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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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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.)

ELIGIBILITY REMAINING
4 YEARS 3 YEARS 2 YEARS 1 YEAR
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.


Post Making chicken salad out of an eight-game SEC schedule

Friday June 16, 2023

The addition of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC in 2024 immediately raised questions about how they’d fit into an eight-game football schedule that was already stretched to its limits. We’ve learned some answers along the way. Would the SEC keep the divisional structure? (No.) Would a 16-team league mean a ninth game to improve its inventory for a new media deal? (No, for now.) Will traditional rivalries like Georgia-Florida be preserved? (Yes – at least that one.) With all of those questions answered, the big one left was the schedule itself.

Wednesday night the SEC unveiled its football schedule for 2024. Dates are still to be announced, but we know now which eight conference opponents each team will face. Here’s the league announcement, and here’s Georgia’s announcement.

I generally agree with the consensus: a nine-game schedule is still the better way to go, but this is about as good as it gets for an eight-game slate. All legacy teams will get a quick introduction to Texas or Oklahoma. Most decent rivalries seem to be preserved. (Will Georgia fans miss Missouri or, dare I say, South Carolina?) The tiered system guarantees the best programs will face several of their peers, and there are not many places for any contender to hide. The league’s TV partners should be pleased.

It’s a miss for Georgia if you expected that a better overall schedule would mean a more compelling home schedule. Tennessee and Auburn should be the highlights of the six-game home schedule, but they are teams Georgia hosts regularly. Three of the season’s most compelling and novel games (Clemson, Alabama, and Texas) will be played elsewhere. You’d hope that swings back around in 2025 (Oklahoma, perhaps?), and UCLA is set to visit in 2026. No question though that a season ticket package for games played anywhere but Athens would be far more attractive than the home games. In the past two seasons we’ve seen teams unexpectedly rise to create games of national interest in Athens (Arkansas and Kentucky in 2021; Tennessee in 2022). There won’t be many chances for a surprise with only three SEC home games, but that’s already a reality Georgia fans deal with every other year due to the commitment to Jacksonville. A nine-game schedule is really the only way out of that situation.

Divisions are gone but instead the conference split the teams into two tiers based on their conference winning percentage over the past ten seasons. It’s almost an NFL approach to scheduling. Georgia will face four teams from each tier. A program’s fortunes can change quite a bit over ten seasons, and you might not group teams like Tennessee, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Auburn the same based on a more recent history. It’s uncertain how often they’ll adjust the tiers – will it be adjusted annually using the same ten-year rolling average – but I like the implied tip of the cap to a relegation system. Will future coaching contracts include language or incentives about maintaining a program in the top tier?

This all looks good for 2024. It’s unclear how or if the format will persist into 2025 and beyond. Georgia’s announcement stated that “the 2024 schedule will be a standalone one-year schedule as Conference members continue to finalize a long-term schedule format,” so it’s possible that we’ll be doing this all over again next spring. Will this be an annual jigsaw puzzle, or will there be some attempt to put scheduling on some rules-based autopilot? Balancing rivalry games, reshuffling the tiers, and ensuring a decent rotation of other conference opponents might lead to less-attractive combinations in the future than this initial effort. The league punted on the nine-game schedule for now, but it’s still on the table, and adding another game could be enough reason to blow things up and start from scratch again.

One thing is for certain: no matter the format Georgia won’t be playing at Texas A&M.


Post Add stadium renovations to WLOCP uncertainty

Sunday May 14, 2023

A renovation of the Jacksonville stadium area has been something we’ve had our eye on for a while. Two years ago ESPN detailed plans for a $441 million development project surrounding TIAA Bank Field including a $120 million football facility for the Jaguars. That facility is under construction and should be ready in time for the 2023 NFL season. This facility is a prerequisite for something a little more relevant to us:

The Jaguars hope the project is the first step in what they are calling the Stadium of the Future for Jaguars fans, meaning eventual significant renovations — or possibly even a brand-new one — within the next decade.

We’ve learned more about those “eventual significant renovations” this week. Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry discussed plans for those renovations on local radio and laid out a timetable that could leave the Georgia-Florida game without a venue in 2025 and 2026.

Worth noting is that the mayor’s office had to clarify “that nothing is set in stone and the time period could be subject to change from two years to one.” In other words these are still fluid plans that have yet to be finalized and approved at any level. According to Andy Staples “the Gators have been operating under the impression that if the stadium renovation goes forward, it would start in 2026 and make the facility unavailable in 2026 and 2027.” On the other hand a two-year schedule for a complete down-to-the-studs renovation might prove to be optimistic. So even the timetable is up in the air. The important takeaway is that some time later this decade the Jacksonville stadium is likely to be unavailable for the WLOCP.

The news comes as the future of the game in Jacksonville itself is uncertain. The current contract between Georgia, Florida, and the city of Jacksonville runs through 2023 with a two-year option to extend through 2025. The deadline to take that option is coming up next month, but there’s still another layer of uncertainty: the SEC has yet to finalize its future scheduling format when Oklahoma and Texas join the league in 2024. Everything from 8 vs. 9 conference games, the elimination of divisional play, and the preservation of traditional rivalries is on the table. We’d hope to get some resolution to that question at the SEC spring meetings taking place at the end of May.

So a lot could be happening over the next six weeks. If we get clarity about the future SEC football scheduling format, that could inform the decision to take or leave the option to extend the contract with Jacksonville. But even that option might need to be modified if the stadium won’t be available in the final year of the deal.

