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Post Women’s basketball is red-hot. Where does Georgia fit in?

Friday April 19, 2024

Driven largely by the Caitlin Clark phenomenon, women’s college basketball drew unprecedented attention and interest over the past several months. Clark’s historic offensive output that led Iowa to consecutive national title games was the lead story, but there’s been much more that made this a compelling season. South Carolina’s undefeated run to the championship with a young and rebuilt roster was one of the more impressive team accomplishments you’ll see, and they needed needed a thrilling buzzer-beater in the SEC Tournament to preserve their perfect season. LSU brought the drama to their chase of back-to-back titles. The Pac 12 and Big 12 produced some of the best teams in the nation, and they’ll be heading for new conferences next season. Freshmen established themselves as the next wave of stars from coast to coast. High-profile transfers made and broke contenders. Women’s basketball, and women’s college basketball in particular, is at a peak.

This explosion of popularity builds on a legacy that goes back over 40 years to the first women’s NCAA Tournament in 1982 (and much further to the true pioneers of the game.) Georgia of course features heavily into that history. The Lady Dogs became a national power early in the NCAA Tournament era. They had a resurgence in the 1990s that saw them enter the new century as SEC champions and remain a regular Sweet Sixteen participant for the next decade. The program’s all-time great players are still familiar names among those with a knowledge of the game. Few schools can boast more WNBA draft picks than Georgia’s 24.

We see elite programs rise and fall in all sports, and it’s unfortunate bad timing that the rising profile of women’s basketball comes as the Georgia program is struggling through a relative lull. Georgia just experienced its first sub-.500 season as an NCAA program, and the 13th-place finish in the SEC was also unprecedented. This wasn’t a sudden drop-off; Georgia’s decline followed a much more gradual path. Georgia participated in 31 of the first 33 NCAA Tournaments. They’ve only played in five of the past ten, and none of those teams reached the Sweet 16. I’ve had plenty to say about the state of the program even before this year’s result, but it’s enough to say that it’s been a battle to maintain and return to the standard set by its first three decades as an NCAA program.

The urgency to return to the upper echelon of programs is greater now with the surge of interest in the sport. What is Georgia’s place in a sport whose popularity is taking off? Will they be left behind with a serious case of FOMO, or is there hope of catching up and joining the party?

The Neighborhood

A deep and cutthroat SEC schedule is nothing new. The league goes to another level in 2025 and will be unforgiving of any team unable to keep up. Consider:

  • South Carolina returns depth at nearly every position from its undefeated national title campaign. Dynamic young players like MiLaysia Fulwiley, Ashlyn Watkins, and Tessa Johnson are poised to take over, and the Gamecocks welcome three top 30 freshmen.
  • LSU and Ole Miss will remain talented and well-coached contenders.
  • Impact transfers will continue to flow into the league while several veterans chose to return for a fifth season.
  • Auburn, Alabama, and Vanderbilt returned to the NCAA Tournament and have shaken up the middle of the conference standings.
  • Kentucky hired Kenny Brooks who built Virginia Tech into a regular NCAA Tournament team and reached the Final Four last season. Brooks will bring All-American guard Georgia Amoore with him.
  • Finally, and most importantly, Texas and Oklahoma will join the league. We took a brief look at what that meant a couple of years ago, and the outlook hasn’t changed. Vic Schaefer turned Texas into a national contender and earned a 1-seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. He returns to the SEC where he took Mississippi State to consecutive national title games. In three seasons at Oklahoma, Jennie Baranczyk restored the Sooners as a top 25 program and even edged out Texas in 2024 for the Big 12 regular season title. These programs will immediately challenge for top four positions in the expanded SEC.

To sum up, earning a top four place and double-bye in the SEC will require getting through the past two national champions, an NCAA 1-seed, and the reigning Big 12 champion. That doesn’t even take into account a steady successful program like Ole Miss or rising mid-table programs like Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Alabama. Eight-time national champion Tennessee is going through their own transition but sent a message about their expectations with their coaching change. Finishing in the top half, let alone the top four, of the new SEC will require a team that can consistently beat – and not just show competitiveness against – tournament-quality opponents.

The Roster

Joni Taylor finally began to show some progress in recruiting during her sixth and seventh seasons at Georgia, but those classes fell apart when she left the program. Promising freshmen signed by Taylor transferred after 2022, and all reached the NCAA Tournament in 2024. (Reigan Richardson even became a brief sensation in March during Duke’s NCAA Tournament run.) Taylor’s final class, rated #7 in the nation, followed her to Texas A&M.

A core of upperclassmen remained at Georgia during the transition. Forward Javyn Nicholson headlined the group and developed under Coach Abe into an all-conference player by her final season. The others also saw improvement, but their production wasn’t enough to fill the gap. Excepting Nicholson, the remaining players scored 16.6 points per game in 2023 and, after senior Zoesha Smith went down early in the season with a knee injury, contributed 8.7 points per game in 2024. Coach Abe had a lot of holes to fill on her first roster. Her response mirrored Taylor’s: the bulk of UCF’s top 20 recruiting class followed Abe to Georgia, and she was also able to bring several experienced UCF players familiar with her system. Diamond Battles, Alisha Lewis, and Brittney Smith were key players to help bridge the transition. By the end of Abe’s first season this cobbled-together roster began to mesh, and Georgia finished the season on a strong run into the NCAA Tournament.

The real impact of the roster situation began to show up in year two. Abe’s UCF pipeline had largely dried up. Only one true freshman was signed, and she redshirted. Transfers once again helped but with diminished returns. Fewer players on the roster had more than a year’s experience in Abe’s system, and the outcome was a less-effective defense with few scorers capable of complementing Nicholson.

Coach Abe has had two seasons now to get the lay of the land in the SEC and understand the level of talent it takes to succeed in the league. Abe and her staff aren’t used to losing, and last season’s frustration was hard to hide at times. She now has the responsibility of rebuilding a roster that was not up to SEC – or Georgia – standards. Recruiting matters, and four top 100 prospects will join the team along with another top 100 prospect who redshirted this season. But teams are also making immediate upgrades to their rosters via transfers, and Georgia must have better results among that talent pool to avoid a prolonged rebuilding project.

Ultimately the potential of the program won’t be unlocked until Georgia reverses its fortunes with the deep talent available in its own state. Georgians feature on rosters from South Carolina to LSU to Stanford to Ohio State and across the SEC. Of course the Lady Dogs have signed quality local talent, Que Morrison and Javyn Nicholson being recent examples, but elite talent has been tougher to keep at home. Since 2005, Anne Marie Armstrong is the only Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year to begin her college career at Georgia.

Turning things around in the state has been off to a slow start. The new Georgia staff arrived without much of a presence in Georgia. Abe’s last four rosters at UCF had one player from the state of Georgia. When a top in-state prospect like Essence Cody (now at Alabama) gets her first offer before her sophomore year of high school, it demonstrates that the relationships that lead to commitments are cultivated over years. Abe’s staff, even if they do everything correctly, is playing catch-up for in-state prospects. To complicate things, Abe hasn’t been able to hold a summer camp yet at Georgia. The first few months after Abe was hired in 2022 were spent getting a program up and running. Last summer Stegeman Coliseum was unavailable due to interior construction on the roof. Camps in 2021 and 2020 were affected by the pandemic. It’s tough to establish connections with the young players around the state if you can’t get them on campus. That will begin to change in 2024.

A sub-par roster is exposed quickly in the SEC. Even teams with above-average talent and legitimate NCAA Tournament credentials can find it hard to compete at the top of the conference without elite players. Those players, for whatever reasons, haven’t chosen Georgia for some time. Reversing that situation for both prep prospects and transfers isn’t easy, but that’s the story of Georgia basketball over the past 15 years.

Still more…

So if the strength of the conference and the headwinds in recruiting weren’t enough, what else is Abe dealing with?

  • NIL. There’s no escaping the influence of NIL for any college sport. If you watched the women’s tournament, you saw several players featured in national ads, and that’s tremendous. NIL has also given some athletes the flexibility to remain in school for another year, and that’s been a boon to those sports. But aside from those endorsements we’re also talking about the NIL collectives of the individual schools and the murkier realm of bidding for players. Every school deals with it, but keep one thing in mind: not only is Georgia women’s basketball competing against its peers in the NIL space; it’s also competing against a successful football program with its own voracious appetite for NIL contributions. Fans willing to support women’s basketball are also under pressure to support Kirby Smart’s loaded roster, and those fans can only be stretched so far. The women’s basketball program encouraged its fans to donate earmarked dollars to NIL rather than to the disbanded semi-independent booster club.
  • Long-term vs. short-term development. Watching a player like Diamond Battles who developed over the course of a career was a treat. Experienced players whose execution of a coach’s system becomes second-nature are the foundation of successful teams. Javyn Nicholson, in just two seasons under Abe, blossomed into one of the SEC’s best players. There’s little question about Abe’s ability to develop players or that her system can work at the highest level in the sport. But in the age of the transfer portal, can you depend on players sticking it out through the full development cycle before your system bears fruit? And with the competition able to change dramatically from year to year via transfers, does a coach have the luxury of patiently developing an experienced roster before showing progress?
  • Contributions from newcomers. Along those lines, freshmen have had little to no impact on the program in Abe’s first two seasons. It’s not that she is recruiting stiffs. UCF’s 2022 class that followed Abe to Georgia was rated 21st – very respectable for a mid-major program. Last season’s lone signee, Miyah Verse, was a top-100 prospect. It’s entirely reasonable that Abe would prefer players with more experience in her system. That experience will be thin next season, and Georgia will bring in another good class of four top-100 prospects. Impact freshmen were all over the women’s college basketball scene this season from Southern Cal to Notre Dame to South Carolina. Georgia might not have the next JuJu Watkins or Hannah Hidalgo, but Georgia and Abe’s success over the next one or two seasons will depend on getting more immediate production from newcomers whether they be freshmen or transfers.

It seems like a daunting task to get Georgia women’s basketball in a position to be lifted by the sport’s current rising tide, and it is. At the same time, basketball is a sport where one or two elite pieces can be added to a solid foundation and take a program to national prominence. The payoffs for getting it right are growing both in the abstract sense (media and fan attention) and the literal sense (endorsements and NIL deals for players and big contracts for coaches) – both of which can help sustain a top-level program. The risk is falling into a losing cycle of coaching changes and the inability to reap the rewards of winning that attract top prospects. It’s a pivotal moment for the sport and increasingly so for Georgia’s future in it.

Post 2024 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview

Wednesday March 6, 2024

With the last two national champions earning the top seeds in this week’s SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, it’s tempting to look ahead to a possible South Carolina-LSU meeting in Sunday’s final. The two teams met in a classic slugfest in front of a frenzied sold-out crowd in Baton Rouge. The Gamecocks played from behind for most of the game but made the big plays down the stretch to emerge with the win and reassert their status as the SEC’s team to beat. LSU shook off a midseason slump and head into the tournament playing well with eight straight double-digit wins. Tennessee’s upset of LSU in last year’s semifinal reminds us that real life doesn’t follow a script, and there’s a ton of basketball to play before the finals. The top two seeds haven’t met on Sunday since 2020.

While the anticipation of a South Carolina-LSU rematch will consume most of the oxygen in Greenville, there’s another storyline that will play out in the earlier rounds. According to ESPN’s bracketology, as many as five SEC teams are perched precariously on the edge of the NCAA bubble. Auburn, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and Arkansas head to Greenville knowing that their performances on Thursday and Friday might make the difference in their postseason fates. Their levels of desperation vary, but none of them will sleep easy with a loss on Thursday. Arkansas and A&M might need two wins to play themselves back on to the favorable side of the bubble.

The tournament remains a microcosm of the larger college sports world. Several teams are led by experienced veterans extending their careers via COVID-era policies. (“She’s still there?!?!”) The effects of the transfer portal and NIL will be on full display; nearly every team had their roster reshaped dramatically since last season. Several teams have flourished with transfers and fifth-year seniors, but others have had less success keeping up and have dropped in the standings. Perhaps because of this roster turnover we’ve seen more mobility up and down the standings than in previous seasons. Alabama, Vanderbilt, and Auburn enjoyed their best seasons in years at the expense of teams like Georgia, Kentucky, and Missouri who are used to greater success.

Georgia’s Path Through the Tournament:
Wednesday: vs. Kentucky 11:00 am ET SEC Network
Thursday / Second Round: vs. Tennessee ~2:30 pm ET SEC Network
Friday / Quarterfinals: vs. Alabama ~2:30 pm ET SEC Network
Saturday / Semifinals: 4:30 pm ET ESPNU
Sunday / Finals: 3:00 pm ET ESPN
Complete Bracket Here

The Field
(LY: last year’s finish, PS: coaches preseason projection)

1) South Carolina (16-0, 29-0) (LY-1, PS-2): Dawn Staley had a problem. The 2023 Gamecocks rolled through the season and SEC Tournament without a blemish, but the tiniest weakness was apparent. The Gamecocks shot just 31% from outside, and that number had dipped well below 30% in several close calls. That weakness finally bit them in the national semifinal when they shot 20% on 20 three-point attempts in a shocking loss to Iowa and their sharpshooter Caitlin Clark.

Staley already had the nation’s #2 signing class lined up to replace the departing legends Boston, Cooke, and Beal. But to address her biggest need she dipped into the transfer portal. Te-Hina Paopao had already made a name for herself at Oregon with multiple All-Pac 12 honors in three seasons. At South Carolina she’s become exactly when Staley needed: the nation’s most accurate three-point shooter. Paopao doesn’t put up Clark-like numbers. South Carolina has more than enough talent to distribute the scoring load; the Gamecocks have seven players averaging between 8.5 and 14 PPG. Paopao’s consistency and the improvement of Bree Hall gives the Gamecocks a more well-rounded offense in 2024 and creates difficult decisions for defenses: how much attention can you pay the 6’7″ Kamilla Cardoso inside if the team is now shooting over 40% from outside?

South Carolina’s distributed attack has allowed them to mix veterans like Cardoso and Paopao with younger players stepping into larger roles. Chloe Kitts joined the team midseason last year and contributed off the bench, and she’s grown into a starting role bringing length and range to the frontcourt. Ashlyn Watkins has also doubled her minutes and points in her second season while adding a physical presence inside with the athleticism to get to the rim. Cardoso of course is the team’s leading rebounder and shot blocker, but Watkins isn’t far behind. RSo. Raven Johnson is the steady point guard Staley needs with nearly 5 assists and 2 steals per game and a 2.8 assists/turnover ratio. Freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley has been a firecracker off the bench: she can hit from outside or attack the basket and get to the line.

So with improved perimeter offense, is there a weakness? Staley has done a magnificent job of continuity with a new starting lineup and integrating new players in key roles. You’d have expected that inexperience to bite them at some point, but now they’ve played together for an entire season. The only thing you can point to is a handful of slow starts and single-digit wins in which they’ve had to overcome deficits, but they’ve found a way each time and have earned experience and confidence with each challenge.

2) LSU (13-3, 26-4) (LY-2, PS-1): All hail the national champs! LSU discovered last season that winning the SEC is as challenging as winning the national title. Kim Mulkey didn’t need last season’s run to the crown to establish her national standing, but getting the Tigers turned around and on top in two seasons would have been a remarkable job by anyone. The title also made players like Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson household names, and the program’s high profile made it an attractive transfer destination. That mattered as Mulkey had to replace significant production from her championship team. She was able to attract sharpshooter Hailey Van Lith from Louisville and rebounding machine Aneesah Morrow from DePaul to build a formidable and deep lineup capable of challenging for a repeat.

