to be the game, a big-time SEC school in Notre Dame Stadium. It was a first time we had a team coming in from that far South. It was just a big deal, so we were really focused on that, watching Georgia film all year.”

Atmosphere in South Bend …

“That game, it was weird how it worked out. I don’t know if there was a hurricane down there or what, but it brought up a ton of Georgia fans. The stadium was half full of them. Notre Dame Stadium is never like that. Usually you might see a little bit of red in the top-left corner or something. But it was maybe half-and-half that night. That was pretty neat actually. …

“I think one of the coolest things when they came here was the lights thing in the third quarter or whenever it was. That was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had playing football, and it wasn’t even our tradition! It was cool to see, and our fans picked up on it, too. No one really knew what was going on.”

The aftermath …

“It was a one-point loss, which was pretty frustrating for us being the second game. But as the season went on, we started to pick up a lot of momentum and win games and we saw Georgia picking up momentum and becoming one of the top teams in the country. So you started to realize, based off that game, a one-point game that could have gone either way, that gave us a little bit of fire to finish the year strong.”

On the rematch ….

“Every year we play some of the top teams in the country. It’s always cool whenever we can play a big-time SEC team on the road like Georgia. We know it’s a great program. We missed (the playoffs in 2017) and last year we made it and they didn’t. So this year could be deciding who gets in and who doesn’t, like every game does every year, really. I know it’s going to be a really exciting game in a really exciting atmosphere.”

His Georgia connections …

“I have a couple of buddies on the team, Isaac Nauta and Ben Cleveland and Jacob Eason. I know them from the Army game. We’ve kind of kept contact over the years. Really, Ben and I are pretty close. He’s one of the biggest human beings I’ve ever met.

On playing in Sanford Stadium …

“We’re all just really ready to get the season started. Our first game is against Louisville, so we’re really getting ready for that. But we know Georgia will be a special one. I’ve heard some cool things about Sanford Stadium, that it’s a really cool atmosphere. It’s two really great programs, so it should be a fun game.”

What Dawgs should expect …

“I think we’re going to be a very explosive offense this year. We know the whole line is coming back. We have one new starter in there, but he’s probably doing better than any of us. Ian’s throwing the ball around well, our receivers are making awesome plays, our running backs are running hard and I think it’s got the makings to be a really special offense this year. So I’m excited about what we can do and hopefully we can roll with it through the season.”

The post Georgia Bulldogs won, but historic 2017 game served as springboard for Notre Dame, too appeared first on DawgNation.