Ticket crunch

Stadiums are shrinking. New stadium projects emphasize amenities over capacity. When you’re competing against a large, crystal-clear HDTV picture in an air-conditioned room, that’s probably not a bad strategy. When studies find that “70 to 80 percent of ticket revenue comes from the first 15 to 20 rows,” the right move is to maximize the experience for those fans over cramming another 20,000 people into bleachers. Nashville will spend over $2 billion to build a new football stadium with a capacity around 60,000 – and they plan to bid on Super Bowls and CFP games! Buffalo is looking at a new stadium with a capacity between 60-63,000. Even the massive college football palaces are hopping on the trend: work at Bryant-Denny stadium to improve premium seating will lead to a modest reduction in capacity.

Georgia and Florida already accept a smaller venue by playing in Jacksonville (or any NFL stadium.) But even that capacity has shrunk. The current contract with Jacksonville requires requires a capacity of at least 82,917 fans. Anyone who’s been to the game is familiar with the temporary seats in either endzone that got them to this number. Of course attendance was limited in 2020, and in 2021 and 2022 capacity was reduced to 76,700 with a concession of $400,000 to each school. Why? Again, premium seating. The decision was made not to put temporary seats in the north endzone in favor of a premium seating area.

The nominal capacity in Jacksonville is currently 67,814 without the temporary seating. In 2019 attendance was 84,789. Now it’s 76,700. I don’t want to presume too much about a stadium redesign that hasn’t made it to blueprints yet, but if the Georgia-Florida game is that important to Jacksonville and its stadium partners there has to be consideration for capacity. That might put Jacksonville at odds with current stadium trends, or it might require a creative solution to allow for temporary expanded capacity in a design built around the premium experience.

We’ve already seen capacity come down by about 10%. A further reduction would make this game even less accessible and more on par with postseason games. It doesn’t seem all that crazy to suggest that by 2029 10-15,000 fewer fans will have access to this game than in 2019. (And that would be about 20,000 fewer fans than either home stadium could support.)

Jacksonville or Home-and-Home

It’s been clear for some time that the financial benefits have kept the game in Jacksonville. The schools pay relatively little in terms of operating and travel expenses for the game, and there’s a handsome payout split by Georgia and Florida. That combination nets each school quite a bit more than they’d gain hosting on campus every other year. So long as that remains the case any arguments about recruiting, fairness, or a trip to the Golden Isles will be overshadowed by the windfall.

Large payouts for neutral site games are nothing new. Georgia pulled down $5 million to play Oregon in Atlanta last season and will do so again playing Clemson in 2024. It’s not hard to imagine that a marquee SEC rivalry game like Georgia-Florida would command a premium price from any of the cities Staples mentioned. (Don’t forget about the expense side of the ledger either. We hear about payouts, but remember that it also costs a good amount of money to host a home game.)

If Jacksonville is unavailable for a couple of years, the assumption would be a home-and-home series like 1994-1995. Staples reminds us that what keeps the game in Jacksonville could just as well to apply to a number of sites in Florida and Georgia.

…if Jacksonville’s stadium winds up being unavailable for two years, don’t be shocked if the game gets shopped to Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa or Miami. And if one or two of those cities bite, don’t be surprised if the price for Jacksonville to reclaim the series goes up prior to 2028.

Even with the Mercedes-Benz stadium a convenient short drive away I can’t see any other neutral venue coming close to capturing the WLOCP vibe. That seems ridiculous to say when most people’s idea of a good Georgia-Florida trip is to spend as little time in Jacksonville proper as possible. There are many ways to experience the WLOCP, but it’s hard to see the culture of “all those places where all those Dawg people have got these condominiums for four days” being replicated in Atlanta or Orlando. I’m willing to make an exception for my preference for home games to continue the tradition of playing this game in Jacksonville, but no thanks to turning it into just another generic neutral site game in a reduced-capacity NFL stadium. Either keep it in Jacksonville or return it to the campuses.


Post 2023 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview

Tuesday February 28, 2023

Greenville, SC and its Bon Secours Wellness Arena will be a focal point of women’s college basketball for the next month. After a year in Nashville the SEC Tournament returns to Greenville for the first of a three-year stint. Later in March Greenville will be just one of two regional sites for the NCAA Tournament (the other is Seattle.) Fans of eight teams will descend on Greenville to determine two Final Four participants. It’s very possible that at least one, if not both, of those Final Four teams will be on the court in Greenville this week.

SEC women’s basketball, like any other college sport, has had to adapt to rapid and widespread changes across the college athletics landscape. Any fan of college sports has had to get comfortable with change. NIL deals finally allow student-athletes to share in some of the value they create for their schools and sports. Updated transfer rules allow rosters to be remade overnight. Thanks to Covid-era allowances for additional years of eligibility there are players on rosters you’d swear you remember from the 2000s.

The effects of these changes will be on display in Greenville. Over half of the programs have welcomed new head coaches in the past three seasons. The transfer portal giveth and taketh: nearly every team has key contributors plucked from the transfer portal. Other programs have found it difficult to replace departed players and have fallen down the standings. Rejuvenated programs at schools like Ole Miss and LSU have brought in record crowds and could alter the usual patchwork of fans in the stands for the conference tournament. Thanks to new NIL deals and increased media exposure star players are making an impact outside of the SEC and even outside of basketball.

