By: Brian Butcher, Contributor
UGA 49-Oregon 3
The Georgia Bulldogs faced the Oregon Ducks in a matchup of top 15 teams to kick off the season. Former UGA Defensive Coordinator Dan Lanning made his coaching debut, and it was one that he will want to forget. Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs had more talent and were far better coached than Lanning and the Ducks. Georgia scored touchdowns on its first seven drives as they tallied more offensive yards than in any game last season. QB Stetson Bennet set a career high in passing yards with 368 on 25/31 passing. Conversely, Ducks QB Bo Nix reemerged as Bo Picks, Backyard Bo, or whatever disparaging nickname he has earned had 173 yards and 2 interceptions crippled the Ducks who threatened the Dawgs but never found the end zone. Here’s what I saw:
What I liked:
OC Todd Monken utilized his plethora of weapons on his offense to show a game plan that UGA almost never chooses. He had Bennett throwing quick passes to receivers and tight ends with a healthy dose of passes to backs like Kenny McIntosh out of the backfield. McIntosh led the team with 117 yards receiving including a 38 yard catch and run. The Dawgs added up 439 yards through the air and only 132 on the ground. RBU? The Dawg offense looked more like a Trevor Lawrence led Clemson team than a Jake Fromm led Bulldog team. Coach Smart was sending a subtle message during the game and a clear one after: “If I was a receiver I’d love to play in that offense.”
Still think Stetson Bennett isn’t the real deal? The number’s tell you otherwise. Against his last three opponents (Michigan, Alabama, Oregon) he is 62/87 for 908 yards with 8 total touchdowns and no interceptions. Don’t be shocked if you see him donning a suit in New York for the Heisman trophy ceremony later this year. He has that much talent himself and more than enough weapons around him.
The Georgia offensive line did a great job protecting Bennett, who was pressured on only 5 of his 31 attempts. They were able to run the ball effectively with 5.3 YPA on the ground. Interestingly, Georgia did something they almost never do on the offensive line: rotation. Several players rotated in during the game. Back up RT Amarius Mims came in during the second quarter. Devon Willock rotated in at both guard positions. Center Sedrick Van Pran-Grainger was the only player to not rotate on the line during the game. Xavier Truss did get the start at the left guard position over Willock, and RG Tate Ratledge returned from his season-ending injury in week 1 last year. Perhaps new line coach Stacey Searls is responsible for this rotation.
Speaking of rotation, the Dawgs didn’t just do it on the offensive line. They rotated in talent all over the field, especially on defense. When you get 5 defenders drafted in the first round, you cannot replace that talent. Yet, Georgia appeared to rotate in more players before the game was well in hand than in previous years. The star position (think nickel corner) saw William Poole, Javon Bullard, and Tykee Smith get playing time. The point being, while UGA lost an immense amount of talent that cannot be replaced, they may actually be deeper this year on defense.
Georgia saw plenty of new faces on the field during the game, whether that be true freshman or players who have not received much playing time. Freshman Safety Malaki Starks made an athletic interception in the first half. He’s a name you’ll be hearing a lot of this season and he led the team in tackles. The 5 star has incredibly athleticism and can cover and tackle in space. Mykel Williams saw playing time at defensive end as well. In all, Georgia saw 6 players get their first start on the defensive side of the ball. The new inside linebackers mostly did well in their debut. Smael Mondon struggled at times but showed flashes of excellence, while Jamon Dumas-Johnson had a solid performance. Kamari Lassiter locked up the corner role opposite Kelee Ringo and tackled really well during the game. Lassiter was impressive, especially for his first start. I was surprised that Oregon didn’t test him more, but instead opted to pick on Starks, which was mostly unsuccessful.
