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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?)

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