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Georgia senior receiver Lawrence Cager has no regrets about transferring to the Bulldogs earlier this year, even after a season filled with injuries. / Georgia photo by Chamberlain Smith

Lawrence Cager's one-year career as a Georgia graduate transfer receiver began with a two-catch, 41-yard performance in an opening win at Vanderbilt.

It is coming to a close with the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder residing in a wheelchair with an elevated, wrapped left ankle that is mending after surgery. Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said it's doubtful Cager will play against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's night, which would leave the Baltimore resident with only nine games played this season out of a possible 14.

Eight games is actually more accurate, given that Cager reinjured the shoulder that had been nagging him on a 6-yard catch on Georgia's fourth play from scrimmage at Auburn.

"I loved being here this season," Cager said last Saturday night in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium locker room after the 37-10 loss to LSU in the Southeastern Conference championship game. "I loved every minute of it — hurt and not hurt, or playing and not playing. I loved the fans. I loved the coaches. I loved the atmosphere.

"It's been amazing, and I wouldn't trade anything in the world for it."

Georgia had plenty of "What if?" moments during heartbreaking losses to Alabama the past two seasons, and arguably the biggest "What if?" to this Bulldogs team might be, "What if Cager had been healthy all year long?"

Had Cager not been hurt for the second half of the South Carolina game, would the Bulldogs have sustained that surprising loss? Had he not been absent these past few weeks, would quarterback Jake Fromm be heading to New Orleans with five consecutive games below 50% in accuracy?

There is no way of knowing for sure, but the Bulldogs certainly looked better offensively this year with Cager on the field.

Cager, who has amassed 33 receptions for 476 yards and four touchdowns since transferring from Miami, was not dominant out of the gate in his new locale. His coming-out party occurred Sept. 21, when he racked up five catches for 82 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown in the 23-17 win over Notre Dame, which wound up being his favorite game of the season.

"It's because of the whole atmosphere," Cager said. "Athens was insane. The stadium was insane with the lights. That had everything. It was just a great night and a great game."

The triumph over Notre Dame ignited a stretch in which Cager had at least four catches in every game he was healthy enough to play in until being forced out early at Auburn. He had a two-week stretch against Florida and Missouri in which he collected 13 catches for 225 yards and a touchdown, with 132 of those yards coming against the Gators in Jacksonville.

Cager's 132 yards were the most by a Georgia receiver in six seasons, and his 52-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter provided the Bulldogs a 24-10 lead in their eventual 24-17 win.

His absence was evident not only late against South Carolina but throughout a 21-0 win over Kentucky, a game that stayed scoreless into the third quarter. Being unable to play against LSU was magnified by the first-half suspension for George Pickens and when Dominick Blaylock tore his ACL late in the first quarter.

In fact, the more Cager played this season, the less criticism was directed at Bulldogs offensive coordinator James Coley.

"I have a biased opinion of Coach Coley," Cager said. "He did a lot for my life, and he's a great coach for me and all these guys. I know any guy in this room would go to bat for him.

"Whatever negative stuff is being said about him are people who really don't know what's going on inside of here, and he shouldn't be getting anything negative."

Cager would love to play in the Sugar Bowl, but his next appearance wearing a helmet might be in front of NFL scouts. This is a loaded class of receivers, as evidenced by the wealth of talent in the SEC alone, so Cager could be a long shot when it comes to getting drafted.

Yet he can't be discounted given his effectiveness in big games this season when healthy.

"I'm glad I came here," Cager said, "and I will remember it forever."

 

Beal to transfer

Outside linebacker Robert Beal has entered the NCAA transfer portal after playing in just five of 13 games as a redshirt sophomore this season. Beal totaled eight tackles and two quarterback hurries in games against Murray State, Arkansas State, Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia Tech, contests the Bulldogs won by at least 27 points.

The 6-4, 244-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Norcross was a borderline top-100 national signee in the 2017 class and played in 11 games last season, compiling 15 tackles.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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