Georgia football: Was that offensive showing a blip? Or a sign of real trouble ahead?
If you had Georgia sacking DJ Uiagalelei 7 times, raise your hand.
I didn’t think so.
In my “bold predictions” piece a few days before the game, I’ll admit that I put myself out there a bit in saying that the Clemson quarterback would go down 3 or more times. Granted, it was a prediction based on an improving Bulldogs pass rush that has improved on its sack numbers over the past 2 seasons.
Well, check, in a big way.
I also predicted 400 or more passing yards for JT Daniels. Obviously, Georgia’s signal-caller didn’t come close. But at least he wasn’t sacked 7 times.
Yes, the offense wasn’t great. But Brent Venables’ unit is by far the toughest defense the Dawgs will face in the regular season. And that’s the good news.
Can you win championships without a high-level offense, though? Well, that’s another story.
I recently wrote about Georgia and wondered if it would be able to close the gap with Alabama this year. Alabama, for its part, appears as if it will be the class of the SEC once more as it rolled past Miami in Bryce Young’s first career start; the natural reaction seems to be that perhaps that gap is still a bit wide.
An early projection would seem to suggest that Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will meet once more at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC Championship. But maybe the key to beating the Tide this year will be something few teams have been able to do: simply suffocating them on defense? Well, let’s look at the stats.
Alabama finished 2020 No. 1 in Bill Connelly’s offensive SP+ rankings and No. 6 in defense. LSU, naturally, finished 2019 No. 1 in SP+ offensive rankings but were No. 20 in defense. Clemson was No. 5 in offensive SP+ in 2018 and No. 3 in defensive SP+.
You’d have to go back to 2017 — that dreaded 2017 season — to find a national champion that finished outside of the top 10 in offensive SP+. Alabama was No. 11. But it was No. 1 in defensive SP+.
Now, maybe a team doesn’t need a DeVonta Smith, Joe Burrow or Mac Jones to be successful in college football, but can grind out wins by frustrating opposing offenses.
Just like old times, right? Defense, after all, does win championships.
But that’s not how it always goes in college football, and I’m not convinced that will be the formula this time around. And Smart understands that. Or, at least, Dawgs fans hope he does.
Fortunately, the schedule is very favorable the rest of the way, and as its offensive stars get healthy, it’ll have no trouble scoring.
Sure, Daniels was shaky. But he didn’t forget to play football overnight, and the defense he was up against was pretty good, too. Kearis Jackson wasn’t 100% and Darnell Washington was out altogether. Getting those players back to full health, along with Jermaine Burton — maybe as soon as Saturday’s game against the Blazers — will be an enormous boost. The offensive line should hopefully improve despite losing Tate Rutledge for the remainder of the year. The running game should eventually get things into full gear; there’s simply too much talent among that group. (It’s a running offense led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, after all, that helped lead them to the national championship game in the 2017 season. The Dawgs were a top 10 rushing team that year even though it was just within the top 25 in passing.)
Is Daniels going to be Joe Burrow 2.0? Will Kearis Jackson end up having a DeVonta Smith-like season? Are Zamir White and James Cook (or Kendall Milton) the Chubb-Michel two-man wrecking crew Smart had at his disposal 4 years ago? Probably not. But Georgia doesn’t need them to be anything they aren’t.
For now, though, the Bulldogs are 1-0. Kirby Smart won a big game; not the big game, but a big game nonetheless. The defense looked as good as it’s been since he’s arrived and could potentially get better when Tykee Smith returns from injury. The offense should follow suit in due time.
Who knows? Maybe 2021 will be different in Athens.