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Post Georgia 45 – Georgia Tech 0: Pursuit of perfection

Tuesday November 30, 2021

You demanded perfection. Now, I ain’t saying that I’m perfect, ’cause I’m not. And I ain’t gonna never be. None of us are. But we have won every single game we have played till now. So this team is perfect.
Remember the Titans

For nearly two weeks, the season-ending game at Georgia Tech has seemed like a formality. Once Georgia took care of Tennessee, most Georgia fans began looking ahead to the upcoming SEC championship game. The impatience to get these last couple of games over with and get on to the postseason has been palpable. Georgia’s in-state rivalry game had all the build-up of a September guarantee game. Around the tailgate we looked forward to what we might see in the game as if we were talking about objectives for an intra-squad scrimmage: get Pickens a few reps, work on the running game, get experience for some younger players, and stay healthy.

This wasn’t the first time a Kirby Smart team was a big favorite in Atlanta or that there was little doubt about the outcome. But even those games offered some reasons to tune in. The 2017 game was part of the “Revenge Tour” series after a disappointing loss in Athens to end the 2016 season. Georgia had increased the time spent preparing for Tech’s option attack, and the payoff was a convincing 38-7 win. With dominant interior play from Malik Herring among others and ball-hawking linebackers like Roquan Smith, Georgia’s two-year project to dismantle Georgia Tech’s offense was underway. Less was expected of Tech in 2019 as they unwound from a decade of the option. Georgia though was going through a bit of an identity crisis on offense and closed the season with some low-scoring wins. With the high-flying LSU offense just ahead, the Tech game was one last chance to work out some kinks.

The difference in 2021 was the indifference. Georgia fans turned out in strong numbers to see their #1 team, but the sense of rivalry was muted. I even heard some express “pity” for the state of the Tech program before they thought better of it. The color palette of the stadium revealed the apathy of Tech fans. Assured of a three-win season and the return of their head coach, Tech fans wanted nothing to do with this game. The sarcastic cheer for Tech’s initial first down summed it up: how much energy could you put into a rivalry when it’s all you can do to move the chains?

It’s to the credit of Kirby Smart and his team that they didn’t take a perfunctory approach to this game. Instead Georgia looked focused and intent on getting better en route to the big game next week. The Bulldogs had no penalties or turnovers and allowed no points to wrap up an undefeated regular season with a 45-0 shutout win. Smart will point out that this result was far from perfect, and of course he’s correct. Tech had some (relative) success running the ball. Georgia’s interior running game continue to be hit or miss. Still, Georgia did not slop their way through this noon kickoff. Smart wanted to see the team come out strong despite the early start on a holiday weekend, and they did: Georgia scored on its first four possessions and only punted once. Tech’s first four possessions went for a total of 22 yards. Apart from the punt, the Bulldogs added points on every other possession that didn’t run out the clock. This was no contest from the start, and it didn’t look like a team that had let its focus wander.

Georgia has completed its first undefeated regular season since 1982. It’s the first time Georgia has been 12-0 since 1980. There’s still the postseason and hopefully three challenging games left to play which will influence how we end up remembering this season. It’s still worth acknowledging that the team was perfect against the schedule put in front of it, and that hasn’t happened often around here. Congratulations, Dawgs. But they’re not done yet…

I can never overlook or discount a win over Tech – the game means too much to me personally. I admit though that I was ready to have it over with. The old line in Tombstone “Get to fightin’ or get away!” felt like it applied here. Tech – from its fans to its team – had no interest in putting up a fight. That took the fun out of an historic rivalry game, and it made this just another nonconference laugher. Lest I veer towards pity for the White and Gold, Georgia still has a ways to go before it holds the longest winning streak in the series. Keep choppin’.

  • I didn’t do much of a recap last week but did mention that none of the quarterbacks really looked sharp. That wasn’t the case Saturday. Stetson Bennett did it all – the precision downfield pass to Burton, quicker passes into tight spaces, a sideline fade to Bowers in the endzone…Bennett had complete control of the offense.
  • The distribution of receptions shows the growing number of options at Bennett’s disposal in the passing game. Bennett’s 14 receptions went to 10 different receivers. Eight of those players had a reception of at least 11 yards.
  • Of course it was noteworthy that one of those receptions went to George Pickens. Georgia’s star receiver has had a long road back from a spring ACL injury, and we held our breath as he drew contact on the little swing pass that got him in the stat sheet. We’ll see how much his role can grow if not this week then into the playoff. Just seeing him out there stirred the Georgia crowd.
  • I have a half-baked theory that Bennett needs to run once or twice early to get the juices flowing. Georgia got a field goal on their opening possession, but two modest Bennett runs on the second possession started a string of three straight touchdowns. Just saying…
  • Monken’s deployment of the tight ends in the passing game isn’t just about getting them the ball. Washington and Bowers command enough attention now that they can clear out entire areas and leave receivers with at most single coverage. That’s handy with Pickens working back into the rotation. On Burton’s touchdown reception, a Bowers wheel route attracts two defenders leaving no help over the top to cover Burton. Bennett could afford to put some touch on the ball because the only defender in the area was trailing Burton.
  • One of those nagging imperfections Kirby Smart will notice is third down conversions. Georgia faced only five third downs in the game and converted just two. The Dawgs had a sub-par 25% success rate on third down which was night and day from the wizardry that occurred on first and second down. Georgia is a respectable 15th in the nation with a 45.76% conversion rate on third down for the season, and they’ve hovered around that level since the Kentucky game.
  • James Cook’s higher profile this year is going hand-in-hand with his improvement as a tailback. He’s always been a versatile player, but now he’s breaking tackles, showing patience, and gaining yards with strength. I don’t think you see him extend a run with a stiff-arm two years ago. That makes him much more than a situational utility player.
  • Back-to-back tackles for loss by Wyatt and Carter to end Tech’s modest second quarter drive. Just stifling.
  • I liked Bowers and McConkey opening up scoring plays for each other: Bowers had the key block as McConkey turned a swing pass upfield and into the endzone. Then on Bowers’s jaw-dropping touchdown sprint, McConkey created the opening to allow Bowers to explode past six Tech defenders that had him surrounded.
  • Getting Mitchell back in sync with the passing game seems like a priority this week. He was right there with McConkey earlier in the season making tough catches to extend drives. That was the lone element of the passing game that didn’t seem quite right Saturday. He is too valuable as a possession receiver for that to go uncorrected.
  • It was against a tired defense that had checked out, but here’s my weekly appreciation of how tough Edwards runs.
  • It wasn’t a busy day for the secondary, but what an impressive tackle by Dan Jackson on a short swing pass. Jackson’s sprint from the safety position to make a tackle for loss was Tindall-worthy.
  • Tech’s top two backs gaining 4 and 5 yards per carry won’t sit well. Georgia didn’t allow any explosive runs beyond 15 yards, but Tech did have several decent gains through the interior of the Georgia defense.
  • This was a slow game – Tech showed no urgency to get back in the game, and Georgia was content to take their time scoring. Each team ran only 51 plays. Georgia’s defense has only faced more than 75 plays once (@ Tennessee) since the Florida game.

Post Georgia 56 – Charleston Southern 7: A sendoff

Monday November 22, 2021

I started in on a typical recap post and quickly realized how pointless it would be to dive into such a lopsided game. Not that there weren’t some things to talk about. No quarterback really covered himself in glory. Yet another stall from the one-yard-line without the aid of defensive linemen made me wonder just what Matt Luke is doing in terms of development.

Instead I’d rather focus on the theme the team chose for the game. As Kirby Smart explained:

“I told them I wanted them to name the next chapter, because I didn’t want it to be a boring or monotonous chapter, and they said ‘sendoff.’ That was the name of the next chapter to send these guys off right, at least in Sanford Stadium.”

The starters did their job well enough: a 49-0 halftime score ensured that any and every available player would see the field. But there was no sendoff quite like this one:

Every few years we have to send off our favorites – maybe it’s a universally-loved star like Nick Chubb or maybe it’s a lesser-known reserve we got to know personally in some other way. I don’t know that anyone has ever had a sendoff quite like Jordan Davis’s farewell on Saturday. The formation shift that signaled a handoff to Davis on the goal line caused a anticipatory crowd reaction that reminded me of Todd Gurley coming out to return the kickoff against Auburn in 2014. That was a welcome bit of fan service in a game we knew would otherwise be rudimentary and without suspense.

That moment would have been a fitting curtain call for one of college football’s brightest personalities. And then this happened:

There are so many layers to this scene. Of course the fans are thrilled to show their love and appreciation to Jordan Davis. What’s noteworthy is the genuine joy and humility with which he received the adulation. It meant as much to him as it did to the Redcoats and the fans still in the stadium. His conducting is excellent – why wouldn’t it be? We’ve known about Davis’s affinity for the Redcoats since he went over to thank them after the 2000 Sugar Bowl win over Baylor. I also appreciate that Davis’s teammates shared in the moment. This team and especially this defense support one another, and they’ve all contributed to this special season.

Each time we send off our favorite players, it’s tough to imagine how they’ll ever be replaced. They usually are, and Kirby Smart is recruiting well enough that more jaw-dropping talent is surely on the way. New favorites inevitably emerge as we get to know them. I have to say though that as a former Redcoat I can’t imagine a more poignant day for a player, a school, and its fans.

Post Georgia 41 – Tennessee 17: Achievement unlocked

Wednesday November 17, 2021

Before the season I wrote that “most (all, really) of Georgia’s interesting games will happen away from Sanford Stadium.” That was wrong of course – Arkansas and Kentucky were top 10 teams when they visited Athens. Some big moments did happen on the road though. Whatever Clemson has become, that win started Georgia on the path to a perfect regular season. The Florida game was a necessary statement after last season’s loss and wrapped up the SEC East title. Georgia’s games at Auburn and Tennessee took the Bulldogs into the most hostile environments they’d see all season, and they’d face two first-year coaches looking for a high-profile win. The Auburn game was a matter-of-fact win that brought Auburn back to earth and validated Georgia’s strong start.

It’s to Josh Huepel’s credit that Tennessee, even at 5-4, had people eying this game with interest this late in the season. Tennessee handed Kentucky their lone home loss of the season. They played even with Alabama for three quarters. Wild finish aside, they were in a toss-up game with Ole Miss. The Vols weren’t the pushover they had been, and everyone seemed curious to see how Georgia’s dominant defense would handle a Tennessee offense that seemed to have wind behind it.

They handled it well. Only another meaningless late score kept the final from looking like a lot of other Georgia games this season. The offense asked the most of Stetson Bennett that it had all season, and he delivered. James Cook outscored the Tennessee team. The result wrapped up a perfect 8-0 SEC record for Georgia, its first unbeaten conference mark in nearly 40 years. The result also seemed to be the last significant roadblock between Georgia and an undefeated regular season. Georgia’s methodical push to 8-0 with no SEC opponent coming closer than 17 points suggests that even bigger accomplishments could be ahead of this team.

As I kept hearing about the challenge Georgia would face against Tennessee’s up-tempo offense, I was reminded of Gus Malzahn’s Auburn offenses. Malzahn brought his hurry-up, no-huddle offense to the SEC in 2009 as a coordinator and again in 2013 as a head coach. That didn’t mean a wide-open Air Raid scheme; Malzahn’s teams often had dominant running games. Tempo, along with a lot of pre-snap motion and window dressing, were the distinguishing features.

It always seemed to take a couple of possessions for a Georgia defense to get comfortable with Auburn’s tempo. In ten games between 2009 and 2018 with Malzahn either as coordinator or coach, Auburn scored a touchdown on their first possession six times. They got a field goal on their first possession twice. In the other two games where they didn’t score on the first possession, they still managed a first quarter touchdown. Even though Georgia took firm control of the series over the past decade, Malzahn’s tempo almost always caused problems early on until Georgia could settle in.

Josh Huepel’s offense is a bit different from Malzahn’s, and the UCF community has noticed those contrasts. If anything, Heupel places an even greater emphasis on tempo above scheme. It’s more important to get a play off and perhaps catch the defense misaligned than it is to get into an optimal play. It’s largely been effective: Tennessee has weathered a lot of turmoil and turnover during the past year and should find themselves in a bowl in Heupel’s first season. Coming into this game they had scored at least 14 first quarter points in four of their six SEC games to date (including Alabama.)

It seemed as if even the mighty Georgia defense would have problems with this offense. Tennessee’s first three possessions featured two long drives. Only a key third down stop that forced a field goal prevented the Vols from once again reaching that 14-point mark in the first quarter. Georgia had the poise and the resources to make adjustments and stopped the scoring with a dominant second quarter. Once again the defense changed the game with an interception that allowed Georgia to take the lead for good.

The Tennessee offense was just one of the challenges faced and overcome by the defense. The 70-man travel roster was strained by a flu outbreak and a rash of minor injuries. Kirby Smart and Dan Lanning had to be resourceful with their personnel. Christopher Smith slid down to star after Brini struggled, and Dan Jackson stepped in at safety. With Adam Anderson unavailable, the three interior linebackers – Walker, Tindall, and Dean – were shifted around as needed to tremendous effect. Dean tallied 11 tackles, 2 TFL, and a sack. His most impressive play might’ve been a pass breakup on which his timing and instincts were indistinguishable from those of a defensive back. Tindall had eight tackles and three sacks. He single-handedly ended a Tennessee scoring opportunity by sprinting at the Tennessee quarterback and forcing a fumble recovered by Travon Walker. Regardless of position, Georgia’s defenders made play after play to keep Tennessee off the scoreboard after their initial flurry.

