Nota bene: I charted all 15 games of Georgia’s 2021 season and used that data for this article. As is standard practice for any advanced stats football analysis, I excluded the FCS opponent and garbage time from the dataset. All facts and figures in this article refer only to meaningful play prior to garbage time. Georgia was one of the most effective teams I’ve ever seen at shutting games down once they’d become non-competitive, and the playcalling, personnel use, and tempo all changed so significantly that those data are non-representative. Some of the numbers here may look fairly different from the season-long raw stats, excluding garbage time is the primary reason why.
The biggest mistake opposing defenses made when facing Georgia last year was underestimating #13 QB Bennett. After some back and forth with 2020 starter JT Daniels, who’s now transferred out of the program, and backup #15 QB Beck, Bennett locked down the starting job by week 5 and for the rest of the Bulldogs’ national championship-winning season.
Bennett is a former Juco and walk-on, and I think when opposing DCs reviewed his tape they saw certain arm talent limitations and figured he wasn’t much of a threat. I was surprised when studying the film that this attitude persisted until very late in the season despite plenty of evidence that Bennett’s skillset — field awareness, quick processing, and moxie — was the key to OC Monken’s entire offense.
Georgia’s passing success rate in 2021 – that is, how often they gained sufficient yardage given the down & distance to stay ahead of the chains on called passing plays – was about 53%, regardless of quarterback. That number is better than average, but is an outlier among national-championship and other playoff-caliber teams I’ve studied over the last decade, where efficiency is usually at or above 60%. Where the Bulldogs excelled last year was in explosive passing plays – with Bennett throwing the ball, 25.75% of all passes gained 15+ yards. That’s an absolutely astonishing number, five percentage points higher than any other team I’ve studied for a full season. When Bennett came in to replace Daniels, Georgia’s average gain per passing attempt rose to 10.43 yards, an excellent number.
Bennett is capable of throwing a nice downfield rainbow with good arc and distance, something that seemed to surprise a lot of defenses. But his real strength is in reading the coverage and identifying throws that will take the receiver much farther downfield. Some examples:
(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 – The defense is dropping eight but has a linebacker on the RB wheel route who takes a fatal bad step instead of dropping farther. Bennett recognizes it instantly and completes a 20-yard downfield arc (after an 8-yard drop), initiating the throw right as the backer makes his step and well before the back turns his head.
- :13 – About 45% of under-center snaps turned into play-action passes, this one sucks eight defenders down and creates an easy one-on-one with a neat stutter-go by #84 WR McConkey (another underestimated player, as a mid 3-star). The ball is underthrown, not uncommon for Bennett, and that gives the CB a chance to catch up, but McConkey is very good about securing the ball.
- :29 – Drag routes like this take a long time to develop but the protection is great and Bennett’s ball placement is impeccable, leading the receiver downfield for 10 extra yards.
- :45 – Not the best exchange by the RG and RT on the blitz that I’ve ever seen, but Bennett’s not easily rattled by the impending contact and finds the TE down the sideline. The backer covering him looks like he’s running in molasses compared to the Bulldogs’ elite TEs.
Georgia’s most talented wideout last year was George Pickens, who’s since been drafted in the second round by the Steelers. He missed most of the year with an ACL injury, however, and Monken had to adjust his passing offense over the course of the season. It wound up being dominated by the tight ends and running backs, using 12-, 13-, and 21-personnel sets almost exclusively from November onwards. Outside receiver #5 WR Mitchell returns in 2022, he was a mainstay throughout last season and at 6’4” the tallest of the wideouts. The interesting adjustment was that McConkey and Jermaine Burton, who look like slot receivers to me at only 6’0”, got moved outside as the tight ends took over the passing game. McConkey returns in 2022, but Burton transferred to Alabama.
I also saw #10 WR K. Jackson, #11 WR A. Smith, and #81 WR Rosemy-Jacksaint on the field quite a bit, but they were primarily used as blockers and have just a fraction of the targets and yards that Burton, McConkey, and Mitchell got last year. All three of those backups return and looked good in the 2022 Spring game, but the tallest is 6’2” and none looked like better options at outside receiver than the returning starters to me. On the podcast Robert suggested that #8 WR Blaylock, after recovering from two different knee injuries, may be ready to shake up the room, but I suspect that the passing game will continue to run through the tight ends plus McConkey and Mitchell.
