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1. Stetson Bennett. My God, a 6th Year. He played basically a perfect game, and was totally in control of the offense. He never made a poor decision and an offseason with Monken as the entrenched starter has taken his game to another level. When he flipped it out of bounds twice on the first drive it spoke volumes about his own maturity and mentality. He is the starter and he doesn’t have to prove himself on every play anymore. Instead of trying to make the hero plays he made the throws and decisions that an OC would if they were on the field. His first half was essentially perfect. He went 18/21 for 254 yards with 1 TD rushing and receiving. Two of those incompletions were throwaways and one was a RPO throw rolling to his left that he put where only his guy could catch it and pass interference could have been called. On the day his adjusted completion was a gaudy 92.9%. He had ZERO turnover worthy plays.
2. In other words, he played within the system and the system is really damn good. Todd Monken is the best OC UGA has ever had. By a wide margin. He and Bennett were in his office until the wee hours of the morning some nights this summer, going over the system in extreme detail. Stetson’s timing Saturday was perfect, starting with the first 3rd & long throw to Rosemy on the comeback route on the boundary. Most college QB’s throw into windows after they see them. Bennett was releasing the ball as his WR was hitting his break. When his primary wasn’t open he flew through his progressions. A lot of his best plays came on throws to 3rd and 4th reads. He used his feet to extend plays when he needed to, but you didn’t see him miss an open WR. UGA’s success rate on passing plays on Saturday was 70.2%, that’s the highest I can remember in the Monken era.
3. Speaking of Monken, his detachment from any sort of system is what enables his week to week brilliance. On the Dawgs Central preview show I talked about how UO ILB’s Flowe, Sewell and Funa were liabilities in pass coverage. On the first drive he made them run sideline to sideline after McIntosh and McConkey. On the second he got heavy with Washington and Bowers and alternately worked the flats and attacked the middle. In total the UO ILB trio was targeted 10 times. They gave up 9 receptions for 114 yards and UGA pass catchers had 90 yards after the catch when matched up on them. Flowe and Sewell had 5 missed tackles between them when in coverage. Monken found the matchup, exploited it, and then built everything else off of that threat. What’s dangerous for defenses is he’ll change that strategy week to week as needed.
4. Bennett’s average time to throw on Saturday was 2.54 seconds (less than Nix’s 2.67), which is indicative of how quickly they had him get the ball out early in the game. Once it became clear that UGA’s offensive line had things under control you saw more slow developing plays downfield. Last year Bennett’s dropbacks were as much as 60% play-action some weeks. Against Oregon only 11 of his 31 dropbacks were play-action. Stetson was only pressured on 5 of those dropbacks and he attempted a pass on all of them. I know he had a couple throwaways but my point is that Oregon was never able to keep him in the pocket or speed up his clock in the passing game. Georgia’s OL was dominant in pass protection (More on the run blocking in Takeaway #7).
5. The reason UGA’s game plan worked was two-fold. Reason #1: Downfield blocking. I have never seen a group of WR’s and TE’s do a better job blocking downfield. That’s a mentality/culture/effort thing and it speaks to everyone being willing to do dirty work to help one another shine. UGA’s three highest graded run blockers on Saturday in order were Rosemy-Jacksaint (87.5), Washington (82.8) & Blaylock (82.3). It’s unusual to see pass catchers grade out that well, especially WR’s. Georgia tried to run a similar gameplan to start 2021 against Clemson and the perimeter blocking was awful. After that game Monken started working directly with the WR’s on that area and you saw the improvement between then and the Orange Bowl. No improvement needed in 2022. McClendon has these guys dialed in on that front and that is how big plays happen.
6. Reason #2: UGA has found a really unique duo in Ladd McConkey & Kenny McIntosh. Oregon’s secondary could not tackle them in space. KM6 ran 16 receiving routes on Saturday, which was more than everyone but AD, Ladd, Bowers & Darnell. He was targeted 9 times and made 9 receptions for 117 yards. He lined up 5 times in the slot and 1 time out wide. He had 125 YAC and a WHOPPING 7.31 Yards per Route Run. He forced SIX missed tackles on those receptions. KMac was also matched up on 6 different Duck defenders on those 9 REC’s. None of them could do anything about it. McConkey ran 23 receiving snaps- 18 out wide and 5 in the slot. He snagged 5 REC’s on 6 TGT’s for 73 YDS and averaged 11.8 YAC per catch. Couple that with having to respect him on end-around plays and the double moves he can put on DB’s in man coverage and that’s a big headache for any DC game planning for UGA down the road. Much was made over Jermaine Burton leaving this season, but Ladd is a more versatile weapon at Z than he was and fits better into what Monken wants to do, especially when you consider the downfield blocking. Ladd’s 6 TGT’s came against 6 different Ducks. CB Jahlil Florence was the only one he didn’t make a catch on. He’s a matchup problem for everyone. This wasn’t Monken picking on one defender.