One thing that hasn’t changed is South Carolina’s dominance of the SEC. The defending SEC and NCAA champions are still on top, and they might be even better than they were a year ago. South Carolina’s last loss? That loss came in this tournament a year ago as 7-seed Kentucky caught fire and cut down the nets. An SEC Tournament title was the only jewel missing from South Carolina’s 2022 crown. Claiming that missing title is surely motivation in Dawn Staley’s locker room, but Kentucky’s run was a reminder that there are no sure things in the postseason.

We’ve had a surprise finalist in each of the past two seasons: Georgia in 2021 and Kentucky in 2022. Is there a Kentucky lurking in the field this year? That Wildcat team had two-time SEC Player of the Year Rhyne Howard and got healthy in time for the end of the season. LSU has emerged this season as a top 5 program and national contender, but they were humbled by the Gamecocks in Columbia. The setting probably won’t be much less hostile just 90 minutes from the South Carolina campus, but LSU has a rematch on their mind. Can a team like Tennessee or Ole Miss spoil the rematch and make their own statement about the future of their program?

Georgia’s Path Through the Tournament:
Wednesday: Bye
Thursday / Second Round: vs. Auburn 6:00 PM ET SEC Network
Friday / Quarterfinals: vs. LSU 6:00 PM ET SEC Network
Saturday / Semifinals: ~7:00 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-1): Good news – they’re finally seniors! The class including Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, and Brea Beal arrived in 2019-2020 as the nation’s top group of signees, and they have lived up to the hype. They were among the favorites to win a national title in the Covid-shortened 2020 season. They won the title last season as juniors. If they do pull off the repeat in a few weeks, they’ll be up there with the dynasties at UConn and Tennessee in the 2000s.

Dawn Staley’s top-ranked team isn’t just built around those three decorated seniors. Eleven Gamecock players average at least 10 minutes per game. Only three average over 20 minutes per game. That’s right – starters for the best team in the nation might not play half the game. It’s not just a question of building a big lead and emptying the bench. South Carolina turns to its reserves early in games, and there are important roles up and down the lineup. Most any team could start a versatile forward like Laeticia Amihere. 6’7″ Kamilla Cardoso has come out of the shadows this season and was the key factor in South Carolina’s win over LSU. Raven Johnson leads the team in assists off the bench, an indication of last season’s top-rated signing class beginning to assert itself.

Few teams can come close to matching the interior presence of Boston, Cardoso, Amihere, and emerging freshman Ashlyn Watkins. The results of that size are plain: South Carolina’s 250 blocks lead the SEC by a margin of nearly 80%. They lead the SEC in defensive and offensive rebounding. South Carolina’s success is a numbers game. They turn the ball over fewer times than anyone in the SEC. They rebound and block better than anyone. Put it all together and opponents might get one shot per possession in their halfcourt offense, and that shot might well be blocked. That advantage means an opponent must be extremely efficient in their own offense or hope South Carolina is wildly inefficient on a given night.

It speaks to the quality of the game around the nation and in the SEC that a team this loaded has had a couple of close calls. Two teams have taken the Gamecocks to overtime. A handful of other teams have kept the final score within single digits and had credible chances to win. Those results might provide hope for postseason opponents, but they’ve also been valuable and humbling experiences that will prepare South Carolina for the competition they’re likely to face in March.

Is there a weakness? As a team the Gamecocks only shoot around 31% from outside. Cooke is the team’s top perimeter threat, and she and Beal have taken over half the team’s three-point attempts. The duo connects at roughly 40%, but they can be streaky. South Carolina shot 29% from the perimeter vs. Stanford (an overtime win), 22% vs. Mississippi St. (a 7-point win), 20% vs. UConn (a 4-point win), and 27% vs. Ole Miss (an overtime win). That’s only part of the story though; they’ve shot just as poorly from outside in several blowout wins. They have so many other ways to score. Even a missed three-point attempt isn’t the end of the world when you rebound as well as the Gamecocks do. If a team is going to keep it close and have a chance for the upset, they need South Carolina to be cold from outside, limit South Carolina’s size advantage on the offensive glass, keep turnovers to a minimum to make the most of their own possessions, and hope the rest of the Gamecock team has an average night. Easy, right?

2) LSU (15-1, 27-1) (LY-2, PS-3): It was a small surprise to see LSU ascend to second place last season. There’s no underestimating Kim Mulkey, but it was a big job to get the most out of a senior class that was used to mid-table finishes. Mulkey’s challenge in her second season was nearly as difficult: replacing that experienced core and getting several new pieces to mesh. The biggest piece was the transfer of forward Angel Reese from Maryland. Reese was already a decorated star and Third Team All-American at Maryland, but she’s taken her game and confidence to another level under Mulkey. There can be a debate about the league’s most outstanding player, but Reese is the reason why LSU took a step forward after losing so much from last season.

Reese’s supporting cast is a mix of newcomers and well-traveled veterans. LaDazhia Williams, another threat to score inside, is a graduate transfer from Missouri who began at South Carolina. Sharpshooting Jasmine Carson is another graduate transfer by way of West Virginia and Georgia Tech. High-scoring guard Alexis Morris transferred to LSU, her fourth program, last season and has had a big final season. Flau’jae Johnson has been an impact freshman with a McDonald’s All-American pedigree and is the team’s second-leading rebounder as a freshman wing. Freshman Sa’Myah Smith has come on during the season for frontcourt depth.