Over the course of the season Georgia seemed to realize what incredible weapons they had in their tight ends. The breakout star was then-true freshman #19 TE Bowers, who became the team’s leading pass catcher. They also used nearly undefendable #0 TE Washington, though he was limited early in 2021 while recovering from a broken foot and was held out of the 2022 Spring game with another lower body injury. Both return, though their excellent blocking tight end John FitzPatrick was drafted in the sixth round by the Falcons. It’ll be interesting to see what LSU transfer #14 TE Gilbert can do – he was a coveted recruit but missed all of last year with a personal matter, and seemed to be used sparingly in the 2022 Spring game – it remains to be seen if he can replicate FitzPatrick’s blocking ability after his time away.
The tight ends have a couple of promising backups as well. With Bowers, Washington, and 4-star #88 TE Goede being held out as a precaution in the Spring game, #80 TE Seither played with the ones and looked pretty good, and true freshman #4 TE Delp played with the twos (on the podcast, Robert said he thought Delp will one day eclipse Bowers as a pass-catcher).
The deep passes got a lot of attention, but I think a lot of credit should go to Monken for adapting the offense to his personnel, with a lot of intermediate passes, rollouts to get Bennett better angles, and shifting to the truly exceptional tight ends. Here are some examples from the second half of the season of what the offense evolved into:
- :00 – A lot of opposing defenses played off the Z-receiver when Georgia wasn’t on the right hash, figuring that Bennett doesn’t have the zip on the ball to beat the CB on the comeback to the wide side of the field. Monken wisely responded with a lot of left-to-right rollout plays like this one to create a better angle.
- :11 – The defense is aligned to the boundary and the backers follow that direction on the play-action fake, but all four other eligibles are flooding the field on this right-to-left rollout. Bennett makes the right choice on the high-low read, it’s not a great throw but the receiver is wide open and can adjust on it.
- :24 – Bennett has this one sussed out pre-snap – the creeper from the field means the boundary OLB is going to drop wide, the corner to the deep half, and there’ll be a void for the TE to run into. He’s staring at him the whole way since he knows exactly where the ball is going.
- :37 – Even with the backer mugging him the whole way the TE is just undefendable here as long as the ball is lobbed high enough. Bennett does it from his back foot.
For all his success, though, I don’t think the limitations of Bennett’s arm talent are imaginary, and I think commentators who noted a tendency to try and force certain plays had a point. I think some of the reason that Daniels and Beck’s names kept coming up is that there are parts of the passing tree that Bennett has a hard time accessing and he was fortunate not to have been intercepted more often. Some examples:
- :00 – I don’t love a 7-man protection and three hitch routes against a 3-man rush on 3rd & 11. There’s really no reason to dump this ball off so early and behind the receiver.
- :06 – Just an off-target ball, and no real pressure either. It’s the right read of the field but the ball floats behind the receiver.
- :21 – Another 3-man rush, this one produces a sack largely because nobody’s getting open. There’s a possible throw to the Z-receiver deep downfield, but I don’t think Bennett’s arm can make it and he doesn’t try.
- :37 – One of many near-interceptions on my tally sheet, from a rushed throw under pressure this time. The defense is dropping its outside backers and rushing the safety, something Georgia’s defense I’m sure does all the time in practice. The other DB’s alignment means the hole is on the right hash, not left, and Bennett shouldn’t be forcing this throw.
The most interesting unit to me was Georgia’s offensive line. In pass protection, this was one of the best lines I’ve ever seen, with all five starters coming in at an 11% or lower error rate on my tally sheet, which is a remarkable level of pocket consistency in my experience. That translated into tons of time in the pocket for Bennett to select his throws and one of the lowest sack rates in the country - I only recorded a dozen sacks of Bennett during meaningful play (and half of those were to Alabama).
Starters #69 LT Salyer and #54 LG Shaffer have both been drafted, both in the sixth round by the Chargers and Falcons, respectively. Shaffer played every meaningful snap but Salyer missed a few games at the end of the regular season with an injury, though he was back for the postseason. Salyer was replaced by returner #59 LT B. Jones during the games he missed (and curiously, during the second quarter of the national championship game Salyer was moved over to right guard and Jones took over again at left tackle) and Jones played left tackle with the ones in the 2022 Spring game, so it seems he has that job locked down for the Fall. Georgia also returns starters #63 C Van Pran and #70 RT McClendon who played every meaningful snap in 2021, so clearly they have their jobs secure.
