It is only natural after watching an opener like the one Georgia played Saturday to want to focus on the shortcomings. (In some specific cases, it’s not only natural, but deserved.)
After the initial reaction, deep breaths are in order, though. There was enough good to go with the bad to merit some calm reflection.
On to the bullet points.
- Might as well get the worst part of the game out of the way first. D’Wan Mathis had a bad day and there’s no way to sugarcoat that. He never seemed comfortable. He made poor decisions. He lacked field awareness. He frequently didn’t go through his progressions. All told, he looked exactly like what he was: a kid who went through fall practice with limited reps, forced by circumstances into taking his first collegiate snaps against an SEC defense. It wasn’t pretty.
- The shame of it was that Mathis showed some talent. He’s got a live arm and certainly moves well when he runs with the ball. But his lack of confidence and the team’s subsequent lack of confidence as the first half played out was apparent. The staff had no choice but to replace him. Where things go from here with is a mystery.
- His offensive line — especially the right side — certainly didn’t do him any favors. Condon was thoroughly outmatched for much of the first half. Cleveland looked sluggish. Hill’s blocking was fine, but his snapping wasn’t. The coaches spent over half the game mixing and matching, something that would normally be done over the course of spring and fall practice, but 2020 doesn’t afford that luxury. The good news is that things settled down noticeably in the second half. (A good example of that: Cleveland’s and Condon’s almost balletic handling of a line stunt on the touchdown pass to FitzPatrick.) As for the makeup of Georgia’s starting five next Saturday, I have no clue and I’m not sure the coaches do at the moment, either.
- Bennett was the story of the game, of course. He stabilized the offense by making the passing game functional. That, in turn, opened up the running game. He did a good job with his decision making and got the ball out quickly. He wasn’t afraid to throw the ball over the middle. His size isn’t optimal and he didn’t show good accuracy on the deep ball (something you’ve got to throw well in Monken’s system), but if Daniels isn’t cleared for take off this week, he’s the obvious choice to start against Auburn. And I’m okay with that.
- If Bennett was the clear best story on offense, Zamir White was the clear second-best. He showed signs in last season’s Sugar Bowl that his physical recovery was complete. What he showed Saturday was that he’s gotten past the mental part of the injury. He showed on his two biggest runs of the day that he can cut and change directions easily. He wound up with thirteen carries. His touches should increase this week.
- I’m just not seeing James Cook as ready to step into the number two slot in the backfield. He didn’t show me much running up the middle; granted, it’s not like the o-line gave him much of an opportunity there. I’m not willing to throw him on the trash heap, though. For one thing, he was by far the best pass protector I saw out of all the backs. He didn’t miss a single oncoming rusher. Monken is going to have to figure out a role for him that works.
- Overall, though, it shouldn’t be minimized that the running game largely flopped. That may be a bigger concern for the coaches this week than quarterback.
- The tight ends caught three passes, one for a touchdown. My fingers trembled a little as I typed that.
- They blocked, too. So did… Matt Landers? No, really. The rest of the receivers left a little to be desired in that department. (Burton’s holding call was almost comical.) As far as ball catching goes, that was better. Pickens was money on the TD catch, but he drew a lot of attention from the Arky defense, something that’s going to continue until a second legit threat emerges to take some pressure off. As a group, they really didn’t do much to take the top off, but some of that was determined by the way the Hogs deployed their secondary. Landers’ 23-yard catch was nice and I hope signs of better things to come.
- Georgia’s defense? Yeah, it was okay. Alright, more than that. I swear, they look even faster than last year. Part of that was how prepared they were; part of that was because… well, because they have speed at every level. No wonder Kirby could spend more time than usual dealing with the offense.
- The defensive line did what they’re expected to do, which is hold the line of scrimmage at worst and penetrate and disrupt at best. Speaking of the latter, there was Jalen Carter with a tackle for loss.
- The linebacking corps is as advertised. Dean made tackles, was in on a sack and wasn’t fooled by Franks’ fake when he pretended to be watching the sideline and took the snap. Monty Rice is still Monty Rice. The guy in the group who’s made the biggest improvement from last season is Jermaine Johnson, who was all over the field making plays.
- I don’t think a single trick play Arkansas ran worked. In fact, a couple of them blew up rather spectacularly.
- Franks may have changed teams and schemes, but his game remains impressively consistent — a couple of early good throws that give everyone a false sense of confidence and then disaster after he tries to do too much as a result.
- Bennett coming in certainly gave the team a much needed spark, but I thought the game’s turning point was the defensive sack that forced Arkansas to settle for a field goal for its final points of the game.
- As far as the secondary goes, Cine looks like Reed’s worthy successor, except maybe a little (you guessed it) faster. LeCounte allowed Arky’s lone TD on a busted coverage and sprung a receiver for a bigger game when he cut off Stevenson on a tackle, but those are mistakes you put up with because the rest of his game and his sheer physical talent is so good. The db who had a quietly successful day was Tyson Campbell, who had a nice pass breakup and a tackle for loss. Webb made a couple of nice plays, particularly one that led to Georgia’s safety. Georgia’s secondary is so damned deep!
- I’m old enough to remember when Roll ‘Bama Roll was mocking Kirby Smart for bring Scott Cochran over to run special teams. I’m guessing that’s the last we’ll hear from them about that. Special teams were a couple of plays away — Landers’ hold on a spectacular punt return and a running into the punter call — from having a perfect day. Camarda’s consistency may have been the most tension relieving element of the game; his studly first half was crucial, given the offense’s struggles. Arkansas didn’t have a single yard in punt returns. He ought to be the conference’s special teams player of the week. Podlesny shook off his one glitch and finished with a perfect day as a place kicker. He also did his job on kickoffs without a flaw. It also looks like Georgia has found some returners in Jackson and McIntosh, who was a revelation returning kickoffs.
- I would have to say Monken’s debut was very much a mixed bag. The early playcalling was another thing that didn’t help Mathis much, as Georgia tried running the ball up the middle to start seemingly every first half drive until the quarterback switch came (I exaggerate, but only a little). None of it did much, either, as Georgia was left in second and long holes repeatedly to dig itself out of. It was almost as if Monken was doing a manball tribute to show his head coach it was time to move on, (I keed, I keed… I think.) One thing I do offer with more seriousness is that if there was an area where Georgia’s old line coach had a strong feeling about what his old team would be doing, it was there and Arkansas’ defense had a good plan for handling that.
- Again, though, things opened up for Monken once the quarterbacks changed. Route running looks different than it did with Coley and one thing that impressed me was how comfortable Bennett looked with that. I am curious to see what this offense looks like after coach and players get another game or two under their collective belts.
- Smart had a lot to overcome and for the most part, he did. The team never lost its head, even as it continued to blow great field position throughout the first half. The quarterback call was necessary, but it couldn’t have been easy (and Smart deserves credit for trying to buck up Mathis’ confidence by reinserting him into the game in the fourth quarter). One minor point: for a guy who gets plenty of criticism for poor clock management at times, he deserves credit for directing traffic on Georgia’s lone scoring drive of the first half, which covered more than half the field in a minute.
As I kidded Saturday night, it’s hard to call a win that covers the spread ugly, but if that makes you feel better, go dog go. There is no question that Georgia has lots to clean up [insert complaint about over 100 yards in penalties, many of them of the stupid kind, here], but that’s the kind of thing coaches like Smart relish.
Bottom line, let’s hope the cliché about the biggest improvement a team shows is between week one and week two of the season arrives with a vengeance Saturday night. I don’t care for Auburn.