KEY QUESTIONS FOR 2024: Georgia Bulldogs

By George Somerville

As the college football season approaches, we will be looking at the key questions to answer for the leading playoff hopefuls. This time around we look at the Bulldogs from Athens who are looking to rebound from last years disappointment of falling at the SEC Championship game.

Kirby Smart at SEC Media Days 2023 (Image Credit: George Somerville)

Can the Bulldogs use last season as motivation?

This time last year Georgia football fans were looking forward to an unprecedented season. Something which had never been achieved before – The Threepeat. In what was another excellent season the Dawgs fell just short of this, losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship game. However, even with this single defeat some, perhaps even many, believed Georgia still to be one of the top four teams in College ball. The CFB Play-Off Committee thought differently, with Michigan, Alabama, Washington and Texas making it to the final four playoff.

Ultimately, Georgia fans had to settle for a resounding Orange Bowl victory over the “other” CFB Play-Off hopefuls, the then-unbeaten Florida State, to finish their season on a relative high.

This past season can hardly be classified as a failure. However, knowing Kirby Smart, he will be bitterly disappointed not to have created history. These opportunities arise, literally, once in a lifetime, and the Dawgs did not take advantage of them.

Was the pressure too great, or was the team not good enough? We will never know, but perhaps it was a combination of both. As we now know, Coach Smart and his staff will use this failure as prime motivation for the coming season. It will not be out of the realm of imagination that reminders of that SEC Championship game will have appeared in the weight room or the locker room in Athens.

There will be no doubt that Kirby is gunning for revenge, and I suspect there is nothing worse in this scenario for the rest of college football than a wounded bulldog. I don’t believe there is any more pressure on Smart than before but mark my words, the UGA locker room will be left with no doubt about what is expected of them this year.

Does Carson Beck have something to prove?

Image credit: Kathryn Skeean/ UGA Sports

While Smart is under no more pressure than normal, quarterback Carson Beck might be feeling some heat. This seems mightily unfair for a player who waited a long time for his chance and took UGA to an 11-1 season. The problem here for Beck is the weight of expectation and the ghost of Stetson Bennett IV.

Like Bennett IV, Beck bided his time in Athens. Beck made his Bulldogs debut in 2020 amidst a quarterback room that included Bennett, Mathis, and JT Daniels. If you followed that story, Bennett was considered the fourth choice in that room. However, he fought off the challenge from the other three, and the rest, they say, is history.

Beck stayed while the others moved on and got his chance last season after Bennett IV moved on to the NFL. Considered a much greater talent at QB than his predecessor, hopes were high that the UGA juggernaut would continue without blinking. This was largely true – Beck had a good 2023 season, throwing for 3,941 yards and 28 (total) touchdowns. However, it wasn’t good enough. To be clear, this failure should not be weighed on Beck’s shoulders, but as QB, this is what happens. Credit when you win, blame when you don’t.

As I write this, the hype for Beck as a 2024 Heisman candidate and being “NFL ready” is real. It will only grow. Yet there is criticism of the Georgia quarterback. Not enough production outside the pocket—”he’s not a scrambler”—and the lack of evidence on his deep ball have some analysts looking to see how/ if he can progress this year.

This is a big year for Beck. He has his Lamborghini, but can he add his third National Championship ring, one that he led his team to?

How 'Bout Them Dawgs Defense?

Listen, we know that UGA is going to have a good, if not a great, defense. And based on the evidence of all that Kirby Smart has achieved at Georgia, it is most likely going to be an awesome defense.

But each year, Smart and defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann have had to rebuild the defense, which is decimated by the production line of talent following the well-worn path to the NFL Draft—and usually to Round One.

Last season, the defensive production dipped—a little, not a lot. But it was noticeable that the run defense gave up way more yards than in the previous championship-winning seasons. So that needs to be resolved. UGA does have returning experience and talent. Mykel Williams Jr., Chaz Chambliss, Nazir Stackhouse, Smael Mondon, and Malaki Starks all return. 

As you would expect, recruitment has again been sterling, meaning the production line continues to have raw talent.

Questions are really around the secondary. Somewhat unusually, there was some turmoil in the off-season with Julian Humphrey and Daniel Harris entering the portal but then deciding to stay put (which remains the case at the time of writing this). However, the secondary seems to be the part of the defense with the most pieces of the puzzle to assemble. Redshirt freshman Kyron Jones made a strong case to be a starter at Star, but this is a hard position to start as a freshman. If they stay, Humphrey and Harris are likely starters, so too is Malaki Starks. Thereafter, there is an open competition for Strong Safety and probably Nickel. But Smart loves for there to be competition, meaning fall camp will be gloves off.

I am sure all of this will take shape over the course of the summer and fall camps, meaning Georgia will be in good shape for that season opener against Clemson.

George Somerville

Touchdown sec correspondent

George is a long standing fanatic of life and football in the deep south and writes his weekly column called “IT’s Only SEC” for the touchdown. he is also co-host and one third of the college chaps podcast, the UK’s first podcast dedicated to the college game.