LSU rolled through their nonconference schedule without a loss, but they received criticism for the soft level of competition. That skepticism kept them from rising far in the rankings or early NCAA Tournament projections even with an unblemished record. But as conference wins began to pile up, LSU’s quality was harder and harder to ignore. They rose to as high as #3 before falling at South Carolina. Their strength of schedule might cost them a seed or two in the national tournament, but they’ll be expected to reach the finals in Greenville for a rematch with the Gamecocks.

The near-perfect record didn’t come without some shaky moments. LSU was challenged at home by Georgia and Arkansas and struggled at last-place Texas A&M. There seemed to be a pretty clear separation in class when they met South Carolina. LSU fans packing the arena to support this deserving team was one of the highlights of the season, but the Tigers will have to stand on their own now in a “neutral” arena likely to be full of Gamecock and Volunteer fans. They have the confidence and toughness to get it done, and Reese can match any team’s best player. It’s the rest of the lineup that will determine LSU’s postseason ceiling.

3) Tennessee (13-3, 21-10) (LY-3, PS-2): With the exception of LSU and Angel Reese the conference’s top winner in the transfer portal might be the Lady Vols. Rickea Jackson had been a star player at Mississippi State since she stepped on campus. Jillian Hollingshead showed tremendous potential at Georgia while battling knee issues. That incoming star talent added alongside a leader like Jordan Horston meant high expectations for Kellie Harper’s team. The Lady Vols had returned to respectability with consecutive third-place finishes, and there was hope that this would be the year for the program to take the next step. The Lady Vols were picked second behind South Carolina, and they had three players on the preseason all-SEC first team – more than the Gamecocks!

Those expectations took a hit when a central player was lost to injury for the second straight season. Last season it was Horston missing the stretch run. This season took a turn when imposing post Tamari Key was sidelined for the season with blood clots in her lungs. Fortunately Key’s prognosis is favorable, but her absence put extra pressure on Tennessee’s wings and guards. Even with Key Tennessee struggled with a difficult nonconference schedule. Tennessee entered SEC play at 8-6 with losses to some of the best teams in the nation. Things changed once conference play began: the Lady Vols started 8-0 in the SEC until LSU cooled them off. But Tennessee has had the same problem against both conference and nonconference opponents. None of their losses are bad; lots of good teams lose to UConn, Stanford, Indiana, and LSU. Good wins however have been hard to come by. Yes, beating Alabama and Ole Miss separated Tennessee from the pack. They improved on their 2022 11-5 conference record, had their best record in the SEC in eight seasons, yet here they are in third place for the third straight season. The Lady Vols are again one of the better programs in the SEC, and that’s progress from a couple of seasons ago when they risked missing the NCAA Tournament. They’ve yet to take that next step back onto the national stage. That could begin to change with a deep run to the SEC finals.

Rickea Jackson has been the impact transfer Tennessee needed. She leads the Lady Vols with nearly 19 points per game. Horston remains a steady leader and adds 15 points per game. It says a lot though that these two 6’2″ wings are also Tennessee’s leading rebounders. First, they play with tremendous effort. But without Key there’s really not a dominant post presence, and they’ve been uncharacteristically weak against teams with elite rebounders like LSU and South Carolina. Tennessee can also struggle to find consistent scoring from night to night apart from its two stars. Only three players – Jackson, Horson, and Tess Darby – score over 6 points per game, but seven players get between 4-6 points per game. Cobbling together those points and finding someone with a hot hand – maybe Darby or Sara Puckett or Jordan Walker on a given night – has been enough to propel Tennessee to over 77 points per game, and the typically stingy Tennessee defense has done the rest. To beat the top teams in the league though and advance to the finals Tennessee will need to find a third star to shine next to Jackson and Horston.

4) Ole Miss (11-5, 22-7) (LY-4, PS-5): The Rebels finishing fourth in 2022 after going winless as recently as 2020 was one of the biggest stories of last year. This season the story told by another fourth place finish is that Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s program has staying power. The loss of Shakira Austin to the WNBA has led to a more diversified team with multiple ways to attack. Angel Baker has stepped up as the team’s go-to scorer. Madison Scott took an other step forward in her junior season with a scoring average in double figures and over 8 rebounds per game. A pair of transfers – Marquesha Davis from Arkansas and Myah Taylor from Mississippi State – have been important additions at guard. Like Tennessee the Rebels lack the imposing post presence that Austin provided. They’ve had to have much more balanced scoring, defending, and rebounding especially around the basket. Ole Miss doesn’t shoot particularly well from outside, though Baker and Snudda Collins can and will take the shot. They do have a number of players who can hit the midrange shot, crash the offensive glass, and run in transition.

Toughness and intensity have been consistent calling cards of Coach Yo’s teams from year to year. They’re undersized but outrebound opponents by nearly 9 per game. Their tight man defense limits opponents to under 35% shooting and only 26% from outside. They’re middling in creating turnovers but are happy to force a bad shot, rebound it, and get off running to the other end.

The Rebels have also improved their results away from home. January wins at Georgia and Mississippi State got them off to a 5-0 start in SEC play, and a tight comeback win at Alabama on the final day of the season gave them the edge over the Tide for fourth place. Despite finishing in the top four for two straight seasons, national respect has been tough to come by for the Rebels. They remain unranked in the polls with a NET rating in the top 25. They came close to a signature win against South Carolina, but that statement against an elite team has eluded them. They lost to the two ranked teams they faced in nonconference play. A January win over then-#24 Arkansas looks less impressive by the day. Ole Miss has simply had to settle for being a damn good team that has just enough talent and effort to rise above the majority of the conference. That’s quite a reputation Coach Yo’s program has built in a few short years. What’s next?