Of course the repeat attempt couldn’t come without drama. The Tigers lost their season opener against a good Colorado team. Reese was suspended for a stretch, and Kateri Poole left the team. They’ve had enough depth and talent to overcome those distractions as well as the loss of forward Sa’Myah Smith to a season-ending injury. The Tigers lead the SEC in scoring offense and can put teams away with quick scoring runs. They defend and rebound well at every position and look to get out in transition for easy baskets. All five starters average in double-figures, and Aalyah Del Rosario and Last-Tear Poa provide key minutes off the bench. They are near the top of the SEC in rebounding margin, offensive rebounds, free throw attempts, and turnovers created. Those all lead to a lopsided advantage in possession that fuels their offense.

It’s true that South Carolina seems to be the one remaining obstacle for Mulkey, but last season’s loss to Tennessee is a cautionary reminder to take care of business en route to a championship showdown. The Tigers have been dominant at home with only a close loss to the Gamecocks tarnishing an otherwise perfect record in Baton Rouge. But the Tigers have slipped up a couple of times away from home. Auburn and Mississippi State were able to score with the Tigers and do just enough on defense to keep LSU in the 60s and 70s. Foul trouble, especially for Reese, can be an issue. LSU typically only plays 7 or 8, and an extended period of time on the bench for a starter can be disruptive. Those issues have been few and far between lately, and the Tigers head into the tournament on a roll.

3) Ole Miss (12-4, 22-7) (LY-4, PS-4): Progress! After two straight fourth-place finishes, Ole Miss inches up to the 3-seed. With three straight years in the top four, there’s no denying what Yolett McPhee-McCuin has built in Oxford. The Rebels gained national attention last season with an upset of Stanford in the NCAA tournament. This is a confident team that certainly continues to reflect its coach’s toughness and energy, but there’s more to it than that. Coach Yo has developed veterans Madison Scott and Snudda Collins and augmented the roster with seven current or former transfers. The result is a well-rounded squad that can attack multiple ways against a variety of styles. This is still a team that does its best work inside the arc. They’re dead last in the SEC making three-pointers at a 26% clip. Smartly and self-aware, they also attempt fewer three-pointers than anyone else. This is a dribble-drive team that can hit mid-range jumpshots and crash the boards. Only LSU and South Carolina rebound better. Marquesha Davis (Arkansas) was an impact transfer a year ago, and Kennedy Todd-Williams (UNC) has joined the backcourt this year to become a dynamic scoring duo. Collins provides the best outside threat of a group that collectively shoots under 30% but can occasionally have a big night. Scott’s length and presence inside is helped by center Rita Igbokwe and forward Tyia Singleton.

Ole Miss lost two straight early in February and survived back-to-back overtime games to get back on a roll. They enter the tournament red hot winning their last four games by an average 29-point margin, and each of those four opponents was held to no more than 51 points. That Stanford win a year ago earned Coach Yo and her program some national notice, but the task now is to break through against the SEC’s two dominant programs. They were unable to stay close to LSU or South Carolina during the regular season. Their next opportunity might be a semifinal clash with the Tigers on Saturday.

4) Alabama (10-6, 23-8) (LY-6, PS-8): The Tide are the first of our overachievers in the field. Picked to slide a little after a sixth-place finish in 2023, Alabama instead moved up in the standings to their first top four finish since the 1990s. There are a couple of reasons for this pleasant surprise, but the emergence of Sarah Ashlee Barker has to be at the top of the list. Barker made the transition from role player to leading lady as a senior, and she’s now one of the few SEC players who can reliably take control of a game and carry her team. In roughly the same number of minutes she’s nearly doubled her shot attempts, three-point attempts, and free throw attempts while improving her percentages on all three. Her production has helped the team thrive despite losing the output of Brittany Davis. Aaliyah Nye was already known as a top outside scorer in the league, and she’s also increased her production this season while shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc. Jessica Timmons and Loyal McQueen have allowed Kristy Curry to stick with the four-guard approach that’s been successful for her in recent seasons. Freshman post Essence Cody has been one of the top newcomers and gives the Tide the scoring, rebounding, and defensive presence they need in the paint. Alabama hasn’t managed to break through against the top three teams in the league, but a decisive win over Tennessee is a feather in their cap. Alabama notched wins against Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Mississippi State to create some separation from a crowded pack.

5) Tennessee (10-6, 17-11) (LY-3, PS-3): Last season the Lady Vols had their best SEC finish in eight seasons and reached the tournament finals with a semifinal upset of LSU. It’s been a tough task building on that success. Rickea Jackson returns as an elite scorer and matchup nightmare for opponents. The Lady Vols welcomed back Tamari Key from a scary season-long absence battling blood clots in her lungs. Key is the program’s all-time leading shotblocker and a capable scorer inside, but her minutes have been limited. Tennessee still has good size at most positions, and they continue to rebound well. The difference might be the absence of elite guards on both ends of the court. They miss Jordan Horston. Wake Forest transfer Jewel Spear (12.8 PPG) leads the guards and is the team’s top outside shooter at 35%. There are a handful of players averaging between four and nine points per game, and the results add up to a scoring offense that’s in the top half of the SEC but well off the pace of South Carolina and LSU. The Lady Vols struggled through a typically challenging nonconference slate, but they raced out to a 7-2 start in SEC play. They’ve dropped four of their last seven games including three losses to South Carolina and LSU, and a loss to Alabama was the tiebreaker that dropped Tennessee out of the top four. They’ll likely get a chance to avenge that loss in the quarterfinals, and they’ll need much better guard play in that rematch to have another shot at a consecutive semifinal shocker.

6) Vanderbilt (9-7, 22-8) (LY-12, PS-13): It’s been a long time coming. Shea Ralph’s third season proved to be breakthrough that elevated the Commodores out of the bottom four, and they vaulted all the way to a sixth place finish. With 22 wins overall and a winning record in the conference, the Commodores have the profile of an NCAA Tournament team for the first time in a decade. They won’t feel comfortable about their position though unless they can get past the Florida/Missouri winner on Thursday. Vanderbilt is led by a pair of guards who missed last season due to injury. Iyana Moore is gaining confidence as a playmaker and scorer. Jordyn Cambridge can score but is also the team’s assists leader and one of the best defenders in the SEC. Sacha Washington is undersized but tough inside, and freshman forward Khamil Pierre has added another piece in the paint. Tennessee transfer Justine Pissott has emerged as an outside threat, and Jordyn Oliver can bring some pop off the bench. Size has been an issue against the teams above them in the standings, but they have the firepower to handle lower seeds. Vanderbilt started the season on fire with a 17-2 record, but a five-game losing streak in SEC play brought them back down to earth. They’ve recovered to win five of their last six to salvage their postseason hopes.

7) Auburn (8-8, 19-10) (LY-10, PS-12): Steady progress continues under Johnnie Harris. Losing leading scorer Aicha Coulibaly to Texas A&M was a blow, but Auburn has responded impressively with a team effort. Honesty Scott-Grayson returns as one of the league’s top scorers, and she’s helped by Alabama transfer JaMya Mingo-Young. Many teams preach defense, but few create the consistent havoc Auburn does. The Tigers lead the SEC in turnover margin, causing nearly 21 per game. The guards do a good job with perimeter defense – opponents only shoot 27% from outside. Harris has gradually built a decent supporting cast. Scott-Grayson gets over 18 PPG, but six players contribute between 5 and 9 PPG. Forward Taylen Collins has been an important addition from Oklahoma State to help absorb some of the rebounding load Coulibaly provided, and freshman center Savannah Scott is holding her own. The Tigers got off to an 0-3 start in SEC play but shocked the conference with a home upset of LSU. They finished the season winning five of seven with a pair of respectable losses at Alabama and LSU. If the Tigers get to the quarterfinals, a rubber game against LSU will be one of the day’s most-anticipated matchups. Harris and her team won’t be scared.

8) Mississippi State (8-8, 21-10) (LY-3, PS-3): It looked in early February as if the Bulldogs were ready to challenge for a top four seed, but a late season slump dropped them into the middle of the pack. Momentum was high for Sam Purcell’s team after making a surprising run into the NCAA round of 32 last year before coming up just short against Notre Dame. The return of standout center Jessika Carter and scorer JerKaila Jordan was bolstered by transfers Erynn Barnum from Arkansas and Lauren Park-Lane from Seton Hall. Sophomore Debresha Powe has built on her SEC All-Freshman debut and remains a steady scorer. The Bulldogs are near average in most defensive stats, and they don’t rely on transition to create offense; they’re just a solid halfcourt team. That reliance on the halfcourt offense has led to some inconsistency, but when it’s on it’s on. The Bulldogs got 24 points from Jordan and a combined 31 off the bench from Mjracle Sheppard and Darrione Rogers in a home win over LSU. They’ll need that kind of guard play to complement Carter in order to advance in Greenville. A win over Missouri in the regular season finale snapped a five-game skid, but that losing streak likely makes their opening game against Texas A&M a play-in game for the NCAA tournament.

9) Texas A&M (6-10, 18-11) (LY-13, PS-6): The Aggies showed brief signs of life at the end of the 2023 season with a over Kentucky at the end of the regular season and then two upset wins in Greenville to reach the quarterfinals. That momentum continued into this season as A&M jumped out to a 12-1 record in nonconference play. They’ve struggled to maintain consistency in league play. An upset loss at Georgia to open the SEC season got them off on the wrong foot, and they haven’t been able to string together more than two consecutive conference wins. Wins over Tennessee and Ole Miss show what the Aggies are capable of, but losses to Georgia and Florida are head-scratchers. Losing five of their last six regular season games leaves the Aggies needing some more magic in Greenville to salvage an NCAA bid. The Aggies’ downturn has a lot to do with the loss of leading scorer Endyia Rogers. The Oregon transfer injured her knee against Kentucky and has been sidelined since. Her status for the tournament is uncertain, and the Aggies are scoring just 59 PPG without her. Auburn transfer Aicha Coulibaly and sophomore standout Janiah Barker shoulder most of the load with Lauren Ware providing scoring and rebounding inside.

10) Arkansas (6-10, 18-13) (LY-8, PS-7): The Razorbacks can’t seem to get over the hump. Since a sixth-place finish in 2021, the Razorbacks have finished no higher than eighth. Two factors help explain their issues. The first is a repeat of what we wrote last year: the identity of the Mike Neighbors offense hasn’t changed – Arkansas attempts (and makes) more three-pointers than anyone in the conference. A decline in efficiency remains the problem. Arkansas is shooting just over 30% from outside. Familiar names Samara Spencer and Makayla Daniels lead the attack at guard. Freshman Taliah Scott has been magnificent and leads the team in scoring with 22 PPG but has missed a handful of games and hasn’t played since mid-February. The other issue is frontcourt depth. Jersey Wolfenbarger and Erynn Barnum left the program. Maryam Dauda averages nearly 10 points and 7 rebounds, but that’s not enough to keep up with the better frontcourts in the SEC. Wing Saylor Poffenbarger actually leads the team in rebounds. The result is a rebounding margin that’s last in the SEC.

11) Florida (5-11, 14-14) (LY-11, PS-10): A second-straight 11th-place finish has taken some of the steam out of Kelly Rae Finley’s impressive debut as an interim coach two seasons ago. The Gators have plenty of firepower; only LSU and South Carolina score more. But the Gators are near the bottom of the league in scoring defense and rebounding. Florida pushes the tempo, and they thrive on running out in transition. Their frenetic pace causes opponents to turn the ball over nearly 18 times per game, but Florida can also get out ahead of themselves and contribute their own turnovers. They’ve been able to play spoiler against Mississippi State and Texas A&M but weren’t able to string together enough wins to escape the bottom four. Potent scorers Aliyah Matharu and Leilani Correa key the guard-driven attack. Faith Dut is an experienced post player, but an injury to Ra Shaya Kyle left Florida thin inside. Florida’s pace might be a bit much for Missouri on Wednesday, and they played Vanderbilt closely earlier in the year.

12) Kentucky (4-12, 11-19) (LY-14, PS-14): It’s a small consolation that Kentucky improved on 2023’s last-place finish. There hasn’t been much else to cheer about. Ajae Petty provided frontcourt depth last season after transferring from LSU, and she’s elevated her play this year to average over 14 points and 10 rebounds a game. The Wildcats are largely guard-driven: five guards combine for around 46 PPG with Maddie Scherr leading the group. Overall though scoring has been tough to come by, and they are last in the SEC in points allowed and close to the bottom in rebounding. Any of the guards can get hot on a given night: Eniya Russell went for 24 in a win over Florida, Saniah Tyler scored 22 in an upset of Mississippi State, and Scherr has had multiple 20-point games. They’ll need one of those performances plus the usual output from Petty to avoid a short stay.

13) Georgia (3-13, 12-17) (LY-7, PS-9): Let’s get it out of the way: this is unfamiliar territory for Georgia. The Lady Dogs have never played in a Wednesday play-in game, and this will be the first team in program history to finish with a losing record unless they make an improbable run through the SEC and NCAA tournaments. Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson pieced together a roster last season with a handful of players that remained at Georgia through the coaching transition and an impactful group of transfers that included some of her key contributors at UCF. That group found its stride and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament, nearly knocking off Iowa on their own court. Abe’s second season has been much more challenging as she rebuilds a roster that was depleted after the coaching transition. Three experienced seniors remained from the original transition (a fourth was lost early this season with a knee injury), and Abe again had to turn to transfers with much less experience in her system.

The biggest difference has been the effectiveness of the defense. Georgia went from a +3.4 turnover margin in 2023 (among the best in the league) to a -1.4 disadvantage in 2024. The offense is turning the ball over at a similar rate, but the defense is creating five fewer turnovers per game this year (19.9 vs. 14.8.) The 2023 defense averaged 10.5 steals per game, and that’s down to 7.8 this season. That decline has implications on both ends of the court: the opponent’s possession is more likely to end with a shot attempt rather than a turnover, and Georgia’s struggling offense has fewer transition opportunities to run out for easier baskets. Personnel matters. Diamond Battles and Alisha Lewis were experienced guards in this system and were among the SEC’s steals leaders, and Zoesha Smith’s length caused problems at the top of the zone. Georgia hasn’t been able to replace that defensive productivity.

Javyn Nicholson built on a strong 2023 season and has become one of the top frontcourt players in the SEC with 16.6 PPG and 8.9 RPG. She’s scored in double figures in all but one game this season and has 15 double-doubles on the year. It’s no coincidence that Nicholson has played a large role in Georgia’s SEC wins: she’s averaged 23 points and 11.7 rebounds in those three games. Opponents of course understand Nicholson’s importance, and so she’s often the focus of double-teams and compact zones that compress the space available in the paint. Georgia often hasn’t been able to find consistent complements that counter the defensive focus on Nicholson. The Lady Dogs are in the bottom three in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw attempts. De’Mauri Flournoy has taken a step forward in her second season and has become the team’s most prolific outside threat. Flournoy can set up for a three-point shot or create off the dribble for a mid-range jumper. San Diego State transfer Asia Avinger has had the difficult task of replacing Battles as the point guard and is the relentless presence on the court Abe wants at that position.

Georgia didn’t go on the late-season run of a year ago, but it wasn’t hard to see improvement – particularly on the offensive end. But this is still a team that needs to keep the score down in the 50s or 60s to have a chance. Unproductive single-digit quarters and slow starts have been the undoing of the Lady Dogs in many games, forcing Georgia to play from behind. To advance into the second round and have a shot at an upset, they’ll need another big performance from Nicholson, some timely guard play, and a locked-in defensive effort.

14) Missouri (2-14, 11-18) (LY-9, PS-11): The Hayley Frank farewell tour hasn’t gone as expected. They were 2-3 in the league after a pair of wins over Vanderbilt and Georgia, but they’ve dropped 11 straight to end the season. Frank, in her fifth season, has been as reliable as ever getting 16.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG. The team shoots often and well from outside – no surprise for Missouri. Frenetic guard Mama Dembele is an x-factor who can frustrate opponents on both ends of the court with her speed. They lack depth and presence inside. Frank, as a stretch forward, and guard Ashton Judd lead the team in rebounds, but the diminutive Dembele is third. Rebounding, as well as offense in the paint, is a committee effort. They utilize frequent cuts and motion to create lanes to the basket and open shots for their guards. It works well enough to be a middle-of-the-pack offense, but they struggle turning the ball over and creating turnovers on defense.