It’s more difficult to predict the guard spots. On the first drive of the opener against Clemson, starter #51 RG Ratledge was injured and missed the rest of the season, and he was held out of the 2022 Spring game with an injury as well. I’ve basically never seen him play, but on the podcast Robert was effusive about him and was fairly certain he’ll be healthy and get a starting spot again in 2022. #50 RG Ericson played for most of the year, though he has the lowest grade on my tally sheet and at certain points I think he was replaced by #73 RG Truss for performance reasons.
During the Spring game, I saw #77 RG Willock playing with the ones, though I didn’t see him during any meaningful snaps in 2021. The upshot is that Georgia looks to have four playable guys – returners Ericson, Ratledge, Truss, and Willock — for two spots which is a good position to be in, but I don’t know how they’ll make the choice between starters and backups or left vs right. I’m also not certain how they’d deal with an injury to one of the tackles, since in the Spring game the tackles with the twos were pretty inexperienced - #71 LT Greene is a true freshman and #58 RT Blaske only got experience last year as a center, not tackle, during mop-up duty. Robert suggested that #65 OL Mims might be in contention; he’s certainly very talented and sizeable but I didn’t see him at all last year or the Spring game after flirting with the transfer portal.
What was shocking to me when reviewing Georgia’s 2021 film was that the offensive line did not replicate the same level of pass-blocking effectiveness when it came to blocking the run. With the exception of Salyer when he was at left tackle, every o-lineman during meaningful play (including backups Jones and Truss) came in at a 19% or worse error rate on my tally sheet when blocking designed rushes. As a reference point, I chart all of the notoriously poor Pac-12 teams’ offensive lines and ten of them last year came in at about 18% run-blocking error rates. Excluding Salyer, there was an average of about 12 percentage points worth of difference in pass- vs run-blocking grades for this offensive line, which is one of the biggest discrepancies I’ve ever observed.
That translated into fairly mediocre rush efficiency numbers prior to garbage time: only about 51% of designed rushing plays (that is, excluding sacks and scrambles) were successful given the down & distance. Like the passing game, that’s a bit better than the average team, but well below the 60% rate that typical playoff-caliber teams record in my experience. Unlike the passing game, however, the run game didn’t make up for that with explosive rushes, with only about 14% of designed rushes gaining 10+ yards outside of garbage time, a slightly below average figure for all teams I study, though the adjusted YPC number was decent at 5.12.
What makes this even more interesting, and to me further confirms that opposing DCs underestimated Bennett, is that by far the most successful designed rushing plays in Georgia’s playbook were the two quarterback runs: QB draw and the outside keep on the zone-read option. Those two plays combined succeeded on a whopping 78% of calls, and more than 22% of them went for 10+ yards. Some examples to illustrate:
- :00 – Bennett made the correct read of the crashing end and kept the ball to the outside at least once a game, and it never got old watching him run past gawping SEC defenses on a play that’s been a Pac-12 staple for the better part of 20 years. Impressive effort for a lot of extra yardage.
- :19 – Both TEs split out and the back in motion is a pretty good signal of a QB draw coming, it effectively pulls the backers out of the box with just a spun-down safety to juke. A better downfield block from the center and this might have gone the distance.
- :33 – I believe this is a scramble and so it counts against the passing, not rushing category for my tally, but I included it to illustrate that Bennett’s recognition of open grass is excellent, his legs can do real damage, and he is absolutely not afraid of contact.
By contrast, designed rushes by the running backs prior to garbage time only had a 49% efficiency rate, 4.9 YPC, and just 12.5% gained 10+ yards, all of which are slightly below average figures in my experience. In my opinion, that modest rushing performance doesn’t indict the running backs themselves at all, who I thought were excellent. Both of the 2021 starters were drafted, James Cook in the second round to the Bills and Zamir White in the fourth to the Raiders. They got about 80% of the running back carries during meaningful play.