With all of the focus on Tennessee’s offense, you might be excused for forgetting that Georgia would occasionally get the ball too. The Vols had given up big numbers to Pitt, Alabama, and Kentucky among others, and the nature of Tennessee’s offense put their defense back on the field for an awful lot of plays. Georgia only ran 70 plays in this game but enjoyed a five-minute possession advantage. That advantage only materialized in the second half. Tennessee had the lion’s share of possession and plays for much of the first half until Kendrick’s interception allowed Georgia to “break serve.”

The Georgia offense, like the defense, faced its own personnel challenges. The offensive line was already without Salyer. Ericson was limited by the bug going around the team. Broderick Jones and Xavier Truss filled in. It was a shaky first half for the line – Bennett was under pressure, and the running game was inconsistent. The staff made some adjustments – Bennett threw a little more than he had before, Georgia took fewer shots downfield than usual, and James Cook’s versatility came into play. Within these adjustments, though, the offense never pressed or got outside of its comfort zone. The Dawgs faced their biggest deficit of the season before the offense took the field, but the offense came up with a big answer after Tennessee’s opening salvo. Georgia had managed a total of only 10 first quarter points in their previous four games. Stetson Bennett scrambled for a key third down conversion near midfield, and James Cook finished off the drive with an explosive touchdown run. Tennessee led 10-7 after the first quarter, but the defense made sure that things never got out of hand. Once the offense settled in with 17 second quarter points, Georgia was well on their way to a win.

  • It’s incorrect to say that Stetson Bennett hasn’t grown and developed as a quarterback. That’s inevitable when you start the majority of games. He’s making fewer poor decisions and now is even keeping his head up to find open receivers when he decides to run. That said, the growing acceptance of Bennett as the starter has more to do with coming to grips with what he can and can’t do and with the realization that, on the whole, it seems to be working. I wrote last week how the available receivers and the state of the offensive line are among the many variables that tilted the scales in Bennett’s favor. Now that an offensive identity has formed and flourished around Bennett, it’s going to be tough to make a change.
  • Very glad to see Bennett slide later in the game rather than take another hit. His style of play lends itself to taking some pounding, but he should understand now that his role on the team is important enough to avoid contact when he can.
  • Kendricks’ interception was a big moment, but I think the play of the game was three plays later. Georgia faced 3rd-and-9 just outside of field goal range. Bennett got outstanding protection, stepped up into the pocket, and found McConkey open across the middle. Coming up short there would have wasted the interception and given Tennessee a big shot in the arm with the score still tied 10-10. Instead Bennett soon scrambled into the endzone on a busted play-action play. Georgia moved out in front and never looked back.
  • Georgia did have a chance to stop Tennessee before their opening drive really got going. The Dawgs forced a 3rd-and-5, but Robert Beal got caught inside and Hooker just did get past a diving Quay Walker to earn a first down.
  • The willingness of officials to call pass interference will be an important variable in the postseason. Opponents have learned that downfield shots are one of the few chances they have against this defense. We’ve seen the Georgia defensive backs be aggressive with their hands – sometimes too aggressive. Some of the calls at Tennessee were questionable, and we’d be foolish to expect the correct call every time.
  • Christopher Smith’s move to star was effective, and Dan Jackson held his own at safety. That adjustment made me think of Tykee Smith and how he might have contributed in exactly that situation.
  • Third downs remain the weakness in Bennett’s leadership of the offense. Tennessee’s defense is among the bottom 10 nationally on third downs, and Georgia struggled to take advantage. The Bulldogs were 5-for-12 on third downs against an opponent that allowed teams to convert almost 48% of third downs. Georgia did pick good moments to move the chains. I mentioned the big third down play after the interception. Bennett had two third down completions to Adonai Mitchell that sustained the back-breaking scoring drive before halftime. Bennett also had a third down scramble on Georgia’s opening scoring drive. Good things happened when Georgia converted third downs, but those conversions were infrequent enough to keep Tennessee in the game for most of the first half.
  • Cook was the offense’s star, but Mitchell had a season-high five receptions. He made some difficult catches in big moments that enabled Georgia’s long drive before halftime.
  • As shaky as the offensive line was in the first half, Georgia still ended up with 274 rushing yards and 6.7 yards per carry. Cook was the second Georgia back this year to reach 100 yards on the ground, and even Bowers added to the total with an explosive end around that we hadn’t seen since the Vanderbilt game.
  • I wondered after the Auburn game whether the Tigers were a little too quick with their decisions to go for it on fourth down. Tennessee faced a 4th and 4 from the Georgia 17 early in the third quarter down 24-10. A field goal there stops the bleeding and perhaps gets the crowd back into the game after 17 straight Georgia points. Instead the Vols came up empty and the Dawgs began a 13-play drive that sucked five minutes off the clock. Georgia’s field goal made it a three-possession game at 27-10 with less than 20 minutes remaining in the game. Field goals won’t beat Georgia, but two straight Tennessee possessions in the third quarter ended on downs, and that had to have been demoralizing.

Post Georgia 43 – Missouri 6: Slumber party

Wednesday November 10, 2021

We found out two years ago what can happen when a favored team sleepwalks into a noon game. It was one thing to get the team and fans ready for Arkansas with the unique spectacle that went along with that noon kickoff. It might have been asking a bit much to expect the same response on a chilly morning against a 40-point underdog. If this is the “get their ass ready to play” game of 2021, we’ll take it. Georgia started slowly against Missouri but quickly recovered to put the game away by halftime. The downfield passing game was key to opening this game up as Stetson Bennett connected on long passes to Arian Smith, Kenny McIntosh, and Jermaine Burton. The defense overcame some uncharacteristic mistakes to hold yet another opponent out of the endzone.

Welcome back

Georgia has reached far into its depth chart at times this season, and there has always seemed to be a “next man up.” Recruiting matter, and it has paid off when injuries or attrition hit. That attrition hit certain positions more than others, and where would this team be without Mitchell and McConkey stepping up at receiver? But those missing players were higher on the depth chart for good reasons. Georgia has had to make do without some special skill sets. Kearis Jackson came up with a big touchdown reception against Florida, and Arian Smith and Jermaine Burton had the highlights against Missouri. Kenny McIntosh, out for a few games midseason, reminded us that he might be the best receiving option out of the backfield. With Mitchell and McConkey gaining experience, Georgia is starting to develop a deep and diversified group of receivers just in time for the end of the regular season. That’s not even mentioning the tight ends…

First quarter snooze button

It seemed early in the season as if Georgia was capable of jumping on any opponent. The Dawgs established big first quarter leads on UAB, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas with an impressive shock-and-awe style. Starts have been slower in the past four games, and Georgia even trailed briefly in two of them. It’s true that the competition has been a bit tougher in October, but the difference has been stark. The Dawgs have a total of 10 first quarter points in their most recent four games (AUB-MIZ) – they had at least 10 points in the first quarter of each of the four previous games (UAB – ARK). Georgia has also needed some pivotal plays to get going in these past four games:

  • Auburn: Nakobe Dean interception
  • Kentucky: Kendall Milton’s fumble recovery
  • Florida: (waves hands at the end of the first half)
  • Missouri: Fourth down conversion and punt block

Now I’m all for complementary football and commend the team for staying patient and composed until the floodgates opened. It’s easier not to panic when you have faith that the defense is likely to keep any hole from getting too deep. A greater urgency to score early might be called for in the next game: Tennessee has put up at least 14 points in the first quarter against four of its six SEC opponents to date (including Alabama.) A few field goals aside, Georgia hasn’t had to play from behind this year. A road game at Tennessee might not be the best place to try it.

There are bigger problems than quarterback

The offensive line was in the spotlight against Missouri. Two preseason starters, Ratledge and Salyer, were unavailable. The Tigers are second-to-last nationally in rushing defense, and it’s likely that only giving up 168 yards to Georgia moved them out of dead last. It’s true that Missouri keyed on the run, and Georgia made them pay with downfield passes. But opponents stacking the box is only part of the story. The lack of a push on Georgia’s second goal line situation was dreadful. Georgia’s rushing totals were augmented by 52 yards’ worth of end arounds to Kearis Jackson and Arian Smith. In other words, the tailbacks barely cracked 100 yards against the nation’s worst rushing defense. The offensive line was right up there with the secondary in the preseason as the top concerns for the 2021 team.

Georgia is second in the nation with only 5 sacks allowed. That’s great! Is it because of outstanding protection? Is it a reflection of Bennett’s mobility? Is it because Georgia calls relatively few, but highly effective, pass plays? Does Georgia call relatively few pass plays to scheme around Bennett, the offensive line, and the depleted group of receivers? There are a lot of chicken-or-egg questions about what Georgia is doing with its offense and quarterback this year. The results are hard to argue with: Georgia is first in the SEC in offensive yards per play, and the offense is 6th nationally in SP+. Let us never underappreciate Todd Monken.

Are we focused on the wrong problems? Both Bennett and Daniels are proven against top 25 competition. The debate about which one has a better chance of leading Georgia to a title tends to reveal more about how we perceive each of them. The decision about which quarterback to play doesn’t occur in a vacuum – the quarterback is one (very important) cog in the offensive machine. This Georgia team has had to deal with a fluid roster of available receivers. It’s also had to deal with inconsistent line play. It’s fairly easy to tell when the quarterback underthrows a deep pass or throws behind a receiver. It’s often tougher to tell when and how a protection breaks down. A capable coordinator might even anticipate the weaknesses in his protection and scheme around them. Coaches have to take into account the receivers and line when crafting a game plan and deciding which quarterback might best execute that plan. I mentioned last week that the return of several top receivers lessens the burden on the quarterback to do things on his own – we saw what happens when you can get the ball to Burton, Jackson, and Smith. I’m not so sure though that the offensive line situation will change very much, and that could influence how the staff handles the quarterback position into the postseason.

  • Travon Walker got people talking immediately in 2019 when he showed up on the kick coverage team against Vanderbilt. You don’t have to add the qualifier “for a defensive lineman” when pointing out how athletic he is. He’s simply a strong, quick, and agile athlete who, as we saw against Florida, is as comfortable laying out in coverage to tip a pass as he is fighting through offensive linemen. Walker had several standout plays against Missouri. With Adam Anderson out for the foreseeable future, Walker’s role should become even bigger.
  • I was so glad to see Jermaine Burton finally get into the endzone. He nearly had three touchdowns in the game but was twice stopped a yard short in the first half. Burton got a short screen early in the third quarter and got nice downfield blocks from Jackson and Mitchell for an easy score.
  • It’s difficult to break through such a talented group of tailbacks, but Daijun Edwards sure is a tough runner and had an explosive catch out of the backfield.
  • My favorite play of the game was a simple toss to Bowers on the sideline. His defender left a big cushion, and Bowers was put in the position of having a single man to beat. A devastating stiff-arm turned a short gain into a first-and-goal.
  • Georgia has done a great job of limiting broken tackles this season, but tackling wasn’t a strong suit against Missouri. Quarterbacks were able to escape for over 70 yards on the ground – above what Georgia’s run defense typically surrenders to the entire offense in a game. Those areas are of particular interest in the next game as Tennessee has a mobile quarterback and a proven ability to turn missed tackles into big plays.
  • Noting the issues tackling and containing the quarterbacks, the defense still held Tyler Badie to 41 yards a week after he put up 254 at Vanderbilt. Missouri’s passing game was also kept in check: even with a pair of deep passes on the final drive, the Tigers threw for only 152 yards.
  • Georgia’s aggressiveness on special teams has been a difference-maker this season. You wonder if future opponents will try to take advantage of that aggressiveness with some fake punts or placekicks. Missouri’s onside kick to start the second half caught Georgia sleeping coming out of the locker room, and the Bulldogs were fortunate that a penalty bailed them out.
  • Good experience for Kamari Lassiter who was targeted on two deep passes (with two excellent catches) on Missouri’s final drive. He was in position to make the play, and breaking it up will be the next step.
  • Again the greatest drama in the game was whether Georgia would yield a meaningless late score. This wasn’t the Florida game where the starters were still in there. Georgia’s coaches left it up to the reserves, and they came through with a stop that had both the crowd and the starters on the sideline energized. Missouri had an open receiver on fourth down, but pressure forced an errant pass.
  • Between the tributes to Mark Richt and my friend Cassie Moates, that was one of the more emotional halftimes I’ve ever been through. I can’t quite say I was ready for that, and I’m glad the game was more or less in hand by that point. Richt and Moates are two members of the UGA community united by their impact on the lives of others, and the recognition of that impact was obvious on Saturday.