Post Remembering the Blutarsky Way

Tuesday February 13, 2024

Over the weekend we learned that Michael Brochstein, better known by the pseudonym “Senator Blutarsky” and author of the Get the Picture blog, passed away. The online Bulldog community lost an irreplaceable and unparalleled resource, and Georgia lost a devoted fan and partisan.

“It was the first site I checked every morning.”

I was at the women’s basketball game Sunday chatting about the game with the husband from a nice couple in front of us. His phone had the Get the Picture site pulled up on it, and he asked if I was familiar with it. After I responded that I knew it well and had heard the news, he said that it was the first site he checked every morning. I’ve seen that sentiment from several people as the news spread across the Bulldog Nation. No matter if it was during the hectic middle of the season or in the slow offseason, there was almost always something interesting, topical, and often thought-provoking waiting at Get the Picture. If there was an issue of the day that really mattered, you could count on Brochstein to wade through the glut of information, elevate the key voices, and provide his own perspective.

A few have even invoked the name of Larry Munson as they processed the news. It’s not just because the site was named after an iconic Munson phrase. Fans revered Munson because he saw games they way they did. They tuned in to go through every agonizing heartbreak or outburst of exhilaration together, knowing that Munson would put just the right flourish on the moment.

In that way I can see why some felt a similar sense of loss. If something big, good or bad, happened in a game, you wanted to know how Munson called it. If there was something in the news about Georgia football over the past 15 years, it was a good policy to first check what Blutarsky had to say about it. His prolific output made it a safe bet that he’d have something to say, but it went further than that. If Munson expressed the range of emotions we went through during individual games, Blutarsky was a must-read because the love of the sport and respect for its traditions so evident in his writing resonated deeply with us.

That doesn’t mean that he was resistant to change or turned a blind eye to the problems within the sport. His passion was more a sense of stewardship for the elements of college football that make it unique and special to us and a lack of patience with those who, in his view, were destroying the sport from within.

The unedited voice of a person

Running an individual blog almost seems like an anachronism these days. It’s easier to broadcast a quick message on social media, and you’re likely to get more reach. Even longer-form writing is favoring siloed platforms like Medium or Substack. Brochstein chose a blog in 2006 because that was the only real alternative – social media in its current form didn’t exist yet, and blog networks like SB Nation were still in their nascent phases. If you had something to say, you headed to a service like TypePad, Blogspot, or WordPress, picked a template, and started writing. The blog format – in its simplest definition as the unedited voice of a person – suited Brochstein. It didn’t take him long for his site to find its voice, and that voice was informed, clever, measured, witty, passionate, and clear.

The clarity of that voice allowed him to stake unmistakable and novel positions that resonated beyond the Bulldog fan base. National pundits paid attention to what he wrote, and he wasn’t afraid to push back against the highest-profile writers and broadcasters in the sport. They hear from the rabid fan bases of all programs, but we were fortunate to have someone with such a strong conviction and intelligent point of view to cut through the noise.

The best bloggers are curators. Brochstein’s original content was worth the visit, but most of his posts riffed on articles, columns, posts, and tweets from all corners of the college football world. He was generous with links, and through the blog you got a sense of the larger conversation around the key topics in the college football world. By amplifying voices from national pundits to anonymous tweeters he had a knack for exposing his readers to diverse, insightful, and sometimes even ridiculous viewpoints while his own comments made it clear where he stood.

On a personal note…

I can’t imagine how much effort went into the site. Even just the process of collecting links and adding a few words takes time, and having a few of those published nearly every day with the occasional longer-form observations posts took a discipline that I can’t comprehend. I’ve maintained this site off and on for almost 30 years writing when I’m able and motivated, and I know how much time just an individual post can take. I just have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who is able to do it with that frequency, consistency, and of course quality.

His site is also a big reason why I’ve kept plugging away here. His posts were often excellent jumping-off points that got the wheels turning, and so many posts over here have built on or responded to posts of his. I’m also grateful and proud that he saw fit to read and share posts of mine over the years. That back-and-forth was energizing and something I looked forward to. Any post that caused me to think about things differently or challenged how I saw things kept this hobby fresh and enjoyable. And it wasn’t just his posts; the breadth of the content he shared through his blog opened our eyes to all kinds of viewpoints and issues that enriched our own experiences as fans.

I never met Michael, and I wish I had. We’ve corresponded, and we’ve bantered back and forth through our blogs. He shared so much of his fandom and love of pursuits like live music that we felt we knew him better than we did. I hope his grieving family finds some solace knowing that he and his project meant so much to so many. He will be missed and remembered.

Post Georgia 63 – FSU 3: Score one for the culture

Tuesday January 2, 2024

To begin with: Saturday’s result wasn’t a referendum on the merits of FSU – or Georgia for that matter – for the College Football Playoff. Those cases were made over a season of 13 games and, for reasons debated elsewhere, were found lacking. All the Orange Bowl represented was a matchup of two teams at the end of December very different from what they were at the beginning of December. It was about how each team dealt with and adjusted to those differences.

Also: I struggle to see transfers and opt-outs as some sort of moral failing. I can’t imagine making weighty decisions at that age balancing preparation for the NFL Draft and the life-changing amounts involved with feelings of obligation and loyalty to my teammates. I also agree that the state of things isn’t a good look for the sport. Everyone has their pet solutions, but when it comes to bowl games and opt-outs the answer might simply be financial. Bowls pay out a good chunk of money, and those payouts often go into the pool of money distributed by the conferences. If it’s important to continue the bowl system outside of the playoff and to have rosters be as complete as possible, use the incentive that seems to drive every other decision in college athletics.

Finally: Georgia needn’t think twice about the lopsided outcome of the game. You play the team put in front of you, and how you choose to approach that challenge is up to you. We saw how Georgia’s players chose to put the disappointing Alabama loss behind them and regroup to end the season on a better note. In doing so they made a statement about the culture of the Georgia program.

What do we mean by a victory for the program’s culture? It’s easy to take that as a condescending results-oriented coping mechanism of a fan base full of itself. Take it instead as an appreciation, even in a season that fell short of the ultimate goal, of Kirby Smart’s vision for the program summed up in the summer of 2022: “we built a program to be sustained.” What does that look like?

Recruiting and roster management: The focus was on FSU’s high-profile opt-outs, but Kirby Smart had some personnel issues of his own. Between transfers and injuries Georgia was without well over 20 scholarship players. The biggest difference in the game was Georgia’s mature and fruitful recruiting operation versus Florida State’s emerging but fledgling operation. That’s not a knock on Mike Norvell – he’s rebuilding his program from a very low point just a few years ago. He’s beginning to have some success: the 12th-ranked recruiting class was FSU’s best result in years. But the four classes that proceeded it were ranked 26th, 20th, 27th, and 20th. That’s not horrible, and it’s certainly enough to outclass most ACC programs. But it’s not the profile of an elite CFP contender. FSU has had to supplement its roster with productive and impactful transfers: Jordan Travis, Keon Coleman, Jared Verse, and Jaheim Bell among others were home run additions who transformed the program. Norvell’s effective use of transfers allowed him to flip the Seminoles from 3-6 in 2020 and 5-7 in 2021 to 10-3 in 2022 and 13-1 this year.

Removing the veneer of the FSU transfers revealed a thin roster that wasn’t able to match up with Georgia’s reserves, let alone Georgia’s starters. Building quality depth is hard, hard work and something that comes over time with sustained effort in recruiting. There are no shortcuts. Even elite teams have their depth tested at the margins when facing their peers in the postseason: the slightest drop-off or inexperience at receiver or tackle or linebacker can make the difference in a competitive game. But these weren’t two similarly built teams. Georgia has had top five recruiting classes since 2017. Certainly that talent has been augmented with a handful of transfers, but Georgia’s broad foundation was built on Signing Day after Signing Day.

We saw that difference pay off repeatedly in the Orange Bowl. Brock Bowers sat out as expected. Oscar Delp had perhaps his finest game of the season, and Lawson Luckie and Pearce Spurlin played often and well. Dillon Bell wasn’t buried on the depth chart, but the absence of Rara Thomas and limited action for Ladd McConkey gave Bell an opportunity to step up into a larger role, and he made the most of it. Anthony Evans became more than just the guy with the nice punt return against Alabama. Georgia was without the inside linebackers that began the season, but CJ Allen continued his development into the next Georgia ILB standout. Daniel Harris had one foot in the transfer portal but did his job at cornerback. Kendall Milton was dominant early and then handed things over to Roderick Robinson. Georgia went with a familiar offensive line combination to start the game without Mims, but we soon saw Freeling and Fairchild. Of course Georgia’s starters set the stage and big plays by Beck, McConkey, Milton, Edwards, and the defense put the game out of reach. It didn’t take long though for Georgia’s massive depth advantage to assert itself. The reserves didn’t just hold ground; they continued the onslaught. While Stockton capably led the offense, Georgia’s young defensive backups held FSU to 24 second half yards.

Again, this isn’t a criticism of how Norvell built his program; FSU at full strength had the talent to win its first 13 games and finish out an undefeated regular season without its starting quarterback. He set his team up well to accomplish its goals, and he showed the year-over-year progress he needed to show. The next challenge for FSU is continuing to strike gold in the transfer portal while gradually building that team-wide depth through higher-rated signing classes. It’s not yet a program built to be sustained. On the other hand, the performance of Georgia’s reserves suggests that Georgia’s talent is holding up as another top-rated signing class heads to Athens.

Playing the long game: Even one-year transfers can assimilate into a program and even become leaders. Where would the 2016 season have been without Maurice Smith or the 2019 season without Lawrence Cager? There are potential downsides though to relying on multiple transfers. Jordan Travis was technically a transfer but played all but one of his six seasons at FSU. There was no questioning his leadership or the team’s identity with him at the helm. Other shorter-term transfers might not have developed the bond and sense of team that you see from a group that spent years building and reinforcing a program’s identity.

Kirby Smart uses the word “connection” as one of his core principles. The opportunity to send Georgia’s senior class out with 50 wins was identified early in bowl preparations, and the team seemed to rally around that significant milestone. They felt that those who had invested in turning the program into a multi-year champion deserved their teammates’ best effort. “Just playing for that will give us a purpose to play for, and we definitely have a spark,” said freshman offensive tackle Earnest Greene III. That connection from the freshmen on up to the seniors is what Smart is after and shows how the program’s culture is passed to the next group of leaders.

Consistency: It was mentioned during the broadcast that Georgia prepared for this game in the same way as the Ohio State playoff semifinal a year ago. “We’re in the same routine. We’ve tried to make it the same sense of urgency,” explained Smart during December. That shouldn’t be a surprise. We should know after 7 seasons that Smart doesn’t change his approach much from opponent to opponent. “We’re going to go up there, meet, do the same thing we were doing if we were playing in the Playoff. It’s a routine for us.” It was the same for the players. “We’re approaching it the same way as any other week,” Tykee Smith said.

That’s easier said than done; no coach or player is going to admit to giving a bowl game less than their full attention. When a program wins seven straight bowl and CFP games you listen a bit more closely about its preparation and approach to the postseason. The unpleasant memory of the 2019 Sugar Bowl loss stuck with Smart, and since then Georgia has ended the season with wins whether there was a title at stake or not.

Bowl preparation is also the first opportunity the staff has with the incoming class, and it’s also the first opportunity to imprint the culture on the next wave of players. With the majority of freshmen now enrolling early, their first exposure to the program in December sets the standard of what’s expected over the next nine months as they prepare to contribute to Georgia’s sustained success. Inconsistencies in bowl preparation wouldn’t just send the wrong message to the newcomers and interrupt the connection between newcomers and returning players; it would also require valuable time in spring practice to reestablish standards and expectations.

Georgia’s game-to-game consistency in preparation doesn’t guarantee results – the same process that led to a blowout of FSU had the Dawgs shut out of the playoffs after losing to Alabama. It is though a key contributor to maintaining the level of talent and the connection from year to year which allows Georgia to sustain its high level of success and remain in contention over the long term.

Post Georgia 51 – Kentucky 13: Beck lets loose

Tuesday October 10, 2023

Two big concerns had Georgia fans eyeing the 14-point spread with healthy skepticism:

  • Georgia’s slow starts on both sides of the ball had been slow to shake after five games.
  • Kentucky’s running game, especially Ray Davis, came to life against Florida the same week Georgia gave up over 200 yards on the ground to Auburn.

It turned out that these two birds could be killed with one stone. Georgia’s offense leaned into its strengths in the passing game and scored on each of its first six possessions. That early success forced Kentucky away from Davis and a possession-oriented ground game and put the game on the less-capable arm of Devin Leary. Davis finished with just 15 carries (only six coming in the second half) and 59 yards. Leary completed just 10 of 26 passes and was sacked three times by a Georgia defense who, in possession of a large lead, knew what was coming.

Carson Beck has admitted to starting games too tightly wound, but he came out of the gate on fire in this game. He started 13-of-13 and led Georgia to touchdown drives on their first three possessions. The playcalling helped Beck get into his groove. The first pass was a swing pass out to Edwards. Then he found Rosemy-Jacksaint on an easy short pass against the Kentucky zone along the sideline. Another short pass to Lovett got the ball to midfield. Beck helped himself with a scramble on 3rd-and-3 to move the chains. With the juices flowing, Beck was ready to let loose and perfectly placed a crossing route into the hands of Rosemy-Jacksaint for a 40-yard touchdown.

Beck looked downfield earlier and more often than he has this season, and Georgia’s receiving talent is starting to show itself. Brock Bowers of course remains the standard bearer and had another 100+ yard game. Mike Bobo’s game plan took advantage of two Kentucky defensive traits: aggressive linebackers willing to bite on play fakes and a cover 3 look from the secondary that could be exploited. Georgia used motion frequently to create mismatches and confusion against the Kentucky zone, and Beck was able to hit open receivers. It wasn’t just Bowers: Rosemy-Jacksaint got the scoring going and nearly finished with 100 yards himself. He had a fantastic comeback catch on a free play that Beck heaved down the sideline to set up the third touchdown. Rara Thomas is also becoming a dependable target and had perhaps the highlight catch of the season so far. With the experienced Lovett and McConkey yet to reach the endzone this year, it’s doubtful that the passing game is close to its ceiling yet. Protection remains solid – Beck had lots of time to throw thanks to a good game from the line and a scheme that used play-action to create hesitation. It won’t always be this clean or successful, but this was the Georgia offense leaning into its best identity in 2023.

The defense only gave up a single score in each half, and the second touchdown came after a long interception return. It might seem like coach-speak for Kirby Smart to be less-than-thrilled with the defense at halftime, but he had a point. Kentucky opened the game with two respectable drives that were derailed not by anything the Georgia defense did but by penalties and poor Kentucky passing. Georgia let a Kentucky receiver get behind them on an early 3rd-and-long, and only a Devin Leary overthrow prevented a stunning touchdown that would have answered Georgia’s opening salvo. Georgia held Kentucky to 128 yards through the air and just 55 on the ground. A lot of that had to do with Georgia’s ball control and early lead forcing Kentucky to throw the ball. The Wildcats only ran 50 plays. Smart realized, though, that a handful of breaks that went Georgia’s way ended two early scoring opportunities for the Wildcats.

Flag Day

Penalties are a part of every game, but the flags had a fairly pronounced impact on the early flow of this game. The Wildcats responded to Georgia’s opening score with a quick march into Georgia territory, but a holding penalty stopped the drive cold. A 36-yard completion on Kentucky’s next possession once again had the Wildcats approaching the red zone. A personal foul moved the ball outside of field goal range, and another opportunity to put points on the board was wasted. Georgia’s third possession looked to fizzle out after a third down pass was tipped, but an inexplicable blindside hit after the play gave the Bulldogs an automatic first down. With new life, the Dawgs drove 95 yards for their third touchdown and put the Wildcats in a deep 21-0 hole early in the second quarter.

