ATHENS – When the Rose Bowl held its media day last week, they put the Georgia stars on their own podiums. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Roquan Smith sat there for 45 minutes and each were asked more than 100 questions – 114 in Chubb’s case, a mere 106 for Michel.
Those three are the biggest names on Georgia’s roster, along with the quarterback, who’s always a big name, to the point where not only starter Jake Fromm but backup Jacob Eason were also surrounded at the media day. As they will be at the national championship media day this weekend.
But the Bulldogs didn’t get this far merely on the strength of their stars. Even beyond the other noted standouts – Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, Isaiah Wynn, Rodrigo Blankenship – there are a number who have played a key role, and could probably use a bit more recognition:
Why you play defensive line in Georgia’s 3-4, it’s hard to stand out because so many guys rotate in, and making plays in the trenches is anonymous work. But Clark, who was very consistent in the regular season, really emerged in the Rose Bowl.
The sophomore from Americus had a sack and two-tackles-for-loss, and a total of four solo tackles, which is pretty impressive for someone playing in the middle. Oklahoma writers after the game came away impressed, talking up Roquan Smith first but then Clark.
The question entering the season was whether Georgia had a lock-down cornerback. Some may still hesitate to call Baker that, but the fact is that when opponents have had (minimal) success throwing against the Bulldogs, it has almost never been to Baker’s side of the field.
Baker has not allowed a touchdown pass to be scored on his man all season. When passes thrown his way, only 41.7 percent were completed, according to Pro Football Focus. He led the team with nine pass break-ups entering the Rose Bowl. The coaches did recognize him, putting him on the All-SEC second team, but other recognition has been scarce.
Remember when people asked whether Nizialek, who played the previous three years in small Ivy League stadiums, could handle the big stage?
Nizialek in the Rose Bowl: Six punts for an average of 48 yards, including a 61-yarder, and three downed inside the 20.
Nizialek in the first 13 games: An average of 44.5 yards, 22 of his 49 punts downed inside the 20.
He didn’t get make any postseason teams because the SEC was fairly loaded with punters, but Nizialek is ninth nationally in punting average. He hasn’t just had a solid season. He’s had a really good one, and it’s too bad for Georgia he’s only around for one year.
The credit for the turnaround in Georgia’s offensive line tends to go to the tackles: Wynn made first-team All-SEC and Andrew Thomas made the SEC All-Freshman team. People also cite Ben Cleveland’s insertion into the lineup after the first Auburn game.
But what about Gaillard? He was this year’s only other returning starter (along with Wynn) and made a great transition to center, where he stabilized the interior of the line, which was supposed to still be a weak point. During Week 5, when Georgia won at Tennessee, Pro Football Focus graded Gaillard out as the best offensive linemen in the nation that week.
It’s perfectly understandable why Wims didn’t make any All-SEC teams, given the stars at the position, including the guy who will line up for Alabama on Monday night. But there should be a greater appreciation for how important Wims has been to Georgia’s offense.
Wims has a team-leading 44 catches and 704 receiving yards for a team that has attempted by far the least passes in the SEC. (So imagine what his stats would be if he played for, say, Missouri.)
Not only is Wims an inviting target at 6-4 and 215 pounds, he’s sure-handed, adept at straddling the sideline, and always seems to make the jump at the right time. He did a great job holding onto the ball for a touchdown catch to put Georgia up 38-31 in the Rose Bowl, but that’s the kind of catch he’s been making all year.
Note: This isn’t to say that other players shouldn’t also get more recognition. It also assumes a decent amount of recognition has also gone to players such as D’Andre Swift, Mecole Hardman and J.R. Reed. These are just five who arguably haven’t received their due. But when you win the SEC championship and the Rose Bowl, pretty much everyone on your team is having a good year.