The remaining 20% went to the next two backs in the rotation, #6 RB McIntosh and #2 RB Milton, who both return. My tally sheet shows no significant falloff in their efficiency, adjusted YPC, or explosiveness rate compared to Cook and White, though the sample size a lot smaller so I’m less certain about that conclusion than I’d like. I don’t know much about their likely 2022 backups, however, since #30 RB Edwards only carried the ball during garbage time, and the rest of the room are three walk-ons and two true freshmen. I expect one of those freshmen, #22 RB Robinson, to round out the rotation, but unfortunately the other one, Aaron Paul, suffered an ACL injury during camp and will miss the season.
I thought that McIntosh and Milton both showed good patience waiting for the hole and burst when it opened, as well as good instincts to bounce when they needed to. Some examples:
- :00 – Nice blocks by the tight ends here, Milton’s got plenty of room to run through. He’s dancing a bit at the line and gets past the corner, though not the safety or the backer (who should be a second-level pickup by the RG but he’s having too much fun demolishing the 0-tech).
- :07 – Good patience and footwork by McIntosh on this bend back. A cleaner block on the backer would have gotten him more but he still earns three yards after contact.
- :18 – The running lane just isn’t there despite Jones and Van Pran both blocking the same backer, but some really nice recognition and bounce at the line by Milton to get outside for positive yardage. Good ball protection and effort for extra yards after contact.
- :28 – Ericson isn’t really scooping out his defender and there’s a blitzer coming in to dodge, but McIntosh handles it well with this outside bounce to convert the 3rd down.
I thought the film revealed that, to the extent problems existed in Georgia’s running game last year, it mostly came down to the offensive line just not opening the holes they needed to. I was surprised at some persistent technique and footwork issues in run blocking, especially for a line that excelled at such things in pass protection. I also keep track of the defensive alignment and box count when charting, and noted that opposing defenses started playing lighter and lighter boxes later in the regular season and into the post-season, but the rushing and run-blocking performance didn’t really change. Some examples:
- :00 – Textbook lunging by McClendon here, something I saw constantly with this line – stopping his feet, bending at the waist, and lowering his head into contact, instead of driving with his feet and maintaining a flat back. You’ve got no balance, power, or vision in this position and it’s unsurprising he winds up on the ground.
- :07 – Jones needs a quicker initial step to get over and put his hat playside of the defender’s. Van Pran has a harder job getting up to the second level to control the backer. McIntosh has nowhere to go through this mess.
- :13 – Georgia is in 13-personnel but this is the week defenses figured it out – no need for a heavy box even if the Bulldogs are signaling run. Van Pran is the only lineman throwing a quality block on this play.
- :20 – It’s 12-personnel with seven blockers against just six in the box, and no push at all against a comparably talented defensive front.
This, then, was the major strategic miscalculation that opposing DCs made throughout most of the season: overallocating defensive resources to stopping a traditional run game that was arguably the least effective part of the offense, while underallocating resources against – even setting up – intermediate-to-deep passing and QB runs, which were by far the most effective parts. Recognizing and exploiting that mistake was what made Monken, in my opinion, one of the best OCs in the country last year.
In terms of Monken’s playcalling strategy overall, the Bulldogs were almost perfectly run/pass balanced on 1st downs, though their passing success rate on 1st & 10 was noticeably better than their overall numbers, about 58% pass success, whereas their rushing success rate was the same at 52%. There weren’t any significant 1st down playcalling differences based on field position, except when they’re within 5 yards of either goalline. But once they got past 1st down, there were some significant variations in both playcall balance and effectiveness on 2nd and 3rd downs.
Georgia was very effective at running the ball in short-yardage situations. On 2nd & short they ran about 68% of the time and succeeded on about 83% of those runs; on 3rd & short it’s about 50/50 run or pass, but they converted on about 77% of those runs (only about 50% conversions of 3rd & short passes). So, opposing defenses would be wise not to let the Bulldogs get into short yardage, because they playcall appropriately for their high rushing success rate in those situations.
However, the paradox of Georgia’s offense is that unlike the vast majority of teams I’ve studied, they’re more effective on 2nd & long than they are on 2nd & medium. The reason is that the Bulldogs tended to rush on 2nd & medium about 70% of the time, but they weren’t very good at it – less than a 46% success rate on such runs. (This is the only area I can detect, on either side of the ball, that Georgia fooled itself in any way by not matching playcall frequency with success rate, at least in 2021.) They’re much better at passing on 2nd & medium, a 60% success rate, but they only did it 30% of the time. Overall, that adds up to a slightly under 50% success rate on all 2nd & mediums.