Georgia’s own miscues contributed to Kentucky’s only scoring drive of the half. A questionable roughing the passer call on Warren Brinson moved the Wildcats inside the Georgia 35. The Bulldogs held and forced a fourth down decision, but Georgia’s presnap action was flagged for “disconcerting signals” and made the distance to go much more reasonable. Kentucky converted the fourth down and scored a few plays later.

Extra Points

  • Ray Davis wasn’t a huge factor due to the flow of the game, but you saw flashes of what he might have done in a closer game. His first two carries went for 19 yards to help Kentucky drive across the 50. Most impressive might have been his burst and movement on his touchdown reception. He knifed through Georgia’s defense on a short screen and made Everette miss badly.
  • Chaz Chambliss had a pair of standout plays. He had an early tackle for loss on Davis that kept Kentucky on their heels after a personal foul penalty and forced a long third down. Later Chambliss showed his coverage skills by sticking with a tight end out towards the sideline and making a clean deflection.
  • We’ve seen some shaky two-minute possessions heading into halftime – on both sides of the ball – but Georgia handled the last five minutes of the first half as well as they could. After a Woodring field goal, Georgia notched a sack and forced a punt that was followed up by a quick five-play touchdown drive. Kentucky couldn’t move the ball in the final minute and punted with 30 seconds left. With the ball at midfield and in control of the game, Beck took a shot downfield and earned a pass interference penalty. After a few identical dump-offs to Edwards gained a quick 23 yards, Georgia was in position for a makeable 42-yard Woodring field goal at the buzzer. It was a smooth 20-second series that moved the ball from the Georgia 38 to the Kentucky 24 in three safe but effective plays.
  • Terrence Edwards posted 1,004 receiving yards in 2002 and is the only Bulldog ever to crack 1,000 yards in a season. Brock Bowers has 545 yards through six games and needs 76.5 yard per game the rest of the way to match Edwards. Bowers has averaged 136 yards over the past three games. At that pace, he’d end up with over 1,300 yards.
  • Did Georgia’s success throwing the ball open things up for the running game? The Bulldogs ran for 173 yards and 5.6 yards per carry. Even accounting for Vandagriff’s 27 yards, it was a solid performance. Edwards was his usual reliable self with some tough yardage. Milton ran as well as he has all season and finally looks to be in top shape. Five different ballcarriers had runs over 10 yards, but the breakaway run still eludes the group. We know that longer runs are more of a team stat with downfield blocking, and turning some of this tough yardage into breakaways is the next step for the running game.
  • As important as Edwards has been running the ball, he was unusually active in the passing game plan. Edwards turned the first pass of the game from a possible loss into a hard-fought moderate gain to get the opening drive going. Edwards also had two receptions to move the ball into field goal range just before halftime. He finished with 6 catches – second on the team only to Bowers. He’s not James Cook or Kenny McIntosh yet, but we’ve seen how valuable a receiving threat out of the backfield can be in this offense.
  • Kentucky threw at Kamari Lassiter more than most teams have. He was in coverage on Kentucky’s longest pass play of the game – 36 yards – but that play was over a quarter of Kentucky’s passing yardage in the game. Lassiter won his share of plays and probably could have had an interception on a well-defended pass down the sideline.
  • Georgia’s tight end depth doubled for this game. Luckie has been itching to get on the field and started mixing it up right from the opening kickoff. Spurlin is back from injury and had a nice 25-yard reception late in the game. The coaches won’t rush either into extended playing time, but it’s nice to have the depth now for some situational substitutions. In particular we’re looking to see if Luckie is as capable of a blocker as the preseason chatter made him out to be.
  • McConkey only had one reception in limited time, but what a nice play to set up a first-and-goal. The pass itself was 7 or 8 yard to the sideline, but McConkey made a smooth turn to get underneath the tackle and turn it into an 11-yard catch. That little effort to get a few extra yards and a first down rather than 3rd-and-short showed the value of having a veteran playmaker like McConkey available down the stretch.
  • It’s been an up-and-down season for Dumas-Johnson, but there’s still nothing like watching him finish off a blitz.
  • Do you think Jalon Walker wants more playing time? Georgia’s reserves have given up a couple of late scores this season, but thanks in large part to guys like Walker Kentucky punted on their final three possessions – including a pair of three-and-outs.
  • It’s a small detail in a blowout like this, but Georgia did well to answer both Kentucky scores. The Cats put together a long drive to cut the lead to 21-7, and an early out by the offense would have put a tired Georgia defense back onto the field. Instead Beck found Bowers right away for a 49-yard gain, and the Bulldogs were right back in the red zone. Even though the drive ended there with a field goal, the three points once again made it a three-possession game, and Georgia recaptured momentum to finish the half with 13 straight points. Kentucky wasn’t likely to mount much of a comeback even after a long interception return and quick score early in the second half, but Georgia made sure of it with a long 7-minute drive to tack on another field goal. Kentucky didn’t cross midfield again.
  • Woodring now has five straight makes in a pair of SEC games. Hopefully he’s shaken off the nerves from earlier in the season and will continue to be dependable as the stakes increase.

Post Georgia 27 – Auburn 20: Bowers does everything but stop the run

Tuesday October 3, 2023

I had a flashback to 2014. Fresh off a 29-point loss to Missouri that left them with a 3-3 record, Florida entered the WLOCP as double-digit underdogs to #11 Georgia. The Gators benched struggling quarterback Jeff Driskel in favor of unproven freshman Treon Harris. The Gators entered the game getting a decent 179 yards per game on the ground, occasionally breaking 200 yards here and there. What happened in Jacksonville was unexpected and horrifying. The move to Harris signaled an intent to go all in on the running game, but Georgia could do nothing to stop it. The Gators ran for 418 yards at nearly 7 yards per carry. Harris only passed six times and completed three. Florida ran away with the 38-20 upset. The win got Florida to bowl eligibility, and it ended up costing Georgia the SEC East title.

The enduring memory of that loss was the helplessness. Florida was as one-dimensional as an offense could get (even Tech’s option offense attempted more passes), but it didn’t matter. I had twinges of that same pit in my stomach during Saturday’s game at Auburn. The Tigers had quarterback issues, hadn’t thrown for over 100 yards in an SEC game since last season, and would rely largely on their ground game to move the ball. We knew that. Watching another one-dimensional offense put the Georgia defense off-balance was something unfamiliar and unsettling. Georgia’s first three Division 1 opponents currently all rank in the bottom 25% in rushing yardage, so our perception of the job Georgia was doing in taking away the run was skewed.

Auburn didn’t run for 400 yards on Saturday, but a Kirby Smart defense giving up over 200 yards on the ground felt about the same. It wasn’t just one area of the defense that Auburn exploited. The line didn’t allow many big gains up the middle, but there wasn’t much of a push to disrupt the RPOs that caused enough hesitation that allowed plays to develop. Linebackers were overaggressive and vulnerable to misdirection. The secondary took bad angles and allowed plays to get outside for big gains. Complicating things was the threat of Auburn’s quarterback to run. Robby Ashford was supposed to be the “running quarterback”, and he did run for 8.3 yards per carry in limited action. Payton Thorne’s contributions on the ground were less anticipated. His long rumble down the sideline on Auburn’s second possession was eye-opening, but perhaps more significant was a pair of runs on third and fourth down that led to Auburn’s first touchdown. Having to account for the running quarterbacks – who accounted for over half of Auburn’s rushing yardage – only placed additional stress on Georgia’s befuddled defense.

Maybe because of Georgia’s overall talent level and defensive pedigree or maybe because Auburn truly was one-dimensional, the Bulldog defense avoided complete collapse and made enough plays to keep the score manageable. Auburn’s two touchdown drives both began in Georgia territory after turnovers. If Georgia could get Auburn to third down, the Tigers were only 2-for-12. That wasn’t all long-yardage passing situations; the Georgia defense made some key stops on running plays in short yardage. They recovered after Thorne’s long run to get a red zone stop that forced a field goal. Consecutive stops on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 at the Georgia 12 helped preserve a tie game headed into halftime. Red zone defense had been a weakness for Georgia, but three of Auburn’s five scoring opportunities ended without touchdowns.

Auburn’s ability to run the ball might have been a bit of a shock, but it wasn’t surprising to see them play physical, hard-hitting defense. Georgia seemed to approach their offense with caution – perhaps too much caution. Yes, Carson Beck was making his first road start. The Bulldogs only had one downfield pass on their first possession – a third-down conversion to McConkey. Three straight runs at midfield which failed to move the chains might have looked like a team trying to be more physical, but it wasn’t the sign of a confident team on the attack. The second possession might have seemed to vindicate a cautious approach with Beck – he missed an open Delp streaking down the middle for a likely touchdown and then threw an interception.

But Beck responded on the next drive to answer Auburn’s touchdown with Georgia’s first score of the game. Georgia mixed some short completions with steady gains on the ground, and Edwards was able to punch it in. The passing game opened up after forcing an Auburn 3-and-out. Beck found Lovett for 13 yards and then Rosemy-Jacksaint for 26 to get into the red zone. A pair of incompletions intended for Brock Bowers forced a field goal, but Georgia was looking downfield more – and targeting Bowers – towards halftime.

Beck and the passing game took on a larger role in the second half as Georgia fought back from behind. The Bulldogs scored on three straight possessions to turn a 7-point deficit into a 7-point lead. Key third down conversions to Thomas and McConkey moved the ball to midfield, and a pass across the middle to Bowers set up another Edwards touchdown. Two more long gains by Bowers resulted in a field goal that gave Georgia their first lead. The final scoring drive started with moderate gains by Rosemy-Jacksaint and Bowers to move into Auburn territory, and Bowers finished off the drive with the kind of run after catch that’s become his trademark.

The Beck-to-Bowers connection has taken off in the past two weeks. The question, and it’s a serious one, is how to get that going earlier in games. Georgia’s slow starts have been a curiosity of the first month of the season – and it’s across the board, not just Beck. We’re seeing though in conference games how risky a slow start can be. It’s not just a question of winning more impressively. If the defense is going to be merely really good instead of elite, the offense has to have more of a role in taking control of games. Additionally, a slow start gives opponents more time to stick to their game plans and probe Georgia for weaknesses. If Georgia jumped out 14-0, would Auburn have been as patient with the running game, or would they have to begin taking chances throwing the ball? Teams that get out in front are able to make opponents predictable and uncomfortable. It’s to Georgia’s credit that they’ve maintained composure through those early deficits. Not many teams can do that, but Georgia hasn’t asked that of many opponents yet.

It’s excellent that Carson Beck and the Bulldogs have shown that they can take a punch and respond, especially in a tough road environment like that. It would be nice now to throw some punches of our own.

Extra points

  • Bowers’ touchdown is deservedly the highlight, but another play deserves mention. After Everette’s crucial pass breakup forced a punt, Georgia was pinned at their 2 yard line. The next play turned out to be Georgia’s longest run of the game. Georgia lined up with Delp tight to the left side of the line and Bowers next to him. The left side of the line held their own with a linebacker blitzing over left guard. Bowers picked up pressure from the outside. Delp was able to get the second level, and Edwards found a nice hole between Delp and Bowers. The 16-yard run earned the offense some breathing room and started them on an important 98-yard drive to tie the game.
  • Another important play? Facing 3rd and 7 in the second quarter, Auburn sent pressure. Edwards didn’t pick up the blitzing linebacker, and Beck barely got off a pass before he took a hit. Rara Thomas had to make a juggling catch coming across the field to get the first down and keep the scoring drive alive. Edwards scored two plays later.
  • Welcome back Ladd McConkey. Georgia’s most dependable receiver didn’t just have four receptions that often sustained drives; he also was frequently paired alongside Bowers. Georgia’s top two receiving threats on the same side forced Auburn to make some tough choices, and it led to some important receptions.
  • Three of McConkey’s four catches moved the chains on third down. Georgia was an impressive 8-13 overall on third down in a tight road game. Even more impressive, they were 5-7 in a tense second half. Beck converted 4 of Georgia’s final 5 third downs.
  • Ten of Georgia’s 13 third downs were 3rd and 5 or longer. Auburn had no sacks but eight tackles for loss in the game.
  • Beck’s best incompletion? On a 2nd and 2 on Georgia’s first scoring drive, Auburn didn’t flinch on a play-action bootleg. Beck, with his back to the oncoming defender, somehow sensed the pressure before he was hit at full speed and managed to throw the ball away. Instead of a 10-yard loss (or a turnover), Georgia lived to convert a short third down and sustain the drive.
  • Bowers’ touchdown makes the question moot, but I was beginning to wonder how Kirby Smart would have approached the situation had that drive stalled somewhere between the Auburn 40 and 30. It was still a tie game with around 3 minutes left.
  • This was the first time all season Georgia has forced a three-and-out on an opponent’s opening drive. Unfortunately this wasn’t an omen of the Bulldog defense getting off to a better start.
  • Edwards ran tough and had some of Georgia’s longer runs. Again, there’s no one I’d rather have the ball in the red zone. Bell though had some quick bursts for good yardage and ended up with over 6 yards per carry. Georgia ran out of some backfield formations we hadn’t seen, and even Bowers was shifted into an offset fullback for one short-yardage conversion. There’s clearly some thought going into how to use players like Bell and Bowers from the backfield. It just hasn’t yielded much fruit yet.
  • Each team had an interception in the game on similar plays. Safeties made good reads on contested balls across the middle. Neither pick was really the receiver’s fault, but you’d also like to see MRJ fight for a 50/50 ball.
  • Not that we care, but did Auburn err by not playing Ashford more in the second half? He carved up the Georgia defense after Edwards’ fumble. If Auburn saw that they could do what they wanted on the ground, why not lean into the running quarterback?
  • Special teams was better this week but still not flawless. We take Thorson for granted. His first punt gave the defense every chance to have an early impact on the game. Any miss by Woodring would have been deflating in a game this close, and it has to have been a good shot of confidence that he converted both of his attempts in his first road game. Mews wasn’t able to do much with five Auburn punts and had a near-disaster trying to field a long punt over his shoulder. But he had three decent kick returns including a 41-yard return that gave the offense a short field for its first touchdown drive. Auburn, too, was able to return a couple of kicks. Keep the touchbacks coming.
  • I wasn’t thrilled with Georgia’s playcalling just before halftime. They got the ball back on their own 12 with 1:18 left and three timeouts in hand. I understand not risking a turnover given that field position, but a short run on first down should have been the end of any ambition for a quick scoring drive. An incomplete pass on second down allowed Auburn to use its timeouts and force a punt deep in the Georgia end. Thorson got another good punt away, and nothing came of the return or the subsequent Auburn possession. Still, if Georgia isn’t going to come out attacking in that situation (and why would they?), just run three plays and take it to the half.
  • The stop-gap SEC schedule released for 2024 has Auburn slated to come to Athens. Beyond 2024 though is still up in the air, and there’s only room for one permanent rival under the eight-game schedule. This might be the last time Georgia visits Jordan-Hare for several years.

Post Georgia 49 – UAB 21: Towards an identity

Tuesday September 26, 2023

Before the season, I don’t think anyone would have considered these characterizations of Georgia’s offense much of a reach:

  • The departure of Darnell Washington would necessarily change how Georgia uses its tight ends in receiving as well as blocking and protection.
  • The lack of a sure-fire NFL tailback for the first time in years would alter the running game. Georgia – this is Georgia after all – would still run the ball, but explosive plays might have to come from elsewhere.
  • A deeper group of receivers featuring two impact SEC transfers might tilt the balance of production from tight ends and tailbacks to the receivers.
  • Carson Beck, while not an unathletic stationary target, doesn’t have the mobility of Stetson Bennett.
  • Brock Bowers is just different.