Post Georgia 34 – Florida 7: Role reversal

Wednesday November 3, 2021

In the 2000 Georgia-Florida game, Georgia jumped out ahead and led 17-9 in the second quarter. The Bulldogs were driving just before halftime to extend their advantage. Then Lito Sheppard happened. Florida’s star cornerback stepped in front of a Quincy Carter pass near the Florida 10 yard line and ended Georgia’s scoring opportunity. Sheppard began weaving his way back through the entire Georgia offense evading tackles before he was finally brought down near the Georgia 25. The Gators quickly scored, added the 2-point conversion, and the game was tied at halftime. Georgia never recovered. Florida controlled the second half, and the game became just another Georgia Jacksonville loss in the dark 1990-2010 period.

Saturday’s 34-7 Georgia win didn’t have much in common with that 2000 game. But I remember how deflating that Sheppard interception was. Even though the score was still tied the glimmer of hope provided by the early lead evaporated, and anyone who sat through those editions of the rivalry knew what was coming. I thought about that glimmer of hope as the second quarter unfolded Saturday. Georgia led 3-0, but Florida intercepted a poor Stetson Bennett pass and had plenty of time to put points on the board. Georgia’s offense was struggling. There was an opening.

That hope was quickly ripped away by Nolan Smith. Smith first showed strength by taking the ball from Anthony Richardson as the Gator quarterback fought for yards. Smith then showed awareness and agility by picking off a tipped pass after dropping back in coverage. Georgia capitalized on Smith’s two turnovers with immediate scores. If Florida had any hope remaining, Nakobe Dean ended it with his own interception return to close the half. Florida fans, buoyed by the 2020 win over Georgia and a close call with Alabama this year, experienced the despair of Georgia fans in 2000: they had their chance, lost it, and the dominant team in the rivalry wasn’t going to leave the door open again.

The knockout punch

I don’t blame Dan Mullen for trying to get some points at the end of the first half. It would have been a quick answer to Georgia’s outburst, and it would have given Florida a lift and a chance to bookend halftime with scoring drives to get back in the game. A coach has to recognize when it’s just not meant to be, and that moment was Adam Anderson’s sack with 17 seconds left in the half. The Gators managed about 20 yards in six plays – hardly flying down the field to set up a score. Florida completed a four-yard pass to move the chains with 30 seconds left, but Anderson and Warren Brinson got to Richardson as the clock continued to run. Rather than see the writing on the wall and let the clock run out, Mullen called timeout with 17 seconds left and about 25 yards to go for a reasonable field goal opportunity. Richardson attempted another short pass to the sideline, and Nakobe Dean was ready for it. Mullen’s desperation to get some unlikely points instead led to the coup de grâce.

Cashing in

As much as the defense took things into their own hands at the end of the first half, the offense still had to get into the endzone. Had those turnovers resulted only in field goals (or, more accurately, field goal attempts,) the game would have remained much more in reach for Florida. Worse, had Georgia stalled in place outside the Florida 30 after Nolan Smith’s interception, it could have been a shot in the arm for Florida. Georgia’s offense moved the ball in the first half but saw their earlier scoring opportunities end with two field goal attempts and Bennett’s first interception. It took two well-executed plays to finally get touchdowns. The right side of the offensive line, Ericson and McClendon, were able to get into the second level and create a clean path for James Cook. Bennett followed an inexplicable interception with one of his best tosses that led Kearis Jackson away from his defender and just inside the sideline. The combination of the turnovers and Georgia’s quick-strike scores following each takeaway is what made that sequence an emphatic statement: complementary football at its best.


Starting Stetson Bennett in this game was defensible. Kirby Smart cited continuity, and that made sense if you remember that earlier decisions about the quarterback turned out to be made at the start of game week. J.T. Daniels might have been in great shape as Florida week went on, but during the bye week he was still working back into form. I was glad to see Bennett lead the team to a win in Jacksonville after the way the 2020 game turned. Bennett though didn’t do much in the game to have a permanent claim on the starting job. Of course the touchdown pass to Jackson was excellent. That’s what’s expected of the quarterback.

Bennett deserves credit for several plays on which he ran the ball, and there’s no question that Daniels wouldn’t have had the same results. Bennett’s improvisation after a botched handoff and a big gain after eluding Brenton Cox were special plays, and those moments make it compelling to leave him as the starter. Bennett’s mobility matters for two reasons: first is the attrition at receiver. Todd Monken’s offense is efficient at distributing balls to backs and receivers. But as those positions have taken losses this season, more of the playmaking responsibility has fallen on the quarterback. As Burton, Jackson, Smith, and possibly even Pickens return to the offense, you’d want the ball in their hands more often. We also have to consider that the offensive line still isn’t exceptional in pass protection. We don’t see it because Bennett’s mobility has kept more plays alive than someone else might, and Monken is able to scheme around that. It’s been our habit this season to visualize the offense with all of the pieces healthy and functioning, but Bennett has made it work with this group of receivers and this level of play from the line.

Again, the quarterback question is most glaring on third down when you’re more often to see obvious passing situations. Georgia was 4-for-9 on third down in this game after going 2-for-7 against Kentucky. Only one of those conversions came in the first half – that was a nice bit of creativity by Bennett to find Cook to move the chains. Two of the conversions were running plays on 3rd-and-2 or less. The fourth conversion was a designed Bennett run on 3rd-and-7 that showcased Bennett’s mobility. Georgia’s three offensive touchdowns all came on explosive first down plays. In other words, this wasn’t a game that added much to the “Third and Grantham” file. Others have mentioned Georgia’s low play total over the past two games. The opponents have had some long drives of their own, but Georgia’s difficulty keeping drives alive on third down also is a factor. It can’t be all boom or bust.

There’s no use predicting what will happen with the position going forward. Many expected Daniels to start or at least play at Florida. That expectation will continue week to week. There’s little doubt that Bennett can lead the team through the regular season. The implication is and always has been that the team will need a higher-performing offense in the postseason.

  • The end of the first half changed the game, but it was important to force a three-and-out to start the third quarter. Florida trailed Alabama 21-3 and later 28-16 before nearly coming back to win. They trailed LSU 21-6 in the first half and 35-21 in the second half before tying the game. The Gators were used to taking early punches but had shown the firepower to bounce back. Georgia’s stop to start the half let everyone know that they weren’t to give any ground back.
  • There are countless ways to look at the final three minutes of the first half, but I’m stuck on the versatility of the players on defense. Smith’s strip and recovery was a great individual play but came from his base position – an outside linebacker making contact near the line of scrimmage. But then Smith and Travon Walker dropped back in pass coverage to force the second turnover. Walker, a defensive end, dropped into the middle linebacker’s spot and laid out like a world-class goalkeeper to tip the pass. Smith, playing even further back, was essentially lined up as a star on the play. Nakobe Dean made his interception lined up as a cornerback on a running back that was split out wide. These elite defenders can be moved around such that there’s an answer for nearly any scheme or personnel group an offense might show.
  • Is it OK to suggest that Todd Grantham had a decent plan? Yes, Florida still had issues defending the same counter run that LSU exploited. Florida had less success with its pressure than you might expect, but Bennett’s movement had something to do with that. Still, Georgia didn’t have a touchdown drive that started on their own end, generated just three points for most of both halves, and turned it over three times. That might have been enough to make things interesting if Florida weren’t facing Georgia’s defense.
  • Our old nemesis, the wheel route, bit Georgia once early when Nolan Smith got crossed up. But that was the extent of the damage from that play and Florida’s gadget plays. Georgia’s defenders were in place and prepared for nearly everything.
  • Georgia’s last two opponents have been able to sustain long, late drives against largely the starting defense. It didn’t matter against Kentucky or Florida, but you can anticipate Georgia needing a late stop in the postseason (as in the 2018 SEC championship game.) The defense hasn’t really come up big in those moments since the Clemson game. They very well might not be tested again during the regular season, but it would be nice to see some scoreless fourth quarters.
  • It took the longest run of the season to get there, but congratulations to Zamir White for the first 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Georgia’s tailback rotation makes it difficult for any one back to rack up big stats. The Bulldogs had two 100-yard rushers at Missouri last season, and the Tigers are even worse against the run this year. We’ll see if White can pass the century mark again this week and if any of his fellow tailbacks can join him.

Post Georgia 30 – Kentucky 13: Cracking a tough nut

Wednesday October 20, 2021

When the 2021 schedule came out, it didn’t seem to be an impressive home slate. Big rivalry games against Clemson, Auburn, Tennessee, and Florida would occur away from Athens. There were no home nonconference games against P5 schools, and the SEC home opponents weren’t teams that typically moved the needle much. I never would have expected this home schedule to produce two top-11 matchups, two visits from ESPN’s Gameday, and the game that would likely decide the SEC East. Saturday’s showdown against Kentucky was far from the usual sleepy Homecoming cupcake. It was the national CBS game and significant enough in the SEC and national title pictures to draw both the ESPN and SEC Network preview shows. The winner would lead the SEC East and essentially have a two-game edge with the tiebreaker in hand. All this on a gorgeous and breezy fall day in Athens – not bad for a subpar home schedule.

Kentucky wasn’t nearly as flustered by the setting as Arkansas was. The Wildcats are an experienced, disciplined, well-coached team, and they were prepared for the moment. One of the SEC’s most turnover-prone teams didn’t cough it up once. Of course they had their penalties, missed assignments, and poor execution – this is a college football team. But they were composed enough that they weren’t going to hand the game – or the SEC East title – to Georgia. On the other hand, it would have taken a near-perfect game for Kentucky to have a chance. Georgia, with its relative talent advantage, controlled both lines of scrimmage, monopolized explosive plays, and played a fairly clean game itself.

The Wildcats brought in Liam Coen from the Los Angeles Rams during the offseason to rework an offense that had lacked much of a passing threat in recent seasons. Coen had worked alongside the Rams’ Sean McVay and brought in several elements popular among the NFL’s more successful offenses. Of course Kentucky doesn’t have a Cooper Kupp at tight end or some of the other elite players that make NFL offenses work, but some of the concepts we saw from Kentucky should look familiar – even Georgia and Todd Monken have incorporated these concepts in Georgia’s own offensive makeover. The Wildcats used a heavy dose of play-action and screens to get away from Georgia’s decisive advantage on the interior. They used pre-snap motion and snapped the ball quickly out of the huddle to give Georgia less time to align its defense. They got 13 touches for dynamic receiver Wan’Dale Robinson.

Kentucky emptied the playbook, and that creativity has been a big part of their 6-0 start and #11 ranking. They have the pieces and the scheme to beat most teams. It even frustrated Georgia once or twice. Kentucky was better than 50% (11-21) on third and fourth downs, and Kentucky was able to sustain drives of 9, 13, and 22 plays that alone took around 22 minutes of game time. Kirby Smart noted the defense’s difficulty getting off the field.

A defense as sound as Georgia’s didn’t waver. While Kentucky did hit some screens and put together a couple of drives, Georgia’s defenders were content to keep the action in front of them. Wildcat quarterback Will Levis completed 32 of 42 passes, but he didn’t crack 200 yards passing or 5 yards per attempt. Play-action passes and screens can often go for big yardage, but Kentucky had no gains longer than 16 yards. Wan’Dale Robinson’s 13 touches netted 45 yards. As usual Georgia controlled the line of scrimmage and bottled up the run. Kentucky managed just 51 rushing yards, and SEC leading rusher Chris Rodriguez was held to just seven yards. Forced to move the ball in small chunks, all it took was the occasional lost yardage play to derail things. Davis, Wyatt, and Carter were more than willing to provide those negative plays.

The Flip Side of Third Down

Georgia was a weak 29% (2-for-7) on third down and only converted one third down in each half. Nearly all of the game’s big plays and scores came on first or second down. The lone exception was a third down touchdown pass to Cook to open the second quarter. Georgia’s only other third down conversion was a one-yard run by Zamir White that needed a generous spot to move the chains. As the staff considers its options at quarterback, success on third down seems to be the biggest point in J.T. Daniels’ favor. After the South Carolina game Georgia was fifth in the nation with a 58% third down conversion rate. They’ve since slid down to 23rd with a 46.4% conversion rate. Certainly playing three ranked SEC teams during that stretch has helped bring the numbers down. There’s also something to be said for the nature of third down – play-action becomes less-effective and, as Daniels puts it, third down becomes more about “pure drop-back passing.”

That’s not a big deal when you’re flying downfield moving the chains on four consecutive first downs as Georgia did on its second touchdown drive Saturday. The best way to make the third down conversation moot is to avoid them in the first place. Georgia didn’t fare particularly well on third downs in this game, but they only faced seven of them. Better efficiency on early downs makes the offense less predictable, and that unlocks the play-action and RPOs that make this offense hum.