Conversely on 2nd & long, the Bulldogs more or less abandoned the run, instead passing more than two-thirds of the time, and their success rate on such passes was over 61% (their 2nd & long rushing success rate was just 36%, but they seemed to know that and didn’t do it very often). These numbers are exacerbated by a neat trick that Monken pulled on 2nd downs: after a failed 1st down run, they frequently lined up in exactly the same formation but executed an RPO or play-action out of it, getting the defense to bite hard on what they thought would be a repeat run (which they just succeeded against) only to get burned by the pass.
All that effectiveness disappeared, however, if Georgia faced more than 4 yards to gain on 3rd down. They passed the ball almost exclusively on such downs – 89% of the time on 3rd & medium and 95% on 3rd & long. Their success rate at such passing plummeted to just 37% on 3rd & medium and 29% on 3rd & long, or 32% combined. Rushes on 3rd & medium or longer were so rare that I couldn’t analyze them.
Therefore from a statistical perspective, winning 1st downs isn’t adequate to beat Georgia’s offense as it is with most teams. Instead to get the Bulldogs off the field, it’s imperative for defenses to win 2nd downs, and to be aware that they’re not so foolish as to call the same failed rushing play twice in a row. If defenses did that and got to 3rd & medium or better, they then merely needed to defend the inevitable pass to earn a punt.
New Oregon head coach Lanning was the defensive coordinator for all of Georgia’s 15 games in 2021. Earlier this month I wrote a deeper exploration of the Mint front defensive structure and its philosophy, using video clips of the Bulldogs’ 2021 season for illustration. I expect that despite Lanning’s departure, Georgia will retain the same scheme, since it originates — as a modification of the Tite front — during Georgia head coach Smart’s time at Alabama. Georgia co-DC/ILB coach Schumann has been with Smart throughout that time in Tuscaloosa and then joined him in Athens since their first season in 2016, so he’s well versed in this system.
The basic idea is that in modern college football the pass hurts you more than the run, and so you should devote as much of your defensive resources as practical to the back end and doing more with less up front. Georgia was so effective at this in 2021 because of an incredible collection of talent in their defensive front, with versatile players who could clog gaps, penetrate the backfield, and drop into coverage without requiring heavy boxes.
The 3-down structure requires a big two-gapping nose and a couple of 4is to clog the B-gaps, using a “spill & kill” philosophy that forces runs outside and giving the backers and safeties time to come down out of pass coverage and make the tackle. During meaningful play, the Bulldogs in 2021 used six d-linemen in the main rotation with a couple extra who got a few non-garbage time reps. The three I would characterize as starters were Jordan Davis, Travon Walker, and Devonte Wyatt; all were first-round draft picks to the Eagles, Jaguars, and Packers respectively (Walker was the top overall pick). It’s difficult to overstate how good these guys were for Georgia, especially the fact that they brought multiple skillsets – Davis moves with incredible speed and flexibility for a huge nose, Walker easily drops into coverage or laterally on screens, and Wyatt can effectively play all the way from 5-tech to 0-tech.
Georgia returns #88 DL Carter, who played so often he might be considered a fourth starter. I think he’s an excellent replacement for Wyatt, and arguably had surpassed him by the end of the season. They also return the other two guys in the rotation, #96 DL Logue and #90 DL Walthour, plus several mop-up duty guys in #97 DL Brinson, #45 DL Norton, and #78 DL Stackhouse. True freshman #13 DL M. Williams was a 5-star recruit and played in the Spring game, I think there’s a chance he breaks in right away. Outside of Carter, I didn’t see the same versatility and mastery of all aspects of the job from the returners during the 2021 season or the 2022 Spring game as I saw in Davis, Walker, and Wyatt, and I don’t think it would be sound to conclude that the d-line will improve or retain the same level of play.
This was an excellent defense against the rush in 2021 on a per-play efficiency basis, with a 59% success rate against opponents’ designed rushes given the down & distance. Where it was absolutely elite was in limiting yardage after contact and preventing explosive rushing – the Bulldogs only allowed an adjusted 3.45 YPC and just 8% of designed runs gained 10+ yards, which I believe are the best numbers I’ve ever charted over an entire season. Here are some representative examples showing off the returners in run-stopping from last season:
- :00 – Good penetration by Stackhouse on this stretch play, and the end is stringing the play out per his assignment to give the (returning) DB time to fire down from 12 yards deep to stuff the run before the back can turn the corner.