The journey of the first four games has been about developing an offensive identity around those observations. Injuries to Ladd McConkey, several tailbacks, and Amarius Mims have complicated things and, if anything, has placed greater urgency about getting explosiveness and production from the passing game. We started to see this identity take root against UAB. From the beginning there was a larger percentage of play-action passes with open receivers at the intermediate level. Georgia ran the ball for a respectable 5.2 yards per carry, and Edwards had some important runs to sustain and finish drives, but seven passes to one rush on the opening drive set the tone for a game in which the pass set up the run. It’s likely also no accident that the first three targets in the game were Lovett, Thomas, and Bowers. Along with Rosemy-Jacksaint, these are all proven veteran SEC receivers. That kind of experience on top of a group that includes Arian Smith and eventually Ladd McConkey (not to mention Bell, Mews, and the emerging C.J. Smith) shows the depth and breadth of the passing game that seems to be what this offense does best.

As the offense discovers its identity, Carson Beck looks more and more in control of his position. He showed better patience to let the play-action routes develop. He identified pressure and coverages. Was it a perfect game? Of course not. Beck nearly threw a pick-six when UAB correctly anticipated another receiver screen. There’s a run option with many of these passing plays, and Beck could choose that option more often. There were some missed connections on deeper shots. Beck was affected by pressure and threw behind the receiver on Georgia’s fourth down attempt. Blocking is better but still inconsistent both from the line and downfield. These are all areas that can be worked on. The bigger picture is that Georgia has the pieces to run this style of offense, and they’re beginning to execute with more consistency and explosiveness.

Not much needs to be said about Georgia’s defensive identity. This is a Kirby Smart team, and we know what he expects from his defense. Here we have to talk in relative terms. The defense might not be leading the nation in stop rate, but they’re top 10. There’s no Jalen Carter or Jordan Davis wreaking havoc in the interior, but opponents are still not getting much of a running game going. We’re talking about differences at the margins, but that’s what defines elite units. Red zone defense has been less successful. They’re getting stops, but there have been few three-and-outs, especially in the first half. Being unable to get the ball back quickly has been a big part of Georgia’s slow starts and fewer first half possessions. These are the areas where we’ll notice incremental improvements, and they’ll have a beneficial effect on field position and possessions for the offense.

So if you buy into the “September as Georgia’s preseason” view of the schedule, this is the time to take stock. There’s a defense that, while still extremely solid from front to back, has had some slippage and hasn’t been quite as dominant. That’s no surprise given the draft results over the past two years, but as we approach October you’d expect to see players become more comfortable in their roles. There’s an offense that’s gaining confidence in its passing game, but injuries and talent leave questions at tailback and along the offensive line. Placekicking remains unsettled, and we saw how it affected decision-making as Georgia approached the red zone. In other words, Georgia isn’t emerging from the chrysalis of September in its final form as a contender to defend its title. That’s not unexpected, but the continued improvement must now take place on the road and against more difficult SEC opponents. The transformation is underway, though, and we’re beginning to see how good it can get. Integrating injured players back into their units can be tricky, but players like McConkey and Bullard are key to the team reaching its potential as the year goes on.

  • Kirby Smart was clear that Georgia avoided leaning on Brock Bowers earlier in the season as it developed other receivers. This game was a good reminder that Bowers is every bit the weapon in Bobo’s offense with Carson Beck delivering the ball. His first touchdown catch was one of his longer receptions of the season and featured great body control to turn for the catch and then avoid multiple defenders to score. Bowers’ second touchdown was a beautiful play design with all of the motion going right and Bowers releasing wide open back to the left.
  • By now we’ve all seen breakdowns of “the play.” UAB several times released a tight end or tailback out of the backfield, and Georgia’s linebackers were inconsistent in picking it up. It’s the play on which they scored their first touchdown. It’s difficult to defend for the linebackers because there’s an option element that must be respected. Many teams on Georgia’s schedule will use a similar look. Georgia used it themselves to get the ball to Brock Bowers. It’s a particularly devastating play for LSU with the talented Mason Taylor at tight end and Jayden Daniels a threat to keep the ball. It wasn’t an explosive play for UAB, but its benefit is to get that short-to-intermediate gain that keeps the offense ahead of schedule or, in the red zone, gets into the endzone. We’ll continue to see it, and the coaches have lots of film now – good and bad – to teach it. Pass coverage by Georgia’s linebackers will be a pressure point against better offenses, and Georgia has depth and options at the position. C.J. Allen will be tough to keep off the field.
  • Warren Brinson is quickly making a name for himself as a disruptive player on the interior defensive line. It’s not an every down thing yet, but it’s moved well beyond “showing flashes.” Marvin Jones, Jr. is also starting to see more time on the edge.
  • Worth noting that Dan Jackson played most of the game alongside Starks. The secondary is still missing Bullard, but it’s clear that the coaches aren’t going to accept just anything from the next man up.
  • The most disappointing defensive moment was the scoring drive before halftime. In consecutive games Georgia has allowed a score by the opponent’s four-minute offense.
  • One big step forward for the offense was in red zone production. The Dawgs were stopped on 4th down just outside of the 20, but the offense was 6-for-6 getting into the endzone once they crossed the 20. Tough running by Edwards helped to finish off drives (should anyone else get carries inside the 5?)

Post Elegy For a Weird Pseudorivalry

Wednesday September 20, 2023

They’ve got more rivals than almost anybody I know. They really do. Traditionally, we’ve only had Clemson because we haven’t beaten anybody enough to have any more rivals. Georgia, I’ve always said, is our biggest conference rival since they’re closest to us, I think, than any other school.
— Steve Spurrier

Saturday’s comeback win over South Carolina added to Georgia’s lopsided 55–19–2 advantage in the series. Since taking charge of the Georgia program, Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs are 7-1 against South Carolina with an average margin of victory of nearly 25 points. Shane Beamer’s program showed signs of life with two huge upsets in 2022, and the Gamecocks were competitive as huge underdogs in Athens this year. Unfortunately we won’t know for a while if Beamer will be able to bring competitive balance back to the series. With the eight-game SEC schedule stretched thin by the addition of Oklahoma and Texas, Georgia and South Carolina will no longer play every season. Each team will rotate on and off the other’s schedule as if they were Mississippi State or Kentucky.

Is it the end – or a pausing – of a rivalry?

Defining what makes a rivalry is a popular offseason parlor game. But for a year here and there Georgia and South Carolina have played regularly since the 1960s. Of course it’s become an annual meeting since the Gamecocks joined the SEC East in 1992, but the teams met 27 out of 30 years between 1960 and 1989. Georgia and Tennessee met only eight times during that span. The frequent games and the short distance between the schools might seem to make the Bulldogs and Gamecocks natural rivals. For those in the Augusta area, the Border Bash is an annual show of pride between the two local fan bases. As Steve Spurrier noted, though, there’s a pretty wide gulf between how fans of each school see this series. It’s not a question of disrespect. Georgia’s games with Auburn, Florida, and even Tennessee often had SEC implications. Georgia Tech was the in-state rival. By the time South Carolina traded independent status for SEC membership, Georgia’s list of rivals was extensive.

Even before the Gamecocks joined the SEC the series with Georgia had some twists and turns. Georgia forced a fumble from eventual Heisman winner George Rogers to hold on in 1980. The Gamecocks upset then-#12 Georgia in 1984 and went on to become the first team in school history to win 10 games. In 1986 Georgia’s James Jackson set the ball on the turf during a live play as the clock expired, and Georgia escaped with the win only because the rules at the time forbid advancing a recovered fumble.

There were some memorable games as the Gamecocks joined the SEC in the 90s. A Georgia loss in 1993 was a harbinger of a disappointing season, and the brash Steve Taneyhill became an instant villain in Athens. Georgia’s win in 1995 introduced Robert Edwards as the next great Georgia tailback. Still, Georgia won 6 of the 8 contests in the 1990s, and any rivalry just simmered as sights were set on more successful programs at Tennessee ad Florida.

The 1999 arrival of Lou Holtz in Columbia seemed like a novelty, but it ushered in an era of competitive, low-scoring, and dramatic games between the programs. Georgia won easily enough in 1999 and sent the Gamecocks on their way to an 0-11 season. The Gamecocks turned the tables in 2000. They intercepted Georgia five times en route to an upset of the #10 Bulldogs. The performance and loss shook the Georgia program to the core and started the ball rolling towards a coaching change at the end of the season. The Mark Richt era began with South Carolina’s first win in Athens since 1993, but the Dawgs then reeled off five straight wins – their longest winning streak in the series since the 1970s.

Those five wins didn’t come easily for Georgia. The 2002 win is remembered for the interception that immortalized David Pollack as a Georgia legend, but the Dawgs also needed a frenzied stop inside their own 10 to secure the win. 2004 was an even wilder game. The Gamecocks stormed out to a 16-0 lead, but David Greene threw two second half touchdown passes to put Georgia on top. The Dawgs had to stop South Carolina twice inside the red zone in the fourth quarter.

Holtz stepped aside after 2004, and the hiring of Steve Spurrier for 2005 took the series to another level of animosity. Georgia eked out a two-point win in 2005 with a fourth-quarter stop of a two-point conversion. The Dawgs handed Spurrier a rare shutout loss in 2006. The Evil Genius finally broke through against his foe with a 16-12 win in 2007. Georgia could only manage four field goals in the loss, and it ended up costing them the SEC East title and possibly a shot at the national title in the bizarre 2007 season.

As Spurrier took root in Columbia, the low-scoring grinds of the early 2000s began to give way to high-scoring shootouts. Between 2009 and 2015, the winning team in the series scored fewer than 35 points only once. It also became a golden age for Gamecock football. South Carolina had a 5-3 advantage over Georgia between 2007 and 2014 (including three straight from 2010-2012), and they won their lone SEC East title in 2010. The teams traded shootout wins in 2009 and 2011.

By 2012 both programs were rolling and undefeated for an early October clash. Williams-Brice Stadium was out of its mind for a night game between the #6 Gamecocks and #5 Bulldogs. South Carolina fed off the home crowd and roared to a 21-0 first quarter lead. The 35-7 rout was their largest margin of victory in the series. Georgia ended the Gamecock winning streak in 2013 with another high-scoring back-and-forth game in Athens. A deep pass to Justin Scott-Wesley provided the final margin, but it wasn’t over until the Bulldog defense got a stop on 4th-and-1 at the goal line. The Gamecocks returned the favor in 2014 with a red zone stop and an upset of #6 Georgia. A late interception returned to the South Carolina 3 set Georgia up to win the game, but a disastrous offensive series and missed field goal allowed South Carolina to hold on to the winning margin. Once again the loss cost Georgia a shot at the SEC East title.

Georgia’s lopsided 52-20 win in 2015 was one of the most enjoyable in the series for Bulldog fans. Greyson Lambert completed 24-of-25 passes in a career game that came out of nowhere. Georgia’s win wasn’t an upset, but the Gamecocks weren’t able to recover from the loss. They dropped two of their next three, and Steve Spurrier resigned in midseason. South Carolina dropped 7 of their last 8 to finish the Spurrier era with a 3-9 season.

Both programs entered 2016 with former Georgia defensive backs as head coach. Will Muschamp took over in Columbia, and Kirby Smart was tapped to lead the Bulldogs. Their first meeting in 2016 was rescheduled to a rare Sunday afternoon game due to a hurricane, and Georgia took advantage of a subdued crowd to win in Columbia for the first time since 2008. The lone South Carolina win came in 2019. The Gamecocks, 24.5-point underdogs, shocked #3 Georgia in overtime. The Bulldogs recovered to run the table in the regular season, but the loss was enough to remove Georgia from playoff consideration in 2019. South Carolina was unable to build on the win and notched just one more win in 2019. After a 2-8 season in 2020, Muschamp was dismissed and Beamer has been at the helm since 2021.

As the Dawgs took a knee Saturday, there wasn’t much sense or fanfare that whatever the Georgia-South Carolina series is will be different now. Kirby Smart definitely isn’t going to give two seconds thinking about anything but getting better for the next game. Not many Georgia fans will pine for the biennial trips to the furnace of Columbia to have Sandstorm blasted at them. Other games have and will almost always rate more important among Georgia fans. It’s always seemed a bit one-sided: Georgia has never won anything because it beat South Carolina, but more than a few times a loss to the Gamecocks came back to bite Georgia at the end of the year. But whatever it was, the Georgia-South Carolina game was often the kind of early season weirdness that gave the SEC some spice. I can’t say I’ll miss or even think about an annual game with South Carolina, but I might miss the conference it helped to shape.

Post Georgia 24 – South Carolina 14: Another disaster averted

Tuesday September 19, 2023

“Complimentary football” is one of those terms that can border on the trite and obvious – what team isn’t trying to excel in all three phases of the game? These terms become axiomatic though because you can see them play out time after time during games.

Georgia experienced both sides of the complimentary football coin against South Carolina. Out of the gate a special teams mistake gave South Carolina favorable field position. The Gamecocks drove down the field against a defense that wasn’t getting much pressure and made errors in both tackling and coverage. The offense was able to drive into the red zone, but an incomplete pass and ineffective run led to a 3rd-and-long play that couldn’t be converted.

A similar letdown by all three phases happened again at the end of the half. Another long drive fizzled in the red zone with a lost yardage play and a penalty. Georgia missed a short field goal attempt. The defense was unable to get a stop and gave up 50 yards on two plays with a facemask penalty and a long completion. Instead of converting a goal-to-go situation to take the lead going into halftime, Georgia found itself trailing 14-3 and in its most precarious regular season situation since last year’s Missouri game.

Complimentary football was key to getting back into the game. The offense got it going with an efficient drive that was cleanly converted into a touchdown. Special teams came up big with a tackle by – who else – Mekhi Mews that pinned South Carolina deep. The defense came up big and forced its first three-and-out of the game. Mews fielded the punt and midfield, and the offense soon cashed in on the short field with another clean trip through the red zone. With all three phases contributing, Georgia was back in the lead and avoided the biggest upset at Sanford Stadium since, well, South Carolina’s visit four years ago.

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing the rest of the way as the outburst early in the third quarter cooled off. The defense managed to keep the Gamecocks off the scoreboard in the second half. Two late interceptions helped to seal the win. The offense did add another touchdown but still left points on the field with another red zone penalty. A second missed field goal meant another empty long drive and left the door open for the Gamecocks to make the ending very uncomfortable.

The way the first half unfolded isn’t ideal, but it did test the team’s composure and resilience. They didn’t panic or overreact. They handled poor weather well and didn’t turn the ball over. The 2019 loss was on our minds, but the big difference this year was the turnover margin. A -4 margin in 2019 was asking for the upset, and fortunately this game didn’t go down that path. This didn’t turn out to be the “perfect storm” of an opponent playing out of its mind while Georgia poured gasoline on the fire. Georgia avoided the disaster that ultimately kept them out of the playoff in 2019. Avoided – for now. There will be tougher SEC challenges, and several will be away from the Sanford Stadium crowd that played a role in Georgia’s comeback. The coming weeks will show whether Georgia can build on the identity they developed in the second half of this game or if games like this are the reality Georgia will have to overcome time and again this season.

Slow starts

Mike Bobo, Carson Beck, and the offense are taking the brunt of the heat for Georgia’s slow starts. Of course there’s more to it than that.

