The X’s & O’s
There’s obviously plenty of excitement around UGA’s tight-end room as the 2022 season draws closer. As far as preseason hype goes, the buzz around Georgia’s group of TE’s is well justified.
First off, Georgia already uses A LOT of 12 Personnel (2 tight end) sets. People have asked me all offseason how UGA is going to use all of these tight ends. The reality is that Monken laid a pretty good blueprint in 2021, but far fewer eyes were watching Georgia’s tight ends.
To take a look at how Todd Monken might use this group of weapons in 2022 let’s first take a look at how he used his TE’s in 2021.
2021 UGA had at least one tight-end on the field for 90.3% of its offensive snaps.
11 Personnel - 46.3% (457 plays)
12 Personnel - 38.4% (379 plays)
13 Personnel - 5.6% (55 plays)
The Bulldogs had two TE’s on the field for 38.4% of its offensive snaps in 2021. That’s one of the highest percentages of any team in college football. They had 2 or 3 tight-ends in the formation for 44% of its plays.
Here’s a detailed look of which concepts Georgia had the most success with when putting multiple TE’s on the field. As a reminder, success rate is a simple formula that accounts for down and distance to measure how meaningful yards are. If a play gains more than half of the yards needed to gain a first down on 1st or 2nd down it is a successful play. If a play gains a first down on 3rd down it is also a successful play. A 6-yard run on 1st & 10 is successful. An 11-yard pass on 3rd & 14 is not successful.
12 Personnel 2021
379 Plays (38.4% of all offensive snaps)
235 Run - 1339 Yards, 5.7 YPA, 51% Success Rate
144 Pass - 1291 Yards, 9 YPA, 49% Success Rate
12 Personnel Runs
Inside Power - 67 att - 28.5% of 12 Pers rush att - 301 yards 4.4 YPA (55% SR)
Inside Zone Read - 44 att - 18.72% - 245 yards 11.1 YPA (48% SR)
***151 Yards off Tackle Counter at 13.7 YPA (64% SR)
***94 Yards off Counter at 8.55 YPA (45.5% SR)
Outside Zone - 39 att - 16.6% - 224 yards 5.1 YPA (46% SR)
Inside Zone - 24 att - 10.2% - 209 yards 5.4 YPA (58.3% SR)
Inside Power Read - 22 att - 9.3% - 140 yards 5.8 YPA (55% SR)
12 Personnel Passes
Flood Variations - 28 att - 243 Yards - 57% SR
Screens - 14 att - 187 Yards - 57% SR *****13.36 YPA
Slants - 11 att - 64% SR
Spacing/Curl+Flat - 7 att (-6 yards) - 0%SR
Follow - 2 att - 91 Yards - 100% SR - *****45.5 YPA
13 Personnel 2021
55 Plays (5.6% of all offensive snaps)
37 Run - 279 yards, 7.6 YPA, 62% Success Rate
22 Pass - 196 yards, 8.9 YPA, 55% Success Rate
13 Personnel Runs
Inside Power - 13 att - 22% of 13 Pers rush att (68 yards at 5.3 YPA)
***55 Yards off Duo Dive at 5 YPA (55% SR)
***13 Yards off Duo Belly at 6.5 YPA (100% SR)
Outside Zone Toss - 8 att - 13.6% (91 yards at 11.4 YPA)
Counter/Tackle Counter - 5 att - 13.5% - 38 yards at 7.6 YPA (80% SR)
13 Personnel Passes
Flood Variations - 5 att - 38 yards - 40% SR
Convoy/Jailbreak Screens - 3 att - 31 yards - 100% SR (10.3 YPA)
Portland/Yankee Variations - 1 att - 52 yards
For most teams in college football 13 personnel means you are about to deploy a power rushing attack and try to create a numbers advantage on one side of the formation. For Georgia under Todd Monken, that is not always the case.
When UGA was struggling to get its offense going in the first half of the National Championship it went to its 13 Personnel sets to kickstart that unit. Earlier this offseason I put together a short video on the long bomb from Stetson Bennett to George Pickens that created UGA’s first big play of the night.
I pulled this play for this piece because it comes out of 13 Personnel, but it didn’t target a TE. That’s what makes this group particularly important and fascinating to 2022 Georgia. In Bowers, Washington and Gilbert you have three weapons that a defense must account for at all times. Sometimes accounting for them can make you lose track of someone else.