  • I know everyone’s mentioned it, but Kendall Milton’s awareness to jump on a fumble deserves as much attention as we can give it. The recovery led to James Cook’s touchdown on the next play, but it was more than that. A turnover in a scoreless game after a few empty drives would have been the most frustrating start for the offense since Clemson. Would Georgia have tightened up?
  • I have a theory that Stetson Bennett needs a good QB run to get going. He had a rough start with two unproductive first quarter drives and a fumble. On Georgia’s second scoring drive Bennett followed Kendall Milton’s 35-yard run with a 17-yard keeper of his own. The Bulldog offense kicked into gear and put up points on four of its next six drives.
  • Bennett only completed 14 passes, but three of them were for touchdowns. He finished with an outstanding 12.5 yards per attempt. Once he settled in during the second and third quarters, Georgia was able to put tremendous pressure on Kentucky to keep up. Bennett even chipped in with a block on McConkey’s reverse.
  • It’s astounding that Georgia can have a successful downfield passing attack (nearly 18 yards per completion) with only four completions going to wide receivers. Mitchell and McConkey have emerged as dependable receivers, but the game belonged to the tight ends. Bowers, Washington, and FitzPatrick had 8 of the team’s 14 receptions, and each had a reception of at least 20 yards.
  • Those tight end passes weren’t just wide-open RPOs into the seam, either. Three of Bennett’s better throws came to tight ends along the sideline. FitzPatrick’s reception was a perfectly placed ball in a very tight window. As Gary Danielson pointed out, Bennett recognized the lack of safety support on Bowers’ first touchdown, and the throw just had to be placed well enough to allow Bowers to use his speed and size to beat the single-coverage mismatch. I’m not quite finished marveling over the second Bowers touchdown. In the stadium I was already bemoaning the missed opportunity while the ball was in the air because Bennett threw a ball that was going to hit Bowers in the back of the head.
  • Cook and McIntosh are usually the backs most involved in the passing game, but Zamir White showed that he’s not just a between-the-tackle power back. Isolated one-on-one with a defender, White made a great move to avoid the tackle and got upfield for a 15-yard gain.
  • Georgia will get some receivers back from the injured list soon, but they’ll have to earn back playing time over Mitchell and McConkey. The freshmen receivers have been making the catches, sure, but they’re also becoming complete players. McConkey, even at his size, has thrown some nice blocks.
  • Nakobe Dean’s effort to blow up a screen at the end of the third quarter likely saved a touchdown. It also showed how the defense adapted to what Kentucky was trying to do on offense. Georgia was definitely burned by a screen or two, but there’s just too much talent and football intelligence on the Georgia defense
  • Say one thing for Kentucky quarterback Will Levis – he has some strong hands. Georgia’s been on the wrong side now of two borderline fumble calls on sacks, and I have no idea how Levis held onto the ball when Kelee Ringo crashed in on a corner blitz.
  • If there’s a knock on the Georgia defense, it’s that they’ve only generated one turnover in the past three games – Dean’s interception of a tipped Auburn pass. Georgia created nine takeaways in September and one since, and they couldn’t take advantage of Kentucky’s propensity to turn it over. It seems unreasonable to ask more of this defense, but this is an area worth watching.

Post Georgia 34 – Auburn 10: Tranquility

Wednesday October 13, 2021

Composure was a big part of the story in Georgia’s shutout of Arkansas. A spirited home crowd affected an Arkansas team playing its first true road game, and Georgia was in control 21-0 before Arkansas got a first down. The trip to Auburn flipped the script – it was time for Georgia’s composure to be tested. You heard it all week – the first true road game for Georgia since 2019. For the majority of the team, including Stetson Bennett, it was their first true road game – period. You got constant reminders of 2013 and the strange things that seem to happen on trips to Jordan-Hare. Georgia’s last two games at Auburn were a decisive loss in 2017 and a near-collapse in 2019. Georgia fans were confident that they had the better team, but there was always that unease lurking about playing…over there.

Georgia did indeed face some adversity. The Bulldogs entered the game even more shorthanded than expected. Auburn took the opening kickoff down the field, dropped a sure touchdown pass, and Georgia trailed for the first time this season. Later in the first half two senior starters, OT Jamaree Salyer and S Christopher Smith, went out with injuries. Auburn’s offense proved difficult to get off the field in the middle of the game with three straight long drives into Georgia’s end of the field, and a third quarter touchdown got the home crowd back into the game.

Georgia’s responses – as a team and individually – were impressive. Nakobe Dean’s diving interception of another tipped pass helped Georgia answer Auburn’s initial score. With one exception Georgia’s defense was able to stiffen and keep Auburn out of the endzone, even forcing two turnovers on downs. Broderick Jones and Dan Jackson stepped up to replace Salyer and Smith and played far more snaps than they’re used to. Georgia answered Auburn’s lone touchdown with a field goal drive that served to quiet the crowd and extend the lead back to three possessions. In almost every instance, Georgia kept its composure. The Bulldogs, in one of the SEC’s toughest environments, were only penalized three times.

That composure started with the quarterback. Stetson Bennett had played before limited crowds in Jacksonville, Charlotte, and Tuscaloosa, but this was his first time leading Georgia into a sold-out rival’s stadium. Bennett started slowly but avoided any costly mistakes, and he began to come to life on Georgia’s third possession. A nicely-placed 33-yard strike to Brock Bowers moved the ball into Auburn territory. He scrambled for a 10-yard gain and drew a targeting penalty to set up an easy Zamir White plunge from the 1. Bennett finished 14 of 21 for 231 yards – 11 yards per pass attempt. Big gains through the air to Bowers, Washington, and McConkey helped to build the lead before the ground game took over late.

Georgia will face a different kind of composure test now. They’ve earned the program’s first AP #1 ranking since 2008. It’s a bit silly to think that Georgia hasn’t had pressure on them or a target on their back until now. They’ve been a top 5 team, SEC East favorite, and playoff contender since the preseason. Maybe there’s something a little different about moving up one spot, and the frenzy around two decisive upcoming SEC East games will only add to the noise. So far the team has been able to maintain an even keel, and the focus on a standard – especially on the defense – has been something to behold. The stakes only go up from here.

  • We’re halfway through the season now. Georgia will face its two toughest remaining regular season opponents within three weeks, and the SEC East could be all but wrapped up by the end of the month. After the Clemson game I wrote, “The vision we all have is that the offense will round into better form as key players return from injury…The idea of a high-performing offense can’t depend on the promise of a certain player or players returning at an unspecified time at a given level of fitness. Georgia must work with what it has.” Even as injured players are cleared, we’ve seen that they’re often out of game shape and sometimes it’s best to work them back slowly. The contributions of Mitchell, McConkey, and Bowers have been invaluable to getting Georgia to this point, and of course Bennett has been a lifesaver. They’ll have to keep it up. The window for contributions from returning injured players during this pivotal stretch is narrow and closing.
  • It’s a habit I fall into often – talking about Bennett as if he’s still the former walk-on who came in off the bench at Arkansas last September. It does a disservice to the tremendous amount of work he’s put into his game. His decisions are better, he’s more poised, and there’s no element of the offense that’s off the table when he’s in the game. I still believe there’s a different level with Daniels leading the offense, but I also have great appreciation for Bennett’s growth.
  • While we’re on quarterbacks: Bennett was able to keep going after the targeting hit, but I wondered how Georgia would have proceeded if Bennett had to come out there. Beck made the trip of course, and Daniels was dressed out. At that point in the game, Georgia’s lead was only 10-3.
  • Bennett was sacked just once, and that was on an awkward rollout to the left against his natural throwing motion. He generally had excellent protection even after Salyer went out.
  • The stats tell us that Georgia finished with over 200 yards rushing, but the ground game took some time to get going. Georgia was outrushed in the first half (50 yards to 36), and Auburn had three tackles for loss. In fact, Auburn finished the half with more first downs than Georgia thanks to Auburn’s late drive just before halftime. Georgia was a paltry 1-5 on third down in the opening half.
  • Things improved for Georgia’s rushing offense in the second half. They came out intent on running the ball and set up a scoring opportunity. That success on the ground set up an easy deep shot to McConkey as defenders began to key on the run. Auburn had zero tackles for loss in the second half, and Georgia was a much better 4-8 on third down. Georgia’s tailback rotation, even without McIntosh, was able to stay fresh and rack up yards against a tiring defense.
  • There was a sense that Bo Nix would either do the improbable or implode. He did neither. He was an inefficient 21-38 aided by dropped passes. Even his interception came on a tipped pass that probably should have been caught. He did get bailed out of some poor decisions and was fortunate to escape with an intentional grounding call on Auburn’s opening drive. Nix had his moments of maddening escapability including one before halftime that led Dean and Carter to collide and take themselves out of the play. Nix is good enough to make a play or two even against Georgia’s defense, but the Bulldogs did well to contain him: Nix finished with negative rushing yardage due to four Georgia sacks and had no scramble longer than nine yards.
  • I credit Auburn’s coaches for a reasonably good plan against Georgia’s defense. They were able to move the ball, and dropped passes by open receivers are issues of execution and not scheme or gameplan. Georgia had a role in ending many of those drives, and Georgia’s pressure might’ve forced some throws to be less accurate or with more pace than Nix might’ve liked. Auburn was going to struggle with its running game largely held in check. There were still more than a couple of times when you sense that Georgia’s defense dodged a bullet.
  • I get Auburn’s decisions to go for it at the end of some of their longer drives. You’re not often going to pull the upset with field goals. But a couple of field goals from a capable kicker could have tightened the score and kept the crowd engaged, and Auburn’s third quarter touchdown would have made it a one-possession game. Coming up empty so many times, especially before halftime, had to be a little demoralizing.
  • Mitchell and McConkey made fantastic moves on their routes on two key receptions. McConkey broke open on his first long catch on a stop-and-go move. Mitchell’s cuts in close quarters at the goal line against an experienced cornerback were deadly – as good as it gets. Georgia’s coaches have done well to get these young receivers, not to mention Bowers, performing at a high level.
  • I mentioned Broderick Jones earlier. He’s gained experience as a reserve this season, but he really seemed to benefit from additional playing time with the first unit. That’s not to say the offense didn’t miss Salyer, but it might give coaches confidence to give Jones more playing time and adjust the line as needed.
  • The 24-point win was the biggest Georgia win in Auburn since a 38-0 shutout in 2012. That was a Georgia team that finished on the cusp of a national title, and Auburn’s squad had packed it in at the end of the Gene Chizik era. Auburn was on the other side of a coaching transition this time, but Georgia again looks to be a title contender. Georgia has taken control of the series with 14 wins over the past 17 meetings – a fact that is both delightful and absurd to any Georgia fan who grew up with memories of this series in the 80s and 90s.

Post Georgia 37 – Arkansas 0: Saturday noon’s all right

Wednesday October 6, 2021

Any Georgia fan should recognize “physicality” and “composure” as two touchstones of Kirby Smart’s program. Since he took over as head coach, we’ve heard those terms over and over. Occasionally we’ll get games that remind us why those attributes are so important to Georgia’s success.

Arkansas got off to an impressive 4-0 start behind a physical style of play worthy of their head coach. Sam Pittman’s troops bullied Texas with 333 rushing yards and beat the Longhorns into the ground in the second half. The Arkansas defense was the aggressor in their upset of Texas A&M. They tallied three sacks, eight QB pressures, and nine tackles for loss out of Barry Odom’s disciplined and stingy scheme. The expectation was for Georgia’s toughest and most physical test yet in this young season.

Georgia passed the test. Its offensive and defensive lines dominated the game. The Arkansas ground game was held to 75 yards. The explosive downfield passing game with which Arkansas had done so much damage this year was stymied: KJ Jefferson entered the game second nationally in yards per attempt. Georgia limited him to a meager 5.4 yards per pass attempt. Other teams hadn’t been able to exploit Arkansas’s 3-2-6 defensive scheme on the ground, but Georgia was able to run the ball consistently. It’s true that a scheme so light on numbers up front might invite teams to run the ball, but the Razorbacks had been effective stuffing the run and getting pressure out of their base look. Georgia’s offensive line played one of its better games of the season, and blocking across the board was improved. Stetson Bennett kept the ball on the game’s first play, and Ladd McConkey made a key block on the outside to ensure a respectable gain.

Kirby Smart also understood how composure would affect this game. He knew the noon kickoff could be a disadvantage and began campaigning for an engaged crowd as soon as the Vanderbilt game ended. Georgia fans heeded the constant calls to be early and vocal, and that made a difference in the game. Arkansas, in their first true road game, weren’t composed and yielded two false start penalties and a sack on their first possession. Georgia, aided by the crowd, was able to jump on the Razorbacks and led 21-0 before Arkansas managed a first down. Whatever game plans were in place went out the window from that point. Arkansas had to play catch-up, and Georgia was content to keep it on the ground and maintain possession while incrementally adding another 16 points over the final three quarters.

Smart’s exhortation to Georgia fans was aided by the presence of ESPN’s Gameday and top broadcast crew. The network did everything it could to create a big-game environment for a noon kickoff. The final hour of Gameday took place inside the west endzone pavilion, and the early-arriving crowd provided a fantastic backdrop for the show. ESPN wisely incorporated parts of the Georgia pregame into the final minutes of Gameday, the Redcoat Band sounded terrific as mics picked up their sound, and Gameday flowed right into the broadcast as the Georgia team took the field. For all of the downsides of a noon kickoff, a national audience was led right into an extremely impressive quarter of football. It couldn’t have gone better for Georgia – a dominant performance and six straight hours of coverage during one of the busier football Saturdays of the season. ESPN had to be encouraged with the results. As they take over the CBS contract in a few years, you wonder if they’re going to continue to explore the possibilities of Gameday, the SEC, and the noon ESPN time slot.