  • Explosiveness. Carson Beck began Saturday’s game 13-18 for 98 yards. Hovering around 5 yards per attempt isn’t optimal, and Georgia’s longest pass play in the first half went for 11 yards. We saw in the second half that the offense is capable of explosive plays: Beck can make the throws, there’s no shortage of receivers, and those plays can open things up for the running game. The challenge seems to be unlocking those explosive plays earlier in the game, and Beck needs the confidence to execute them.
  • A bendable defense. We’re talking about a defense giving up 8 points per game, but remember – complimentary football goes both ways. Ball State opened the game with an 11-play drive that chewed up nearly six minutes of clock. South Carolina’s opening drive went for 10 plays and used five minutes. Whether or not these drives end with points a secondary effect is to keep the ball away from Georgia’s offense. Combine the unexplosive offense and a defense unable to get off the field, and at best you have a lot of plays not accomplishing anything for either team. While the offense was more explosive in the second half, the defense did its part by getting off the field and giving possession back to the offense. The Gamecocks converted four third downs in the first half and only one in the second half.
  • Red zone and third down inefficiency. If your offensive drives are limited and use up a lot of clock, there are added premiums for moving the chains and converting scoring opportunities. Georgia was only 5-13 on third down in the game and didn’t convert a single third down in the red zone. The offense, to its credit, created scoring opportunities on 6 of its first 8 possessions. It’s unrealistic to expect 100% conversion, but those six opportunities all reached at least the SC 16; they weren’t marginal scoring chances. But when those scoring opportunities met third down, they hit a wall.

Players matter

Georgia’s running game to date has been a combination of players nursing injuries, recovering from injuries, and playing college football for the first time. Run blocking hasn’t been great. We’ve seen teams attempt to take away the running game and challenge Beck. So much of the rationalization, valid or not, evaporated as Daijun Edwards returned to the lineup. Georgia leaned on Edwards as Milton and Robinson were injured during the game, but he handled the load and posted well over 100 yards. He even seemed to make the other backs better. Milton had a fantastic 15-yard burst after Thomas’s big catch to set up Georgia’s first score. Cash Jones was patient, found his hole, and darted outside for Georgia’s final touchdown.

Javon Bullard was missed by the defense. David Daniel-Sisavanh struggled both in coverage and tackling. Jackson made a nice play to come across the field for his interception, but there’s still a drop-off in tackling. Spencer Rattler is going to test any defense when given enough time, and Georgia’s pass defense was strained in the first half. They adjusted by turning up the pressure which led to hurried and less-accurate passes and two late turnovers. Tykee Smith has been fantastic at star, and Starks remains one of the best in the nation. Lassiter played well – his defense of a third down pass without drawing a penalty was key to forcing the three-and-out that led to Georgia’s second touchdown.

Extra Points

  • Georgia’s best third down strategy was not to get to third down at all. On their three touchdown drives Georgia faced third down ONCE. That single third down was an important play though – Rara Thomas caught a slant that didn’t move the chains but set up a short 4th down sneak by Beck. Without that completion Georgia would have faced 4th and 7 from the SC 34 and might have wasted great field position and a crowd that was back in the game.
  • The 2019 South Carolina game – the last home loss for Georgia – probably came to mind as the home winning streak looked to be in jeopardy. The 2019 Notre Dame game might be a more apt reference point than the 2019 South Carolina loss. Against Notre Dame Jake Fromm started the game 11-12 in the first half…for 59 yards. Carson Beck began Saturday’s game 13-18 for 98 yards. Hovering around 5 yards per attempt isn’t optimal, and Georgia’s longest pass play in the first half went for 11 yards. In 2019 the issues were more schematic, but there were personnel issues also. The Dawgs had an experienced quarterback in Fromm but a very inexperienced and lightly-regarded group of receivers and tight ends. That script is flipped in 2023: there’s a ton of talent available to catch the ball, but Carson Beck is developing as we go. While Georgia didn’t quite break out of its shell on offense in 2019, there’s more hope in 2023. We know that the offensive scheme is sound, the playmakers are there on the receiving end, and Beck has the physical tools to make the throws.
  • The use of tempo was a nice wrinkle during Georgia’s second half rally. It added to the frenzy of the comeback and allowed Georgia to keep the momentum rolling without the Gamecocks having a chance to adjust. By the time Dillon Bell gave Georgia the lead, the South Carolina defense was in disarray and got caught shuffling players on and off the field.
  • The injury to Mims is concerning – depth isn’t great along the line to begin with, and the right side of the line with Ratledge and Mims had looked to be the strength of a fledgling running game. Xavier Truss was moved to right tackle and looked more comfortable there than he has at guard. Dylan Fairchild, who even last week alternated with Truss, stepped in at left guard. This was the line combination as Georgia’s offense – and especially its running game – came to life in the second half. It’s a positive that Truss has the versatility and experience to move across the line from guard to tackle. This combination might work, but the absence of Mims (and Blaske) leaves the line razor-thin at tackle. There’s also an interesting question raised about Mims’ eventual return in 4-6 weeks. With freshman Earnest Greene having ups and downs as he develops, who will be Georgia’s five best linemen?
  • Transfers Rara Thomas and Dominic Lovett are already proving to be important go-to targets in the passing game. Georgia’s first score was set up with a pair of short outside passes to Lovett followed by a deep shot to Thomas. Thomas was targeted on another deep pass that was broken up by a nice defensive play.
  • Georgia’s last pass attempt came with over 7:30 left in the game – a safe five-yard pass to Bowers. The Bulldogs weren’t quite able to put the game away on the ground – they punted twice and South Carolina had two more possessions late in the game. It might have been a bit early to begin taking a virtual knee. South Carolina drove inside Georgia territory, and a holding penalty negated a gain that would have set the Gamecocks up to make the game very uncomfortable with over five minutes remaining.
  • Georgia wasn’t getting much done with its base pass rush in the first half. Increasingly Georgia brought five or six at Rattler. Georgia attacked on the Gamecocks’ initial second half possession and Mykel Williams came away with the sack. Dumas-Johnson was a force up the middle and had two tackles for loss. Brinson and Stackhouse got a push from the interior. This more aggressive defense was certainly effective, but there’s always a risk with the reward. It cost them on South Carolina’s first score as a screen pass neutralized the pressure and cleared a path to the endzone, and Rattler was able to escape for a few big gains on the ground. There’s no doubt though that increased pressure was the right answer to counter a quarterback who had a near-perfect first half, and it made the difference in the second half.
  • South Carolina’s second touchdown drive at the end of the first half caught most of us off-guard. The touchdown itself wasn’t a great look for the defense. The Dawgs got no penetration on a wildcat keeper, and the pile was pushed 3 or 4 yards into the endzone.
  • It was a quiet game for Mews after his emergence in the first two games. His kickoff coverage set the stage to flip field position to start the second half. As a returner it was enough in the wet conditions to field kicks cleanly and, in some cases, avoid the ball entirely.
  • The kicking game will depend on Woodring’s development. Maybe the wet field had something to do with it, but all three attempts were within range. The UAB game might be a chance to look at Zirkel as a placekicker, but there’s a reason why the coaches went with Woodring out of the gate. Until there’s more confidence in placekicking, it has to affect playcalling and decision-making as the offense crosses midfield. Playing for the field goal isn’t necessarily the safe option it has been.

Post Georgia 45 – Ball State 3: The little spark

Wednesday September 13, 2023

“From a little spark may burst a flame.”
– Dante

Georgia’s slow starts were a theme of the first two games, and it’s been diminutive walk-on receiver Mekhi Mews who got things going. Against UT-Martin his 54-yard romp on a screen pass opened up a closer-than-expected game. In Saturday’s win over Ball State Mews showcased his special teams skills by returning the opening kickoff to midfield and then returning a punt for Georgia’s first score of the game. That punt return sparked a 31-point second quarter that quickly turned a nervous 0-0 contest after one quarter into an enjoyable rout by halftime.

Mews’ opening kickoff return immediately ushered in one big change from the UT-Martin game: the return of complimentary football. The Dawgs handled UT-Martin but had to grind it out on each drive. With only a late turnover and a stellar effort from the opponent’s punter, Georgia never had starting field position better than its own 32. Mews’ 47-yard return set Georgia up at their own 48 right out of the gate. Georgia came up empty but drove into the red zone. Mews would later have another long punt return early in the second half that again gave Georgia the ball just short of midfield.

The defense joined in after Mews’ punt return touchdown. Malaki Starks got it going with a leap to intercept a floating deep pass. It might not have been the same degree of difficulty as his Oregon interception last season, but this one was more contested. Two passes to Arian Smith quickly moved the ball into the red zone, and a difficult pass under pressure to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint finished the scoring drive. Two more interceptions followed: one a fluky deflection that bounced off a receiver’s foot and the other a tipped ball off a deflected pass. Yes, there was a lot of luck involved as there often is with turnovers, but the interceptions required Chaz Chambliss and Tykee Smith to be in a position to make the play and have the awareness to recognize the opportunity for a turnover.

When special teams, defense, and offense all contribute, you end up with a 31-point quarter. Georgia took a step forward in all three phases in this game.

What do you do well?

When asked about the running game, Smart raised the point that Georgia’s screens, quick perimeter passes, and RPO pass plays should be considered extensions of the running game. He’s not making that concept up: such pass plays are a common element of modern football offenses, especially at the professional level. They’re even effective in setting up play-action on more typical passing plays. Smart, recognizing the need to modernize his offense, handed the keys in 2020 to someone fluent in this world. Such plays have been staples of the Georgia offense since, but there’s still some basics:

  • The plays still have to be executed. Georgia’s perimeter blocking has been tough to watch at times. When those plays are blocked well they can lead to explosive plays (see Mews’ touchdown in the opener.) When they’re not blocked well, they go for a minimal gain or a loss and get the offense behind schedule. Georgia is under 50% on third down for the season due in part to small gains on running plays and their extensions on early downs.
  • These plays become less effective as the field constricts. You still need to be able to run the ball in close yardage situations, and Smart admits that “right now we’re better at (the running game extensions) than we are the interior run game.” Georgia had the ball inside the 10 on four first half possessions. Only one of those possessions ended with a rushing touchdown. There’s no Jalen Carter or Jordan Davis out there this year – Georgia’s line has to move someone.

Smart continues, “You’ve got to be good at something. And right now we’re better at that than we are the interior run game.” Relatively speaking, that might be true. Georgia has produced a handful of explosive plays from the short passes – certainly more of them than explosive running plays. I wouldn’t call it a strength yet though, and it’s no substitute for a more well-rounded running game.

Defensive growth

If there was a shortcoming in a dominant defensive showing against UT-Martin, it was a tendency for the edge to break down and allow several moderate gains on outside runs. UT-M ended up with 134 yards rushing and 4.6 yards per carry. Georgia’s front played the edge much better in this game. Ball State finished with 77 yards rushing and just 2.8 yards per carry. They were prepared for the multiple quarterbacks Ball State used. Tailback Marquez Cooper, who had moderate success against Georgia at Kent State last season, was held to 8 yards on 12 carries.

Ball State was a tougher test for Georgia’s pass defense than UT-Martin. The Cardinals found some early success with short passes underneath the Georgia secondary that worked just well enough to move the chains. Their first drive lasted 11 plays (including five completions with none longer than 12 yards) and took nearly 6 minutes off the clock. Nearly ten minutes elapsed between the two teams’ empty first possessions; this long Ball State drive had as much to do with the “slow start” as anything the Georgia offense did or didn’t do. Georgia’s defense quickly adjusted to those successful short passes, and then the turnovers came.

Daylen Everette was a frequent target and acquitted himself well – certainly some things for the young cornerback to work on but also no big plays allowed downfield. Everette also forced the tipped pass that led to Georgia’s third interception. Georgia’s secondary was dealt a blow with the early ankle injury to Bullard. David Daniel-Sisavanh, Tykee Smith, and Dan Jackson saw increased playing time as a result and generally fared well. Ball State had just two inconsequential completions longer than 20 yards in the second half. Smith in particular has been a physical presence early this year against both run and pass plays – exactly what we hoped we were getting at the star position. It helps when a presence like Starks is also in the defensive backfield.

Extra Points

  • Besides Mews the development that got Sanford Stadium buzzing was a handful of plays with Dillon Bell at tailback. We’ve known that’s a possibility since the preseason, and in this game we saw why. Bell has size, speed, and certainly the moves to make an impact. His touchdown run had several things worth pointing out: Mims caving in the right side of the line, Bell recognizing the opportunity to cut back against the play, the ankle-breaking move to make the first defender miss, and then the burst once he got into open space to reach the endzone. It was a combination we haven’t seen yet from Georgia’s other banged-up or inexperienced backs.
  • Beck sure looked like someone who thought he had a free play on the pass that led to his interception. I saw the pre-snap movement on the line from my seat, and Matt Stinchcomb commented on it during the broadcast. That’s the risk of assuming that a flag is coming when you see a defender jump.
  • That Beck interception was the one sudden change that Georgia’s defense faced in the game, and they responded well by driving Ball State backwards before they could convert the good field position into a scoring opportunity.
  • The interception was one of the few low points in the game for Beck. He rushed some decisions early and fumbled on Georgia’s opening drive, but he soon settled in to have an efficient and productive game. His patience and adjustment on Rosemy-Jacksaint’s touchdown is the kind of growth you want to see from a new quarterback.
  • Kendall Milton is gutting it out through his lingering hamstring issues, and that’s admirable given Georgia’s search for depth and production at tailback. His dive into the endzone was daring, athletic, but also a bit concerning. On a short-yardage handoff at the goal line Milton hesitated as he looked for a passage. He took off on his dive almost two yards from the goal line from a near standstill. He was fortunate to get over the pile and score, but often it’s just better to hit the line with a full head of steam and get the yard. Milton was also the ballcarrier on a stuffed 4th down goal line run at Kentucky last year.
  • Nice play design on Arian Smith’s long crossing route that set up Georgia’s second score. Dillon Bell cut off a route underneath which drew the attention of the cornerback on his side just long enough to clear space for Smith behind him. Smith just had to beat the safety as he crossed the field.
  • Mims also had an impressive block on Robinson’s late touchdown run. The right side of the line seems to be the place to run. Robinson showed a nice burst once he saw a clear path – no hesitation.
  • The training of young Earnest Greene continues. There aren’t many other options at left tackle especially with Austin Blaske dinged up. Georgia does have some more options at guard if Truss remains inconsistent. Dylan Fairchild got in there in the first half and might push for more time.
  • Christen Miller unfortunately had to come out with an injury, but he’s earning more time along the defensive front with his ability to disrupt. Later in the game Gabe Harris was a force blowing up a 4th-and-1 run for a loss.
  • Cash Jones wheel route TD? Cash Jones wheel route TD. Fantastic placement by Beck.

Post Georgia 48 – UT-Martin 7: A different kind of opener

Wednesday September 6, 2023

It’s been a while since Georgia opened a season at home against a team outside the P5. In 2019 and 2020 Georgia opened on the road against SEC opponents. In 2021 and 2022 they faced ranked P5 schools at neutral sites with all of the fanfare that comes with a spotlight national broadcast. It’s been since 2018 when Georgia dispatched Austin Peay that Georgia began the year without so much as a conference win at stake.

Does that fact affect how the players, fans, or even coaches approached the game? We’ve been used to a team that had to be locked in and at reasonably full strength right out of the gate. For months Georgia’s September slate (with a cursory acknowledgement of South Carolina) has had all of the build-up of an NFL preseason. The schedule’s our friend, we say, because we have time to get Beck and Bobo and all of the new pieces in place before the real tests. No need to rush back injured players who just might be able to go. Sounds good in theory.

It’s another thing to see that theory play out in practice. There’s no denying that the game got off to a slow start. Georgia was outgained in the first quarter. But if these early games are about getting better, we saw a team, and especially an offense, get better throughout the game. The job now is to build on what was learned during this game, add back in some missing players, and avoid backsliding.


The last time we saw Georgia in action a finely-tuned offense sliced through a capable TCU defense, put up 38 first half points, and cruised to 65. It was quite jarring then to see the first play go for a loss and then watch two three-and-outs in the first three possessions. Had that much changed?