5) Mississippi State (9-7, 20-9) (LY-10, PS-8): Things were bleak for the Bulldogs at the end of January. A pair of ugly losses to Ole Miss and Georgia dropped MSU to 4-5 in the league, and they were in need of a reset. The Bulldogs made the most of a bye week and emerged from the break to upset Tennessee. Mississippi State finished the season winning five of seven games, and that win over Tennessee was the tiebreaker that earned first-year coach Sam Purcell the #5 seed over two other 9-7 teams. Purcell’s energy has given new life to a program that fell on hard times after amazing runs to the Final Four. A recent loss at Missouri showed that the Bulldogs still haven’t quite shaken the problems of the first half of the season, but wins over Alabama and Arkansas were enough to force a tie with Alabama and Georgia. MSU’s February success has a lot to do with the improved play of guard JerKaila Jordan. Jordan is averaging around 17 points in February and, along with Ahlana Smith, gives the Bulldogs a pop from outside. The Bulldogs have also gotten a shot in the arm from the return of leading scorer and rebounder Jessika Carter after a year’s absence. MSU’s strong finish has solidified their place in the NCAA Tournament. If they make it to Friday’s quarterfinals, they’ll see if their improved play can be the charm in a third try against their in-state rival. Purcell, known as a skilled recruiter while at Louisville, would love to have the last word against Ole Miss after coming up short twice earlier in the season.

6) Alabama (9-7, 20-9) (LY-11, PS-10): The Tide made some noise in last season’s postseason with a convincing upset of Georgia and a run to the WNIT quarterfinals. They’ve exceeded expectations in 2023 and will make the NCAA Tournament after piling up wins over the bottom half of the conference. A January win at Ole Miss is their lone win over a team seeded 5th or higher, but you can’t fault them for taking care of business against most everyone else. Alabama had a chance to finish in the top four up until the last day of the regular season, but they enter the postseason with three straight losses. Pulling out of that slide might take a win over Florida, a team that beat the Tide just a week ago. The Tide have found success this year as the conference’s leading three-point shooting team with nearly 9 made three-pointers per game. They largely play four-out, one-in with Jada Rice making plays in the paint and a quartet of guards and wings able to shoot from outside or drive past defenders. Brittany Davis scores nearly 18 points per game, and there’s no question she’s the team’s offensive engine. Davis attempts nearly a quarter of the team’s field goals and three point attempts but also attacks the basket and heads to the foul line more than any other teammate. The attention that must be paid to Davis leaves Alabama’s other guards with good shots, and you almost have to do a second take at their percentages. Aaliyah Nye shoots 45% from outside. Point guard Hannah Barber shoots 48%. Megan Abrams and Loyal McQueen merely shoot in the 30s. The outside shooting has been less reliable down the stretch; Alabama shot 30% or lower in three of their final five games.

7) Georgia (9-7, 20-10) (LY-6, PS-9): As a coach you like to see a team play its best towards the end of the season. That’s just what new Georgia coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson is seeing from her Bulldogs. Coach Abe, like many first-year coaches these days, was both a victim of and a beneficiary of the transfer portal. Several key players and an entire top 10 recruiting class decided to leave Georgia during the transition. Abe responded by convincing her entire UCF signing class as well as three experienced members of the UCF team to follow her to Athens. She added three transfers from other schools and re-recruited four remaining Georgia players to stay with the program. Establishing her culture among players with such varied backgrounds has been a difficult and painstaking process. Georgia showed early signs of toughness with a win at Georgia Tech and comeback wins over Wisconsin and VCU. But there were also some disappointing losses in December, and the start of conference play was an eye-opener. Georgia struggled to a 2-5 start in the league. They had to come from behind to beat Florida and Kentucky, and a bad loss at Texas A&M all but sunk the season.

The season turned after the loss at A&M, and it turned on defense. Georgia’s 3-2 matchup zone and occasional press had its moments earlier in the season, but over the last half of the season things began to click much more consistently. Georgia finished the season winning seven of nine games including a five-game winning streak in February. In those seven wins Georgia allowed an average of 50 points per game with no one opponent scoring more than 61. Even in a pair of road losses to top 5 teams Georgia looked locked in. They took undefeated LSU to overtime in Baton Rouge and finished the season playing South Carolina closer than anyone had on the Gamecocks’ home court. Georgia’s defense has created 612 turnovers during the season (20.4 per game), and they lead the SEC in steals and turnover margin.

Offense improved along with the defense. UCF transfer Diamond Battles, Georgia’s leading scorer, took a few games to adjust to the physicality of the SEC. She is averaging 16 points per game over Georgia’s nine-game run and has broken 20 in each of the final two games. Battles isn’t the only player who improved down the stretch. Coach Abe likes to talk about players understanding and settling into their roles, and two of Georgia’s biggest role players come off the bench. Javyn Nicholson has been a physical reserve post player for several seasons but has developed a smooth midrange game to go along with impressive post moves. Nicholson averages 9.5 points per game on the season but has been in double figures in every game but one over Georgia’s final eight games. She’s also contributed on the glass with five double-doubles this year. Alisha Lewis leads Georgia in assists and three-pointers despite starting only four games. Lewis is often among the personnel on the court to close out games and hit the game-winner in Georgia’s home win over Kentucky. Audrey Warren, a Texas transfer, has had to expand her role at Georgia. She’s been a tough-nosed defender and rebounder for years but has been asked to do more on offense. Warren responded with 8 points per game and is Georgia’s second-leading three-point shooter.

