Ah, to be back is to feel a little more normal. Tailgating restored. Real crowd noise inside Sanford Stadium. The staff at The Taco Stand fucking up my post-game order. Real chicken soup for the Bulldog soul stuff.
Oh, yeah — and Georgia won. Won convincingly, as a matter of fact. I couldn’t help but ponder how the game would have gone if the Dawgs had played UAB in 2019, especially the second half of that season. A low scoring grinder, I suspect, something on the order of a boring 24-3 result with Kirby assuring everyone in his post game presser how that was okay as the team kept its eye on the goal of returning to the SECCG.
Instead, almost shockingly, it was fun. It was entertaining, largely for two reasons. One, of course, was Stetson’s crazy, unexpected, utterly in control performance. The other was witnessing how impressively deep Georgia’s defensive roster is. With regard to the latter, we’ve all been to games where Georgia was in command in the second half and Smart let the backups get playing time, only to see an understandable decline in performance. Against UAB, that shoe never dropped. Instead, we saw a pick six and a defensive shut out. To say that bodes well for the future is an understatement.
Now, some bullet point action…
- I just have to start with Stetson Bennett IV, don’t I? I’ve already said a fair amount this week, but one thing really bears repeating. He’s noticeably improved his game, not just from last season, but from the G-Day game, when he still showed a regrettable tendency to throw the ball at the wrong time to the wrong place. There was none of that on display Saturday. His reads were spot on. His first incompletion was a sensible throw away in the end zone rather than to try to force a dangerous throw. His touch has improved, as well, as best seen on his first TD throw to Bowers, but also in the was he zipped the ball on Bowers’ second TD catch. All in all, a huge game for him and a huge lift for the team.
- Speaking of Bowers, good grief — has to be the best start for a true freshman receiver at Georgia since Malcolm Mitchell. Against Clemson, he showed good hands, solid route running and a willingness to block. Add the jets he showed against UAB and you’ve got something remarkable.
- Of course, you don’t average better than 25 yards a catch without your receivers kicking some righteous ass on their own. Arian Smith seems like he’s guaranteed to break open at least one deep route a game; the question is whether his quarterback can get the ball to him in the moment. (Bennett did.) Burton’s not 100%, but he still contributes. Mitchell and McConkey are already handfuls, but they’re both going to be more with time and S&C.
- The o-line remains a work in progress. Fortunately, the schedule gives Matt Luke that luxury. With the way UAB loaded the box — on the first two plays from scrimmage, all eleven defenders were within nine yards of the line of scrimmage — run blocking was going to be a struggle, and it was. Still, only two tackles for loss occurred. Pass pro was much better. No sacks were allowed and the quarterbacks were rarely even seriously pressured.
- That all being said, I am a little puzzled by some of the personnel decisions. Ericson, with his injury, is a liability at guard right now. Salyer started at left tackle in a game where I thought it would be a good time to move him inside and experiment at the tackle position. I was glad to see that Jones and Mims got a decent amount of playing time, though. Truss at right guard was something I wasn’t expecting, but I thought he acquitted himself okay.
- The backs didn’t do all that much, not that it mattered. The two longest runs on the day came from Bennett and Beck. But they all pitched in on pass protection. James Cook’s touchdown run was something. I loved McIntosh’s TD catch. The play design was superb and so was his execution, both in terms of how he ran the route and made the catch without losing stride. And does anybody run harder than Daijun Edwards?
- Beck’s first real action of 2021 was much like his G-Day play — some good, some bad, some indifferent. The pick-six was the bad part (although his receiver didn’t do Carson any favors), but he looked really sharp on the one touchdown drive he led. Mostly, he just seemed impatient to me, which I suppose is understandable. Hopefully the more he plays, the more he’ll calm down.
- We’re only two weeks into the season and it feels like I’m running out of superlatives for the defense. What can you say after two games in which the opponent’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown? UAB only converted on third down once all day; you aren’t going to lose many games when you’re shutting down a team like that. In the opener, they wouldn’t let Clemson run; Saturday, UAB couldn’t pass. And the Dawgs won the turnover margin battle, at +2. That’s how you get to 49-point victories.
- As far as individual play goes, Channing Tindall continues to ball out like his hair is on fire. He’s always had speed, but his situational awareness has grown noticeably. He’s someone you feel like you have to keep your eye on every play.
- Speaking of keeping your eye on something, Kelee Ringo’s interception was spectacular. There’s never been any question about his sheer physical ability, but it was his technique on that play that stood out for me. Huge leap from how he played against Clemson. If he continues to progress like that, he’s gonna be a real bear for opposing offenses to handle.
- There are too many fresh faces to mention, but two who stood out during the game to me are both sophomores who haven’t gotten that much playing time to date: Trezmen Marshall and Tymon Mitchell. Again, this defensive roster is flat out loaded.
- Special teams didn’t have a perfect day — just ask Chip Towers — but they had a perfectly decent one. UAB had no kickoff return yardage and negative punt return yardage. Camarda was consistent. Jackson had one big punt return and, but for a penalty, would have had a second.
- Like chicks, Todd Monken loves the long ball. And all it took was one play to see how UAB’s defense was going to let him call what he loves. Again, all day long you could see how terrific his play design is. I’ve already mentioned the McIntosh TD, but if you get the chance to see Bowers’ second TD catch again, Monken is the reason he was open.
- With Lanning, Muschamp and Smart, is it any wonder how well coached Georgia’s defense is? (And is Smart’s obvious trust in Monken at this point allowing him to focus more on the defensive side of the ball?)
- Smart’s coaching so far in 2021 has been impressive, to say the least. His team played in the moment in the opener and avoided a let down against UAB. But saying that really isn’t fair enough to Smart. Georgia was aggressive against a weaker opponent and, miracle of miracles, Smart didn’t let up even with a 35-point lead at halftime. I think it’s safe to expect more of the same in the next two games.
It’s early, so take this for what it’s worth. 2021 feels different to me than any other season under Smart. Yes, even 2017. This is a team that senses it has the raw ability to accomplish great things and, so far at least, hasn’t felt burdened by those expectations. I mean that for both the players and the coaches. There are some challenges on the schedule, to be sure, but it’s what they do in the short run against teams they should dominate that I’ll be watching closely. Do they manage themselves against South Carolina and Vanderbilt the way they did against Clemson and UAB? For now, I’m pretty confident they will, even as they remain handicapped somewhat by injuries.