Georgia has the best tight end room in the nation. Darnell Washington had a fantastic game. While he only had two receptions, he turned heads as he broke multiple tackles and leaped over a hapless defender. His 6’7, 270 pound frame is not easy to defend. His blocking is game changing as well. Star sophomore Brock Bowers added a couple of catches himself. Arik Gilbert eventually got in the game and blocked well, minus one holding penalty. Freshman Oscar Delp is another to keep your eye on, as he actually saw playing time before Gilbert.
— ESPN (@espn) September 4, 2022
Safety Chris Smith had a nice game with 6 tackles, 1 for loss, a PBU, and an interception. His mammoth hit onto Oregon receiver Chase Cota gave him a stinger and knocked the wind, and the ball, out of his opponent. If you aren’t sure how much Smith means to the Dawgs, Coach Smart went out immediately to check on him when he was hurt after making the hit. Heck, the Dawgs even rotated Smith out of the game, which is about as atypical Kirby Smart football as you can get. Smart would rotate just about every defender except his safeties. Not today. Smith was incorrectly called on a horse collar tackle, and reacted by making the “keep chopping wood” motion. The next play, he intercepted Bo Nix. That’s how you bounce back.
There isn’t one player on Georgia’s offense who you can focus on. There’s only one or two players who I think are truly exceptional and both of them are tight ends. Yet, Kirby has developed players like AD Mitchell, Ladd McConkey, and Kearis Jackson to be contributors who will make you pay if given the chance. None of these guys will put up crazy numbers, but all of them will drive defenses crazy as a unit.
Coach Smart has not only recruited well, but has developed a winning culture. It was on display best at the end of the game when the defense put out all second and third string players. As Oregon drove down the field, Kirby was still intensely following the game and his players. What’s more, the starters were animated on the sidelines, urging on the back ups to keep Oregon out of the end zone. The whole team and coaching staff was bought in, regardless of the lead.
No major injuries.
Things I didn’t like:
Okay, there isn’t a lot to complain about in a 46 point victory. But there are some concerns moving forward that Georgia needs to work on. Nearly every weakness Georgia fans were concerned about showed up during the game.
The run defense. UGA has benefitted from Jordan Davis’ presence up the middle for the last four seasons. When he left the game, UGA’s run defense suffered. Yesterday, the run defense against the Ducks was not particularly impressive. They averaged 4.5 YPC. The defense will improve as they gain more experience. No one could successfully run against Georgia the last two seasons. This year that may be the primary method of softening up the defense.
Guard play. While the offensive line did well on the whole, Stetson still was flushed from the pocket a number of times. Tate Ratledge and Xavier Truss have to grow a lot.
Inside linebackers. Georgia had 3 inside linebackers drafted from last year’s team, so the unit playing inside backer right now has little to no experience against quality competition. In particular Smael Mondon was lost on a few plays. He would get caught over pursuing or being out of position. He made some nice plays as well, but his mistakes were frequent. Dumas-Johnson lacks the speed seen at the position in previous years. No need to panic, but there’s work to be done
UGA averaged 9.5 yards/play in the first half.
SEC teams have now won 12 consecutive Chic-Fil-A Kickoff Games that they have played in.
Mykel Williams is the first true freshman to start on defense for Georgia since Tyson Campbell in 2018. Campbell is now on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
UGA rotated in 53 players on their roster during the game.
Stetson Bennet won the Walker-Camp player of the week with his performance.
Since last year’s season opener against Clemson, UGA has averaged 41.2 points per game.
As a Georgia fan, this is a good as it gets. Being the reigning national champions, embarrassing another ranked team while executing nearly perfectly on offense for the entire game is a remarkable feeling. I think most of the competition in the SEC East has improved over last season, but if Georgia can execute like this fans will be having a good time watching the Dawgs all season. The only thing limiting the Dawgs this year is the Dawgs. Stay healthy and the sky is the limit. In the mean time, Georgia needs to tighten up on defense, but that’ll come with experience. Hopefully some blue chip prospects will re-think their commitments to other schools as they watch the Dawgs this fall.