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Bulldog News

  • ATHENS Georgia football graduate transfer Lawrence Cager is the first to admit it has been quite a transition these past few months of his life. 'Obviously, it's two different sides of the totem pole, Miami and Athens,' said Cager, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound receiver who led the Hurricanes in touchdown catches and yards per reception last season. RELATED: Fascinating story of how Lawrence Cager ended up at UGA 'But I love it here. It's a great place and the team welcomed me with open arms, (and) Coach Smart welcomed me with open arms. I'm just happy to be here.' It was a tough 2018 season for Miami under former coach Mark Richt, particularly with an unsettled quarterback situation. RELATED: Fire and Ice, Cager compares Mark Richt to Kirby Cager knew that coming to Georgia he wouldn't have that issue with third-year starting quarterback Jake Fromm under center. WATCH: Lawrence Cager remembers Kirby Smart recruiting call He also knew what he was getting in an offensive coordinator in recently promoted James Coley. Coley was Miami's offensive coordinator Cager's freshman year and recruited him to the Hurricanes. 'Honestly, I didn't even look at the receiver situation,' said Cager, who has been sharing first team reps in the WR rotation throughout fall camp. 'Coach Coley and Coach Smart called me as soon as I put my name in the portal.' Some thought Cager might declare himself eligible for the NFL draft. Cager is already on the Senior Bowl radar. But Cager decided a chance to win a championship at Georgia and showcase his abilities more was the better way to go. 'I put my trust in those guys 10 times out of 10,' Cager said. 'Coach Coley when he coached me at Miami, and Coach Smart recruiting me heavy when I was being recruited by Alabama, so I just trusted them and we'll see how it goes.' It is well documented that Georgia will be relying on new and inexperienced receivers this season. Two of the three Bulldogs' receivers drafted into the NFL were underclassmen, and then leading returning receiver Jeremiah Hollomon transferred to Florida International this summer. RELATED: Breaking down Georgia's 8 transfers this offseason Coley said earlier in fall camp that Cager has been a good fit for Georgia on and off the field. 'Just coming to work every day and enjoying the atmosphere of what we have and being positive with learning and the learning curve,' Coley said. 'The big thing that he brings, he brings experience. So where you sit back and you say, well, I wonder if this guy's going to make this play in a particular time'. 'Veteran guys, you've seen it happen and you know that they've been those spotlights.' And, Coley said, he knows what Cager will do out of the spotlight. 'Knowing him a little bit further, working with him for a full year,' Coley said, 'you knew what type of character kid he is.' Indeed, Cager has done his best to use his experience to help lead in the receivers room. Senior Tyler Simmons, with nine catches last season, is UGA's leading returning receiver. 'From a receiver room aspect, we came in with the mindset, myself, Tyler, all the receivers, especially me and Tyler being seniors , that it's on us,' Cager said. 'Whether it's making plays on the perimeter or special teams, a long as we have that mindset that it's on us and we come with that mindset that it's on us, then we can attack every day like it's a game.' Georgia football fall camp D'Andre Swift jersey watch in full effect Versatile Cade Mays elevating his game, puts rough recruitment behind New DC Dan Lanning impressing early in fall camp Kenny McIntosh stands out in Scrimmage Two Kirby Smart breaks down 'spirited' Scrimmage Two Georgia football injury updates, post-Scrimmage Two Could RB James Cook be biggest UGA surprise? J.R. Reed says Havoc Rate is out the roof The post Georgia WR Lawrence Cager bought in, ready to attack every day' appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Georgia football players have put training camp behind them and are working on Vanderbilt, precisely how Kirby Smart had planned. The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs play at Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 in Nashville, their long-term goal a national championship, but the immediate focus on the Commodores. The good news at practice on Thursday was preseason All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate D'Andre Swift back in a red practice jersey. RELATED: Kirby Smart plays off D'Andre Swift jersey color This is where Smart would roll his eyes and tell the media that way too much is being made of what color jersey Swift is wearing in practices. But this is also where many Georgia fans, aware of Swift's injury history and his importance to the teams' title hopes, want to know more. Swift was nagged by injuries last season after undergoing sports hernia surgery in January of 2018. Swift was limited in spring drills, and then things got worse at South Carolina last season when Swift suffered a foot injury. Once healthy last season, Swift was seemingly unstoppable in November, averaging more than 9 yards per carry during a stretch of wins over Florida, Kentucky and Auburn. Georgia was arguably playing the best football in the nation last November, and many are expecting big things from Swift this season. So when Swift was late coming out for practice on Aug. 13, getting extra treatment on the heels of Scrimmage One, per NFL scouts, there were concerns. Had Swift aggravated the groin injury? Was it something else? Or, was it nothing. When Swift