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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.

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