  • The highlight of the day seems to be Jalen Carter’s roadgrading of three Arkansas defenders on Kendall Milton’s touchdown run. We’ve seen that formation before with Carter and Jordan Davis added to provide extra bulk in the jumbo package. Last season Carter caught a touchdown pass against Tennessee out of that same fullback position. The formation hasn’t always been as successful as we think it ought to be – just a week ago Georgia was stuffed on a fourth down run at Vanderbilt. Even against Arkansas the highlight play was in trouble. Carter had to block three defenders because Owen Condon managed to block no one at all leaving a lot of cleanup work to do. Carter got more than his share, and Van Pran-Granger got in the way of outstanding Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool just long enough to allow Milton to score.
  • The other highlight was Dan Jackson’s punt block and Zamir White’s recovery. It was a single spontaneous moment like Bacarri Rambo’s interception return against Auburn in 2011 where the Sanford Stadium crowd lost its mind. I love the plays where you can see it unfolding with nothing to be done about it. Jackson, rather than turning upfield to set up the punt return, sprinted into the hole in the Arkansas blocking scheme and was untouched. The only question was whether the ball would go out of the back of the endzone, but it rolled sideways and White quickly scooped it up.
  • Other than the punt block, it was another mixed performance for special teams. Camarda’s returnable kickoffs weren’t part of the plan at Vanderbilt and might not have been intended against Arkansas, but again the opponent paid dearly. The poor field position after Georgia’s first two kickoffs primed the Georgia defense and led to the punt block and short field position on Georgia’s second touchdown. Georgia had difficulties lining up correctly on its own punts, and another penalty on a punt return took away favorable field position.
  • Podlesney is settling into the season after a shaky start. The game afforded him three field goal attempts, some from distance, and he knocked all of them through.
  • It feels repetitive gushing over the same defenders week after week, but in most other seasons these plays would make the video board. Jordan Davis tracked down an SEC tailback. Devonte Wyatt earned Player of the Week honors. Dean was a menace in the backfield. Georgia’s front seven kept Jefferson bottled up.
  • The front seven is so consistently good, but the performance of the secondary can’t be overlooked. Ringo and Kendrick have locked down the cornerback spots. Arkansas had been a big-play offense thanks to long downfield completions, but the longest Arkansas receptions were 22, 19, and 18 yards. Treylon Burks had 9 catches, 294 yards, and 2 touchdowns in the previous two Arkansas games. Georgia defenders held him to 10 yards on three receptions despite Burks lining up all over the field in an attempt to get him the ball. Several Georgia sacks and pressures were aided by great coverage downfield – no one was open. As this area gains experience and adds in talented depth like Tykee Smith, one of Georgia’s biggest preseason concerns fades away. We’ll continue to see teams try the downfield shots with which South Carolina had some occasional success, but that success has been much tougher to come by in the last two games.
  • The most successful Arkansas play needed several uncharacteristic missed tackles by Georgia defenders. That play was followed by a long option keeper by Jefferson fortunately called back on an unnecessary Arkansas penalty. The Dawgs didn’t have many more lapses after that sequence, but it’s likely those plays will be used this week by the coaches as reminders to maintain focus.
  • Georgia’s approach to the rest of the game became clear when the offense took possession at the end of the first half with over two minutes remaining and a full complement of timeouts. The Bulldogs ran the ball six straight times, were in no rush, and drained the clock. Georgia added 13 points on three scoring drives in the second half, but they were long and deliberate drives. Georgia wasn’t going to push tempo or take shots downfield – why would they?
  • Georgia didn’t limit the offense because of Stetson Bennett – we’ve seen him play enough to know better. But a forced pass to Bowers in the second quarter might have been a signal to the coaches to shut it down. The play looked like the one that resulted in Bowers’s second touchdown at Vanderbilt, but it was well-covered by Arkansas. The throw was also behind Bowers and probably should have been intercepted.
  • Bennett started the game on fire though. His first completion to McConkey was thrown to the perfect spot in the umbrella coverage Arkansas favored. A later out-route to McConkey set up a touchdown. The jewel though was the wheel route to McIntosh that led to Georgia’s second score. The 27-yard reception was over a third of Georgia’s passing yardage for the game.
  • The tailbacks split the load, and a 24-yard gain in the second quarter helped make Cook the leading rusher. I was impressed with White’s physicality – he was tough to bring down on the first drive, delivered a big hit on his fourth down conversion, and seemed to relish contact. His determination to get into the endzone for a late touchdown was a highlight of the second half.

Post Georgia 62 – Vanderbilt 0: Play ’em all

Wednesday September 29, 2021

SEC rules allow teams to travel 70 players to road games. 68 of Georgia’s 70 saw action in Saturday’s 62-0 demolition of Vanderbilt. The roster sheet my wife brought had a harder workout than several of Georgia’s starters. The only available Bulldogs who didn’t play? Tailback Kendall Milton was reportedly nursing a banged-up shoulder. He was dressed and went through warmups, but there was no need to risk injury. Georgia brought four quarterbacks, but Brock Vandagriff didn’t enter the game. Apparently Carson Beck needed experience handing off.

There’s not much you can take from a game between a very good team and a very, very overmatched one – even by typical Vanderbilt standards. Games like this one are the reason coaches harp on playing to a standard. Did Georgia approach the game the right way? Did they execute well? I’m sure the staff will find coaching points even from this film, but largely the answers were “yes.” Georgia came out sharp for an 11AM local kickoff, took immediate control of the game, and didn’t allow Vanderbilt to muddy the outcome while emptying the bench. Georgia did what it was supposed to, sure, but it was even more impressive than the astronomical 35-point spread led us to expect.

The first quarter was a symphony of offense, defense, and special teams working together to produce 35 points. Vanderbilt didn’t manage a first down until Georgia had scored five touchdowns. The unrelenting defense, a Christopher Smith interception, and a Daijun Edwards fumble return on a kickoff set Georgia’s starting offense up with outstanding field position. Three of Georgia’s early scoring drives started in plus territory, and it wasn’t until Georgia’s fifth possession that the Bulldogs had to drive more than 70 yards. J.T. Daniels was locked in and completed 8 of 9 passes with a single drop to take advantage of the favorable field position. Georgia’s diversified offense scored on a pass to the tight end, a tight end jet sweep, a reverse to a receiver, a power run at the goal line, and a well-placed fade to the back of the endzone. That was enough for Daniels: he exited the game after the first quarter, and the pipeline of backups started flowing into the game.

Vanderbilt’s 77 total yards is a tidy way to sum up the Georgia defense’s afternoon. What impressed me more is that only 27 of those yards came after halftime. Georgia played every defender that boarded the plane, and the reserves maintained the level of play. Vanderbilt didn’t manage a second half first down until their final series of the game. It’s easy to lose focus after such a decisive start, and that might’ve happened towards the end of the first quarter. Vanderbilt’s backup quarterback Mike Wright got Robert Beal in the air with a pump fake and scrambled away as Tramel Walthour was caught inside. Combined with a personal foul against Jalen Carter and Vanderbilt had their biggest gain of the day to move inside of Georgia territory. Wright had another successful run on a 3rd and 8 where Georgia defenders bit on a fake toss and left a lane up the middle. Georgia’s defense quickly refocused. Wright tried a few more fake tosses and option plays and was stuffed, and the Commodores had no other play longer than 10 yards.

There was no statement to be made in this game. We know Georgia’s defense is excellent, and they showed us again. J.T. Daniels proved that his injury wasn’t a big deal against South Carolina, and he again looked to be in complete command of the offense. Brock Bowers has been showing out since the Clemson game. Perhaps the continued emergence of Adonai Mitchell and Ladd McConkey is noteworthy. But once Georgia made it clear that they weren’t going to mess around and make this a close game, the only statement that could be made was about Georgia’s overwhelming talent advantage up and down the bench.

  • The 2006 Vanderbilt win in Athens was the weekend I picked to propose to my future bride. Jalen Carter must have a similar unpleasant memory of Vanderbilt from earlier in his life. I don’t know what they did to hurt him, but he definitely got some anger out. I never saw what drew his personal foul in person or on the replay, but it couldn’t have been much worse than what he was doing the rest of the game.
  • Kelee Ringo has come a long way in just four games. He was in position for several pass break-ups without the contact that drew flags against Clemson. He doesn’t seem likely to give up his starting spot.
  • As impressive as Ringo was early on, Kamari Lassiter was all over the field in the second half. His play (and interception) had a lot to do with Vanderbilt’s meager second half yardage. With Jalen Kimber out for the season, Lassiter will be one of the first defensive backs off the bench.
  • So happy for Robert Beal. He decided to return to the team rather than transfer, and he’s seeing valuable minutes off the bench among a very deep group of players. His hard hit on special teams led to Vanderbilt’s kick return fumble, and he recorded Georgia’s lone sack of the game.
  • With Georgia already well out in front at that point, I was hoping Daijun Edwards would get a carry to finish off his fumble return. He nearly dragged the entire Vanderbilt kick return unit with him to the four yard line.
  • Jake Camarda picked a good day for an off day. Punting from one’s own endzone is a different animal – the main job is to just get the punt off – but neither of his late punts had his usual distance. Kickoffs were a similar story. I wondered if the coaches might just be working on kick coverage, but Kirby Smart’s postgame comments made it clear that the shorter kickoffs weren’t intentional.
  • That said, Vanderbilt’s kick returns were horror shows. The yardage they lost by not simply taking a fair catch on every kick might approach their offense’s total yardage gained.
  • It was good for Stetson Bennett to get two solid drives to start the second half. Georgia moved the ball in the second quarter but came up empty in the red zone. Bennett’s interception was the third of three straight passes that could have been picked. The first drew a pass interference flag, but Cook was open underneath. The second pass was a quick receiver screen, but FitzPatrick missed a block that nearly allowed a defender to step in front of the pass.
  • I credit Vandy’s Clark Lea with not attempting a cheap field goal at the end to deny Georgia a shutout. He essentially conceded the game with a draw on 4th-and-long. His team was simply overmatched. Lea has a tough job ahead of him, but it’s where he wants to be.
  • The crowd was overwhelmingly red of course, and Vanderbilt’s only presence was the ridiculously loud video board. But some pregame showers, the 11 AM local kickoff time, and Georgia’s early onslaught made for a fairly subdued crowd. Perhaps the loudest moment of the game came on Vanderbilt’s final fourth down attempt as the remaining crowd stirred to life to cheer on Georgia’s reserve defenders.

Post Georgia 40 – South Carolina 13: A return to fun

Thursday September 23, 2021

Two years ago South Carolina beat Georgia in a shocking overtime upset in front of a sleepy noon Sanford Stadium crowd. Kirby Smart took responsibility, admitting that he didn’t do a good job of “getting (their) ass ready to play.” South Carolina only mustered one touchdown on offense and had to finish the game with their third-string quarterback. It was enough though – Georgia turnovers, including a pick-six at the end of the first half, and the stagnant 2019 Georgia offense made it an uphill fight just to send the game into overtime. The story of the game and, as it turned out, the season was the evaporation of explosive plays from the Georgia offense. The big plays, especially in the running game, that had come to define Georgia in 2017 and 2018, all but vanished. So it was in Georgia’s lone regular season loss: “South Carolina more or less hit only one big play in the game – their lone offensive touchdown – and that was enough to finish with a better explosiveness metric (IsoPPP) than Georgia.”

All of the elements of the 2019 loss – a sluggish team, the sleepy crowd, and an inexplosive offense – were nowhere to be found in the 2021 rematch. Georgia’s focus was clear with precise scoring drives on the team’s first two possessions. Both of those scores came on explosive plays: James Cook ripped off the team’s longest run of the season, and J.T. Daniels found Jermaine Burton open deep. Daniels added another deep scoring toss to Adonai Mitchell, and Georgia’s offense was able to pack it in by the middle of the third quarter.

It wasn’t billed as a marquee game expected to be full of drama, and it didn’t become one. Georgia was favored by 30+ points and nearly covered. Often that’s a recipe for a lot of empty seats that clear out early on. But the combination of a night game and the first SEC game in front of an unrestricted Sanford Stadium crowd since November of 2019 led to the kind of engaged and raucous home crowd you’d expect for a game against Auburn or LSU. Most of all, it was fun. Of course it’s easy to let loose when the outcome isn’t in doubt, but that was only part of it. Big scoring plays are fun. A suffocating and athletic defense is fun, and it’s easy to make noise for a defense that has a pretty good shot at making your jaw drop. Fans even entertained themselves during long television timeouts. There might’ve been a few eyerolls at the wave going around the stadium in the second half, but both the team and the crowd were having fun. You couldn’t really say that during the tight mudfights that defined many 2019 home games. The limited crowds of 2020 could only do so much. It was probably the most enjoyable home game since Georgia broke the Tech option at the end of 2018.

I was glad to see so many stuck around to light up Sanford. For the 2019 Notre Dame game, the lights and the spectacle were the story. This time the spectacle was the backdrop to the party on the field and in the stands. Exuberance over simply being back had a lot to do with it, but that would have faded quickly had the game settled into 2019-style trench warfare. The team gave the fans plenty to cheer about, and the fans appreciated and recognized a team with a chance to do something special.