- :07 – Excellent penetration by Carter here on his best move, which is the swim, and even though the end Walthour is on the ground, Carter has blown up the play and lets the DBs come down to the outside for a gang tackle.
- :25 – This is a fairly common variation from the standard 4i-0-4i, with no nose and two OLBs but still a six-man box. The returning 2nd-string OLB is doing a great job stacking up the tackle here, and more importantly he’s not getting too far upfield or committing too hard to either outside or in, delaying the back and giving the DBs and ILBs time to get off blocks and get over.
- :31 – Another great move by Carter, this time shaded over the tackle but with enough speed to get from the backside to the ballcarrier.
However, the returning backups overall simply graded out substantially worse on my tally sheet than the starters, and to the extent that the Bulldogs got in trouble at all against the rush – which was pretty rare – it almost always came down to the opposing o-line beating them, though I also noticed a few issues with the secondary. Some examples:
- :00 – Davis is instantly in the backfield because of course he is, and that’s a notable contrast here with Logue and Walthour.
- :13 – Without Davis in the middle there’s actually a hope of A-gap running, not just because the gap can be won with a combo block but because the backers and safety aren’t in position for it. Really nice backfield cut by the back here.
- :34 – I tallied a few problems with getting the substitutions in when the offense used tempo, here the defense is misaligned with the corner on the wrong side of the field at the snap.
- :40 – This was the most notable footwork issue I picked up with Carter, turning to move laterally instead of staying square to the line, which lets him get knocked over when he tries to reach into the gap. The tackling by the secondary leaves something to be desired.
The outside linebacker position is vital to the defensive structure, and is the position that Lanning himself coached while at Georgia (he’s been replaced by OLB coach Uzo-Diribe, whom I remember from his playing days at Colorado). On standard downs when the opponent had one or fewer tight ends on the field, Georgia deployed a single weakside OLB, and added a strongside OLB when the offense had two or more TEs. Philosophically, the OLBs have to be able to do everything from rush the passer, stack up a tackle, and drop out for simulated pressures and stunts.
In my opinion the Bulldogs’ best returning defensive player is #4 OLB N. Smith, who’s strength on film is just astonishing given that he weighs in at just 235 lbs. They also return backup #33 OLB Beal whom I’d describe as the third man in the rotation at the position last year. The second-most used OLB was Adam Anderson; he’s off the team after being arrested on a sexual assault charge and didn’t play past week 9. I think the most likely player to join the rotation is #32 OLB Chambliss, who was playing with the ones in the Spring game but only got a couple of reps during meaningful play in 2021.
In pass the defense the Bulldogs were also elite, a 60% per-play success rate against designed passes and screens, and limiting opponents to just 6.1 YPA and only 12.75% of opponent passes gained 15+ yards. Here are some representative examples of the returners on pass defense showing how effective the pass rush structure is:
- :00 – Great move by Carter, and Smith gets the RT to cross his feet with that incredible speed off the edge.
- :10 – Another great play by Carter, but check out Beal’s footwork on the stunt, he’s coming through with power by staying square.
- :23 – Very common pass rush structure on passing downs here, with the ILBs rushing and the end and OLB dropping into coverage. Walker tipping the ball to Smith for the pick after the A-gap blitz hurries the throw was a perfect encapsulation of how this defense works, and a great illustration of Smith’s body control.
- :36 – It’s a seven-man blitz so the DBs have to play pretty tight man. By the end of the year with some experience under his belt, Ringo was earning this kind of vital pass break-up. Later in this game he got the championship-sealing pick-six.
Georgia played two inside linebackers on standard downs, and used a three-man rotation at those positions during meaningful play, although interestingly on some situational downs they’d put all three on the field and play one or two up on the line of scrimmage. Those three were Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall, and Quay Walker. Dean and Tindall were drafted in the third round, by the Eagles and Dolphins respectively, while Walker went in the first round to the Packers. Again, I can’t speak highly enough of these players’ versatility – they played in coverage, filled run gaps, blitzed, and concealed their blitzing as some of the best backers I’ve ever studied, and in a structure that demands credibly showing one thing and then doing something else.
