Georgia was on the receiving end of some positive personnel news this weekend not long after it was hit with a significant exodus of draft-eligible players.
Sunday evening, kicker Rodrigo Blankenship confirmed on his personal Twitter account that he will be returning to the Bulldogs for his senior season. Roughly an hour and a half later, teammate and safety J.R. Reed used the same social media vehicle to deliver the same message.
Reed began his collegiate career at Tulsa before transferring to UGA in June of 2016. After sitting out that season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, Reed has started 29 straight games for the Bulldogs.
This season, Reed is currently second on the team in tackles with 66.
The bespectacled Blankenship has served as the Bulldogs’ primary placekicker for each of the past three seasons. He was a semifinalist for the 2018 Lou Groza Award as part of a season in which he connected on 19-of-23 field goals and all 65 extra point attempts.
Late last week, Georgia’s top three receivers in both catches and yards — tight end Isaac Nauta, wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley — as well as its second-leading rusher, Elijah Holyfield, all announced that they would be foregoing their remaining eligibility in order to enter the April NFL draft.
Add one more Georgia Bulldog to the list of players leaving Athens early for a shot at the NFL. Running back Elijah Holyfield joined a handful of Georgia players making their decisions known Friday evening.
Holyfield shared a statement on his Twitter account to confirm he is leaving behind a year of eligibility to go to the NFL in 2019.
“I would like to take this time to officially declare for the 2019 NFL Draft,” Holyfield said in a statement on his Twitter account. “I go forward, while always reflecting on my time in Athens, knowing I will work tirelessly to make dawg nation proud.”
Holyfield was one of Georgia’s leading rushers this season with 1,018 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Together with D’Andre Swift, Georgia featured one of the top running back combos in college football this past season. Now, Swift will likely take on the lead role while Kirby Smart looks to get another running back ready to step in to
Holyfield joins receivers Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman and tight end Isaac Nauta in declaring early for the NFL Draft today.
It was a busy day of decision making for Georgia football players, and this has nothing to do with Justin Fields. Georgia’s top three receivers from the 2018 season — wide receiver Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman and tight end Isaac Nauta — all declared themselves eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft on Friday.
“I could not imagine any other program preparing me for the next step the way this one has,” Ridley said in a statement shared on his Instagram account. “Thank you to coach [Kirby Smart] and the entire phenomenal coaching staff for molding me into the athlete I am today. My experience here has been nothing less than absolutely amazing.”
“After thinking through this decision and speaking with my family and my coaches, I have decided to forgo my senior season and declare for the 2019 NFL Draft,” Nauta said in a statement on his Twitter account Friday afternoon. “I truly feel in my heart that this is the best decision for me, and I am ready to pursue another life long dream of mine, playing in the NFL.”
Joining the parade of social media statements was Hardman, who said “After much prayer and thought, my parents and I have made the decision that it is best that I forgo my final year at Georgia and enter the 2019 NFL Draft.”
Ridley was Georgia’s leading receiver with 570 yards this season and a team-high nine touchdowns. Hardman was just behind him with 532 yards and seven touchdowns on 10 fewer receptions this season. Hardman had mroe receiving yards than Ridley in 2017 with 418 yards to 218 yards as both came behind Javon Wims and Terry Godwin in the stat sheet.
Nauta was Georgia’s third-leading receiver this season with 430 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. His season was highlighted by a season-high 81 yards with a touchdown in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama when he averaged 20.25 yards per reception. Nauta had nine catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns in 2017, which was a drop from his 2016 season with 361 yards and three touchdowns.
On top of all of that news, and the idea that Justin Fields is about to officially transfer to Ohio State comes the news that Georgia is also losing another tight end to a transfer. Luke Ford is leaving Georgia for another Big Ten school, Illinois. Ford announced his decision with a statement on Twitter as well, citing the health of his grandparents as a factor in wanting to be closer to them as he moves forward.
The center of the Commonwealth of Kentucky this week was not at the Breeders’ Cup or what was happening around Rupp Arena. No, the center of the state was at Kroger Field in Lexington as the No. 9 Wildcats battled No. 6 Georgia for the SEC East title and an elusive trip to Atlanta at the beginning of the next month.