Imagine for a moment that you are a linebacker. Your job is to crash into gaps and make tackles on ball carriers on running plays. On passing plays you may have to cover a potential pass catcher, rush the quarterback, or sit in a zone where you are asked to defend against a shallow crossing route and/or make sure the QB can’t escape the pocket and create a big play with his legs. That is a lot to process.
Football is a game that is mostly about putting the opponents players into situations that they do not want to be in. With few exceptions, college linebackers do not want to be in pass coverage downfield. There are two ways to reliably and consistently put linebackers into pass coverage situations, and that is by targeting RB’s and TE’s in the passing game.
Go back and look at some of 2021 UGA’s biggest passing plays and you will find that they were the result of Monken getting RB’s and TE’s isolated on Linebackers in man coverage.
On the flip side, Georgia’s TE’s were very good blockers in 2021. They would double team Edge defenders. They would pull from one side of the formation to the other in order to seal a gap for a RB. They would motion to the weak side of the formation to provide protection from a blitz to the QB’s backside. They would charge to the second level of the defense at the snap to keep a LB from moving laterally across the formation to meet a RB.
Georgia doesn’t just put its TE’s on the line of scrimmage to help get a push on the heavy side of a run play. Monken uses them in intricate ways. At times he will have them offset a yard or two behind the offensive line, and they will motion into a gap as a lead blocker on a run play. At this point they become “Sniffers” or “H-Backs.”
It is quite a lot. Especially when you remember that these same players are also asked to lineup 20+ yards away from the football and run pass routes like receivers. No players in UGA’s system are asked to do more different things than the TE’s. How well they do these various assignments is often the key to whether or not a play is successful in the Georgia offense.
In many ways, the TE position is actually the building block of everything Todd Monken did with his offensive scheme in 2021. Georgia’s staff has made it very clear they value the ability of TE’s to put defenses in conflict by how they are recruiting that position, and this philosophy is here to stay.
When Todd Monken brings one or more of his TE’s into the game it creates a huge conflict for defenses. In those moments, an opposing defensive coordinator is forced to ask themselves a couple of questions.
Do I want to…
A) Bring in more heavy players (LB’s/DL’s) to defend against the possibility of these TE’s being used as run blockers and blowing my front seven off the line of scrimmage?
B) Bring in more speedy players with coverage ability (CB’s/Safeties) who can keep up with these TE’s if they are sent on a pass route downfield?
If the defense brings in more heavy players then Georgia can get Darnell Washington, Brock Bowers or Arik Gilbert matched up on a linebacker or defensive end in a pass route.
If the defense brings in more secondary players who are capable of staying stride for stride with the TE’s then they risk being mauled in the run game. If a defense stays in their base personnel package then they risk being beat in both ways. If Georgia gets running downhill behind the TE’s then the defense needs to bring its safeties up closer to the line of scrimmage to try and stop it.
When they do that they are leaving the cornerbacks on the outside without safety help. If that happens then they leave the risk of UGA using those TE’s to help protect the QB. All of a sudden that boundary corner is stuck covering an AD Michell or Ladd McConkey one-on-one. To make matters worse for the defense, those TE’s are going to give the QB more time to throw the ball.
There is no good answer to defending 12 and 13 Personnel sets in modern football. When you have TE’s that are as versatile and athletic as Georgia’s there is often no answer at all. That was on display fully against Kentucky last year. Here’s a little video I put together for our DawgsCentral subscribers.
Let’s take a look at the players that make up UGA’s Tight End room in 2022…
Brock Bowers returns for the encore to his fantastic 2021 season. Bowers had the best freshman season of any TE in Georgia history, and there’s a decent argument that he had the best season of any freshman at his position in college football history. Last year’s UGA team was without fully healthy versions of Pickens, Washington, Jackson, Burton, Smith and Blaylock. It desperately needed someone to step up and become a matchup problem for defenses while creating explosive plays. Bowers answered the bell in a major way.
He possesses the size to be a good blocker when lined up as an inline tight-end. He has a good enough mix of athleticism and football IQ to be used as an H-Back/Sniffer who motions into lead blocks or pulls on Counters. In addition to being more than capable of doing the dirty work in the trenches, Bowers is a crisp route runner with a huge catch radius who can go from a stand still to top speed in about five yards.
That acceleration allows him to take short passes and screens all the way to the end zone. In 2021 he was efficient against both Man and Zone coverage schemes.
