Thanks to our repeat friend of the blog, macondawg, from Dawgsports.com, for taking the time to talk with us ahead of the SEC Championsip. Spoiler: Georgia fans like their chances... but we definitely have them nervous.
1. I’m going to jump right into something of a loaded question to make our readers either hate or love you right off the bat: The last time Georgia lost a game (which was a while ago now), it was against Alabama in the SEC Championship right after Alabama barely survived another dumb game in Auburn. UGA cruised through 2022 while Alabama floundered... How are you feeling ahead of this matchup? Does Alabama still feel like the measuring stick of the SEC/Nation and you’ve been waiting two years to prove it, or does the Tide these days just feel like another good-to-very-good team that you have to get past?
The latter. After winning two championships in a row Georgia fans don’t really feel like their program has a lot to prove. We’ve got a coach in his dream job with 20 years of tread left on his tires who continues to recruit at a championship level. While winning a title is going to be more difficult in a 12 team playoff, the general feeling is that Georgia will have the depth and talent to win its share.
There’s also a little bit of a feeling that we’re playing with house money this season. Georgia lost its starting quarterback, tailback, two of three starting receivers, three of five starters on the offensive line, and key contributors at every level of the defense. As Alabama fans know, there are no rebuilding years at the top of the SEC. But this was a season that was supposed to feature a lot of growing pains, and when a lot of fans expected the Red and Black to have dropped at least one game by now.
Will they still be temporarily enraged if Georgia loses to the Tide and gets left out of the playoff? Sure. But there’s every reason to believe Kirby Smart will have his team back in the title hunt next year, the year after that, and the year after that. Alabama is an excellent football team that’s playing some of its best football now, and eventually Georgia is going to lose to a team like that. But there’s very much a feeling in the Peach State that Georgia is now the measuring stick, not the Tide.
2. Okay, let’s get to actually talking about Georgia. From the outside, the Bulldogs have seemed to, in some ways, have taken a step back. The Dogs seem to be letting opponents hang around longer than the last couple of seasons before finishing them off in the end. The offense may be as good as it was the previous years, but the defense doesn’t have the big names it did before. Is this just all media talk and narratives, or do UGA fans feel the same way?
No, this defense is definitely not the unit for the ages the last two were. That’s a little weird because the numbers don’t necessarily back it up. The Bulldogs were 10th nationally last season it total defense and are currently 9th in that category. They were 5th in scoring defense last season and are currently 6th. They’re even allowing fewer big (20+) yard plays (2.91 per game versus 3.4 per game in 2022). Objectively, the results have been pretty similar.
The difference if you watch the tape however is that this unit has been more inconsistent. Between the 20s teams have moved the ball, but Georgia has locked down pretty well in the red zone. The other issue, which has been more annoying than injurious, is that the Red and Black have given up a score on the opponent’s first offensive drive in each of the last six games. It hasn’t bitten them yet, but there’s a real sense that at some point the defense may dig a hole the offense isn’t capable of climbing out of.
3. Carson Beck looked pretty lackluster at the start of the season to me, but by the end of the season a 72.5% completion rate and 9.4 yards per attempt is insanely efficient. How has he grown over the course of this season, and if a game comes down to the wire, do you have faith he can make the big-time throws (like Stetson Bennett did to us at the end of 2021, as much as it pains me to admit after how much I made fun of him for his other two games vs Alabama). Also, you think there’s a shot he 1-and-dones and heads to the NFL this season?
If you had told people Carson Beck might be one-and-done and headed toward being a top 20 NFL Draft pick six months ago I’m not sure anyone would have believed you (other than Mike Bobo and Carson Beck). But starting about midway through the Auburn game when he hit a couple of tough throws against pressure Beck had looked like a different guy. We’ve always known he had tremendous arm talent, but his decision making has been really next level. It’s hard to say how he’ll react on the big stage if Georgia needs him to make a game-winning throw. But as you say, it’s hard to argue with the numbers.
4. Brock Bowers is the best player in college football in my opinion. We all know who he is, and there isn’t a single defensive player in the country that can truly stop him... But is he going to be healthy enough to be himself this weekend.
Yup. Kirby Smart won’t admit it, but there’s every reason to expect that Bowers will be ready to roll on Saturday.
5. The follow up to that: If not, who’s gonna step up to beat Alabama? We all know Ladd McConkey who, despite playing for like 15 seasons now, is only a junior. But Alabama has pretty well kept him in check in their last three meetings. Adonai Mitchell has been the Tide’s kryptonite for both Georgia and Texas A&M, but he’s gone now, as is George Pickens. Who’s the receiver who’s going to win the 1v1 jump ball down the sideline if Bowers isn’t full speed?