I have no film from meaningful play of their replacements since the Bulldogs waited fairly late into garbage time to pull them for the backups. The returners — #10 ILB Dumas-Johnson, #15 ILB Marshall, #2 ILB Mondon, and #18 ILB Sorey – combined for just 16 solo tackles all of last season. Based on the Spring game and 2021 playing time I would guess that Dumas-Johnson will probably get one of the starting jobs, but I’m at a loss as to the other since two of the candidates, Mondon and #0 ILB R. Davis, were held out of this year’s Spring game with minor injuries. I think that Marshall, Sorey, and true freshman #11 ILB J. Walker will be in the mix but really have no idea what to think of them. On the podcast I grilled Robert for a prediction and it was an interesting discussion but we both suspect the opener will see a wide rotation and something like open tryouts for the job.
The Bulldogs typically played a nickel structure on standard downs with a STAR aligned to the offense’s passing strength; they’d pull the nose and switch to a dime on obvious passing downs by adding another safety to the deep field, and sacrifice the STAR for a strongside backer when the offense deployed heavy personnel or on obvious rush downs.
Georgia played a pretty clean 1st- and 2nd-stringer rotation in the secondary, though with something close to a 60/40 playing time split during meaningful reps. Many of the first-stringers have left the team: STAR Latavious Brini and corner Ameer Speed transferred out, while strong safety Lewis Cine and corner Derion Kendrick were drafted in the first and sixth rounds by the Vikings and Rams respectively.
Kendrick played virtually every meaningful snap, but Speed had lost his starting job at the other corner spot to freshman #5 CB Ringo by week 6. Ringo had some freshman mistakes (he was a 2020 recruit but missed 2021 with a labrum tear) which all new corners are prone to, but should have the starting job locked down for 2022.
It’s hard to predict the other corner position or the backups since I didn’t see any meaningful reps by the bench here. In the Spring game, they’d moved returning 2nd-string STAR #31 DB Poole over to play corner with the ones, but Robert thinks that was just temporary and the starter plus backups will come from the group of #1 DB Green, #3 DB Lassiter, and #6 DB Everette. Green and Lassiter were 2021 recruits who got a couple of garbage time reps, Everette is a true freshman who played with the twos in the Spring game. If Poole returns at STAR, I’d guess his backup would probably be #22 DB Bullard, who got some garbage time play last year and was with the ones as the STAR in the Spring game.
Since former West Virginia transfer #23 DB T. Smith was injured last year and was held out of the 2022 Spring game (so I still haven’t seen any film on him), the Bulldogs basically played a three-man rotation at the two traditional safety spots. Cine was one, the other two were returners #47 DB D. Jackson (a former walk-on, surprisingly) and #29 DB C. Smith. I expect Jackson, both Smiths, and #14 DB Daniel-Sisavanh — who was playing with the ones in the Spring game but got no meaningful play in 2021 — to make a four-man rotation here in 2022.
I don’t think the secondary was the strength of the defense last year and given the inexperience at half the spots in the 2022 composition I think the same could be said for this year. If the pass rush didn’t get home it was a real gamble as to whether the secondary would pick up the slack, and I think the primary reason for Georgia’s only loss on the season was that Alabama’s passing offense picked them apart before the Bulldogs made some adjustments to their front to more effectively attack the QB. Some examples:
- :00 – Come on, guys.
- :14 – This is week 7 and Ringo was still fairly new to being a freshman starter, this cushion’s bigger than it needs to be given his excellent speed and he’s a step slow collapsing on the comeback. The replay angle shows Jackson struggling to keep up with the go route, I think this is a touchdown if the QB sees it.
- :30 – Nobody’s misplaying this exactly (well, except the LT who’s getting away with a hold) but this is a great illustration of where the hole is in Georgia’s zone coverage. If the QB can get it over Smith, as he does here, the CB and DB are in conflict when the TE bends into the flat and the No. 2 receiver runs the post.
- :45 – Davis and Wyatt are clearly exhausted at this point, and Walthour’s got no shot at beating a future seventh-round draft pick at LT. Plenty of time for the WR to beat Poole and Smith in the defensive backfield.