Georgia’s biggest strength is also a weakness. They generate lots of turnovers but turn it over at a high rate themselves. Even that’s been improving. Georgia has turned it over 14.6 times per game over their final five games – nearly a two-turnover improvement over their season average. Foul trouble can also be a problem for Georgia. Georgia is blessed with depth at the post position, but potent scorers Brittany Smith and Malury Bates can take themselves out of games with fouls. The Lady Dogs especially need Smith available in the postseason. Earlier in the season Georgia was often plagued by long scoring droughts. Those have become fewer in frequency as Coach Abe better understood the combinations she needed on the court, but scoreless stretches can still be a problem. Georgia’s outside shooting relies primarily on three players – Battles, Lewis, and Warren – and the team is shooting under 30% from outside. The most effective offense has been to create transition off of turnovers or to attack the basket with guards and a deep rotation of posts and draw fouls.

Not many teams are playing as well as Georgia right now. They might not have the star power to pull off the deep run that Rhyne Howard and company did a year ago from the 7-seed, but Georgia won’t be an enjoyable opponent for anyone in this tournament. Georgia’s held their own in the league’s two toughest gyms, they have a coach used to having to win the conference tournament to keep a season going, and they have a deep and experienced roster finally playing well as a unit.

8) Arkansas (7-9, 20-11) (LY-8, PS-4): A second-straight eighth-place finish wasn’t what Arkansas expected at the start of the season or even in mid-January. The Razorbacks started the season 13-0 en route to a #17 ranking and began 4-1 in the SEC. A tough stretch at the end of January led to four straight losses including a trio of three-point losses. Another three-game losing streak in February was much more lopsided and suggested a team that had started hot but faded. A decisive win against Texas A&M to close the season at least stopped the losing streak and give the Razorbacks some confidence heading into the tournament. Arkansas still plays classic Mike Neighbors basketball and attempts more three-pointers than any other SEC team. Connecting with those deep shots has been the problem this year. Arkansas shoots less than 30% from outside. They might try to make up for it with volume, but the explosive scorers of their recent past aren’t on this team anymore. There’s a foursome of guards and wings who each attempted at least 124 three-pointers, but no player is shooting over 33.6%. Chrissy Carr has emerged as the top outside threat with Samara Spencer posting similar numbers. Makayla Daniels inherits the playmaker role and can connect from outside or drive to the basket and draw fouls. Forward Erynn Barnum is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. Freshman Saylor Poffenbarger has been an important addition to Arkansas’ game inside the paint while also showing an outside threat. The relative lack of firepower has kept Arkansas from notching a win over the top half of the conference, but they do have a pair of wins over their opening tournament opponent Missouri. A top-20 recruiting class should help revitalize the Arkansas offense next season.

9) Missouri (6-10, 17-12) (LY-9, PS-12): Missouri also might seem a bit stagnant ending up where they finished in 2022, but they were better than expected after forwards Aijha Blackwell and LaDazhia Williams transferred. Missouri’s style hasn’t changed: they’re still among the league’s top three-point shooting teams and can slice apart defenses that overextend to the perimeter. Missouri started conference play 3-0, and wins over Alabama and Mississippi State have had them on the NCAA bubble for most of the season. Two losses to close the regular season might have dampened postseason hopes. While Missouri’s style hasn’t changed, their problem, like Arkansas, has been consistency. They lean heavily on forward Hayley Frank who is the team’s leading scorer and shotblocker. Frank also leads the team in three-pointers made and is second on the team in rebounding. That’s a lot to put on one player, and it’s gone badly a few times this year. Lauren Hansen can also get hot from outside but can be streaky – Hansen has gone over 20 points in four SEC games but has been held to 5 points or fewer five times. Mama Dembele has dealt with injuries but still leads the team in assists and can increase the pace of play when she’s in the game. Missouri has had to play a committee of players down low, and it hasn’t been as effective as the Blackwell-Williams combination.

10) Auburn (5-11, 15-13) (LY-14, PS-13): It’s not quite an Ole Miss type of rise yet, but Auburn made definite progress in year 2 under Johnnie Harris. The Tigers more than doubled their SEC win total in 2023, and they emerged from the bottom four with a season-ending win over Vanderbilt. Things started rough with six straight SEC losses, but Auburn broke into the win column with an overtime upset of Ole Miss. That win started Auburn’s first three-game winning streak in six years, but they finished the year losing five of seven games. With the exception of the Ole Miss win, all of Auburn’s wins came over the bottom 4. Auburn was also 1-7 in road games with the lone victory coming at last-place Kentucky. There’s no question that Auburn is improving, and learning to win away from home will be key to taking that next step. Forward Aicha Coulibaly and guard Honesty Scott-Grayson lead the Auburn attack averaging in double-figures and are complemented by 9 other players averaging over 10 minutes per game. Auburn plays an aggressive defense and is second in the league in steals. That aggression can lead to foul trouble, and Harris has to rotate post players to manage fouls. Both Coulibaly and Scott-Grayson are capable of huge nights scoring over twice their averages, but to hang with better teams they need help from players like Kharyssa Richardson or Sania Wells and impactful contributions from their post rotation.

