Catch up on previous 2021 opponent previews!
Other than the fact that it’s the SEC and your neighbors can legitimately make fun of you for not winning championships - because they’ve won them more recently - it’s a totally rational thought to think that UGA should have at least one more natty in their trophy room. They seemingly have the right of first refusal of every talented Georgia high school football recruit (and that talent pool continues to climb higher in quality), play in the elite football conference in the country, and have had a ton of historical success to their name.
So what’s the deal? Mark Richt came close a couple of times but was undone by untimely losses and last second poor play design. Richt recruited at a Top 10 level for nearly the entirety of his 15-year career in Athens but had to share the SEC East with Phil Fulmer’s Tennessee, Urban Meyer’s Florida and Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina - not to mention Nick Saban’s Alabama. After a final “disappointing” 9-3 2015 season he was fired and Georgia nabbed Saban disciple Kirby Smart.
Kirby immediately lifted UGA’s recruiting profile to Top 3 in the nation but insisted on playing the antiquated Saban-card of focusing on a defensive-forward execution, deploying a conservative, mistake-avoiding offense to put elite defenses into position to dominate opponents. Even with Saban turning to an air-raid hybrid with dual-threat quarterbacks and big-play receivers Smart stuck with the late-aughts version of Sabanball.
Until last year, that is.
Smart hired offensive guru Todd Monken and won the transfer services of Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman, and it finally seemed like Georgia was embracing offense. But then Newman sat out for COVID reasons and Georgia’s other transfer quarterback - former USC Trojan J.T. Daniels - was not deemed “fit” to play by the Smart staff. So out trotted 4th-stringer Stetson Bennett IV, and while the offensive concepts were super cool and modern, Bennett was completely unable to effectively run the offense. It wasn’t until Bennett hurt his shoulder against Florida that Smart finally took the wrapping off of Daniels and gave him a shot at quarterback.
The results were noticeable, as Daniels surpassed Bennett’s 6-games worth of production in 4 total starts: 1,231 yards, 10 touchdowns, 67% completion percentage, 80% catchable balls thrown.
Add in the fact that Georgia has plummed the transfer portal for elite tight end talent Arik Gilbert and it’s no wonder that Georgia is not just the favorite to win the SEC, but win a national title as well.
My money is certainly on them to do both. But it’s also been...well...you know...
14,797 days ago, UGa won a championship. Jimmy Carter was president.— SinceGeorgiaWon (@WonSince) July 7, 2021
14,797 days prior, June 28, 1940, Wendell Wilkie, the man nominated to lose to 3rd term FDR, headlined the @AJC.
FDR, of course, died in Georgia, after Wilkie died in New York. pic.twitter.com/qhWm1W4bA3
Here’s what Georgia did last year:
Just think what they could have done if J.T. Daniels had been playing all year! Smart has never been able to beat his old boss (but that’s a statement all former Saban acolytes can make). Daniels certainly would have made a difference in the Florida game - maybe even won it - which is why it’s so confusing that J.T. was ready to play and Georgia chose not to use him. Maybe they didn’t want to waste him in a COVID season? Regardless, Georgia was the 5th-best team in the country with a quarterback barely better than you or I so expect the ‘Dawgs to really do some damage this year.
Kirby Smart - 6th Year - 52-14 (32-9)
I’ll admit it: I don’t like Kirby Smart. I hate the way he talks. I hate his stupid haircut. I hate that he rode the coattails of Nick Saban for 9 years, turned that into a great job, and then snaked his old boss and friends on the ‘Bama coaching staff by taking pictures of the Tide recruiting board and then tweeting it to all the recruits to show where Saban valued them and that they should go to Georgia instead.
I also hate that he’s had nothing but success at Georgia. Not a fan.
But I do respect the guy. He recruits his ass off, has finally embraced the modern offensive game, and has seemingly been nothing but good to the UGA administration and players. He’s compensated well to do that so I’m not saying he’s somehow some benevolent being for doing what he’s getting paid $7 million a year to do, I’m just happy that he doesn’t present himself as some narcissistic dictator (the bar is low, I’ll admit it). I’d like him even better if he lost to Missouri a few times.
Todd Monken - Offensive Coordinator: Monken can coach offense, man. He turned the 58-year old Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden into a Heisman finalist. He resuscitated a cratered Southern Miss team in two years. And while he had mixed results at the NFL he has done nothing but melt faces with his offensive onslaughts at the college level. The fact that Bennett was a terrible quarterback should not be held against him, especially with what J.T. Daniels showed it could be in a mere four games. I hope he has a ton of success and goes off to be a head coach somewhere else because going up against his offense freaking sucks.
