Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said that Terry Wilson did not practice on Monday and Tuesday. We’ve since learned that Wilson suffered a hand injury against Missouri. Saturday’s starting quarterback has not been named at the time this post was submitted to the KSR editorial staff. With that said, Saturday’s matchup vs. the Georgia Bulldogs could be Joey Gatewood’s first start. If that is the case, Gatewood will be staring down one of the best defenses in college football.
This Georgia defense is downright nasty. Long, fast, athletic, aggressive and extremely well coached, the Dawg D is experienced and presents an overabundance of challenges for the most experienced quarterbacks. A first time starter will be confronted with a heavy blitz unit that rotates future pros with future pros.
Pre-snap communication will be critical. The UGA defensive line often shifts prior to the snap, which can throw off blocking schemes and the confuse the offense’s ability to identify the Mike linebacker. Senior center Drake Jackson will be Gatewood’s go-to helper in recognizing Georgia’s pre and post-shift identity. Jackson is the SEC’s top center and will be an instrumental asset for the Wildcat quarterback.
Kirby Smart leans on an aggressive game plan. For example, Georgia blitzed a cornerback on multiple occasions against Alabama, especially when the ball was placed on the hash. This particular blitz is something that the quarterback must be aware of since the onrushing CB is an unlockable defender. Middle linebacker blitzes along with its outside counterparts bring pressure on first through third down. The Cats, or Joey Gatewood in particular, must avoid early down negative plays. Third and 8+ yards will not be a friendly scenario for the Wildcat offense.
Safeties are normally a key that a quarterback can read to determine coverage, blitzes, and so forth. Georgia will sport the best safety combination that UK has seen in 2020. All-SEC strong safety Richard LeCounte is dynamic in the run, pass, and at times pass rush. He currently leads the nation in interceptions. LeCounte is joined by free safety Lewis Cine. Cine is a hard hitting, aggressive defensive back. Pre-snap safety recognition will be a point of emphasis for Gatewood.
Georgia’s linebacker rotation has combined for over 30 quarterback hurries. The Dawgs rank second in the SEC with 13 QB sacks. Jack linebacker Azeez Ojulari is a disruptive force and has registered 6 tackles for loss, 3 QB sacks, and 13 QB hurries. Nakobi Dean adds another 7 QB hurries. Dawg linebackers frequently get after the quarterback and rapidly come down hill vs. the run. Gatewood will need to account for a varied defensive scheme on all three levels.
What does all this mean? Georgia is a tough assignment for a first time starting quarterback. Heck, Georgia is a tough draw for an experienced quarterback. The Dawg D ranks first in the SEC in Scoring and Rush defense. It’s second in total defense and has given up the least number of long scrimmage and rush plays. In other words, it’s elite. The Wildcats will need to dial up early, high percentage completions in order for Gatewood to gain confidence. Due to the personnel construction and scheme of the Georgia defense, there will be negative or lost yardage plays. Composure normally comes with experience. The Wildcat’s new starter must have a short memory.
The Georgia defense has the best defensive line, linebackers and secondary that UK has faced in 2020. Joey Gatewood will not be afforded the luxury of playing against a sure-win opponent in his first start. RPO reads will be hasty. Passing lanes will be reduced. There’s no way around it, this is an arduous matchup, however, it can also be considered a tremendous opportunity for Joey Gatewood.