Unfortunately for the blue-clad fans giving their all, UK will need another rally if they’re to complete this Cinderella season as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 14-3 lead at halftime in a game that was very predictably dominated by the two defenses.
The Bulldogs tried to take part of the frenzied crowd out of the game early, forcing a three-and-out on defense initially and then showcasing Mecole Hardman’s speed with a 65 yard punt return that would setup their first score. That came just four plays later when Isaac Nauta hauled in a short pass from quarterback Jake Fromm, who was otherwise solid (if perhaps unspectacular) in throwing for 86.
The sophomore signal-caller was replaced in a few situations by backup Justin Fields (five yards rushing) but it was mostly the ground game that powered UGA in the half. Elijah Holyfield was the typical workhorse with 33 hard-fought yards while D’Andre Swift capped off a 57 yard effort with a remarkable 20 yard scamper into the end zone up the middle.
Though the scoreboard didn’t indicate it, Kentucky offense wasn’t too bad all things considered but did have a first quarter fumble that stymied one of their drives. Benny Snell finished with 61 yards on 17 carries and QB Terry Wilson threw for 66 yards, often seeing plenty of pressure on his dropbacks and taking two sacks as a result. Defensively, Josh Allen was once again a monster coming off the edge and recorded two fumbles to go along with a tackle for loss.
The Wildcats have trailed before at halftime and rallied several times this season so they’re not in an unfamiliar position. Of course, they haven’t been playing teams like Georgia — who are looking like they want to clinch another trip to the SEC Championship Game today and are, so far, on their way to doing just that.
No. 7 Georgia heard the question for two weeks: is the team capable of making another run at the SEC title? On Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville, the Bulldogs went a long ways to answering in the affirmative.
Kirby Smart’s squad got back to clicking on offense and forcing turnovers on defense as the Dawgs beat rival No. 9 Florida 36-17 in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and secured their status as East Division front-runner in the process.
In perhaps the most encouraging part of the game for many fans in red and black, Jake Fromm looked much more like the signal-caller who took his team to the final game of the season last year as a true freshman. The quarterback threw for 240 yards but saved his best passes for the end zone, tossing a trio of beautiful touchdowns while not turning the ball over. Jeremiah Holloman was one of the breakout stars in the game for the Georgia receiving corps, scoring twice to finish with four catches and 48 yards while leaving a few nightmares for Gators defensive backs to get over once they watch the tape next week. Tight end Isaac Nauta was also a big part of the passing game with 73 yards and several huge first downs.
While the Bulldogs had their struggles at times running the ball — including getting stuffed five times three yards away from the goal line — the two lead tailbacks still got their numbers in the end. Elijah Holyfield finished with 71 on the ground while D’Andre Swift busted out for 104 yards and iced the victory with a fourth quarter touchdown that saw him burst through the line and out run everybody on the field.
It wasn’t all bad for Florida as the team did lead in one category: unique penalties. They had one player flagged for a delay of game for not wearing pads covering his knees (which extended a UGA scoring drive) and head coach Dan Mullen wound up with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as well.
Though the final margin was rough, the Gators did have some chances but continually had to play from behind in the game thanks to turnovers. Tailback Jordan Scarlett (56 yards rushing) fumbled early in the first half and QB Feleipe Franks threw an interception on the very next series. It was all together a bit of a reversion to the mean for the UF offense overall as there was little consistency throughout the game and Franks seemed to get hit on every drop back. It was impressive that he even managed to score twice (one passing, one rushing) but that was otherwise it as the entire unit got stuck in neutral.
When all was said and done from Jacksonville though, it was Georgia that can finally claim (improbably) just their second winning streak in the series in the past two decades. While the Bulldogs still have to play at Kentucky and against Auburn, the victory should all but lock up another division title and trip to Atlanta in the process.
Whether it will all be enough when they face Alabama or LSU in December is a separate issue entirely but, at least this weekend, the Dawgs took a step in the right direction and lived up to their preseason billing by moving toward another title in the SEC East.