11) Florida (5-11, 16-13) (LY-5, PS-6): Last season Florida finished fifth and reached the NCAA Tournament despite a coaching change just before the season and the departure of the team’s leading scorer. Kelly Rae Finley’s job as interim coach earned her the permanent gig. They haven’t been able to recapture that magic in 2023 and have slid back to the Wednesday play-in game. Injuries, most notably to Zippy Broughton, have tested the roster, and depth has been their undoing in several games in which Florida led or kept close early. Even as injured players returned to the roster wins have been tough to come by. Guard play is decent with KK Deans and Alberte Rimdal shooting nearly 40% from outside and Nina Rickards attacking the basket, but spotty post play has cost them. Jordyn Merritt, a key member of last season’s overachievers, was among the injured and has found it tough to get going. Florida did notch two quality wins at the end of the year over Arkansas and Missouri and might have knocked both programs off the NCAA Tournament bubble.

12) Vanderbilt (3-13, 12-18) (LY-13, PS-14): Shea Ralph had a decent debut last season leading the Commodores to four conference wins for the first time since 2018. Ralph wasn’t able to build on that modest success this year, and personnel is a big reason why. The Commodores carried just a nine-player roster this season after defensive specialist Jordyn Cambridge was lost for the season. Guard Caija Harbison has been the standout; she’s among the SEC leaders in points, assists, and steals. Harbison and Marnelle Garraud give the Commodores some scoring punch from the guard position, and Sacha Washington is the top post threat. Ralph’s team can put points on the board, but depth issues have shown up in rebounding and on defense. Opponents are scoring 71 points per game, shooting 45%, and outrebounding the Commodores by over 6 per game. Vanderbilt’s split series with Arkansas gave us two of the more entertaining lower-profile games in the SEC this year.

13) Texas A&M (2-14, 10-17) (LY-12, PS-11): For a while it looked as if Joni Taylor’s only SEC win of the year would come against her former team. A late-season win over Kentucky moved A&M out of the basement, and that accomplishment might be the highlight of their season. It’s been a long way down for A&M since winning the SEC regular season title just two years ago. The Aggies’ new coach has had a rough transition as she’s faced an overhauled roster, inexperience, and injuries. Taylor brought Georgia’s #7-rated signing class with her, and they’ve all had to contribute as freshmen. The top prospect from that group, Janiah Barker, missed a good chunk of the season with a wrist injury but returned just in time to lead A&M to an upset of Georgia. 5th-year forward Aaliyah Patty has been a constant through the injuries. The Aggies play the usual tough Joni Taylor defense, but scoring has been a big problem. A&M is a full ten points behind the next-worst team in points per game. They had a brief outburst against Georgia as Barker returned to beat the team she originally signed with, but teams have enough film on Barker now as the surrounding cast struggles. Another top-20 class is on the way in to provide reinforcements.

14) Kentucky (2-14, 10-18) (LY-7, PS-7): What a rollercoaster – or house of horrors – for the Cats over the past two seasons. They started the 2022 SEC season 2-8 before ripping off six straight wins. That momentum continued into the tournament, and the seventh-seeded Wildcats pulled the upset of the year with a win over South Carolina to claim the SEC Tournament title. This season’s Kentucky teams also started 2-8 in the SEC, but there was no Rhyne Howard and Dre’una Edwards to rescue them this time. They enter this tournament with a much different momentum: seven straight losses. Though there have been injuries to overcome largely this is a team that just hasn’t matched up talent-wise with the rest of the SEC. Replacing Rhyne Howard is a monumental task, and Kentucky lost a lot more from last season’s championship squad than Howard. The guard trio of Robyn Benton, Jada Walker, and Maddie Scherr give the Cats some firepower, but they struggle with production in the paint. Kentucky is near the bottom of the league in rebounds and turnovers, and coming up short in the possessions game is never a good combination. One of their wins was against first-round opponent Florida, so there’s hope for one last rally before the season ends.


Post Bobo – Take 2

Wednesday February 15, 2023

After three seasons heading up the Georgia offense, Todd Monken will head back to the NFL. It’s not a huge surprise given 1) Monken’s self-described journeyman status and 2) the interest with which he pursued NFL interviews over the past month. “I’m a vagabond,” Monken admitted in a pre-Peach Bowl interview that sounded almost like a farewell. He was also blunt about the nature of the job. “This is a business,” Monken said. That wasn’t said with a tone of dissatisfaction; it’s the reality for the majority of college coaches who come into their jobs without particularly strong ties to the school. Athens can get its hooks into you especially if it’s your last stop on the coaching carousel – just ask Georgia’s former head coaches. But even the appeal of Athens and the success of the Georgia program wasn’t enough to tie down a professional vagabond used to moving on to new opportunities.

Monken came to Athens in 2020 with a clear mandate to bring Georgia’s offense up to par with those of other national contenders. Disappointing postseason losses in 2018 and especially 2019 showed how far Georgia had to go relative to the teams it considered its peers. Record-setting offenses churning out top draft picks at LSU and Alabama suggested a new approach was necessary if Georgia hoped to break through. Monken began his renovation in the most difficult of circumstances. His first two options at quarterback washed out. The transfer hoped to be Georgia’s answer to the Heisman winners at LSU and Alabama couldn’t shake injury. The leading rusher was coming off two knee surgeries, and the receiving corps wasn’t especially deep. Oh – the installation of this new offense had to take place during a pandemic with no spring practice.