was back at practice later in the week, showing no-ill effects or wearing any added braces or tape, all seemed well. Then came Wednesday's practice this week, when Swift was in a black practice jersey. The non-contact jersey could have been as simple as making sure Swift didn't take any necessary hits in thud drills. But then, there might also have been more to the story and still might be as it has been a very physical fall camp and Swift saw hitting action in Scrimmage One like anyone else. Either way, Smart was saying when asked about Swift's non-contact jersey on Wednesday, playing off the question by claiming he was merely trying to distract the media. Speculation at this point isn't worth much, as even if Swift is nursing a bruised shoulder or sternum there's no reason to believe he couldn't be ready to play by Aug. 31. And, if for some reason the injury proves more serious, Georgia has tremendous talent and depth in the offensive backfield. Senior tailback Brian Herrien, who has been first through the drill work of late, was actually more effective running the ball in the Sugar Bowl than Swift. RELATED: Kirby Smart explains benefit of multiple 1,00o-yard rushers Further, sophomore James Cook has had a tremendous offseason of growth, drawing consistent praise from his hard-to-please head coach. Zamir White's comeback from ACL surgery last August has been well-documented, creating a sense of guarded optimism around the program that the No. 1 back in the 2018 signing class might indeed make a significant impact. Finally, incoming freshman tailback Kenny McIntosh has proven his skills, drawing praise from Smart after a strong Scrimmage Two performance. Other reported observations included Cade Mays continuing to work with the first-team offensive line, and inside linebacker Nakobe Dean (ankle) and Jamaree Salyer (lower leg) continue to be out of practice. Georgia football fall camp Versatile Cade Mays elevating his game, puts rough recruitment behind New DC Dan Lanning impressing early in fall camp Kenny McIntosh stands out in Scrimmage Two Kirby Smart breaks down 'spirited' Scrimmage Two Georgia football injury updates, post-Scrimmage Two Could RB James Cook be biggest UGA surprise? J.R. Reed says Havoc Rate is out the roof The post Georgia football practice: D'Andre Swift jersey watch (red) in full effect appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS Kirby Smart had his game face on following Wednesday's practice, at times, downright edgy. The fourth-year Georgia football coach is typically no-nonsense when it comes to media sessions, but there was an added edge with the season-opening game less than a week-and-a-half away. 'We weren't very good Tuesday but we had a better practice today,' Smart said. 'The leaders stepped up, challenged them to have a better practice. I thought they had a better practice today.' Good thing, because positions remain up for grabs at most every spot on the team, it seems. Smart elaborated on several position battles, some more unexpected than others, such as in the secondary where Eric Stokes has yet to lockdown a starting job. 'He (Stokes) is in competition right now, there are four guys out there at corner who are competing and he knows that he has top step up and play well every day because you're only judged based on your last play,' Smart said. 'He's challenging for one of those starting positions.' Sophomore Tyson Campbell has been running opposite Stokes with the Ones. Freshman Tyrique Stevenson has been nicked up but he's one of the other corners pushing for playing time, along with junior college transfer D.J. Daniel. The 'star' position the fifth defensive back is another heated competition between Mark Webb and Divaad Wilson. 'They've both done a good job, they're both competitive, both of those kids probably deserve to play,' Smart said. 'They've worked really hard, and they're different. They're similar, they're similar in body types, they're physical, but they're different and they've both done a good job. 'We hope to be able to keep guys fresh and play the best guy. Sometimes you've got to go with the hot hand and sometimes you've got to go with the guy who had the best week of practice.' Smart said Tyrique McGhee, who played the Star last season, is playing more corner because the Bulldogs want to go bigger and more physical at the position. 'I expect Tyrique to play a lot, but Tyrique is a very dominant special teams player who can play strong safety, free safety, star, money, and corner, very unique player,' Smart said. 'A utility guy who can play a little bit of everything and we expect him to do that and he's in competition to get playing time at, really, all positions. 'He really hasn't played much star because we've got those other guys reps.' Georgia football coach Kirby Smart Kirby Smart talks up 'everyday' competition Versatile Cade Mays elevating his game, puts rough recruitment behind New DC Dan Lanning impressing early in fall camp Kenny McIntosh stands out in Scrimmage Two Kirby Smart breaks down 'spirited' Scrimmage Two Georgia football injury updates, post-Scrimmage Two Could RB James Cook be biggest UGA surprise? J.R. Reed says Havoc Rate is out the roof Leave a Comment The post Edgy Georgia football coach Kirby Smart breaks down cornerback battles appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS The Georgia football receiving ranks are wide open outside of senior Tyler Simmons locking down a spot. Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart elaborated on the position group following Wednesday's practice, making it clear the competition is alive and well with the season-opening game fast approaching. It has been well-documented that Georgia lost its top four receivers from a season ago, along with its top pass-catching tight end. 'Tyler Simmons is a starter for us, assuming he's healthy and ready to go, but outside of him there's battles at every one of those positions,' Smart said. 'The slot, the receiver opposite him, the two deep at receiver i t's everyday. 'Guys rotate positions and play all kinds of positions. Tyler's probably a little bit ahead of the other guys just in terms of experience, but outside of that, it's wide open.' Georgia most often uses a three-receiver set as its base formation in the media viewing portion of practice. Simmons has been taking first-team reps opposite Matt Landers, with Demetris Robertson first up in the slot. Smart pointed to the veteran nature Simmons brings when asked what gives him an edge. Simmons is the leading returning receiver from last season with nine catches in 2018. 'Other than experience,' Smart said, 'I'd say it's his practice habits and speed.' Smart said junior receiver Trey Blount has 'done a great job had some great scrimmages.' Blount, Smart said, is 'tough, makes the hard catches, one of our bestsellers blockers, very consistent.' Blount was lined up behind Landers and the outside receiver position opposite Simmons, with freshman George Pickens third. Smart said following last Saturday's scrimmage he has been impressed with Pickens, but the newcomer from Hoover, Ala., needs to learn the playbook. 'He's a talented player, but he's got to learn his assignments and learn what to do,' Smart said, 'because he could certainly help us.' Miami grad-transfer Lawrence Cager, a 6-foot-5 target, has been working behind Simmons at outside receiver and Smart has had good things to say about him through fall camp. Incoming freshman receiver Dominick Blaylock is expected to be another contributor in the slot, though he's currently working No. 3 at the position behind Robertson and Kearis Jackson. Georgia football coach Kirby Smart . Versatile Cade Mays elevating his game, puts rough recruitment behind New DC Dan Lanning impressing early in fall camp Kenny McIntosh stands out in Scrimmage Two Kirby Smart breaks down 'spirited' Scrimmage Two Georgia football injury updates, post-Scrimmage Two Could RB James Cook be biggest UGA surprise? J.R. Reed says Havoc Rate is out the roof The post Kirby Smart talks up everyday' competition for Georgia football in unsettled WR corps appeared first on DawgNation.
  • EDITOR'S NOTE: This original Andrew Thomas profile story continues a special series in partnership with Georgia Farm Bureau profiling homegrown talent from the state of Georgia. To access other HomeGrown Talent articles please visit the series hub on DawgNation.com. Andrew Thomas continues to catch the headlines. The junior left tackle is right in the midst of a few more this week with the news he was named to a pair of two preseason All-America teams. #ATD #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/GrGY51zzQ7 Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) August 20, 2019 The accolades are piling up for the Lithonia native these days. Those are well deserved. Thomas was asked by Kirby Smart to represent the team this summer at SEC Media Days. That simply reflected his status and worth on the team since his first season back in 2017. 'He started every game that he's been at the University of Georgia,' Smart said in Hoover. 'He's a tremendous leader, person. Charismatic. Doesn't say a whole lot all the time. That's why it's fun to bring him to this event. I told him today as we got off the plane: Andrew, you're going to have to talk today. And I think he's excited to do that.' Thomas started all 15 games of that magical season for Bulldog fans. That feat of starting 15 games for a team that went on to win the SEC championship, a national semifinal and then play in the national title game will likely never be duplicated by a true freshman again at Georgia. The Pace Academy alumnus will also see his name continue to pepper the top 5 and top 10 picks on all the 2020 NFL mock draft boards for the foreseeable future. Thomas is just that good. It was also interesting to see that Georgia coach Kirby Smart chose Thomas to be the Bulldog to represent the program when the West End Zone expansion ribbon-cutting took place. That's because Thomas has represented everything the Bulldogs hope to sign and enrich as a student-athlete matriculating to the program in his three-plus years at Georgia. Andrew Thomas: His path from Pace Academy to Georgia It is very hard to believe how quickly things have progressed for the former Army All-American since Georgia began to seriously recruit him in January of 2016. That was the first few months that Sam Pittman was on campus in Athens. Thomas certainly represents his first 500-foot home run for the program on the recruiting trail. Here's the crazy part: Thomas felt that he wasn't really being recruited by UGA until Pittman arrived. That's even though he was an outstanding lineman for a state championship team as a junior. That changed fast when Pittman came to Athens. He was one of the first in-state targets that the program prioritized once they arrived. There was a January visit in 2016 that changed things. 'It changed it a lot actually,' Thomas told DawgNation in February of 2016. 'Because I didn't talk to the old staff as much as the new staff just with them being here for this short of a time. So it seems like they are really interested in me.' Georgia brought in a senior transfer from Rhode Island in Tyler Catalina. Catalina would eventually on to the NFL at guard, but at that time he was the closest thing the program had to a tackle on campus. 