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SEC Championship 2021 Preview: When the Georgia Bulldogs have the ball

The Bulldogs have been unstoppable this year— can an improving Alabama defense take them down?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Georgia at Georgia Tech Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Though Georgia has (rightfully) gotten all the headlines for their defense this season, they’ve quietly gone about improving their generally broken 2020 offense and are averaging 40.7 points per game, good for 6th in the country. And they’ve been amazingly consistent at it, too. After a 10-point outing in the season opener against Clemson, the Bulldogs have scored 30+ in every game since.

Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken returns for year 2, where he took Georgia’s antiquated approach to running the ball and turned it into a pro-spread offense. They run a zone-blocking scheme that liberally sprinkles in RPO slants and screens with play-action and moving pockets for longer developing pass routes and a lot of double moves.

QB Stetson Bennett took his starting job back this season after losing it to JT Daniels at the end of 2020, and this time around, Bennett has been much less reckless with the football. The former walk-on is hitting 65% of his passes at 10.8 yards per attempt, and has 21 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. He’s also a threat as a scrambler, as he has 240 yards on the ground even after you subtract sack yardage.

Bennett is a small, speedy guy who can do some damage on an unexpected read option and then make a linebacker miss down the field. As a passer, he’s a bit antsy in the pocket and can be corralled into taking some funny sacks, but he’s cut down on the ill-advised scramble-YOLO throws into coverage from 2020 and he has the arm to hit a guy downfield if he’s open.

Monken has done a good job of using a lot of playaction boots and moving pockets to keep Bennett’s legs active without it destroying pocket integrity, and there are a good many full-field crossing routes designed to give him time to scramble open and hit a guy in stride.

Freshman TE Brock Bowers is the key to the entire passing game, as he leads the group with 37 catches for 652 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. He’s a consistent catcher across the middle to convert downs, but even more importantly, he’s a fast downfield threat. At 6’4” 230, he’s faster than most linebackers and a lot of defensive backs, and he has done some major damage with catch and runs down the seams.

Ladd McConkey (seriously, that’s a real person) is the next leading receiver with 26 catches for 395 yards. McConkey is often the deep target after pulling a double move, and is on the field the most for his prowess as a blocker.

Jermaine Burton and 6’4” freshman Adonai Mitchell round out the starting trio with another 700 yards between them.

You’ll also see some occasional appearances for Kearis Jackson, a punt return specialist, on screen passes, and uber athlete TE Darnell Washington is getting about 1 catch per game.

Finally, the wildcard here is George Pickens. The former 5-star and 2020 leading receiver tore his ACL this offseason, and just saw the field for the first time last week. He’ll play against Alabama, but how effective will he be after missing the whole season?

Much of the narrative around Georgia has been about their running game, and, while it’s been generally pretty good, I’d argue it is NOT the driving force of their offense. 4th year Zamir White returns as the lead back and has 691 yards on 5.4 yards per attempt. He’s a big, powerful back with a nice feel for hitting cutback lanes, but still lacks some explosiveness from his major injuries a couple years ago. I think he’s a very, very similar back to Alabama’s Brian Robinson in terms of style, usage, and effectiveness.

Then there’s James Cook. At 190 pounds, the senior is simultaneously blazing fast and also tough to tackle. He’s averaging 6.5 yards per carry for 581 yards, and is also a major threat as a receiver with 17 catches for 129 yards. Cook absolutely roasted Alabama in the passing game last year, so expect Georgia to try to isolate him with a linebacker mismatch down the field again this year.

Kendall Milton is the big-back backup type for Zamir White, and Kenny McInstosh is the change-of-pace backup for Cook, and both have also been quite effective. So the Bulldogs can survive an injury or two at the position (must be nice).

The Georgia offense is 5th in success rate and 75th in explosiveness. And while their total rushing yards are good due to the amount of time they’ve spent playing ahead, their average line yards and short yardage rates are only top-40 or so. Where they excel is limiting havoc plays front opposing front sevens (2nd in the country), getting into manageable distances, and converting the chains with the 4th overall passing success rate. That dips to 7th overall on passing downs... which is still really, really good.

On the other side of things, Alabama’s defensive front is one of the best in the country across the board. 2nd in stuff rate, 2nd in line yards, 18th in havoc and 2nd in rushing success rate.

In other words, I expect that Georgia won’t be able to lean on their run game to salt away a game or come out and “establish” or whatever coaches like to call it.

This game will come down to Stetson Bennett converting chains and hitting explosive passes. Can he do it without the disastrous turnovers and sacks that doomed him against Alabama in 2020? Bennett has improved since then, but so has Alabama’s defense. TE Bowers is terrifying for Alabama fans though, as athletic TEs have burned Pete Golding defenses up the seams for 3 straight years now, and Bowers is the best they’ve faced since Kyle Pitts last year.

Georgia is going to score on Alabama, no doubt. There are going to be some huge passing plays and amazingly frustrating scrambles from Bennett. I also think there are going to be quite a few drives with solid stops from the Alabama defense.

We’ll go with 6 total scores from the Bulldogs out of 13 drives. Four touchdowns and two field goals, or 34 points.

According to the Draftkings sports book, the over/under is 49.5 and Georgia is favored by 6.5 points, so the betting folks are guessing more like 28 points for the Dogs, and I’m a little high. Take the over, and Roll Tide!