7. The OL play was interesting. UGA subbed in Mims and Willock in the first half, which was different than what we saw last year. McClendon is as solid as they come, but Mims was pushing defenders back 5+ yards at times on run snaps in the red zone. Guard play was the offense’s weakness in 2021, but UGA averaged 8.5 YPA when running behind LG on Saturday and 5 YPA on 3 attempts between LG and Center. That’s an early sign that Georgia upgraded with Truss/Willock at LG. The strength of UO’s defense was the middle, and UGA rarely tried it in the run. The Ducks actually were able to shoot some gaps at times with their DT’s, but UGA relied on the blocking prowess of their inline TE’s. 13 of the 25 rushing attempts came to the outside behind a TE. They averaged 5.5 YPA on those, which was efficient. Milton did a great job of dodging defenders in the backfield and turning in productive runs.
8. Onto the defense… Oregon actually moved the ball pretty well early in the game. They picked on Ringo and Mondon in coverage quite a bit and worked the underneath routes with some success. UGA’s defensive gameplan going back to last year has been to avoid explosive plays and allow underneath yardage. In 2021 they allowed a TD on only 28% of opponent Red Zone trips. The number was 0% on Saturday, but they missed some tackles on underneath routes and outside runs that they will want to make down the road and some guys got caught out of position due to bad reads at times.
9. The safety play was absolutely ELITE. Chris Smith had an INT and a PBU with 0 REC’s allowed on 30 coverage snaps. Starks had 32 coverage snaps and gave up just 2 REC’s on 5 TGT’s. Both Safeties filled run lanes like a coach dreams of. They were reading things quick. Smith’s breakup on the deep ball was textbook. He hit Cota in the body and lead with his shoulder. Really clean play. Starks was actually Georgia’s highest graded run defender on Saturday. He played the same number of snaps at Free Safety (20) as he did at Slot Corner. He also lined up in the Box 12 times. He is the most versatile defender that Georgia has had since Champ Bailey.
10. Where UGA’s pass defense struggled was on the side between Ringo and Mondon. There seemed to be some consistent miscommunication happening between those two where they were confused on one another’s assignments. Ringo was targeted 7 times and gave up 5 REC’s for 51 yards. One of the incompletions was a drop. I don’t blame him for the long play that Chris Smith had to breakup. Oregon’s WR blocked him about 5 yards downfield and so he correctly read run on an illegal block downfield. Still, Ringo looks a lot more comfortable when playing shorter cushions and press coverage and that wasn’t what UGA was doing on Saturday. The Dawgs were in a lot more Zone.
11. The ILB play was interesting to watch. A lot of guys got snaps even before the game was out of hand. Trezmen Marshall was UGA’s 2nd highest graded run defender. From my eyes, Dumas-Johnson was the guy who was most assignment sound and consistent. There’s a reason they pulled him in the 2nd half to let other guys get more snaps. Smael Mondon missed some tackles and got caught moving in the wrong direction at times, but he is so athletic that he can recover quickly. You could see the moments where his athleticism let him penetrate and get into position to make plays. It was his first game and as he learns this scheme he will be an elite player for UGA. You can bet they will work with him on zone coverage schemes this week. All told, I think you’re going to see this ILB rotation shake out over the rest of September. One thing Georgia will want to figure out is its pass rush. They only pressured Nix 9 times on 52 dropbacks. Granted they only blitzed him 12 times and the ball was getting out quick. Nix only attempted 3 passes between 10-19 yards and 3 of over 20 yards, but I think UGA will want more havoc. You saw Carter flash plenty, but Williams, Ingram-Dawkins, Beal, etc. will need to be more disruptive in SEC play. Nolan Smith deserves credit for turning in 3 pressures on 15 pass rush snaps.
12. This UGA team played pissed but under control. Think back to Kirby Smart’s viral halftime speech against Florida last year and I would think he was smiling when Oregon’s sideline was chirping at AD Mitchell in the 2nd quarter after an incomplete pass and he just pointed to the scoreboard, turned his back and ran back to the huddle. The defense will get better every week and the offense is going to break almost every record UGA has. There’s plenty of motivation and these guys looked tired of hearing about what Georgia lost all offseason. What you saw this weekend was a team playing up to a standard instead of an opponent. That started with the 2021 defense and that culture seems to be continuing through the program. If they keep maintaining it UGA may have a dynasty of their own. The offseason narratives around the offense, WR development, Bennett, etc. was a gift to this team and staff. Smart saying this was his best staff was telling. The way he let Beck sling the ball around was different, and it’s going to be hard for a WR to look at this offense and not see potential regardless of what any other staffs are telling them. If you’re a recruiter at a rival program the window to get in any shots at UGA’s offensive system is closing fast. Lots of guys producing for UGA were missed evals by the recruiting industry, but Georgia can use that to their own benefit. If you’re Smart, Monken and UGA it’s fair to ask blue-chip QB’s and skill players a question- “If we can do this with a 2-star walk-on and a bunch of 3-star WR’s then what do you think we can do with you?”