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Georgia Football

Upon Further Review: What UGA Football Has to Correct Moving Forward in 2023

October 18, 2023

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ATHENS - If one only looked at the final score, you could be convinced that UGA Football’s 37-20 win over Vanderbilt was way more competitive than it really was. 

Georgia, at least statistically, trounced the Commodores in a game that never felt as close as the score indicated. For example, the Dawgs held Vandy to their lowest yardage output all season at 219 yards. Their lowest first down count at 9. The Dawg offense gained 552 yards which is the highest Vandy has allowed thus far, along with the 291 rushing yards gained. And most of that was without All-World tight end Brock Bowers. 

Looking purely at the statistics, this game has 48-7 written all over it. It looks like a snoozer for an 11 AM kickoff in a stadium that looked more like a Dawg home game than a road contest. But, looks can be deceiving. Two plays – yes, only two plays – made this game look closer than it felt. While I never felt as if the game was in doubt, the margin between blowout and too close for comfort came down to two mistakes. And yes, there are other areas in need of the work that the bye week will provide. 

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1. Tykee Smith inconsistency – While Smith has been a ball hawk so far this season, I’ve counted 7 instances in the last 2 games where he’s lost leverage on a ball carrier. Each of those instances has led to a first down. His blown coverage on Vandy’s first touchdown was hard to miss. It doesn’t take an expert to see he went with the wrong receiver. He was also in coverage for the second Vandy touchdown, although the play call of a rub route was perfectly executed. And yet he comes up with a timely interception that enabled the Dawgs to drive for a lead-extending touchdown prior to the end of the first half. The Georgia defense will need for him to play with more consistency as the toughest part of the schedule looms. 

2. Turnovers – I think I’ve mentioned turnovers now two weeks in a row. Georgia gave Vandy two gifts on Saturday, and tried to give them three more (fumbled snap, Mews punt return fumble, near interception on a tipped pass in the third quarter). Carson Beck’s fumble on Georgia’s first drive after a strip sack (because Xavier Truss continues to be out over his toes) gave Vandy another scoring opportunity right after the first touchdown. A defensive stand led to a missed field goal. Beck’s interception and subsequent return gave Vandy the ball at the one-yard line, leading to another easy score. In Georgia’s last four games, they are -5 in turnover margin. The Dawgs have committed eight turnovers in those four games while forcing only three turnovers. Against both Auburn and Vandy, those turnovers kept the game closer than it should have been. Georgia cannot continue to live like this. Against better competition, those turnovers can mean the difference between a win and a loss. 

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3. Red zone defense – This is another area we’ve talked about before. Simple percentages – Red Zone Scoring = 87%, Red Zone Touchdowns = 73%. Vanderbilt was 2-2 in the Red Zone Saturday. Granted, one of those drives started at the 1-yard line but still ultimately ended with a touchdown. These numbers rank #87 in the nation. 87!!!!!! Out of 15 red zone attempts, opponents have scored 13 times (6 pass, 5 rush, 2 FG). The good news is that there have only been 15 attempts, an average of just over 2 attempts per game. However, with the 4 toughest opponents still to play, the focus of the bye week must be on Red Zone defense. Put plainly – it’s just bad.

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1. Offensive line performance – As mentioned earlier, the Dawgs ran for 291 yards with an average of 7.5 yards per carry. While some of the explosive runs came later in the game, most of this success came with the line yet another starter. For the record, the Dawgs recorded 6 runs of 15 yards-plus Saturday, their most all season. Monroe Freeling played very well in place of Xavier Truss after Truss left with an ankle injury. While there are some rough spots to be smoothed during the bye week, Freeling showed why Georgia can never be counted out because of injuries to starters. With Amarius Mims still out, Georgia has now almost seamlessly inserted talented backups and have not missed a beat. On the season, the Dawg offensive line has only given up 6 sacks and has paved the way for an SEC-leading 19 rushing touchdowns. This group just seems to get better every game regardless of who is in the starting lineup. Oh, and 552 yards is a lot of yards. 

2. Life after Brock – The Dawgs scored 23 points after Bowers left with an ankle injury that could sideline him for the remainder of the regular season. Beck spread the ball around as 9 different receivers other than Bowers found their way into the stat column. In what looked to be a pretty vanilla scheme Saturday, Beck still found open receivers. Establishing threats other than Bowers early this season seemed to have paid off. While it will hurt to not have #19 on the field, the Dawgs have shown they have other players that can contribute in big ways. The offense will look a little different as Bowers’ mere presence caused defenses to focus on where he is, leaving others with one-on-one opportunities. The potential, however, for Mike Bobo to field schemes not seen on film is high, giving Georgia a sliver of good news in Bowers’ absence. And it’s not like the Dawgs don’t have playmakers. RaRa Thomas is developing into a go-to guy. Dom Lovette is consistent and seems poised for a breakout. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint is a threat. A healthy Ladd McConkey can only make this offense more dynamic. Arian Smith must figure out his hands. He is a threat this offense needs. To say he’s disappointed this season is an understatement. But when he’s on, no defensive back can cover him downfield. And let’s not forget about Oscar Delp. He continues to get better with every rep, to include his inline blocking. And I’m anxious to see how Lawson Luckie can contribute. 

3. Rush defense – For the second week in a row, the Dawg defense held the opponent to under 60 yards rushing. Vandy gained 18 yards on 15 attempts. That’s more like it! The Commodores couldn’t sustain drives because they couldn’t run. Georgia’s next four opponents like to establish the run, so sustaining the efforts of the last two games will be important going forward. Vandy’s longest run, by the way, was 7 yards.

The point of this piece is that looks can be deceiving. Looking at the final score, you’d think this game was closer than anticipated. Looking at the stats, you’d think Georgia won by 50. In reality, this game was closer to the latter than most believe. Two plays took the Dawgs off schedule (busted coverage TD, interception to the 1-yard line) and yet they still won by 17. Had they punched it in on the last drive instead of taking a knee that margin goes to 24. The Dawgs were 2 plays from a 40+ point blowout. This team is right there – we’ve seen what they can do when they put it all together. With two weeks to get healthy, focus on substandard areas, and to scheme without Bowers, the last 5 games bring an opportunity to truly play up to the level that’s come to be expected of Georgia. Who will step up in Bowers’ absence? Who will become the “alpha” of the defense? The first answers come out in less than two weeks in Jacksonville. As much as I hate to see Bowers on the sidelines in a boot, I’m anxious to see how these questions get answered and how the concerns turn to strengths. The best part of the season is just beginning.  

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