Youth prospering for Bulldogs

Photo by Brant Sanderlin/ AJC

So far this season, we’ve seen 12 different freshmen make their way on to the field to play for the Georgia Bulldogs. One of the most prevalent players have been in the running game, with backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb getting the majority of the backup carries behind Todd Gurley.

This has seemingly been a trend for some time now, with Georgia playing a good amount of freshman last season. Most of that playing time was granted with injuries hitting the team. However, they have been called upon over the past couple of seasons. For the most part, Georgia has been able to start counting on contributions from the young guys. Head coach Mark Richt thinks it’s not just Georgia who is benefitting from freshman success.

“I think you see it around the league and around the country,” Richt said. “High school players are more advanced than they used to be. 90 percent of them are training all year round. 90 percent of them are bigger, stronger, faster, and even more skilled at some of the things that we’re going to ask them to do.”

Chubb and Michel might be getting the majority of the accolades right now. However, the Bulldogs have also put wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie in the games this season and he’s made huge plays. Example, the 52 yard punt return for a touchdown against Troy. He fielded that ball on a bounce, before taking it the distance. McKenzie also ran for a 49 yard gain in Saturday’s 66-0 win. The week before, he started the game off with a huge catch on the very first pass of the game from quarterback Hutson Mason against South Carolina.

You could also look at freshman tight end Jeb Balzevich. He’s already picked up 4 catches this season for 53 yards. The list goes on and on about the contributions Georgia has needed from their freshman players. Even during the spring, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo knew they would probably need to get strong contributions from the freshman class.

“We thought they were talented when we signed them,” Bobo said. “We knew we needed some help at the skill positions and we’re going to put them in positions to make plays. They jumped at the opportunity and did that in practice. We had a little bit more opportunity at certain spots because of injuries and guys have done a nice job of responding.”

As of right now on the Georgia two-deep depth chart that was released for this week’s game against Tennessee, Isaiah McKenzie is listed as the starting Z-wide receiver. He is listed at the backup to Michael Bennett at the X. That is what Bobo is most likely pointing to with the injury situation. That’s seeing as wide receiver’s Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley, and Jonathan Rumph are all still out with injuries.

The Bulldogs haven’t just been getting contributions from the true freshmen on the offensive side of the ball. They have also needed playing time from the young group on the defensive side as well. Players like outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, cornerback Malkom Parrish, and defensive back Dominick Sanders have all seen a good amount of playing time this season.

The growing theme for both sides of the ball that have seen major freshman contributions this season is from the lack of depth at certain spots. Most of the contributions are taken in the wide receiver and defensive back groups. The good news for Mark Richt, Mike Bobo, and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is that these players can only continue to improve with increased reps over the season.

The other bit of good news is that they’ll start getting injured players back on the field as the season goes on. That will be what coaches call “a good problem to have.”



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