ATHENS – A lot of players have had to come through for No. 1 Georgia to get to 9-0 for the first time in 35 years. But who would you say is MVP of this 2017 team so far?
It’s an easy call for me. Still, there are a lot of Bulldogs that could put up a good argument. Such as:
- Nick Chubb. The senior tailback is not having the kind of dominating individual season of which we all know he’s capable, but that’s mainly because he doesn’t have to. The Bulldogs have the luxury of distributing the load in its backfield and have been taking full advantage of it. Chubb was Georgia’s leading rusher against South Carolina with 102 yards this past Saturday, making it the fourth consecutive game the Bulldogs had a different leading rusher from one week to the next. Still, Chubb’s 20 carries were a season high for any back, he has 50 more attempts than the No. 2 rusher and he’s not only leads Georgia with 867 yards and 9 touchdowns, but he also leads the SEC at 96.3 yards per game. Chubb is also a consummate locker room leader.
- Sony Michel. Like his roommate, Chubb, Michel could easily carry a heavier load than he is. He leads all UGA running backs with a 7.9 yards-per-carry average and is tied with Chubb for the team lead with 9 TDs. That’s while getting 50 fewer carries. Michel is also strong in the locker room and has become a team spokesman for the offense. Opposing defensive coordinators would probably tell you he’s Georgia’s most dynamic offensive playmaker. NFL scouts love him.
- Terry Godwin. Talk about coming through! There were some questions about whether Godwin could fill the role as Georgia’s primary receiver this season. He has done that and then some, even while having to play with an assortment of injuries. He leads the Bulldogs in receiving yards (422), yards per catch (22.2) and touchdown catches (5), while also providing his team with stability and dependability in the returns game.
- Isaiah Wynn. Or really any one of those Georgia linemen. To me, offensive line was by far the area of greatest concern for the Bulldogs coming into 2017, with new starters at all five positions. But Wynn’s the senior leader of that group, and he was making the biggest move, from left guard out to protecting the quarterback’s blindside at left tackle. Georgia has given up only 9 sacks in 9 games, and Wynn is a big reason for that. But the Dogs also haven’t had to throw the ball a lot this season. That will be a matchup worth watching Saturday at Auburn.
- Jake Fromm: As far as I know, the Las Vegas books don’t put a number on which players might end up being MVP on their own team, but can you imagine the odds Fromm would’ve been getting at the outset of the season? Lest we forget, the true freshman quarterback from Houston County wasn’t even the starter when the season started. Nine games in, he’s perhaps the biggest reason Georgia has gone from 11th in the SEC in total offense and scoring to second this year. The most amazing part is Fromm continues to make a mockery of the game manager label that has been put on him. After Saturday’s 196-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Gamecocks, he’s now third in the nation in pass efficiency. It’s unfair to say Jacob Eason would not be having the same success had he not gotten hurt in the first game, but it is fair to wonder where the Bulldogs would be without Fromm.
- Lorenzo Carter: When it’s all said and done, Carter could be the first Bulldog off the board in next spring’s NFL draft. Scouts just love his size, speed and versatility, and he has come a thousand miles this season in terms of being a leader for Georgia, both on the field and in the locker room. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound outside linebacker from Norcross continues to get dogged his number of sacks. But he leads the team with four so far while being asked to do so much more. Pay attention when the Bulldogs are on defense to how many times Carter finds himself way outside in the flat, often lining up over a receiver or slotback. He came to Georgia as a 5-star prospect and he’s a 5-star on Georgia’s defense.
Safety Dominique Sanders, linebacker Davin Bellamy, noseguard John Atkins, tackle Trent Thompson all are deserving of any accolades they get this season, and each one is important to this team.
But the one player Georgia absolutely could do be without at this point is Roquan Smith.
The junior linebacker from tiny Montezuma, Ga., in Macon County has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Bulldogs’ “Savage Junkyard Dawg” defense and a big reason the Bulldogs are ranked fourth in the nation in total defense (254.1 ypg) and third in scoring (11.7 ppg). Smith combines of the speed of a defensive back with the size of strength and strength needed to mix up with linemen and backs inside the tackles. Smith has used those traits to lead the team in tackles (70) and tackles per game (7.8). He has also recorded 2.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 9 QB pressures and 2 passes batted down.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has utilized Smith to the fullest this season. With the Bulldogs’ formidable front commanding all of opposing offensive line’s attention, Smith is left to roam free from his Will linebacker spot in the middle of the field. Depending on the type of offensive team Georgia is facing, Tucker has Smith spy on dual-threat quarterbacks, such as Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush, or multitalented backs, such as Tennessee’s John Kelly. None of them have had much success.
But even when Smith is not actually getting in on a play, his speed and presence on the field makes a difference. Perhaps his most effective tool has been his sideline-to-sideline speed, which often turns an opponents’ perimeter play inside to the Bulldogs’ pursuit. There really has been no getting away from Smith all year.
Quiet-spoken by nature, Smith has matured considerably this season when it comes to being a team leader. He’s one of only a couple of juniors on the Bulldogs’ leadership committee.
At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, there is reason to believe Smith might’ve made a pretty good tailback. In any case, he’s an inside linebacker for the Bulldogs, and he might well be a once-a-generation player at that position. One would be well-advised to get a close look at him while you can. Based on the number of inquiries I’m hearing about Smith, his next stop after this season likely will be the NFL.
That’s why Smith is the most valuable player on the Bulldogs’ roster this season. But that’s just my take on it. What’s yours?
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