My head agrees with Matt Hinton. It’s not wise to get carried away with what went down in Week 1, small sample size and all.
My heart says, screw that. Did you see what Georgia’s offense did?
My heart’s got a point. If you think about it, Georgia’s offensive production wasn’t some out of the blue thing that is unlikely to be replicated again. Instead, it was the result of certain factors you could see coming together: a gifted offensive coordinator in his third year at the helm, quarterback stability (which meant an entire offseason when the starter could spend time with that OC, as well as his receivers, improving his grasp of the offense), an insanely deep tight end group, depth on the offensive line, etc.
What jumped out at me Saturday wasn’t so much a series of dazzling plays as it was seeing how dang comfortable every player was running Monken’s offense. It’s one thing to know Monken’s play design pretty much guarantees at least one open receiver on every pass play. It’s another to see Stetson Bennett calmly run through his pre-snap reads and progressions until he finds that receiver.
Bennett’s leading the SEC in passer rating, but it doesn’t feel like a one-off, the way his outsized performance against UAB last season did. This offense looks like it’s built to last. And with that, on to the bullet points…
- Might as well start with Bennett, then. Against UAB, as I noted, he was statistically dominant. Last year’s Orange Bowl game showed us what he was capable of when things were clicking. But I was totally unprepared for the growth in his game over one offseason. His decision making has advanced by light years. He knew when to throw the ball away and live for another day. As I mentioned, he’s doing a much better job of trusting Monken’s play design, with huge results. The clock in his head works. I don’t think he forced a single throw that tempted disaster. He may not be a different quarterback for all that, but he’s certainly a better one.
- What may be most striking about Bennett’s game, though, is how much more in sync he is with his receivers. He routinely hit receivers coming out of the backfield or in the flat in stride. On one play, he had an inordinate amount of time to throw and as the pass pro started to break down, spotted Mitchell down field, signaled for him to break back towards the line of scrimmage and nailed the throw for a big completion. Then there’s the insane touchdown throw to McConkey, which sort of looked like a busted play to begin with, then a likely sack for a loss, but wound up being a score because Bennett kept his eyes downfield until he spotted an uncovered McConkey for the TD.
- Bottom line, we need to quit saying Stetson Bennett is playing with a chip on his shoulders. He’s not. He’s playing with the confidence of a player who knows what he’s doing in an offensive scheme that designed to take full advantage of his skill set.
- I liked seeing Beck given full rein to run the playbook, rather than just handing off the ball for a quarter and a half. He did a nice job directing a scoring drive.
- Of course, you don’t get that confidence without good blocking and Georgia had that, in spades. The o-line’s pass protection was as good as I’ve seen in a while. Bennett was never sacked and quite often had all the time he needed to stand in the pocket and scan the field. Run blocking was not as good — at least not early, although they did get traction as the game progressed. I think Oregon, with those terrific inside linebackers, only had one tackle for loss on the day. Guard play seemed noticeably better in this game than it was last season, which I attribute to personnel. That being said, it was striking to see the way Searels substituted on the line in the first half. That, too, was different from 2021.
- If the line blocking was very good, the downfield blocking from the receiving corps was outstanding, maybe the best I’ve seen in the Smart era. Rosemy-Jacksaint and Washington were dominant in that regard. Gilbert threw a great block to help spring Milton on his touchdown reception. Bowers and Mitchell had their moments, too. In other words, it was a group effort and it paid off repeatedly.
- Yeah, yeah, there weren’t a ton of rushing yards, but the backs had to have had close to 200 yards in receptions. A lot of that was by design — instead of handing off and crashing into the line, we saw a lot of swing passes engineered to get the backs in space with some momentum. That’s McIntosh’s game, and he showed it off. Milton still seems a teeny bit away from a full physical recovery, but showed great vision. All Edwards does when he’s in is play his ass off. By the way, I didn’t see many whiffs from the backs in pass pro, either.
- The receivers didn’t only block. They caught a few passes, too. McConkey and Mitchell both showed out. Mitchell’s TD reception was as good as it gets on a back shoulder end zone catch. Kearis Jackson played tough.
- If I was disappointed by anything, it was Arik Gilbert’s quiet day. Obviously, the coaches see a need for more conditioning from him before he’s ready to assume a bigger role in the offense. And the one pass attempt from Beck showed that there are still communication issues in play, as the two of them didn’t look like they were on the same page.
- As for the defense, bend but not break was the order of the day. I don’t think Oregon had a three-and-out until well into the second half, but the Ducks weren’t able to bust any huge pass completions, and Georgia had a couple of timely interceptions to shut off a couple of drives. Oregon racked up some yardage, but at the end of the day, were unable to enter the end zone.
- So, I fretted about the safeties in the preseason. Stupid me. They were the star position group on the day. Malaki Starks was a revelation. Christopher Smith? Jeez, what a game he had — a textbook open field tackle, a perfectly timed pass breakup and a beautiful pick in zone coverage reminiscent of what he did in last season’s opening game (that came immediately after a questionable penalty flag was thrown on him).
- It was good to see Tykee Smith hit the field and play most of the second half.
- As for the cornerbacks, I thought it was interesting that Oregon chose to go after Ringo more than Lassiter. Made me wonder what Dan Lanning knows about the players he coached last season.
- Linebacker play was about what I expected. Nolan Smith is as solid as you’d expect a senior starter to be. Dumas-Johnson played well. Trezman Marshall was flying around and almost came up with an acrobatic interception. Monden has talent, but lacks experience and it showed on a play or two.
- Hey, that Jalen Carter kid is pretty good!
- Mykel Williams was the only true freshman player to earn a start and at times he played like on. He’s got work to do on maintaining the edge, but given the way Smart has praised his talent and work ethic, I expect that to improve over the course of the season.
- The rest of the first string d-line was pretty quiet, which was reflected in zero sacks and zero tackles for loss from that group. That’s gonna need to pick up.
- I enjoy watching Norton play. He’s a thumper.
- Games like that, you don’t expect special teams to have much of an impact, but I would say there was at least a subtle one on the opening kickoff, when Oregon’s return man took the ball back from his five and was promptly nailed on his fifteen. The Ducks never tried to return another kickoff after that. Jackson had a nice return on the opening kickoff of the second half.
- Should we worry that Brett Thorson might enter the transfer portal due to lack of playing time?
- As for coaching, I’m not sure what more there is to say about Todd Monken. His offense scored seven touchdowns and racked up over five hundred yards of offense without having to resort to much of a deep passing game or, for that matter, play action. The guy simply knows better how to tailor a game plan to an opponent’s defense than any Georgia OC I’ve ever watched. Georgia’s isn’t a run-first offense. It’s not a pass-first offense. Nobody’s singing any odes to balance, either. (Sorry, Bobo.) Georgia’s offense is about two things: being more physical than the other team and taking what the defense gives them.
- Defensively, I suppose you could make the argument that last year’s D might have turned in a more shut down effort, but when the dust settled, Oregon only managed three measly points. Considering all the new parts being worked in, that’s a more than adequate beginning. I guess I’m saying I’m inclined to give Muschamp and Schumann the benefit of the doubt. (Cut on your sarcasm detectors, please.) And you know the coaches had to love keeping Bo out of the end zone on Oregon’s last drive of the day!
- As for Kirby, all I can say is what I was thinking as the game ended: so much for complacency. The man knows how to prepare a team.
The scary thing, at least if you’re on Georgia’s schedule, is that this team is going to get better. There are players who are working themselves back to full physical shape. There are players who are still learning the defense. I’m not saying Georgia can’t lose a regular season game, but it’s gonna take some weird shit happening for that to occur. Enjoy the ride.
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