Cleanup crew

So much has been said about Georgia’s defense this season (and deservedly so!) that I just want to focus on one area: resiliency. We saw it in the opener against Clemson. Clemson’s best starting field position came from two Georgia turnovers, and the Tigers could do nothing with it. Even the series following Daniels’ interception that left the Tigers in field goal range went backwards. The first half of the South Carolina game also tested the defense’s resiliency. They were caught unprepared during a substitution and gave up a big early pass play. A Stetson Bennett interception gave the Gamecocks the ball in the red zone. Georgia wasn’t especially good getting off the field on third downs. But they didn’t allow one mistake to become another. Field goals weren’t going to keep South Carolina in the game.

Two minutes of “WTF?!?”

It’s tough to explain either team’s approach at the end of the first half. Georgia seemed content to run out the clock with three straight running plays despite good field position and a full complement of timeouts. South Carolina could have taken a nice defensive stop and a two-score game into the locker room set to receive the second half kickoff. Shane Beamer called timeout to get possession of the ball with under a minute left and no other timeouts remaining. Jake Camarda once again executed a perfect punt, and Ameer Speed downed it inches from the goal line. That might’ve been a clue for South Carolina to cut their losses, but the coaching staff doubled down by trying to hit a big play from the endzone. Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis charged through the line to blow up the play, and Nolan Smith prevented the quarterback from reaching the ball back across the goal line. A decent kick return after the safety reignited the Georgia offense, and the Dawgs managed the final 30 seconds well to set up a field goal. Podlesny was able to knock through a confidence-building attempt, and Georgia extended their lead with five points in the final minute of the half. Any edge South Carolina might’ve had with Georgia stalling at the end of the half was gone, and Georgia picked right back up after halftime by generating two turnovers and short field touchdowns to blow the game open.

  • Third downs played a big role in the game. South Carolina came into the game among the nation’s leaders in third down defense. Yes, the level of competition has to be considered, but only giving up two conversions through two games is still impressive. Georgia had few problems moving the chains: the Dawgs were 9-for-12 on third down. That mattered most on Georgia’s third scoring drive. They converted three third downs in the series, and all three were six yards or longer. The first conversion was Kearis Jackson’s first reception of the season. Hed showed some nice veteran skill to understand exactly how many yards he needed.
  • Third downs were one of the few shortcomings of the Georgia defense. South Carolina converted nearly 50%, and it was on Kirby Smart’s mind as he went into halftime. Two of South Carolina’s longer first half pass plays came on third and long.
  • Those long gains through the air were about the only negatives to take from the game. Georgia’s defensive backs had done well through two games, but their performance – especially isolated in man coverage – was a top preseason concern. We can expect teams to continue to test that coverage – if they have the time for those plays to develop.
  • On the other hand, lateral plays to stretch this defense just don’t work. South Carolina tried a QB keep on their first snap. Nolan Smith snuffed it out for a two-yard gain. Another QB keep following Bennett’s interception might’ve scored against many teams. Nakobe Dean sprinted over to make the stop. We’ve all see what Channing Tindall does against these plays. There’s just too much speed up front. If anyone is going to get this defense, it’s going to have to be vertically.
  • Nolan Smith *and* Adam Anderson are having their Lorenzo Carter seasons. Two top prospects have developed into dangerous every-down players after a couple of years learning the ropes.
  • If anything slowed down Georgia’s fast start, it was the decision to pull a red-hot J.T. Daniels for the third series. I have nothing but good things to say about Bennett and what he did against UAB, but any non-medical reason to sit Daniels at that point just doesn’t make sense. Georgia’s offense only had one other touchdown drive in the half after the substitution, and it took the safety to really kickstart things again.
  • Daniels of course was fantastic and demonstrated a great understanding of his receivers by hitting the deep passes in stride. If he had some off moments, it was on the “Bennett plays” that had him roll out and throw on the run. A rollout near Georgia’s goal line on which he threw back across his body was especially awkward.
  • It wasn’t quite the showcase for the running game that we saw in Columbia last season, but the Georgia rushing attack continues to come along. 184 yards, however they come, isn’t a bad day at the office. Cook finished off the first drive with a patient explosive run. White turned Kendrick’s interception into points with a pair of powerful blasts up the middle. Milton emerged as the team’s leading rusher. The success is still inconsistent, and that goes along with an offensive line that’s still in progress. We had wondered if this stretch of games would allow the team to experiment to find more effective line combinations, but there doesn’t seem to be a shakeup coming.
  • Does the emergence of Brock Bowers explain some of Georgia’s downfield passing success? Many of Todd Monken’s plays involve options at different levels, and Bowers has given life to the intermediate passing game. Add in some credible play-action, and defensive backs have a lot to think about. Do they cheat up on the run, do they pay attention to Bowers – Georgia’s leading receiver, or do they keep an eye on the receivers streaking downfield? Reminder – Darnell Washington is about to be added to the mix.
  • Downfield blocking also seems to be coming along. Cook had a few more successful plays to the outside thanks to solid blocking. A needless penalty on Robinson wiped out one of the better Cook plays. If Georgia can prove to be dangerous in the short screen or underneath passes, it opens up yet another level of options for Monken.
  • G-Day hype is a running joke among Georgia fans, but Adonai Mitchell might be the exception. Besides the highlight of the long touchdown reception, he also made several tough possession-type catches to sustain drives. That’s a fairly complete skill set just three games into his college career. Not many have benefitted more from early enrollment and the return of a complete offseason program.
  • South Carolina’s Kevin Harris was the SEC’s leading rusher in 2020. Georgia held him to 31 yards and under 2 yards per carry. South Carolina had a single run over 10 yards. No team has had much success running on Georgia yet, but that strength will be tested soon. After Vanderbilt, Georgia heads into a three-game stretch against some physical and explosive backs.

Post Georgia 10 – Clemson 3: You are enough

Thursday September 9, 2021

Finding explosiveness from a limited arsenal

The disappearance of explosive plays from Georgia’s offense became a big story in 2019 and was a large contributor to the offense’s fade. This was from my writeup of the 2019 Notre Dame win:

(Fromm) was 11-12 in the first half. He also had 59 yards passing at halftime – a subpar 4.9 yards per attempt. Of Georgia’s 11 completed passes in the first half, only two went for more than 10 yards. 5 of the 11 – nearly half – went for 3 yards or less.

Sound familiar? J.T. Daniels’ 4.5 yards per attempt and 135 yards against Clemson might have been a troubling callback to 2019 for Georgia fans eager to see an offense capable of competing in the shootouts that have come to define high-level college football. Saturday’s win more closely resembled the defensive struggles of the 2010 era. When you’re trying to scratch out a win over a perennial playoff participant, you play to your strengths. For Georgia those strengths were a dominant defensive front and a running game tough enough to control field position and close out the contest.

In 2019 an inexperienced group of receivers and an unimaginative offensive system allowed defenses to pack the line of scrimmage without consequences. Receiver personnel reared its head again in Charlotte. Injuries have gutted the Georgia receiving corps leaving several of its more experienced and proven members sidelined. Clemson didn’t have to stack the line – a unit with Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy doesn’t need to. The Tigers were able to sag in coverage, give Georgia short-yardage plays, and take away explosive plays.

When you lack explosive plays, you have to string together a lot of plays to sustain drives and end up with points. That increases the chances of something going wrong. Georgia’s offense was effective in one regard – they usually weren’t too quick to exit the field. The easiest way (other than a turnover) to handicap a high-performing defense is to keep putting them back on the field. Georgia managed only two three-and-outs in the game and had four drives of 8+ plays. Yes, more points need to come from those drives, and shorter drives are fine if they involve high-EPA plays that lead to points. In this game it was significant that the defense was able to stay fresh. Take a game like Auburn 2019: Georgia’s defense started well en route to a 21-0 lead. But 5 of 6 second half Georgia possessions were three-and-out, and a gassed defense had to hold on for dear life until Travon Walker’s game-ending sack.

I’m more convinced that the lack of output had much more to do with injuries and personnel than gameplan or creativity. Daniels was sacked early in the fourth quarter as Van Pran and Ericson left Myles Murphy unblocked. Had the play developed, McConkey was breaking open down the sideline on a wheel route, and Daniels was clearly winding up to deliver the knockout blow. It was a clever play marred by execution on the line. The plays are there. Will the players be?

The vision we all have is that the offense will round into better form as key players return from injury and the offensive line finds its optimal lineup. That assumes though that there are no further injuries or that those who do return will be back at peak performance. Ratledge’s injury reminds us that injuries will continue to be a fact of life throughout the season. Kirby Smart pointed out that Jermaine Burton, one of the seemingly healthy receivers with some experience, missed quite a bit of practice time dealing with his own injuries. That’s kind of what I was getting at with this post – just because we see someone out there and cleared doesn’t mean that they’re in top shape and able to perform how we remember them performing. I’m sure we all have expectations for how Blaylock or even Washington will look once they return to the offense. It might be wiser to accept things as they are and ask how more production can be coaxed out of the players that are available. The idea of a high-performing offense can’t depend on the promise of a certain player or players returning at an unspecified time at a given level of fitness. Georgia must work with what it has.

Several things can be true:

  1. Clemson returned a lot of talent from the defense rated #8 by SP+ last season.
  2. Georgia was missing several key receivers and had to reshuffle the offensive line early in the game.
  3. Those who did play had some costly execution errors that prevented bigger plays or longer drives.

Georgia will face many good defenses this year but it should be a while until they see a unit as complete and talented as Clemson’s. The return of the injured receivers is out of anyone’s control. What is in the team’s control is the execution of those who see the field. Kirby Smart has explained time and again the role of perimeter and downfield blocking in turning decent gains into explosive plays. That need won’t change regardless of who’s available, and the output we expect from Georgia’s offense depends on it.

The defense – the beautiful defense

The defense’s strength starts up front, and it’s telling that sacks and pressures were distributed among nearly every position – defensive tackles, ends, inside linebackers, and outside linebackers. Dan Lanning made optimal use of the athleticism and experience of his front seven. The source of pressure from play to play was unpredictable, and those not involved in pressure dropped back into locations that made reads difficult. Even those, like Wyatt, who didn’t record a sack were active batting down passes and making sure Clemson didn’t establish any kind of running threat.

If there was a standout among a unit that itself was a standout, it was Jordan Davis. It’s often enough for defensive linemen to occupy lanes and let linebackers make the tackles. Davis cut out the middleman and recorded two tackles for loss and a sack of his own. On other plays, his penetration led to someone else’s stat. To me Davis’s most impressive play might’ve been tracking down the Clemson quarterback on a delayed read. Davis fought through the line and had the agility to change directions to bring the quarterback down from behind. Those are plays we see linebackers or defensive ends make.

The linebackers made sure they wouldn’t be overshadowed by the defensive line. Nearly all of them came up big. Nolan Smith started strong with a physical pass rush that led to a sack. Channing Tindall’s speed made you gasp as he sprinted to make a cross-field tackle and made it clear that going wide wasn’t an effective counter to Georgia’s inside domination. Nakobe Dean’s constant presence in the backfield and relentless blitzing up the middle reminded me of the adjustments Georgia made in the Rose Bowl. People have wondered whether Dean’s junior season would resemble Roquan Smith’s stellar 2017. The way Dean was used in this game won’t slow those comparisons.

It wasn’t a surprise – maybe more of a relief – to see the line and linebackers play as well as they did. That was the expectation with so much returning talent and experience. It was a different story for the secondary. The attrition from the 2020 squad left Georgia’s defensive backfield with enough uncertainty to raise questions whether it would hold back the potential of the defense. Georgia fans have to be pleased with what we saw from the group. Clemson had a single explosive pass play, but Georgia’s defense largely kept the action in front of it and tackled well to prevent short gains from becoming something bigger. There was an expectation that the front seven would help the secondary, but in this game it went both ways. Several of Georgia’s sacks and pressures took time to develop, aided by solid coverage downfield.

There were some pass interference calls – Ringo in particular panicked and nearly tackled his receiver on a pass unlikely to be caught in bounds. Those were mistakes of aggression and sometimes 15 yards is preferable to giving up a long pass play. Only a few times was a defensive back simply beaten. Kendrick bit on an inside move and gave up the longest pass play of the game on a third down.

Georgia’s defense was magnificent in a way that looks sustainable week to week. Speed, talent, awareness, athleticism, and all of the other attributes that stood out don’t depend on the opponent. It’s not the best plan to lean on the defense that much – just a single blown coverage can change the game and give the opponent all it needs.