'They really need tackles,' Thomas said back then. He actually grew up a Georgia fan. Thomas spoke then about what that pull might be for him as he was weighing out a decision. 'I guess everyone wants to be a hometown hero,' Thomas said. 'So I mean it seems like [they want] me to be one. But I've always been a Dawg fan and now especially meeting the new staff I think that will one of my schools I will be looking at in the future.' Clemson was another big contender here. For a long time. Yet it did sound like the famed '93KDay' meant a seismic change in his recruiting journey. It meant for a lot of current Bulldogs. Especially Thomas. 'It was just a overall great experience,' Thomas said. 'If you would have seen the fans there, it was ridiculous. The fire marshall was like had to deny people from coming in. But it was just a great atmosphere. I loved going on the field. It made me want to like to want to put on the pads and play so I just had a good feel about that.' It helped Georgia's chances. A lot. 'I already liked Georgia a lot,' he said. 'But it definitely moved them up a little bit farther.' The anchor moments were in place for a decision. He would commit to the Bulldogs less than three months later out at the Opening at Nike headquarters in Oregon. Why Andrew Thomas chose Georgia in the end His recruiting day news story for DawgNation still looms large today. That was back on July 10, 2016. He was rated as the nation's No. 9 prospect at the time. He was still recovering him a shoulder injury he was mending from he suffered at The Opening regional in Atlanta. That was a great week for the 2017 class. Thomas was the fourth prospect with a 4-star rating to choose the Bulldogs that week alone. 'The last times I have been up to visit Georgia there has always been Coach Sam Pittman [who] has always been saying I am feeling really good today but I would be feeling even better if I got my left tackle' whenever we hung out,' Thomas said that week. What made up his mind? His father, Andre Thomas, shared why the Bulldogs and Pitman stood out. Thomas said his son was sold on Pittman from the first meeting. That was important as Thomas was not deemed a recruiting priority by the previous staff. He was getting recruited harder by Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame. 'He said that he loved him,' Thomas said. 'He said he loved his personality and how he communicates with him.' Andre Thomas felt his son had that 'right feeling' from the jump with Pittman. The junior All-American candidate chose five factors to drive his decision. Those were academics, fit, coaching staff, distance and playing time. 'Georgia had most of those qualities as the very top,' his father said. 'They didn't have the best out of all of those, but they had the most at the top compared to those other schools.' The priorities there were the academics and coaching staff.Thomas said he was committed to letting his son make that decision. He never pushed him, but actually shared that he liked Notre Dame the most at first. 'But the main thing here is it was his decision,' Andre Thomas said. 'He was the one that was going to have to go to school and play football for four years.' Thomas and his family sat down every day and hashed out his decision about a month prior to his public commitment. 'We didn't establish a second team for Andrew,' his father said. 'There wasn't another school which finished right behind. There was just Georgia.' What Andrew Thomas now means for Georgia It is quite the sight to scroll through the DawgNation photo archives for Thomas from back in 2016 and compare it to the man that now mans that left tackle spot in Athens. Those moments seem like a ringing endorsement for Scott Sinclair's weight training program and the suit of armor he has chiseled around the 6-foot-5, 320-pound junior. Thomas is clearly one of the most important recruits of the Smart era. Perhaps even the most vital. Jake Fromm is essentially the only other signee since Smart arrived that has meant as much to the overall bottom line of wins and losses in the program. Look for Georgia to try to run more gap schemes this year on offense. Those zone schemes have been a staple of the Bulldog rushing offense in the past. Thomas hinted at that at Media Days. With all that, there is one clear goal. It is not to knock out the Alabama program that has kept the Bulldogs from even greater glories over his first two seasons. 'We want to win a national championship,' Thomas said. 'So whoever is in the way, that's who we want to beat.' Pittman has made a big difference in his growth while in Athens. His high school line coach, Kevin Johnson, also shaped his technique and understanding of the game prior to his arrival in college football. He has all the accolades, but it still means something to him to be playing for his home state. 'It is a dream come true,' Thomas told DawgNation this month. 'Like being able to represent the G.' Representing my family is pretty cool.' Homegrown Talents: The DawgNation series so far Warren McClendon: Family roots run 44 years deep for this Georgia family D.J. Daniel: Likely impact defensive back took a longer route to Athens Travon Walker: Big things are expected on the D-Line from 5-star freshman Dominick Blaylock:Talented freshman WR found a homegrown fit in Athens Nolan Smith: From 'Baby Boy' to a long-awaited Bulldog in Athens The post Andrew Thomas has grown into a 'hometown hero' for the Georgia Bulldogs appeared first on DawgNation.