Georgia didn’t break through in 2020, but Monken showed flexibility and creativity by designing successful offenses around two very different quarterbacks. He could win with a run-heavy approach as at South Carolina or air it out against Mississippi State. Despite the uncertainty at quarterback that lasted the entire season (and then some), Georgia was able to find some building blocks around which Monken could construct a devastating attack over the next two seasons.

Three years is a fairly standard tenure for a successful high-profile coordinator. Dan Lanning was Georgia’s defensive coordinator for three seasons. It would have been disappointing but not shocking had Monken followed Lanning out of town after the 2021 national title. We know how this works: teams want to hire the coaches of champions, and we want a program that develops its coaching talent as much as it does its players. It was a pleasant development that Monken returned for an encore in 2022. He was not going to be a Georgia lifer.

Kirby Smart understood that reality and wasn’t caught off guard by Monken’s departure. Georgia immediately announced Mike Bobo as Monken’s replacement. Bobo of course served previously as Georgia’s offensive coordinator from 2007–2014 before leaving to become the head coach at Colorado State. He reemerged in unremarkable one-year coordinator stints at failing Auburn and South Carolina programs before joining Smart’s staff as an offensive analyst.

Bobo left Athens in 2014 at the height of his game. Georgia ripped off a three-year stretch from 2012-2014 averaging 40 points per game and easily finishing in the top 10 of offensive SP+. Bobo was a Broyles Award finalist in 2012 as Georgia became a national title contender. Aaron Murray became the SEC’s career passing leader. Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel ushered in a new golden age of Georgia tailback play. As Blutarsky put it at the time, “Bobo’s departure doesn’t come as a relief.” With Jeremy Pruitt’s abrasive style clashing with the rest of the staff and the program falling behind in resources and facilities relative to the SEC, Bobo’s offense was one of the more stable elements of the program.

It’s impossible to discuss Bobo without unpacking a lot of emotional baggage. But for a few years here and there Bobo has been associated with Georgia either as a player or coach since the mid-1990s. That time period covers a lot of ups and downs, and much of it fell squarely in the middle of Georgia’s 40-year title drought. Any player or coach from that era will bear the burden of missed opportunities, what-ifs, and even outright failures. Many Georgia fans will struggle with disentangling themselves not only from their opinion of Bobo from the early 2010s but also from their frustration with the Georgia program of the same time. That was plenty of time to develop a rich lode of playcalls or outcomes we blamed for Georgia coming up short – again.

Bobo might have left Athens as a hot commodity, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing since. His first three Colorado State teams finished 7-6. The scary emergence of an autoimmune disease disrupted his final two seasons at CSU and threatened his coaching career. The stress of coaching and the draining recovery process took a visible toll on the vibrant playcaller we remember. His experiences at Auburn and South Carolina with programs in turmoil couldn’t have been pleasant. Returning to Athens as an analyst was an opportunity to reset, collaborate with another coordinator at the top of *his* game, and consider his plans for the future.

Eight years is a long time. Georgia football has changed. Football itself has changed. Thanks to Monken’s success Kirby Smart has absorbed those changes as well as anyone. With Monken Smart showed urgency by looking outside the program to find someone with fresh ideas and a fluency in everything from the Air Raid to pro schemes. Georgia’s offense might not need that kind of revolutionary change again, but it does need to carry on in the same spirit. Smart would have been in the ideal position over the past year to evaluate how well Bobo has incorporated those same lessons in his scheme and playcalling. On a touchier note Smart would also have had to evaluate whether Bobo after eight difficult years still has the drive and relentless recruiting chops that took him to the top of his profession during his first stint at Georgia.

Ultimately any offense operates with Smart’s blessing and preferences, and Smart understands how dangerous a backslide to 2019 (or, heaven forbid, 2015) would be. I doubt we’ll see the return of the fullback as a glamour position in Georgia’s offense, but, hey – who knows? Fans aren’t known for subtlety, and any strongly-held beliefs about Mike Bobo from 2014 are about to be relitigated. We give it a quarter before the first non-ironic cries of “run the damn ball Booboo.”

Before he calls one play Bobo will be involved in one of the most anticipated decisions of the offseason. Georgia’s quarterback position is wide-open for the first time since 2020. The Bulldogs have three top candidates they’ll be evaluating during the spring and summer. We might have assumptions about the pecking order, but a coaching change can be a fresh start. Choosing a starting quarterback is sometimes not a straightforward or permanent decision. Monken looked for every reason to play someone other than Stetson Bennett, and the position seemed unsettled for two of Monken’s three seasons in Athens. Smart admitted that it took a while to realize the value of Bennett’s mobility. “He overcame us,” said Smart.

Bobo was involved with Georgia’s quarterbacks from 2001-2014 and coached several of Georgia’s titans at the position: Greene, Shockley, Stafford, and Murray. That means he was also involved in the Greene/Shockley platoon in the early 2000s and the in-season tryout that took the first half of the 2006 season and had Joe Tereshinski starting. The coaches decided to redshirt Murray in 2009. Bobo’s final offense in 2014 was productive, but the quarterback room was left in bad shape upon his departure. We look back on those decisions – from Greene and Shockley all the way to Bennett – with clear hindsight. The point is that even the most accomplished coaches can struggle with those decisions. Is that a preview of how the 2023 decision will pan out? Of course not, but it won’t be surprising to see the decision linger beyond spring into August and even into the season. If that happens, it’s likely that the quarterback position will quickly overshadow any talk about playcalling or scheme.