“Vanilla” is at once a descriptive and a useless term. It’s understood to mean sticking to a fairly base offense without using some of the wrinkles, personnel groups, or counters that might emerge in future games. But that simplification doesn’t say anything about execution. Vanilla ice cream can be rich, silky, and satisfying. You could also end up with a lumpy mess from a broken custard that ends up with freezer burn from improper storage. It’s the same stuff, poorly executed.

UT-Martin had an obvious and logical defensive game plan: test Carson Beck by overwhelming Georgia’s running game with superior numbers. There’s no reason we won’t see this strategy again – not necessarily because it worked but because Georgia’s offense is talented enough to force a defense to pick its poison. The Skyhawks made a reasonable choice to key on the run knowing that Georgia had a new quarterback with a new left tackle, a new (to them) coordinator, and starting tailbacks and receivers unavailable.

For a while the UT-Martin plan was effective. They outgained Georgia in the first quarter and kept the game within two scores until the end of the first half. Georgia began to use UT-Martin’s aggressiveness and numbers against them in the second half. Play action froze the seven or eight in the box, opening up lots of space behind them. Beck didn’t hit the one deep shot he took to Arian Smith, but intermediate passes to Dillon Bell, C.J. Smith, and Mekhi Mews showed how this offense might best attack a defense that has to bring extra numbers against the run.

We saw why Beck was the starter. He generally made good decisions, didn’t turn the ball over, and showed that he could make a range of throws. At times he didn’t seem to be on the same page with his receivers. There were some missed opportunities for bigger plays and maybe even touchdowns especially with Arian Smith and Dominic Lovett. Those issues can be worked on. The basics of decision-making and his passing toolkit seem to be there, and you can build on that.

The frustrating thing was figuring out what the offense was trying to accomplish as if this were a typical SEC or P5 game. It didn’t take long for fans to return to their Richt-era grumbling about Mike Bobo, and the sequence at the end of the half didn’t help. Georgia didn’t seem to be looking to attack a specific pressure point. If the offense simply wanted to react to what UT-Martin showed on defense, we’d have seen a pass-heavy approach that put up more points and yards. Instead we got a look at several reserve tailbacks, asked Beck to make a variety of throws, and spread the ball around to 11 different receivers. The coaches got film on a wide variety of formations, personnel groups, and plays.

Again, though, a vanilla game plan can be executed well or poorly. Run blocking wasn’t great, and the backs have to be better at getting through crowded interior space. With a banged-up Milton as the only back with experience and UT-Martin attacking the run, this wasn’t going to be an impose-your-will kind of game. Pass blocking was much better – Beck was rarely pressured and had all day on the play-action passes that opened the game up in the third quarter. Georgia was only 5-12 on third downs, and Beck missed some open receivers on a couple of key third downs. The objectives of the offense might become more coherent as we get further down the schedule, but the basics apply regardless of the simplicity of the game plan.


UT-Martin gained only 262 yards, 116 of which came against the reserves after Georgia led 31-0 late in the third quarter. It’s tempting to glance at the numbers and conclude that the defense was dominant. Hey – it was a near shutout, they gained fewer than 150 yards until garbage time, and Georgia rotated its personnel at a dizzying rate.

The Skyhawk offense used a heavy dose of read option in the backfield that either resulted in a run or set up a quick play-action pass. This approach had a few consequences. First, the quick releases neutralized Georgia’s pass rush. It’s a familiar tactic we’ve seen plenty of times. Georgia wasn’t showing much more than a few stunts along the defensive front to begin with, and it’s not surprising there was only a single sack. Plays developing to the outside also put Georgia’s inside linebackers more into horizontal pursuit rather than an upfield attack. Dumas-Johnson and C.J. Allen saw the bulk of the action at ILB and recorded a total of four tackles. That’s not a slight on their play; it’s just the nature of the offense they were up against. Both Dumas-Johnson and Mondon showed tremendous speed to stop outside runs just short of the sticks on a couple of third downs.

The lion’s share of tackles came from the safeties and star. Malaki Starks, Tykee Smith, and Javon Bullard were quick in support and cut off gains on the quick passes and runs to the outside. Georgia’s athleticism, especially from the safety position, was overwhelming in this game. That advantage helped to cover up some mistakes that will have to be worked on before they see tougher competition. It was common early in the game to see a missed tackle cleaned up by someone from the secondary before it became a big play. The UT-Martin read option also tested Georgia’s edge containment, and the results weren’t great. Again, it was often up to the defensive backs to limit the damage.

The secondary could afford to be aggressive in support because UT-Martin didn’t present much of a downfield passing threat. They passed for only 128 yards – under 4 yards per attempt. It helped that some of their longer passes were incomplete; they did manage to get someone open a few times but couldn’t connect. Their quick swing passes, receiver screens, and play-action rollouts were snuffed out without many breaking out for long gains. Georgia is fortunate to have a dynamic tandem at safety like Bullard and Starks, and Tykee Smith is a veteran at star who understands where to be. Bigger tests will come when opponents are able to stretch the secondary and require the first two levels of Georgia’s defense to be more sound.

The only early UT-Martin scoring threat came late in the first quarter when quarterback Kinkead Dent kept the ball and ran 26 yards inside the Georgia 40. The drive stalled there – it was an interesting early decision to have the quarterback quick-kick on fourth down rather than gamble to extend a rare scoring opportunity inside Georgia territory. At that point Georgia led just 7-0. The kick was executed well and pinned Georgia inside their own 10, but the Dawgs were able to punch it out and flip the field to set up their second score. UT-Martin never had a better chance to turn the impatience of the Georgia crowd into genuine concern.

Extra Points

  • The playcalling in the final seconds of the first half has been beat to death, but an earlier sequence from the two-minute drive deserves a closer look. Georgia had the ball at midfield with 90 seconds remaining and one timeout in hand. Beck scrambled for 6 yards. After about 15-20 seconds, he dumped off a short pass to Cash Jones for two yards. Georgia had to burn its final timeout. Third down was another Beck scramble that eked out two yards; just enough to move the chains. Those three plays consumed about a minute off the clock, and Georgia was only at the UT-M 40 with just over 30 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left. In that context we were fortunate that Georgia even got points out of the drive. During the final timeout Smart was visibly livid about using the final timeout.
  • Oscar Delp’s touchdown reception wasn’t easy. He had to turn back inside to catch an underthrown ball and then keep his balance while spinning back around to get to the endzone. It was the kind of body control we’ve seen many times from Bowers. Bonus – it was a wheel route!
  • Delp had a shakier moment earlier in the game. He whiffed on a block on Bowers’ rushing touchdown delaying Bowers from turning the ball upfield. Bowers was capable enough to score anyway, and Delp responded with some much better blocking later on. The loss of Darnell Washington was most felt on the edge in the running game. It’s unfair to put that on Delp, but he’s one of the main players Georgia hopes to fill some of that role. Perimeter blocking is essential to what Georgia wants to do on offense.
  • Bowers really is a cheat code. His first reception broke four tackles, earned a personal foul penalty, and set up Georgia’s first score. After watching the offense struggle on their first possession, seeing Bowers do his thing calmed the nerves a little.
  • Due to injuries newcomers Andrew Paul and Roderick Robinson saw quite a bit of time at tailback, and Cash Jones saw his role expand far beyond garbage time. Jones had some nice catches out of the backfield. Robinson earned over 4 yards per carry and had a nice third down gain on a quick toss. He doesn’t have breakaway speed but can be effective off the bench once Edwards returns to the lineup. Paul wasn’t able to do much, but he is still working back from a serious knee injury. Just having him available for this game was a good sign, and he’ll continue to improve.
  • Aaron Murray was correct about Lovett’s dropped pass in the endzone. Georgia’s receivers need to show that they can fight through contact and come up with the ball. We saw Arian Smith jostled a few times on incomplete passes. Could a flag have been thrown? Sure. But you’re not always going to get the call, and you have to make the play. We know what Smith can do in the open field where his speed dominates. In this game though we saw Smith asked to make more contested catches that tested a different skillset. If he’s going to play a larger role on the offense, it can’t be all about the deep ball.
  • Georgia’s set at punter, but how many teams would like UT-Martin punter Aidan Laros on their roster? He was consistently excellent all game and punted for a 50.3 average.
  • Beck isn’t going to rip off a run like Bennett had against Auburn last season. But his touchdown run was important. It was decisive and not tentative. His change of direction was under control and not clumsy. It’s something defenses will see on film and at least have to respect.
  • We didn’t get a chance to see much of Georgia’s pass rush in this game. The passing down sub package with Jordan Hall, Mykel Williams, Jalon Walker, and Darris Smith got Georgia’s lone sack but is still young and raw. Without a dominant inside presence like Jalen Carter or Jordan Davis some of these younger outside pass rushers will have to play a larger role in pressure on passing downs.
  • Given the opponent the crowd was outstanding. They were ready to go, loud, and engaged into the fourth quarter. If Kirby Smart was hoping for the team to feed off the crowd’s energy, it didn’t happen. You got a sense that the crowd was expecting the early knockout blow and looking for a reason to celebrate, but that moment didn’t come until the third quarter.

Post Heading into 2023 on top

Friday September 1, 2023

We last left the Georgia football team celebrating a record-breaking victory over TCU for a second straight national title. It’s been an eventful offseason: it began with unthinkable tragedy which veered into scandal. There was celebration as another large group of Bulldogs headed for the NFL. There was transition and reunion as revered offensive coordinator Todd Monken left for the NFL and Mike Bobo began his second stint in the role. We’ve seen transfers out and transfers in. As we reset for another season and another title defense, this is what I’m thinking about.

1. Coming to terms with the offseason. In January the Bulldog program went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in the span of a few hours. A day that began with a second straight national championship fête ended with the tragic death of two members of the program. The incident opened the door to investigate everything from the program’s recruiting operation to its off-field behavior, and the fallout made its way in the NFL Draft. Each subsequent ticket or arrest added to the narrative (excessive or not) of a reckless culture.

Things have been relatively quiet as the players returned for preseason camp, and it might be tempting to view the upcoming season as an opportunity to move on. It’s not that simple. To begin with, there won’t be a #77 on the field each Saturday. The wider college football audience will be turning back to the sport for the first time since January, and we can expect studio shows and national broadcasts to mention the offseason in their coverage of the two-time champions. There are still people dealing with the human toll of the fatal crash, and the legal aftermath won’t be so tidy.

2. A different kind of title defense. A year ago Georgia, though the defending national champions, began the season ranked third. The title was a breakthrough moment that erased 40 years of frustration and established Georgia as an elite program, but they weren’t the odds-on favorite to repeat. It wasn’t necessarily a slight – few teams repeat, and Georgia’s historic 2022 draft results left a lot of personnel questions. The Dawgs were still a popular playoff pick and expected to be in the mix. It’s risible to think of the #3 team as having something to prove, but we all know how this works. Even if the uphill climb from #3 to #1 doesn’t do it for you, there were still some significant accomplishments that had eluded the 2021 team, chief among them an undefeated record and the SEC title.

The larger theme in the summer of 2022 wasn’t about repeating; it was Kirby Smart’s emphasis on continuity. “We didn’t build this program on hoping for one-year wonders,” he explained. “We built a program to be sustained.” I don’t mean to say that Georgia didn’t have a target on them last year; the whole “hunter vs. hunted” thing also came about in the summer of 2022. Though the repeat came into focus as the season unfolded the more immediate goal was proving that 2021 wasn’t a one-time flash in the pan. Georgia hadn’t even made the playoff in consecutive seasons and hadn’t won the SEC since 2017. There were new objectives on the way to a repeat.

Again Georgia opens the season as the defending national champion. The NFL Draft promoted another large group of contributors and leaders to the professional ranks. But a successful title defense seems to have done the trick as far as national perception. The Bulldogs begin 2023 in a different place than they did in 2022. They’re the consensus #1 team. They’re also defending an SEC championship and are expected to hold on to that crown. Now that we’ve seen a program replace 15 draft picks and still win a title, there’s a trust that this year’s questions can be similarly resolved.

We’ve seemed to jump right to the three-peat. Kirby Smart is right to be more concerned about complacency, and the “better never rests” motto of continuous improvement is consistent with the approach he’s used since 2016. But the three-peat has been front and center since SEC Media Days, and it seems to color every discussion about this year’s team. Yes, that might have something to do with the perception of this year’s schedule and the implication that Georgia will walk unchallenged into the postseason. Confidence is high, and so are expectations.

Right or wrong, the quest for the three-peat will hang over everything Georgia does this year. High expectations are nothing new at Georgia, but an attitude approaching title-or-bust isn’t the norm. Georgia has earned this status. I asked this time last year, “Are you able to smell the roses, or do you find the familiar nerves and worry creeping back in with the start of another season?” That still applies – I hope we’re all able to relish in this era of Georgia football. The “nerves and worry” though have transitioned from the old doom-and-gloom to a sense of foreboding that it might end. A title is always the team’s goal, but for us it shouldn’t become Gollum’s obsession with the ring. Remember – “We built a program to be sustained.”

3. What will Bobo 2.0 look like? It’s safe to say that the days of the I-formation and fullbacks are gone, but what else has changed? Bobo himself has been on quite a journey since 2014. He’s been a head coach and returned to the SEC for a couple of unsuccessful stints as offensive coordinator. He’s had to adapt to different levels of competition and talent. He’ll have more talent to work with than he’s had in nearly a decade, and while his earlier Georgia offenses had superstars like Gurley, Chubb, Stafford, and Green, Georgia is recruiting at a different level now and the overall level of talent available to Bobo might be as good as he’s had it. But with all of that talent comes extraordinary expectations. The 2019 offense that was good enough to get Georgia to 11-1 and to the SECCG was scrapped when it was exposed as noncompetitive against elite teams.

Personnel changes alone will affect how Bobo schemes the offense. Darnell Washington was an offensive tackle with receiver skills. He was an extra lineman blocking on running plays and a matchup nightmare on pass plays. Georgia has talented tight ends beyond Brock Bowers, but Washington’s skill set was unique and afforded Todd Monken the ability to run very different plays and looks without changing personnel. Stetson Bennett’s mobility became a factor that separated him from other quarterbacks and helped him maintain the starting job as he developed. Georgia didn’t call a ton of designed runs for Bennett, but he was able to extend plays and do enough damage running the ball that defenses had to respect the danger. Carson Beck might be able to scramble long enough to progress through his receivers, but we’re not likely to see the crazy (and sometimes terrifying) escapes. Georgia has a deeper group of receivers now, and the addition of a dangerous slot like Dominic Lovett means that we might see a more traditional passing offense than the 12 personnel that featured both Bowers and Washington. Georgia will always emphasize a physical running game, but a dinged-up group of tailbacks will require some creativity.

4. How will Georgia manage and develop its roster? Georgia’s starters were on the field quite a bit last season. Close games against Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri were 60-minute affairs. Florida’s second-half comeback kept the Dawgs from emptying the bench. Mississippi State was close at the half. Even the dominant win over Auburn was just 21-3 into the fourth quarter. The upside was that individuals like Stetson Bennett and Brock Bowers were on the field long enough to build the stats that propelled them to national recognition. The downside? Carson Beck saw action in 7 games – fewer than half of Georgia’s 2022 contests.

With the understanding that a schedule rarely turns out as expected, Georgia should be double-digit favorites in most of its regular season games. Ideally that would mean ample opportunity to get the reserves in, build experience, and manage the starters for what could be another long 15-game season. At the same time, Carson Beck needs reps with his offense. South Carolina could be an early test, but there’s no question that the difficulty picks up in October and November as Georgia gets into conference play and gets away from Sanford Stadium. There’s a lot to iron out: Beck of course, the health and rotation at tailback, roles for a fleet of young defensive backs, the pass rush, and more. First things first: Georgia has to play itself into a position to have these choices.

