In the aftermath of a successful 11-2 regular season campaign and Saturday’s awards gala, I wanted to give my perspective on the best performances of the season. The season saw a lot of great individual and team performances throughout the year, but here’s my thoughts on the best of the best:
Best Overall Performance: 11/10/12 – Georgia 38, Auburn 0
I’m sure others would say the Florida or Tech games, but for my money, the best overall team performance was the manhandling of Auburn. Yes, I know Auburn was beyond pitiful this year, but I have followed Georgia football for 40 years and have never seen a beatdown in the South’s Oldest Rivalry like this year. Coach Richt could have named the score if he had really decided he wanted to make a point and decided to call off the offense in the 3rd quarter. Coach Grantham decided he wanted to make a point and get a shutout to clinch the East. This team had other great unit performances, but this game was where we put all three facets of the game together.
Best Offensive Performance: 9/29/12 – Georgia 51, Tennessee 44
While I considered some other games for this award, I kept coming back to how we marched up and down the field against the Vols. It’s hard to break 50 with 3 turnovers. Otherwise, we likely would have shattered the 60-point barrier. Gurshall went crazy with almost 300 yards rushing and 5 TDs between them. Aaron Murray was brutally efficient with 286 passing on only 26 attempts and 2 TDs. This offense put up yards and points most of the season, but this game was the closest we got to video game statistics.
Best Defensive Performance: 10/27/12 – Georgia 17, Florida 9
We had been left for dead going to Jacksonville with a defense that had just been shredded on consecutive weeks by South Carolina and Kentucky. Shawn Williams turned the season around with his comments after the Kentucky game labeling the defense as “too soft.” This defense of future NFL prospects went to Jacksonville and locked down the #2 Florida offense with 6 turnovers, 5 sacks, and no TDs. They defended the end zone in the 1st half when Aaron Murray threw 3 picks including 2 deep in Georgia territory and in the 2nd half when Jarvis Jones stripped Jordan Reed just short of the goal line.
Permanent Captain – Shawn Williams
While other players’ on-field performances probably warrant designation of the permanent team captain, Shawn Williams lit a fire under the team before the Florida game and probably saved the season. He was the most consistent player on a secondary that struggled early. The play on the 4th and 1 to stop the Gators in the 1st half absolutely set the tone for the remainder of the Cocktail Party. I’m not sure anyone else on the defense could have said the things he said without becoming a cancer in the locker room.
Offensive Captain – Aaron Murray
I don’t think anyone could really argue with Murray as the offensive captain given everything he contributes to the program. He is the face of the program and has handled the highs and lows that come with being the quarterback at Georgia with class. He has stepped up as a true leader on the team with his work ethic, his academic success, and his on-field success. If C.J. Moseley doesn’t get a hand on the last pass of the regular season, would he have been in New York on Saturday night to pick up a piece of hardware?
Defensive Captain – Jarvis Jones
Sorry, T’eo, but the best linebacker in the college game currently lives in Athens. Jarvis Jones and Jadeveon Clowney are the two defensive players that require teams to game plan around. Jones fought through nagging injuries to be named 1st team All-America and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. More importantly, he demonstrated his willingness to step into a vocal leadership role. His performances in Missouri and Florida were Heisman-esque. We truly missed him in Lexington and almost paid the price for it.
Best Performance (Offense) – Todd Gurley (Alabama) – 23 carries, 122 yards, 2 TDs
Gurley was a beast against Alabama with over 120 yards and 2 scores, but the eye-popping statistic was that he had no negative yardage plays in 23 attempts. He was every bit as good as Lacy and Yeldon for 6o minutes as the work horse. While his performance may go down as one of the best in a losing performance in an SEC championship game, Gurley has been everything as advertised and more since Shawn Williams compared him to Trent Richardson during pre-season practice.
Best Performance (Defense) – Bacarri Rambo (Florida) – 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception
Other players this season had big games this season, but Rambo made what could have been two of the biggest defensive plays of the season with the interception at the half and the huge sack off the safety blitz. The Florida game was where the All-American finally knocked off the rust and was big difference maker throughout.
Special Teams Play of the Year – Richard Samuel IV (Missouri)
While there were a number of plays that could have qualified for this honor, Richard Samuel’s tackle of the punter on the Missouri fake punt set the tone for special teams play for most of the season. The main reason I picked this play was more of a “lifetime achievement award” for a man who put the team’s needs above his own for the last 5 years. This play will probably be the play that everyone will remember from a kid who came out as a 5-star recruit, was forced to play early when he probably should have redshirted, and then struggled to find the field for reasons outside of his control.
Best Wide Receiver – Tavarres King (39 catches, 21.7 average per catch, 8 TDs)
TK was the consistent deep threat throughout this season as he burned secondary for big plays. He probably gave himself a chance make an NFL squad next year with the sustained performance over the last couple of years stepping into the big shoes left by A.J. Green.
Best Offensive Lineman – Chris Burnette
I don’t profess to be an expert in offensive line play, but the Georgia offense seemed to move the ball more consistently with Burnette in the game at right guard. He was called on to help a true freshman at right tackle in John Theus. I think Burnette will become the lynchpin of the Georgia offensive line in 2013.
Best Defensive Lineman – John Jenkins
Jenkins is just a mountain of a man and probably could have left last year to make late first round money as a space eating nose tackle. His draft stock likely rose this year as he demonstrated his ability to play over center and to slide outside as a 3-4 defensive end. He is another guy who has been everything we thought he would be when he came to Georgia from Connecticut and junior college.
Best Linebacker – Alec Ogletree
Ogletree was the team’s leading tackler while missing 4 games due to suspension. Late in the season, he played like a man possessed and probably will be a top 10-15 pick if he decides to come out after the bowl game. Jarvis Jones is the defense’s best player, but Ogletree could be the best pro prospect on the defense because of his ability to play inside and outside. Alec has the size of an inside linebacker with the nastiness of an outside linebacker wrapped up in the athleticism of a strong safety.
Best Defensive Back – Damian Swann
Entering the season, everyone thought Swann would be the 3rd corner in the nickel package, but he beat out a senior in Branden Smith for a starting role after Sanders Commings return from suspension. His speed and athleticism are a perfect fit for the field corner position, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move to the boundary corner similar to Brandon Boykin.
Best Freshmen – John Theus & Jordan Jenkins
I’ll admit it’s hard to leave Keith Marshall out (so I’ll give him an honorable mention), but John Theus had to grow up immediately when he stepped on campus. He had issues early in the season and became a solid lineman by the end of the season and will be a stud for the next 2-3 years. Jordan Jenkins made his presence known early and often on the Georgia defense and appears to be the heir apparent for Jarvis Jones. The future is bright for these two young men.
Those are my thoughts. Feel free to share yours in the comments below.