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Post Georgia 39 – Kent State 22: Getting it Out of the System

Monday September 26, 2022


After a week of over-the-top “is this year’s Georgia team better than (x)” overreactions to the first three games, the #1-ranked Bulldogs struggled to put away a decisive underdog. Kent State was a two-point conversion away from a one-possession game in the fourth quarter. Georgia had to convert a fourth down at the goal line just to make the final margin somewhat comfortable. The Bulldogs turned the ball over three times, missed tackles, dropped passes, and had a couple of special teams miscues. Georgia, gasp, now might not be a runaway lock to reach Atlanta, much less the NFL playoffs.

How best to (over)react this week? Do we throw away what our eyes showed us in the first three games? We could go the other way – it’s tempting to dismiss a sloppy performance as just the consequence of a noon game against an opponent few outside the program took seriously. That’s the challenge in talking about this game – what can we chalk up to just one of those days, and what might Kent State have exposed that should concern us in the future? Take for example:

  • What about the turnovers? Turnovers are more or less luck. Georgia got through three games without turning it over, and it caught up to them. That’s not really something to take from the game though of course each turnover play will be analyzed for things to improve and correct.
  • Georgia’s difficulty defending perimeter passes was uncharacteristic. This skill had been a strong point in the first three games, and Georgia had reliably held offenses to under five yards per pass attempt by snuffing out quick passes to the outside. Kent State tested Georgia’s young defensive backs, especially Lassiter and Starks, and the visitors were able to have some success. It was jarring to see Lassiter and Smith unable to force the receiver back inside on Kent St.’s first touchdown – those are plays that had become nearly routine for this defense. “Eye discipline” was the phrase everywhere after the game. It’s the kind of thing you would expect to be worked on as part of the development of a young defense, but we should expect to see future opponents try to test those players again.
  • Is Georgia’s lack of a deep threat on film now? The Bulldogs tried to hit Ladd McConkey on a deep shot on the game’s first play, and another deep pass attempt over the middle was picked off. Georgia’s longest pass play – including yards after catch – went for 23 yards. Georgia has had success this season with shorter passes to an arsenal of receivers that turn into big gains. But if deep passes aren’t a threat the defense can become more compact and take away the space that allowed those short receptions to develop. Stetson Bennett had been averaging well over 10 yards per attempt through the first three games, but he was a much more ordinary 7.5 yards per attempt in this game. Georgia was still able to drive consistently and never punted.

Rather than dwelling on this game, it’s probably more useful to look at it as a profile of a game that might get Georgia in trouble later this season. It’s no revelation that a rash of turnovers can keep an underdog in a game. A defense that takes poor angles and doesn’t work well as a unit will give up points. An offense that doesn’t get many explosive plays and settles for eight field goal attempts in two home games will struggle to put opponents away. The problems Georgia showed Saturday aren’t characteristic flaws, and many of them can be drilled on the practice field. If, though, Georgia does unexpectedly drop a game this season, I expect we’ll be talking about some of these same areas.

One of Kirby Smart’s core principles is composure, and Georgia passed an unexpected test of its composure. The interception didn’t rattle Bennett and lead to more miscues. The Bulldogs were only penalized twice. Podlesney was rock solid. McConkey had about as poor of a first half as you could have, and he bounced back to contribute in the second half. A defense that was back on its heels for the first time this season stood tall facing first and goal from the 3. The offense calmly drove to answer Kent State’s fourth quarter touchdown. Georgia was never able to put the game away until that last score, and they needed a fourth down conversion to get it, but neither did they panic or get away from what they did well. I’ll grant that this wasn’t the fourth quarter of the national title game. Smart probably wasn’t expecting his team’s composure to come into play, but it was there to prevent this game from becoming something much worse than uncomfortable.

  • Georgia’s a deep team thanks to recruiting, but players still matter. Jalen Carter was missed on the interior defensive line. We laud receivers for blocking, but sometimes they need to make more plays as receivers. The anticipated return of AD Mitchell and Arian Smith could help extend the vertical passing game.
  • I’ve mentioned before that being cleared to play doesn’t mean that a player is over an injury. Ratledge is still struggling to get up to speed. (To be fair, the other guards aren’t doing much better.) Kenny McIntosh was still able to contribute with a thigh contusion but lacked a bit of explosiveness. Players often just fight through these injuries, and fans wonder why they see less playing time or diminished production.
  • It wasn’t Kirby Smart’s finest hour either. Georgia was forced to burn their final timeout after sending 12 men onto the field before a Kent State field goal attempt. That nearly led to a clock management disaster at the end of the first half. Fortunately Bennett was able to just break the goalline, but the clock would have expired had he come up short.
  • Kent State did like to move around on special teams with mixed results. Georgia ended up using two timeouts as Kent State flirted with going for it before settling on a moderate fielf goal. Their presnap motion on the punt team opened up the path for Georgia’s blocked punt, but it also created some confusion that led to a successful fake punt. Kent State’s placekicker was as surefooted as Georgia’s.
  • Darnell Washington’s 16-yard catch in the third quarter was one of the most impressive you’ll ever see. The ball was behind him, and he had to twist around and extend every bit of his 6’7″ frame to dive for the ball. He’s always been a dominant blocker but has come a long way as a receiver.
  • Jamon Dumas-Johnson was ready for the noon kickoff and got the lion’s share of his two sacks and three TFL early. His early presence inside might’ve even led Kent St. to attack the outside a little more where they began to find some success.
  • Mondon and especially Dumas-Johnson have improved since the opener, but you definitely don’t like seeing your first team defense gashed for the runs Kent State ripped off late in the game. We were spoiled last year with a dominant defensive line, but linebackers have important gap responsibilities against the run that can be exposed if someone is out of position.
  • The absence of Carter opened up opportunities for players like Bear Alexander (even as a fullback in the goalline package!) He’s earned some more time in the defensive line rotation.
  • McConkey, for all of his first half struggles, still led Georgia in receptions and receiving yards. The Dawgs need him, especially with Mitchell out, and you saw that in the team’s response to his miscues.
  • Two touchdown runs and five receptions seems like a routine game for Brock Bowers, but his special talent and consistent play is a big reason why this game never seemed to be in danger.

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