  • Other than Christopher Smith’s textbook pick-six, the defense’s biggest moment followed Daniels’ interception. Georgia followed a short gain with two sacks to take Clemson out of field goal range and take away any momentum Clemson might have gained from the turnover. Georgia turnovers twice gave Clemson a short field, and the Tigers were able to do nothing with their best field position.
  • The anticipation to see Gilbert and Washington on the field overshadowed another impressive spring performer: Brock Bowers. Bowers had a standout debut as Georgia’s reception leader and was trusted to block against a top-quality defensive front. He made his share of mistakes, but that was a high-pressure environment in which to debut, and he handled it.
  • The knock on Latavious Brini has been speed keeping up with slot receivers. His coverage skills shone in the short-yardage red zone area where speed becomes less of a factor. He made consecutive pass breakups in the end zone and, most importantly, did so cleanly without drawing a flag.
  • Zamir White left no doubt as to his alpha status as the back you want closing out a game. There was something special though about the few times Kendall Milton got loose.
  • Jake Camarda was a highlight of a so-so special teams unit. Consistency had been the only thing holding him back, and each of his punts was a positive for Georgia. Five of six punts landed inside the Clemson 20, and he did well to get his last punt off when Clemson applied pressure. Camarda enabled Georgia to establish and maintain a decisive field position advantage.
  • Arian Smith and the other gunners were key to downing those punts. Smith had time to visit the concession stand before the ball arrived.
  • Other special teams – less so. Podlesny’s missed 36-yard FG wasn’t close. Tough to fault Milton for getting hit on the bounce while he was engaged with a block, but there could be better communication to clear the area. I understand why you’d want a hobbled but sure-handed Jackson fielding punts, but he didn’t present much of a threat in the return game when field position meant so much.
  • Limited tight end depth meant that offensive tackle Xavier Truss was called into a service as an extra blocker.
  • The player perhaps hurt most by Georgia’s perimeter blocking woes was James Cook. He is most valuable getting into space and is a frequent target on sweeps and screens. Too often there was a defender waiting to meet him.
  • J.T. Daniels wasn’t asked to do much, and he didn’t. The defense bailed him out on the interception. Another pass to Bowers in the back of the endzone into tight coverage made you hold your breath. A third-down completion before the missed field goal might have gone for more yards had the pass been more accurate. It wasn’t a bad game, but it also wasn’t a statement game that kicked off a Heisman campaign. The usual outlets can shelve those pieces now. Winning the game was the important thing, and Daniels largely stayed upright with quick, short passes before the Clemson pass rush got home.
  • So much of the pregame conversation had to do with the stakes in the game and its playoff implications. It was assumed that either team could take a loss and still control its own fate by winning out. I’m not so sure that’s the case for Clemson. It’s likely they won’t face another ranked team during the regular season. They desperately need to face a highly-ranked opponent in the ACC championship, but a North Carolina loss on Friday hurt those chances. With a 12-1 record and no wins over ranked teams, Clemson’s resume will be on par with better G5 teams rather than other P5 champions.

Post 21 questions for the 2021 Georgia football season

Friday September 3, 2021

The 2021 offseason has had its moments. Injuries have affected the depth chart both in the short term and long term. The transfer portal giveth and taketh away. Players may now be paid for their name, likeness, and image, and many are learning how to juggle those obligations with their usual coursework and team responsibilities. But compared with 2020 when the season itself was in doubt, Georgia’s past eight months have been about as steady as can be expected.

The narratives are clear: Georgia is a consensus top five team behind a fearsome front seven on defense, a deep pool of tailbacks, and an established starting quarterback. Clemson and Florida stand out as the toughest games on the schedule, but the Bulldogs are once again overwhelming favorites to win the SEC East. That’s the baseline expectation. Whether they can take an additional step and win the SEC or return to the playoff is much less clear.

1) Will we have a normal season? We looked forward to the 2021 season as a return to normality, tailgating, and full stadiums. That seemed a given as recently as the early summer. We enter the season with cases spiking and hospitals strained across the SEC footprint – constant reminders that the pandemic is still very much ongoing. Vaccinations fortunately have made the risk calculations different from a year ago. Plans and attendance policies for a normal season remain unchanged, but anecdotally some fans are reconsidering attendance and travel plans. Ticket demand for certain games hasn’t been strong, and there could be a number of reasons ranging from the quality of games to economic factors to health concerns to pleasant memories of a 2020 season spent on the couch. Teams will face an updated set of rules in 2021 in terms of testing, quarantine, and distinctions for those who were vaccinated. We shouldn’t see the wholesale cancellation and postponement of games we saw a year ago, but will we see any team have to forfeit a game because they are unable to field a squad?

2) Do we appreciate how different things are this year? Georgia’s quarterback stability is night and day from a year ago. Without an organized spring and offseason, a new offensive coordinator had to install an offense with a new starting quarterback. Then that quarterback opted out just before the season. His replacement wasn’t up to the job. The heralded transfer wasn’t ready yet. Georgia had to turn to a former walk-on, and he performed well enough to keep Georgia in contention in the SEC East. Now Georgia has a returning starting quarterback, a returning coordinator, and a complete offseason and spring. That’s no guarantee for success, but it’s also less likely that we’ll see the desperate grasping at straws that shocked us all at Arkansas a year ago. There’s no reason not to be ready.

3) Does Georgia have its elite quarterback? After Georgia beat Clemson in 2014, the fortunes of the two programs diverged. The two paths can roughly be traced to quarterback play. We saw the debut of Deshaun Watson in that 2014 game, and the Tigers have produced two first-round QBs since with each having a solid 2-3 years at the helm. After 2015 Georgia improved its QB recruiting, but production has been hit-or-miss as two top-rated prospects transferred out. The story of college football over the past couple of years has been quarterbacks putting up stunning numbers in creative and aggressive offenses. J.T. Daniels showed enough in a handful of games in 2020 to give hope that Georgia finally had its guy – and a system in which he can shine.

4) Do we underrate Georgia’s areas of concern? By this point we’ve heard it all. Yes, receivers are banged up. Yes, the offensive line is in flux. Yes, Georgia lacks experienced depth in the secondary. Once we internalize all that, it’s easy to move on to the next thing to worry about. We knew that receivers and tight ends were depleted entering 2019, but we didn’t figure that the passing game would all but disappear as the season wore on. The quarterback position should have been a bigger red flag in 2020, and we were banking on big improvement from Jamie Newman for no reason in particular. Sometimes a weakness really is a weakness, and there’s no need to dig much deeper than that when they show up in games.

5) What stats will tell the story in 2021? The decline of the offense in 2019 showed up most clearly in the explosiveness numbers. On the other side of the ball, havoc rate has become the calling card of disruptive defenses. This year we can add two stats: net yards per play (YPP) and expected points added (EPA). YPP is simple – how many yards are you gaining (or giving up) per play? If you want to compete for a national title, it had better average out to around +2.5 YPP. EPA is a little more complex, but it attempts to assign a point value to every play. Big plays get you closer to scoring points, so they have higher EPA values. A one-yard run (or worse, a lost-yardage play) is going to have a tiny (or negative!) EPA value. Is the defense as effective with an overhauled secondary? Is Monken succeeding at opening up Georgia’s offense? Tracking these two stats and comparing them against Georgia’s peers should give us some answers.

6) How many offensive line combinations will we see? Clemson has one of the best defensive fronts in the nation, so it’s unlikely that Georgia will use an untested player at a critical position like left tackle. But Georgia’s optimal lineup might have Jamaree Salyer inside, and there are capable – though inexperienced – tackles in the pipeline. An injury to center Warren Ericson has opened the door for Sedrick Van Pran. After the Clemson opener Georgia has about a month of games that afford experimentation and evaluation.

7) How useful is tailback depth? No question – Georgia is loaded at tailback. That was the case last season, and now a healthy Kendall Milton is added to the mix. The problem is that you can only play one at a time – usually. That will help to limit wear-and-tear, but it also creates challenges – or opportunities – for coaches to get the most effective players on to the field. At the same time, depth can create a temptation to pull a player on a roll. The depth and versatility of Georgia’s tailbacks will be a test of creativity. We saw Cook score on a long pass at Alabama lined up wide. Others have strengths in the passing game. Most of us are anticipating a more open offense this year and go right to Daniels and the receivers, but the depth, experience, and talent at the tailback position has to make this group essential to Georgia’s 2021 plans.

8) Can anyone replace George Pickens? Georgia has talent at receiver. Jackson is an underrated veteran. Burton had an impact freshman season. Smith has explosive speed. Mitchell opened eyes during spring. Fingers are crossed for Blaylock’s eventual return. None might be as individually gifted as Pickens was, but collectively most roles can be filled. There are options for speed, size, hands, and possession. Many have had the complete offseason to work with Daniels and Monken, and the timing of the injury to Pickens at least gave the team time to prepare without him.

9) What should we expect from the tight ends? The promise of watching teams defend Darnell Washington and Arik Gilbert at the same time was a huge tease. Washington could and likely will contribute, but it could be October before that happens. We saw a good dose of 12 personnel in the spring game, and it was enticing to see Todd Monken deploy multiple tight ends. The absence of Gilbert could open things up for Brock Bowers who had an impressive spring. Bowers, like Gilbert, could line up wide and still give Monken some different options using 12 personnel. Fortunately John FitzPatrick returns from a preseason injury to give the position some veteran stability, and Brett Seither is due to contribute. I don’t anticipate Monken putting this position on the shelf while we wait for Washington to heal.

10) Can Jordan Davis stay healthy? His return for a senior season was a huge boost to Georgia’s defensive front. If you look at some of Georgia’s tougher losses of the past three years (Texas 2018, South Carolina 2019, and Florida 2020), Davis was on the sidelines. That’s not to say that Davis’s presence would have meant a Georgia win, but Georgia has only lost two regular season games (LSU 2018, Alabama 2020) in three seasons when Davis played.

11) Can Adam Anderson become a three-down player? Does he need to? A big part of Azeez Ojulari’s ascent into the first round a year ago had to do with his development into a player Georgia wanted on the field in most any situation. Georgia’s depth along the defensive front is impressive, but there are still times when you just want your best 11 out there. Anderson has made a name as a pass rush specialist lining up all over the formation, and the preseason hype has been dizzying with possibilities for Anderson to contribute everywhere from a hand-down pass rusher to star. It reminds me somewhat of people dreaming up ways to use James Cook on offense. Anderson’s athleticism and potential are staggering, but he’ll be most valuable for Georgia (and at the next level) if he, like Ojulari, can find a role that keeps him on the field.

12) Is Devonte Wyatt underrated? Jordan Davis deservedly gets a ton of attention as the anchor of Georgia’s defensive front, but Wyatt’s decision to return for a 5th year established Georgia’s line as one of the nation’s best. His combination of speed and size makes him a difficult challenge for offensive lines and forces offenses to pick their poison when it comes to double-teaming he or Davis. You’ll often see Wyatt described as “disruptive”, though learning to control his athletic gifts and aggressiveness will be what makes his senior season special.

13) Is Nakobe Dean set to take off? Dean has been an impact player since his arrival in Athens, but he’s now drawing national attention. Many have pointed out that Roquan Smith didn’t become a superstar until his junior season. Dean spent much of 2020 playing through a torn labrum but was still one of Georgia’s defensive leaders. In good health and with a dominant defensive line in front of him, Dean has both the talent and the environment in which to follow Roquan’s meteoric rise.

14) Who will lead the secondary? Georgia missed the experience of Richard LeCounte following his midseason injury in 2020. Christopher Smith was thrust into a larger role in the absence of LeCounte, and he and fellow safety Lewis Cine are two of the more veteran members of the secondary. Both starting cornerbacks could be newcomers – Kelee Ringo and Derion Kendrick. Georgia has had that steadying influence in the defensive backfield since J.R. Reed stepped up in 2017, and LeCounte inherited that role last season. Now it will likely turn to Cine and Smith to see the big picture and captain the unit on the field. Don’t forget that the defensive backs also have a new position coach. Communication, confidence in assignments, and quick adjustments will have to be sorted out before the season kicks off.

15) Can Jake Camarda find consistency? Georgia’s punting has been in the upper third of the SEC in both average and net punting yardage for the past two seasons. The one thing though that’s plagued Jake Camarda has been the untimely shank. We’ve seen it as recently as the last game against Cincinnati – a 4-yard punt in the first quarter gave Cincinnati possession on Georgia’s 42-yard line, and that favorable field position led to the game’s first touchdown. We know what Camarda is capable of, but eliminating those costly shanked punts should be the next step in his development.

16) Will Kearis Jackson break a kick return? He’s been close: Jackson had a kickoff return of 56 yards and a punt return of 52 yards in 2020. His decision to return certainly helps Georgia’s receiving corps, but a dependable veteran return man is invaluable in special teams.

17) Will Georgia have to deal with hostile crowds? Most (all, really) of Georgia’s interesting games will happen away from Sanford Stadium. We know all about Clemson, and no one will overlook the Florida game. Yes, there were some fans in the stands last season, but less than half the team has played in front of a packed SEC crowd. I’m of the belief that Georgia would have had a much tougher time pulling out the 2020 Arkansas game in front of a full hostile crowd. Even J.T. Daniels, who played for USC at Texas in 2018, will get a new experience in Charlotte. One game where the road crowd might make the matchup more interesting is at Auburn. Of course they’re rebuilding under a new head coach, but they’re not Tennessee. Georgia hasn’t had an easy time at Jordan-Hare since 2012.

