After further review, 5 things Georgia can fix (and must fix) to keep its championship hopes alive
Kirby Smart has called it a wake-up call, while some Georgia fans are more concerned and less optimistic about the national championship hopes that seemed so inevitabile just one week ago.
Almost overnight, Alabama put a serious dent in Georgia’s parade plans. But all is not lost. Far from it.
While some positions are debatable about if they’re capable of being fixed, such as the depth and talent at wide receiver, there are plenty of ways Georgia can fix the issues that ultimately derailed its SEC Championship hopes last week.
The Bulldogs’ season will be remembered for what comes next. There are options available, and now is an evaluation period of what went wrong, how to fix it, and how to figure the best strategy for winning a national championship.
Here are 5 areas that Georgia can and must fix:
Pressure the quarterback
There was an apparent false narrative, it turned out, that Alabama’s offensive line was worse than deli Swiss cheese. Upon further review, it appears that the Iron Bowl really does put things in a different light, even for the eventual SEC champion. The Crimson Tide’s offense line held up, but what was most concerning for Georgia was that its vaunted front 7 did not register consistent pressure on QB Bryce Young. It is inexplicable that LSU and Auburn pressured Alabama but Georgia couldn’t. Remember, 4 Dawgs have at least 4 sacks this season.
Similar to running back, Georgia has 4 or 5 quality pass rushers who need to make an impact soon. It’s up to Dan Lanning and staff to find the most effective plan to use them.
We teased to this last week in our biggest concerns about facing Alabama, and Saturday the Dawgs’ fears became reality. The Jameson Williams highlights are Exhibit A here, as his first touchdown for Alabama last week didn’t have a Georgia defender within 5 yards of him when he made the catch near midfield. Georgia has shuffled its safeties this season, but nothing seemed to explain the apparent lack of communication on several plays that left Alabama receivers wide open, and it wasn’t just Williams.
Whether it’s coaching, or play-calling, the lack of pass rush seemed to leave an indelible mark on the secondary. Georgia knew Alabama was great against zone coverage, and yet didn’t go away from it. Maybe the Bulldogs didn’t feel confident in playing man coverage, but it’s now been exposed that will bring more adjustments.
Georgia had its worst performance of the season on 3rd down against Alabama, going 3-for-12, and it was only the second time all season the Bulldogs were under 30% in production. What’s more, Stetson Bennett was 2-for-8 passing in those situations. The troubling aspect was that Bennett’s scrambling ability is believed to be what sets him apart from JT Daniels, who is thought to be more accurate in the passing game.
The struggling running game, along with Bennett’s scrambling ability, should be the tonic needed to ease the stress on 3rd down. The multi-pronged attack at tight end is another option available for Bennett.
Improved quarterback play
Bennett’s 2 interceptions will be remembered far more than his 340 yards and 3 touchdowns. That further complicates the ongoing questions, or doubts, that fans and media have about Bennett, who made several strong throws and had an otherwise solid game except for the picks.
Smart has said the coaching staff never considered pulling Bennett, but Smart is low on coaching equity in this area, and it could become a serious issue if QB mistakes cause major problems in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
This is the type of game the program was building toward all season, and Georgia can’t afford to rely exclusively on its defense in championship games; the quarterback play has to at least be mistake-free. The question remains if Smart truly believes that the strongest part of this team is, in fact, the team aspect, then changing to Daniels should not be a disruption. And it’s not an overstatement to suggest that how Bennett plays — or how Smart manages the QB situation — in the next game or 2 will go a long way toward writing Smart’s legacy in Athens.
Like the 3rd-down conversion rate, Georgia had the worst rushing output in any game this season against Alabama, with 109 yards on 30 carries. And it was the first time since the opener against Clemson that Georgia didn’t score a rushing touchdown.
Georgia has plenty of proven options at running back, and Todd Monken needs to find a reliable hot hand, and get into a groove like Georgia did against the likes of Tennessee (274 yards, 4 TDs) or Florida (193, 2) or Arkansas (273, 3) with an eye-popping 56 rushing attempts.