Man: 16 TGT’s/12 REC’s, 193 YDS, 6 TD’s, 108 YAC, 16.1 Yards Per Catch
Zone: 41 TGT’s/31 REC’s, 419 YDS, 2 TD’s, 226 YAC, 13.5 Yards Per Catch
One interesting note is that Bowers managed to score 6 touchdowns on just 12 catches versus man coverage and 2 touchdowns on 31 receptions against zone. Why is this?
Well, it’s because giving him the ball against man coverage means he is in space. He forced 7 missed tackles on his 12 catches against man and just 3 on his 31 catches against zone. If he is in the open field with the ball and someone is trying to tackle him one-on-one they’re likely to miss.
His 3.01 Yards per Route Run in 2021 lead all Power 5 TE’s with 50 or more targets. Bowers also ranked 18th among all FBS pass catchers. He is the best TE in the country, and his abilities create all sorts of headaches for defensive coordinators. Put him inline in a heavy formation and he can burn a LB on a wheel route. Put him in the slot and he can get inside leverage on a Safety and take a slant 75 yards. Put him out wide and he will out muscle a cornerback for a 50/50 ball. It’s dealer’s choice, and he almost always makes his OC look smart.
Darnell Washington enters the 2022 season looking to capitalize on all of the promise that came with being ranked as one of the nation’s top ten overall recruits when he left high-school in the 2020 class. Everyone speculated about his future this offseason and assumed the emergence of Bowers would send him into the transfer portal, but Washington never waivered. In fact, Washington’s high-school coach recently joined the Georgia program as an off-field staffer.
In two years at UGA, Washington has established himself as an elite blocker. He has never allowed a QB pressure in a pass block set. He is a very good run blocker as well. Some scouts have speculated that Washington would be a Top 10 overall pick in the NFL Draft if he changed positions to Tackle.
In reality, Darnell could be one season away from being a high round draft pick as a TE. He has never been fully healthy in his career but sources have told DawgsCentral that Washington has been playing better than ever during fall camp. He is mauling lineman in the run game, which is nothing new.
What’s different is his health. Washington is fully healthy for maybe the first time in his college career. At 6’7” he is running smooth routes and accelerating to speeds that guys his size just don’t move at. Rarely, if ever, can one tackler bring him down.
Washington only ran 109 routes in 2021, but caught 10 passes on 12 targets. That gave him an 83.3% reception percentage, which would say that UGA gets a high ROI when targeting him in the passing game.
One thing to keep in mind with Washington in 2022 is the catches he had in 2020 when lined up out wide against Missouri and Kentucky. Georgia’s group of boundary receivers isn’t very deep after AD Mitchell. There is talent, but most of the players at X and Z are unproven. Washington has shown he can be a headache lined up out wide.
Arik Gilbert is finally looking to get back on the field in a college football game. In 2020 at LSU he showed why he was the highest rated TE recruit of all time. He’s a TE who runs routes like a wideout and is elusive as well as powerful after the catch.
In 2020 he averaged 10.5 yards per catch and showed the ability to catch slants, go routes and 50/50 balls. He lined up everywhere at LSU. In 550 snaps he lined up in the slot 46.4% of the time, inline 43.2% of plays and out wide for 10.4%.
He flashed tons of potential in the spring game, looking virtually unguardable despite being 280 pounds. He can get inside leverage whenever he wants and he’s too big to guard on a well placed throw over the middle.
Gilbert showed up to camp very close to his weight goal and has had some impressive moments so far. That being said, the consistency has to improve for him to play at the level he is capable of. Gilbert has traveled a long road to get back to this point, and now on the precipice of a new football season he has a chance to turn 3 months of football into his NFL dreams.
If UGA finds they can rely on him in 2022 than watch out. He solves a lot of needs for Georgia on the outside and is another large target who will make Stetson Bennett’s life easier.
Oscar Delp might be a true freshman in college football’s most stacked position room, but that doesn’t mean you should count him out. On G-Day he flashed some skills that looked like Brock Bowers. He is long and lean and he can go up and get balls over the middle.
He made some noise in Georgia’s first scrimmage of fall camp, catching two touchdown passes while getting playing time with the 2nd and 3rd team units. He is another UGA TE who can run smooth routes and catches the ball naturally. While everyone is focused on stopping Bowers and the others, don’t be surprised if you see Monken slip Delp behind the defense for six.
How many opportunities he gets in 2022 and how soon they come will likely depend on his blocking and his grasp of the offense. Having enrolled early should give him a leg up on both fronts.