The scary thing is that we won’t know until it happens. Six different Bulldogs have led the team in receiving yards in at least one game this season. And that doesn’t include Oscar Delp, who’d start at tight end in place of Bowers but has caught 20 passes for 249 yards and 3 touchdowns of his own.
6. Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton are both very good running backs who have been consistent guys for years now. But neither seem to be particularly highly regarded by the national media or the NFL Draft folk. Are they just beneficiaries of a good offensive line and team, or do you think either/both of these guys are elite runners that are getting overlooked?
Edwards is particularly under-appreciated. He’s been a consistent performer for three seasons. He’s a great blocker and a tough runner who’s rarely knocked backward. The knock on Milton had been frequent, nagging injuries. However he’s been able to stay on the field this season and responded with his best season yet, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
7. With only 25 sacks and no-one with more than 3.5 sacks, would you consider the pass rush to be a weakness of Georgia’s defense? Or is this just one of those high-variance statistical things where opposing QBs are getting the ball out quick all game long or something?
I haven’t charted it, but my sense is that Georgia is blitzing less this season than in years past. Some of that is because we don’t have the corners (Kelee Ringo says hi by the way) to play man on the outside and bring another defensive back up into the box. I can confirm that teams are running the ball more against Georgia than in years past, which has been an unwelcome trend of its own.
That being said Georgia has been able to get pressure when they really need to. I’m not too worried that the Dawgs had no sacks against UT-Martin and only one against Ball State because they had three against Missouri and five against Florida. I trust Glenn Schumann to dial up the pressure when it’s appropriate.
8. The one stat that really sticks out to me about Georgia’s defense is that, while most of their stats are all up near the tops in the country they are giving up a TD 60% of the time once an opponent gets into the redzone, which is nearly 70th in the country. Essentially, once they bend... they break. What’s the deal here? Is it a scheme thing? A mentality thing?
It’s certainly a departure, and one Kirby Smart and the players have been asked about this season. From my perspective it hasn’t been one thing, it’s been different things at different times. A missed assignment here, a missed tackle there, just being in the wrong play when the offense dials ups a good one, the list goes on. Personally I think a big part of it is not having the dominant inside defensive tackles (Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Jalen Carter) that Georgia has had in years past. In the red zone, with the field compressed down, it makes a big difference when you can just absolutely take away the A gaps. I don’t think this team has been able to do that the way Kirby would like.
It’s also worth pointing out that while Georgia hasn’t been great at stopping teams in the red zone they do lead the SEC in red zone drives allowed with 30 (Alabama is close behind them at 33).
9. Give me one freshman on offense and one on defense who might make a leap into superstardom with a big play or two in this game.
On offense Georgia really doesn’t play a lot of freshmen. But if I had to guess it would be freshman right end Lawson Luckie. Luckie’s only caught 1 pass for 5 yards this year. But he’s a solid blocker, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the field for a key block if Georgia is in 12 or 13 personnel and looking to run the ball.
Defensively, true freshman inside linebacker CJ Allen has stepped into a starting role in place of injured preseason All-SEC selection Jamon Dumas-Johnson. He’s been a bit inconsistent, especially in the run game, as befits a freshman starter thrown into the deep end. Now would be a great time for the light to come on for him.
10. Prediction time. Any chance you think Alabama wins this? What’s your best guess at how the game goes?
I’m terrified. Alabama does everything Georgia has struggled with this season (running the ball, creating with a mobile QB) to a greater degree than any team the Dawgs have faced so far.
My main concern is Georgia falling behind and not being able to climb out of that hole. But if the Bulldogs can find an offensive rhythm and get a lead, I think it may be hard for the Tide to match them score for score. My best guess: UGA 34, Bama 30.
11. If Alabama wins, do you think both Alabama and UGA deserve a spot in the playoffs? Or you think the committee will be licking their chops to leave the SEC out altogether?
The committee claims that their mandate is selecting the four best teams in the nation. And if that really were the plan then both of these teams deserve a spot. But with the dearth of upsets this season it’s going to be impossible to leave out an undefeated PAC-12, ACC, or Big Ten champion for a one loss SEC runner up. I suspect that in reality Alabama has a chance to knock Georgia out of the playoffs entirely. Either of these teams would become my odds-on favorite to win the title if they’re in.