5. Around the team

  • Should we worry about placekicking? Jack Podlesney wasn’t called on for many game-winners since the 2020 Peach Bowl, but we saw in December how big games can come down to special teams. Georgia’s options to replace Podlesney are Jared Zirkel, a redshirt junior who has waited in the wings for three years, and true freshman Peyton Woodring. The sum total of their experience is Zirkel connecting on a 21-yard field goal at South Carolina last year.
  • Will depth at tailback lead to position changes? Yes, we know Bowers can run the ball, but he’s much more valuable and versatile doing so as a tight end. Word that receiver Dillon Bell is getting a look is interesting – he has decent speed (around 4.53/40) and had many more rushes than receptions in high school.
  • Earnest Greene steps into some big shoes as a redshirt freshman. A new left tackle will be protecting a new quarterback. The rest of the starting offensive line is proven and experienced. Depth is a little more of a concern than it has been, and Georgia has been fortunate with injuries up front. A lot seems to be riding on Greene following in the footsteps of Broderick Jones and Andrew Thomas.
  • If Georgia does have a slightly different look to its offense this year, Dominic Lovett could be the reason why. Darnell Washington’s size was a tough matchup for any pass defense, but a proven slot receiver like Lovett presents a different kind of matchup problem. Rosemy-Jacksaint, McConkey, and Lovett have years of experience and a wide range of skills between them, and then you’re able to bring in players like Arian Smith. Meanwhile Brock Bowers has to be accounted for. There’s a reason why people are excited about the Georgia passing game.
  • With dominant interior defensive linemen like Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter, we’re used to seeing pressure come from the inside. Georgia’s returning defensive linemen are experienced and disruptive in their own right. Without a clear superstar among them, will we see Georgia’s edge players take on a larger role? Chaz Chambliss was thrown into the deep end after Nolan Smith’s injury and eventually held his own. Mykel Williams emerged as a future star late last season. Marvin Jones, Jr. and Jalon Walker likewise began to stand out. Of the Georgia players left off the preseason All-SEC teams, Williams might be a name you’re likely to see on the postseason lists.
  • I was pleased to see Carson Beck do enough to earn the start early in camp and prevent any kind of nonsense drama lingering into the season.
  • The order behind Beck is less clear; I expect we’ll see both backups early in the season and get a sense of how the coaches rate them. Again, you’re balancing the need to get Carson Beck the reps to win big games later in the year with the need to develop solid experience behind him given the nontrivial chance you’ll need that experience.
  • What injuries are we keeping an eye on? Smael Mondon is an important piece in the middle of the defense, but Georgia is deep at linebacker and someone like Xavian Sorey could step in. Kamari Lassiter’s foot injury doesn’t seem to be a long-term problem but could keep him out for a few weeks. Lawson Luckie had a strong offseason, but it might be October before we see the freshman tight end. The availability of Kendall Milton and Andrew Paul at tailback could turn a thin position into a strength. Paul is returning from a serious knee injury, and Milton’s hamstrings seem to be a chronic problem. Will Ladd McConkey’s nagging back issues affect his availability at some point in the season?
  • I’m glad Arian Smith is no longer among the injured. His explosiveness singlehandedly adds a whole other layer to Georgia’s passing attack.
  • Kenny McIntosh quickly addressed my concern last year about replacing James Cook’s all-around skill. I should have known better given that Cook and McIntosh had similar receiving stats in 2021. That torch will have to be passed again, and the heir isn’t quite so obvious this year. Daijun Edwards lead returning tailbacks with 101 yards last season, but a healthy Paul could also get a look on passing plays.
  • Three of four secondary positions seem locked in, but we should see a good mix of combinations in the defensive backfield. Daylen Everette and Julian Humphrey could battle it out to replace Kelee Ringo, but Nyland Green or true freshman AJ Harris will get a look if Lassiter is sidelined for a couple of games. Veteran Tykee Smith is strong enough at Star that Javon Bullard was able to move to safety, and true freshman Joenel Aguero could be the future at that position. Bullard and Malaki Starks give Georgia its best safety duo in some time – perhaps even better than LeCounte and Reed.

6. Miscellany. Will Georgia break any records this year? Yes, there’s the three-peat (check out Seth Emerson’s trek to Minnesota that explores that history.) There’s also a little history to be made at Sanford Stadium: winning all seven home games would establish the program’s longest home winning streak. Mike Bobo returns as offensive coordinator, and his last season heading up the Bulldog offense set the program’s record for points per game (41.3 PPG in 2014.) Will he be able to top that?

Post Georgia’s 87 for 2023

Friday September 1, 2023

Georgia opens its 2023 season this week with a full roster. There’s not much new to say about it because by now the pattern is familiar. The roster skews young, and those young players will be counted on to replace those who have graduated or left early for the NFL. Georgia continues to recruit at an elite level, and those newcomers understand that expectations and opportunities begin right away. Eighteen true freshmen enrolled in time to go through spring practice, and nine of them were here to experience the 2022 playoff preparations.

Numbers-wise, the 2023 roster is nearly a mirror image of the 2022 roster. Once again there are only nine seniors. As in 2022 60 of the 87 have at least three years’ eligibility remaining. The roster is balanced with 42 scholarship players on offense and defense. Within the offense, Georgia has traded two tight end spots for wide receivers, and there is one fewer offensive lineman and quarterback in 2023. The biggest gains have come in the secondary. A strong recruiting class has increased the defensive backfield from 14 to 16 scholarship players (not to mention the return of injured walk-on standout Dan Jackson.)

With the exception of projected starting LT Earnest Greene Georgia’s offensive starters should be juniors or seniors. Mike Bobo will have an experienced and proven group familiar with the offense. The experience of the defensive starters could be a bit more varied. There are veterans along the defensive line and at inside linebacker, but Georgia’s edge pressure could largely come from guys with only a year or two in the system as the Bulldogs have replenished their talent at the position.

(Players are listed 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.)

QB (3) Brock Vandagriff [R]
Gunner Stockton
Carson Beck [R]
RB (5) Andrew Paul [R]
Roderick Robinson II *
Branson Robinson Daijun Edwards
Kendall Milton
TE (4) Lawson Luckie *
Pearce Spurlin *
Oscar Delp Brock Bowers
WR (13) Anthony Evans III *
Tyler Williams *
Yazeed Haynes *
Chandler Smith
De’Nylon Morrissette
Dillon Bell
Cole Speer
Ladd McConkey [R]
Arian Smith [R]
Jackson Meeks
Rara Thomas
Dominic Lovett
Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint
OL (17) Jamal Meriweather
Monroe Freeling *
Kelton Smith
Joshua Miller *
Johnathen Hughley
Aliou Bah [R]
Earnest Greene [R]
Drew Bobo [R]
Dylan Fairchild [R]
Micah Morris [R]
Jared Wilson [R]
Amarius Mims
Austin Blaske [R]
Chad Lindberg [R]
Tate Ratledge [R]
Sedrick Van Pran [R]
Xavier Truss [R]
DL (11) Jordan Hall *
Jamaal Jarrett *
C.J. Madden [R]
Christen Miller [R]
Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins [R]
Jonathan Jefferson [R]
Mykel Williams

Warren Brinson
Nazir Stackhouse
Zion Logue [R]
Tramel Walthour
LB (15) Troy Bowles
Raylen Wilson *
CJ Allen *
Samuel M’Pemba *
Gabe Harris *
Damon Wilson *
EJ Lightsey [R]
Xavian Sorey [R]
Marvin Jones, Jr.
Darris Smith
Jalon Walker
C.J. Washington
Chaz Chambliss
Jamon Dumas-Johnson
Smael Mondon
DB (16) Kryon Jones
Daniel Harris
Chris Peal
Joenel Aguero *
AJ Harris *
Justyn Rhett *
Julian Humphrey [R]
Nyland Green [R]
Malaki Starks
Daylen Everette
Marcus Washington
JaCorey Thomas
Javon Bullard
David Daniel-Sisavanh
Kamari Lassiter
Tykee Smith
SPEC (3) Peyton Woodring Brett Thorson Jared Zirkel [R]
87 33 26 19 9

Post The big 5-0

Thursday August 31, 2023

NFL rosters were whittled down to 53 players this week. It’s a point of pride just to have a lot of Georgia players drafted, but getting drafted is only the first step towards the goal of making the team. Every spot on a 53-man NFL roster is precious and scarce, and teams manage those spots ruthlessly. Surviving the NFL preseason meatgrinder and making the final 53-man squad can be one of the most challenging periods in the transition from college football to the NFL. Making a team is a test of talent, sure, but it’s also a trial of physical endurance and mental toughness. A whopping 50 former Bulldogs have made it through that process.

In total, there are 50 Bulldogs on active rosters to start the season. The team with the most Bulldogs is the Philadelphia Eagles, as six former Georgia players will suit up for the defending NFC champions. Twenty five of the 32 NFL franchises have at least one Bulldog on the team.

Half of those 50 have come out in the past two years. It was a cause for celebration to see a record 25 Bulldogs selected in the 2022 and 2023 drafts. It’s mind-blowing that 24 of those 25 are still on active rosters. (OL Justin Shaffer was cut by the Falcons this week.) We can add Kearis Jackson who made the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent after an outstanding preseason.

Georgia isn’t just turning out draftable players. They’re producing NFL-ready talent.

Think that might get a mention or two on the recruiting trail?

Post The unthinkable: how might it end?

Tuesday August 15, 2023

To no one’s surprise, Georgia was the consensus (though not unanimous) preseason #1 team in the first AP poll. It’s deserved recognition for the two-time champs, but of course preseason polls are next to worthless once the games begin. Brett McMurphy reminds us that history isn’t necessarily on Georgia’s side.

Godspeed Georgia: 17 of last 19 AP preseason No. 1 ranked teams failed to win national title. Only Alabama in 2017 & USC in 2004 overcame the preseason No. 1 jinx. Georgia also trying to become 1st 3-peat champion since Minnesota (1934-36)

Expectations are sky-high for Georgia in 2023. The Bulldogs are #1 in all major polls, early odds have them as big favorites in nearly all regular season games, and they’re picked to repeat as SEC champions. We might sometimes forget how hard it is to keep a run like this going. Count Georgia’s perfect seasons. It won’t take long. It nearly ended twice last season, and Georgia’s escapes against Missouri and Ohio State might add to the sense of being bulletproof. Georgia was able to repeat after a record draft class in 2022, so the departure of another large draft class in 2023 shouldn’t be tough to overcome, right? Even if Georgia navigates its regular season without a blemish for the third straight year, the postseason brings you up against your peers: teams that recruit, spend, and train at similar levels.

Hopefully Georgia is able to join the short list of teams that went wire-to-wire as #1. To do so would be the program’s greatest accomplishment and cement this era in college football history. If not, how might it end? Georgia’s few losses and close games in recent years suggest a few scenarios:

1) The perfect storm. Georgia’s last home loss was a sleepy noon shocker in 2019 at the hands of South Carolina, a 20+ point underdog. Combine a disinterested Georgia team, a single big play, and four turnovers, including a pick-six right before halftime, with an uncharacteristic missed Blankenship field goal in overtime, and you got just enough to hand Georgia its lone regular season loss and kept the Bulldogs out of the playoff. Kirby Smart admittedly didn’t do a good job of “getting (their) ass ready to play.” Georgia might have been able to overcome that and snap out of it in time most days. Will Muschamp’s Gamecock defense was opportunistic enough and Georgia’s 2019 offense limited enough that South Carolina stretched it out to overtime and made the outcome a crapshoot.

Georgia will have a lot of games in 2023 in which they’re heavy favorites. A weak home schedule, especially in September, will feature several games in front of sub-capacity crowds sapped by the late-summer heat. Those fans, many of whom have decided the season comes down to the trip to Knoxville, will be disappointed if the team looks anything other than dominant in its home games. The team – with visions of a threepeat and basking in its #1 ranking – will have to find its own motivation each week, and, yes, South Carolina is among the home opponents again. Avoiding “that game” isn’t just a problem for the offense: Stephen Garcia made a career for himself in South Carolina’s 2010 upset of Alabama. We know that obvious fundamentals like turnovers and special teams can give even lopsided underdogs a chance. The challenge, as always, is seeing each week as an opportunity to improve and play to the program’s standard. It’s not always so easy.

2) Waning explosiveness. Georgia’s lack of explosiveness was a major theme in 2019. Without much of a deep threat and a razor-thin tight end position, defenses swarmed the line of scrimmage and made for a compact area of the field to attack. The constrained offense (along with the turnovers) played a role in the South Carolina upset but also left Georgia in a number of close games in which they had to lean on a very good defense. It’s hard to imagine an offense with Brock Bowers and Arian Smith – not to mention Dominic Lovett, Oscar Delp, or Ladd McConkey – having issues with explosiveness, but there’s someone else on the other end of those passes. The quarterback position remains unsettled heading deep into August though the depth chart looks solid. Georgia’s next quarterback will have to be as adept as Stetson Bennett at generating explosive plays, and Mike Bobo will have to be creative spreading the ball around to a dangerous group of receivers and tight ends. If the quarterback can’t get the ball downfield consistently, an offense with a banged-up group of tailbacks will find it difficult to move the ball.

Turnovers were a minor issue at Missouri in 2022 (-2) and didn’t help things, but we also saw problems with explosiveness that had begun to creep up in the Kent State game. With Missouri playing tight to the line of scrimmage and blitzing often, Georgia couldn’t get sustained success on the ground, and the screens and short passes that were an extension of the running game earlier in the season weren’t available. Stetson Bennett completed just 56% of his attempts at an unremarkable 7.25 yards per attempt. Georgia was held to their lowest SEC scoring output of the year until that frozen, windy game at Kentucky. Fortunately the defense never broke and the offense remained composed enough to find something that worked. Georgia had too much talent to completely slip back into its 2019 shell, but a lackluster night from the offense can be enough to keep even a mid-table opponent within a score or two.

3) Overwhelmed defense. Auburn and Oklahoma 2017. LSU 2019. Florida 2020. Alabama 2021. Ohio State 2022. Even the best Georgia defenses during the Kirby Smart era have found themselves in shootouts. Sometimes, as with Alabama in 2021, you get a second chance. Sometimes, as with Oklahoma or Ohio State, the offense can keep up. But those shootout wins have been the exception. Georgia has allowed 30 points or more in ten games since 2017. They’ve only won three of those games (Oklahoma 2017, LSU and Ohio State 2022.) In Georgia’s nine losses since 2017, they’ve given up at least 35 points in seven of those games.

Giving up 30 points doesn’t happen often – ten times in six seasons and usually in the postseason – but it does happen frequently enough and with enough regularity that the possibility has to be considered. It’s true that most of these high-scoring games have come at the hands of Heisman candidates and known explosive offenses. Georgia’s defense isn’t getting blindsided by Kentucky or Georgia Tech. It does suggest what we’ve come to accept as common knowledge: really good offenses are hard to stop by even the best defenses. That realization was the root of the crisis that spurred changes in Georgia’s own offense after 2019, and during their title run Georgia featured a high-performing offense of their own.

What does one of these offense look like? Ian Boyd put it like this (h/t Blutarsky): “…if you don’t have an elite space force or the tactics to beat a team with skill, and it just comes down to trench play, Georgia will whoop you.” It’s possible that Georgia won’t face an offense with those traits until the postseason. LSU and Alabama aren’t on the regular season schedule. We saw first-hand the breadth of Ohio State’s receiving talent, and USC has a special playmaker at quarterback in a proven system, but, again, those potential challenges are still hypothetical at this point.

Tennessee jumps out as the regular season opponent most likely to challenge Georgia’s defense. The Vols lost the quarterback and top receivers that led to their breakthrough season in 2022. They still return several productive receivers and add an important transfer in Dont’e Thornton. Kirby Smart has done well to keep the up-tempo Tennessee offense in check, but it doesn’t take much for them to get on a roll. Lane Kiffin and Hugh Freeze have been known for productive and explosive offenses in the past, but they might fall short of the level of skill that has given Georgia’s defense the most trouble.