Ball State at UGA Preview and Prediction – September 0, 2023
BALL STATE AT UGA PREVIEW AND PREDICTION – SEPTEMBER 9, 2023 — After a slow start in week 1, the Dawgs got rolling. Georgia wound up finishing off Tennessee-Martin handily when it was all said and done. In just one week, I heard everything from Mike Bobo will cost us another championship to Carson Beck needs to be benched for Brock Vandagriff. Classic week 1 overreactions.
I expect week 2 to bring greater clarity to the strengths and weaknesses of this squad, and I expect it’s not everything you think you know. Even after two weeks, we’ll really learn more about the identity and strengths of this team in week 3.
Let’s take a look at what Georgia is up against this week in our Ball State at UGA preview and prediction.
What You Need to Know About Ball State
In week 1, the Cardinals led 7-3 against Kentucky at the end of the first quarter. The Wildcats then scored 27 unanswered points to blow the game wide open. Running back Marquez Cooper was bottled up all night, averaging just over two yards per carry. Georgia fans might remember him from last season, as he faced the Dawgs while playing for Kent State. In that game, he had 21 carries for 90 yards.
Smart described Cooper in a typical fashion for him: “Really physical, downhill, power runner, good back. Our guys were talking about him just this morning (Tuesday) about how powerful he was and how ironic it is you’re playing against him again at a different school in the same conference. We have a lot of respect for him.” Yep. It’s still “lotta respect” season, folks.
Ball State used multiple quarterbacks, starting with grad transfer Layne Hatcher. Hatcher is a journeyman, previously playing for Alabama, Texas State and Arkansas State. However, freshman Kadin Semonza took the majority of the snaps behind center against UK. He finished 15-for-21 for 165 yards and a touchdown. Don’t be surprised if you see Semonza take the majority of the snaps again this week. Hatcher is more of a game-manager, while Semonza showed greater accuracy and arm talent last week.
Ball State also uses a gadget player in Kiael Kelly. He only attempted 1 pass for 22 yards. He added in seven carries, and will play as a blocker on certain downs because of his 210 lb. frame. On some packages, Kelly will play with either Hatcher or Semonza, and can line up at quarterback or running back.
Scouting the Cardinals Defense
Defensively, Ball State has an impressive safety in Jordan Riley, who led the team in tackles last week. The junior from Maryland made several preseason all-MAC lists. He led the team last year in pass deflections, and he’s also known for ferocity in striking other players. Ball State coach Mike Neu said, “He arrives at the football with bad intentions, and you love that from a coaching perspective.”
But Riley is the only returning player in the secondary from last season. That means Georgia will hope to pick apart the Cardinal secondary. UK’s Devin Leary managed almost eight yards per pass attempt last week. If Carson Beck can’t pass on the zone defense shown by the Cardinals, it’s going to get ugly from Dawg fans.
UGA could run into issues if the Cardinals are able to keep them off the field as they did to Kentucky. UK allowed Ball State to sustain long drives, even if they didn’t often result in points. Ball State only scored seven points in the second half, but had four drives of nine plays or longer in the 2nd half against the Wildcats. Kentucky couldn’ty get the Cardinals off the field, even in clear passing downs. I don’t think UGA will have that same problem.
When: Noon, Saturday, September 9
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Spread: Georgia by 41.5
Georgia will want to come out fast and put this game away quickly. UGA should find some more success running the ball between the tackles this week. If Georgia goes with the same approach that Kentucky did against Ball State, left guard Xavier Truss needs to step his game up in run blocking. A converted left tackle, Truss has had up and down performances on the offensive line. Currently, right guard Tate Ratledge and right tackle Amarius Mims seem to be better options to run behind. However, keep an eye on Micah Morris, who might come in to physically impose himself if Truss again fails to perform to the standard.
Dawg Injury Report
I’m curious if Ladd McConkey will be back this week to get some reps. Based on Kirby’s comments this week, my gut tells me no. His lingering back pain has many of the signs of an injury that Kirby will claim is “day-to-day”, but will really end up being 6-8 weeks to recover. Brock Bowers is also banged up, as he was last week too. He’s hard to keep off the field because of his attitude and impact. But in this game, Georgia will want to limit his snaps as well and make sure Oscar Delp continues to develop in his role as the backup.
Jackson Meeks is still recovering from a foot fracture, but is back running. Running back Daijun Edwards should be good to go this week and is expected to play. Smart said running back Kendal Milton also had a good week and is getting close to being back at full speed. Linebacker Smael Mondon should also get more snaps in this week. My assumption is Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint will not be held out this week, so Georgia will get its top X receiver back.
What to Watch For
Keep your eye on Jamon Dumas-Johnson, aka Pop. He’s the starting inside linebacker, but several players are gunning for his starting job or at least more snaps. Pop struggled at times in week 1 with containing the edge or over pursuing players. He’s the vocal leader of the defense and his willingness to take on blocks is top-tier. However, there are several more athletic linebackers behind him who play better in space. True freshman CJ Allen actually had the most snaps at linebacker last week. Look for him to continue to fight for playing time in the coming weeks. Georgia brought in some DUDES in Allen, Raylen Wilson and Troy Bowles in last year’s class.
I also want to see Beck throw the ball further down the field this week. The vast majority of his yards in week 1 came from throws that were just a few yards downfield. Out of Beck’s 21 completions, 14 came at or behind the line of scrimmage. Stetson Bennett had a pretty good deep ball, but his intermediate passing was elite. I’d like Beck to have the same quality deep ball as Stetson, but I’d rather see him pick apart defenses in those 10-15 yard passes to Bennett’s level.
Related: UGA’s Fall Injury Report
Ball State at UGA Preview and Prediction: Final Prediction
Ball State is a step up in competition from last week. I think Georgia’s offensive line will have been challenged all week to perform at a higher level, and Beck will get at least one of his weapons back to feel more comfortable in the offense.
Georgia’s offense will stall out at times again in this game as it will still be vanilla, but will continue to hit on some explosive plays. I’m optimistic that Georgia will be able to get off the field better than Kentucky did and even create a turnover or two. The line at the moment is 41.5 points.
Georgia almost never covers when it’s that wide of a margin. They still won’t this week, but they’ll come very close.