18) Is there any possibility of a slip-up at home? You never say never after the 2019 South Carolina game, but Georgia should be heavy, heavy favorites in its home games. South Carolina is in disarray. Arkansas overachieved in Pittman’s first year and will be pressed just to get back to that level. Kentucky is the best team on Georgia’s home schedule, and there’s always a chance of a Homecoming sleeper after a trip to Auburn. Missouri is always a wildcard and should be improved in Year 2 of a new coach. That game comes on the heels of an emotional game in Jacksonville that could decide the SEC East. Don’t sleep on UAB – they got votes in preseason polls. Navigating the weak home schedule will be a test of focus.

19) What or who will be the unexpected story of 2021? No question that Stetson Bennett was the story of 2020. He saved Georgia at Arkansas and then led the Bulldogs to convincing wins over two rivals. Yes, he didn’t have enough to lead Georgia to a division title and was eventually supplanted, but he wasn’t even considered part of the plan leading up to the season. In 2019, transfer WR Lawrence Cager emerged as Jake Fromm’s favorite target in big wins against Notre Dame and Florida. Georgia doesn’t have a ton of uncertainties in 2021, but there are still opportunities for players to step into the spotlight. The defensive backfield is an obvious area waiting for someone (or several someones!) to emerge. A young receiver could have the impact Jermaine Burton had a year ago. Hopefully the surprises in 2021 are fortuitous ones.

20) Will Georgia have a swagger? We remember how the 2017 team became a machine that used the “revenge tour” motivation to steamroll its rivals en route to a conference title. Even that team didn’t find its legs until the Mississippi State game. The team had to come to terms with the loss of its starting quarterback and survived the trip to Notre Dame by the narrowest of margins. The flea-flicker to start the MSU game showed a bit of brashness and confidence in a freshman quarterback, and the team never looked back. I’m not saying the 2021 team needs a trick play to get going. The team should be more confident this season with a more stable quarterback situation, and the quarterback often sets the tone for a team’s identity (see Burrow or Lawrence or Mayfield). It will miss the edge a player like Pickens brings. That confidence needs to be in place from the start – Georgia has the talent to compete with Clemson or anyone, but there has to be the belief that they can win these games.

21) Should there be a greater sense of urgency? I agree with Kirby Smart that it’s more a question of “when” and not “if” Georgia reaches the top. That outlook is reassuring, but it can also serve to take the focus off the present. We remember Smart saying after the national title game that “Georgia isn’t going anywhere.” He was right – Georgia has remained a top 10 program, recruited well, and has lost just four regular season games since 2017. But Georgia also hasn’t won a conference title or returned to the CFB playoff since. For that “if” to become “when”, a lot of things need to go right within a season, and Smart will need to find ways to get the most from the talent he has recruited. It’s comforting that all of the eggs aren’t in the 2021 basket just as they weren’t in 2018, 2019, or 2020. But there are reasons why those years didn’t become “the year.” If 2021 is going to have a different outcome, Georgia will have to avoid the missteps that sank recent seasons. Overhauling the offense after 2019 showed a willingness to change and improve, and we’ve yet to realize the payoff from that evolution. It might not happen in 2021, but we should also admit that there are very few reasons why it shouldn’t.

Post Are you hurt or are you injured?

Sunday August 29, 2021

It’s trite and obvious to point out that injuries will affect a team. Most of us remember the horror of October 2013 as a slew of injuries derailed a team flying high after wins over South Carolina and LSU. Most often, though, we think about those injuries in binary terms: is a player available or out? After 2-3 (or 4-6) weeks, they’ll be back. In worse cases, they’re out for the year.

Georgia’s a little banged up right now, and that makes them just like most any other program during preseason camp. Tykee Smith and Darnell Washington have joined a list that includes several receivers and starting center Warren Ericson. Many of these players will return in time for the opener; game week has strong healing powers. Others, like Smith, Washington, or even Pickens, will have recovery periods that will linger on into the season.

Returning to the practice field though doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no longer an issue. Certainly Georgia’s outstanding medical staff wouldn’t clear anyone in obvious risk of serious injury, but there’s a lot of gray area between being unable to participate and a clean bill of health. Most injuries aren’t as cut-and-dried as an incapacitating ACL tear, and there are many varying degrees of “OK.” Few players are going to feel fresh as a daisy during the physical grind of camp and the season. For these players then the season becomes a struggle of managing their condition(s) while remaining available to play. It’s a constant reassessment of the famous “hurt vs. injured” standard.

You often don’t hear about it until well after the fact. Just about every offseason has a story (or several!) like this one:

Georgia inside linebacker Nakobe Dean underwent surgery to repair his torn labrum this spring….Dean revealed he actually played through the labrum issue for the majority of the 2020 season.

Dean probably looked just fine to you and me as he continued to develop into one of the best inside linebackers in the nation. But clearly he wasn’t in top form, and he probably wasn’t the only one. How players cope with these minor injuries affects not only their ability to perform; it also affects how coaches manage lineups and situations. Ericson might return in time for the season, but the true extent of his recovery will have a ripple effect up and down the line. Blaylock might be cleared to practice or even play, but can he ever perform at his pre-injury level? Turf toe is one of those injuries that seems minor but can linger for weeks, and it could hamper Arian Smith’s top-level speed.

Georgia’s situation isn’t unique – the rare exceptions are those teams and players not dealing with a spectrum of injuries. Limited playing time or even absences might not make much sense in the moment, and coaches aren’t always forthcoming with their reasons. It’s worth keeping in mind that 1) an injury isn’t gone when a player returns to the team and 2) many injuries we’ll never know about until well after the fact, if at all.

Post Georgia’s 85 for 2021

Friday August 6, 2021

As Georgia begins preseason camp today, I like to get my head around the composition of the team, and this format helps. The impact of the transfer portal and the exceptions made for the pandemic have made it tough at times to keep up with who’s coming and going, but things have settled down now. Georgia welcomes 20 true freshmen and three transfers to complete its 85-man roster.

Georgia’s personnel issues (if you can call it that) stand out in a format like this. At defensive back, there are as many newcomers as upperclassmen. You can see why the transfers of Tykee Smith and Derion Kendrick were so important. Brini, Speed, and Poole had all seen playing time but had yet to claim a starting job heading into their final season. The other options at cornerback were all largely unproven freshmen. We’ve penciled in Kendrick as one starter, and Smith would be considered a starter at star in a nickel defense. That still leaves one spot up for grabs (not to mention the rest of the depth chart), but you’re not as terrified about playing someone like Ringo or Kimber as you’d be if they were paired with someone much less experienced.

It’s a similar story on the offensive line. The return of Salyer and Shaffer for their senior season saves Matt Luke from dipping deeper into a 10-man pool of true and redshirt freshmen. Truss could still figure in the left tackle picture, and it would be encouraging to see the 5 starters come from among the 7 linemen with at least two years’ development in the program. Still, the offensive line tilts very young with 10 of 17 players as true or redshirt freshmen. The depth of the line and the flexibility of coaches to deal with injuries depends on this talented but raw group.

The hopes for a high-performing offense will lie with a young fleet of receivers and tight ends. There are no seniors among the group. With Pickens out indefinitely, Jackson and FitzPatrick are the only upperclassmen among the tight ends and receivers. This roster shows how Georgia is set up for a couple of exciting seasons with Gilbert, Burton, Arian Smith, Adonai Mitchell, and others having several years’ of eligibility remaining.

We also see how the team’s recruiting needs align with what’s going on out on the recruiting trail. The anticipated early exit of Daniels creates the need for depth at quarterback, and Georgia has a commitment from Gunner Stockton. Lovasea Carroll’s move to defensive back created a gap at tailback, and Branson Robinson will help there. Davis and Wyatt returning on the defensive front is huge for 2021, but they’ll leave a big hole next season especially if Travon Walker exits. Georgia has two defensive line commitments for 2022 and is on the hunt for more. Kirby Smart won’t be caught again without talent in the defensive back pipeline, and there’s a big group of seniors due to leave after this season. The same is true at linebacker where four seniors will depart and both juniors could be early exit candidates.

It almost goes without saying these days that the bulk of the roster (54 of 85) is freshmen and sophomores. Smaller senior classes are the norm with transfers and early draft entrants taking their toll on the roster. The team isn’t as young as it looks, though. 24 of the 54 freshmen and sophomores have redshirted, giving them at least one year of development in the system. All but four of the incoming true freshmen enrolled for spring semester. There’s no substitute for game experience, but coaches won’t have to worry about acclimating a large group of newcomers when preseason camp opens.

(Players are listed alphabetically by class. Possible Day-One starters in a base formation are in bold – just a best guess. [R] indicates a player who has redshirted. A star(*) indicates an early enrollee.)


4 Years

3 Years

2 Years

1 Year

QB (4)

Brock Vandagriff *

Carson Beck [R]

J.T. Daniels

Stetson Bennett

RB (5)

Daijun Edwards

Kendall Milton

Kenny McIntosh

Zamir White

James Cook

TE (5)

Brock Bowers *

Darnell Washington

Ryland Goede [R]

Brett Seither [R]

John FitzPatrick

WR (11)

Jackson Meeks *

Adonai Mitchell *

Ladd McConkey [R]

Justin Robinson [R]

Arian Smith [R]

Jermaine Burton

Arik Gilbert

Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint

Dominick Blaylock [R]

Kearis Jackson

George Pickens

OL (17)

Dylan Fairchild

Amarius Mims *

Micah Morris *

Jared Wilson

Austin Blaske [R]

Broderick Jones [R]

Cameron Kinnie [R]

Chad Lindberg [R]

Tate Ratledge [R]

Sedrick Van Pran [R]

Warren McClendon [R]

Xavier Truss [R]

Clay Webb [R]

Owen Condon

Warren Ericson

Jamaree Salyer

Justin Shaffer

DL (14)

Marlin Dean *

Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins *

Jonathan Jefferson *

Warren Brinson

Jalen Carter

Nazir Stackhouse

Zion Logue [R]

Tymon Mitchell [R]

Bill Norton [R]

Travon Walker

Tramel Walthour

Jordan Davis

Devonte Wyatt

Julian Rochester

LB (13)

Chaz Chambliss *

Jamon Dumas-Johnson

Smael Mondon *

Xavian Sorey *

MJ Sherman

Rian Davis [R]

Trezman Marshall [R]

Nakobe Dean

Nolan Smith

Adam Anderson

Robert Beal

Channing Tindall

Quay Walker

DB (14)

Javon Bullard *

Lovasea Carroll *

David Daniel *

Nyland Green *

Kamari Lassiter

Jalen Kimber [R]

Kelee Ringo [R]

Lewis Cine

Tykee Smith

Latavious Brini

Derion Kendrick

William Poole

Christopher Smith

Ameer Speed

Spec (2)

Jared Zirkel [R]

Jake Camarda





Post Not asking too much

Thursday August 5, 2021

When we tried to have a realistic look at J.T. Daniels’ Heisman chances, it boiled down to this conclusion: “Daniels would have to obliterate the Georgia record book and do things never before seen in Athens.” The high water mark for a Georgia quarterback remains Aaron Murray’s 2012 season: nearly 3,900 passing yards, 10.1 yards per attempt, and 36 passing TD. The stats of recent Heisman winners suggest that Daniels would either have to become a dual-threat quarterback capable of rushing for 1,000 yards, or he’d have to leave Murray’s 2012 passing stats in the dust. That doesn’t just mean break the records: Joe Burrow threw for nearly 5,700 yards and 60 TD in 2019. Mac Jones threw for 4,500 yards in 2020 in a shortened season – and didn’t win the Heisman.

Along the same lines, Blutarsky looks at the imperative to raise Georgia’s net yards per play (YPP). He clearly sets out the target for a team with playoff aspirations: “you’d better create a net YPP of 2+ if you want a realistic shot at the CFP (the four-team version, that is). And if you want to win, you’d better wind up north of 2.5.” What does that mean in practical terms? “Georgia probably has to bump its offensive YPP up a full yard over the 2020 number to make the CFP field this season, assuming it can maintain its defensive excellence.” Maybe a bit more context will help: “A 7.21 ypp would be the best in the program’s history.”

So there’s the simple challenge for Tood Monken and J.T. Daniels: perform at a level never before seen at Georgia. That sets the expectations fairly high, and it raises some interesting questions. What if Daniels matches or just barely surpasses Murray’s 2012 numbers? It would be a superlative season for a Georgia quarterback, but would it be seen as a disappointment? What if Georgia’s defense, and its secondary in particular, slips a little and yields, say, another half yard or so per play? Would we notice an appreciable gain on the offensive side? Would the pressure instead be on Monken to offset the difference and still come out with a net increase?

It’s good to put some concrete numbers behind our expectations beyond straight wins and losses. We recognize the need to modernize and increase the output of the offense to compete at the highest level; it’s why Todd Monken is here. Metrics like YPP, EPA, success rate, and explosiveness are important benchmarks to follow that let us know how things are going. We know, based on those metrics, what a successful team and offense looks like. If we want and expect Georgia to contend at that level, watching those metrics will be the equivalent of the world record line superimposed over an Olympic swimming or track event – is Georgia on pace, out ahead, or falling behind where they need to be?

The encouraging news is that while these numbers might be unprecedented at Georgia, several other teams have found multiple ways to get there. Georgia’s program bests, unless you’re talking about something like Herschel Walker’s output, represent good seasons but aren’t untouchable and should be surpassed if the talent and offensive system are what we claim they are.