Dan Lanning - Defensive Coordinator: Let’s be clear: this is Kirby Smart’s defense. But let’s also be clear: Lanning has shown a great ability to manage that side of the ball and call excellent games. Lanning’s defenses have ranked 1st in SP+ in both years of him at the helm and that streak of elite defensive play doesn’t look to end in 2021.
Scott Cochran - Special Teams Coordinator
Dell McGee - Running Backs
Cortez Hankton - Wide Receivers
Todd Hartley - Tight Ends
Matt Luke - Offensive Line
Tray Scott - Defensive Line
Glenn Schumann - Inside Linebackers
Jahmile Addae - Defensive Backs
As previously mentioned, Stetson Bennett IV was bad. What I haven’t mentioned: even with six games of Bennett as QB1, the ‘Dawg offense ranked 21st in the country. With a full year of Daniels, another year of an excellent running back stable, plus the return of every big play wideout and the addition of Arik Gilbert, this offense could legitimately put up 50 points every game.
Quarterback - J.T. Daniels - Junior
Daniels started at USC his freshman season, and despite being a little sack-happy and prone to interceptions, did incredibly well for an 18-year old freshman. He was lost at the end of the first half of the first game of 2019 and then didn’t see any action until the Mississippi State game in 2020. Daniels was the top-rated quarterback of his class and has the exact type of skills and knowledge that Todd Monken is looking for in a quarterback. Given the scheme and the collection of skill position talent, I’d expect Daniels to easily exceed 3,000 yards passing on the year.
Running Back - Zamir White - Redshirt Sophomore
Zamir White is everything you want in a running back. 5.4 yards per carry with only 2 fumbles in his entire career (and none of them lost). He averages 3 yards before contact and nearly 3 yards after contact. Run him outside, he gets 6 yards; run him inside, he gets 5 yards. He destroys defenses on zone reads (7-yards per carry) and can even hoof it through 7-man boxes (5.6 yards per carry). He’s not much of a receiving threat but he can do anything you ask on the ground and will be deadly workhorse for another year at UGA.
Wide Receiver - George Pickens - Sophomore
George Pickens is kind of a d***. He backs it up with elite play but he’s like the smarmy, trash-talking guy that every pickup game of basketball features...but, oh yeah, he also absolutely torches anyone who guards him. Pickens, Kearis Jackson, and Jermaine Burton lead the team in targets and yardage (Pickens and Jackson were almost identical in yards - 513 and 514, respectively) and all three come back in 2021. It’s not fair to have all these guys plus an Arik Gilbert running around, but that’s the Georgia that we have to get used to this season. Each of these guys is going to have a dominating game, you just hope that it doesn’t happen to your team.
The only way you were beating the 2020 Georgia defense was by connecting on a lot of passes and hoping one went the distance. If not, you were screwed. The ‘Dawgs eliminated rushing attacks and constantly put opponents in passing situations. They allowed maybe a few too many completions (65.9% - 109th in the country) and allowed a few too many successful plays through the air (42% - 62nd) but shut down any semblance of hope on passing downs (18th). With a rebuilding secondary UGA will have to rely on that strong run defense to buoy a talented but young secondary.
Defensive Line - Jalen Carter - Freshman
Smart’s 3-4 scheme asks its lineman to hold blocks to free up linebackers to make plays: Jalen Carter did that while adding 15 tackles and 3 tackles for loss on top of that. He and Devonte Wyatt return to wreck shop up front and should, once again, absolutely ruin any running back’s day.
Linebacker - Nakobe Dean - Sophomore
Georgia returns Dean, who was the tackling machine of the linebacking corps, but loses Azeez Ojulari and Monty Rice, their more disruptive pieces. Quay Walker - another volume tackler - returns and there’s plenty of blue-chip talent to replace Ojulari and Rice but they’ll be unproven and potentially targeted with impunity.
Defensive Back - Lewis Cine - Sophomore
As previously stated, the UGA secondary was a little glitchy last year and loses a good chunk of their contributors. That means a refresh at the position that matters most in defensive quality. Luckily (for them) there’s plenty of elite talent to replace the departed. If they can be a little stickier in coverage and more disruptive in breaking up passes they’ll be able to at least match last year’s performance. Given the offensive potential, that might be all they need.
So what does it all mean?
This is one of the main reasons Georgia is looked at as a legit Playoff contender: this schedule is incredibly manageable. If they beat Clemson in Charlotte in the opening game - and, as I see it, they are going to absolutely detonate the Tigers - then UGA has a sleepwalk to an October 30th matchup with a rebuilding Florida team. Their West opponents this year is the plucky Arkansas underdogs that took every team to the limit but only won three games and an Auburn squad that is going under a total rebuild. South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee are all under construction as well and they get Missouri in Athens. Book ‘em for the one-seed right now.
But as for Missouri...could they win? Again, yes, it’s college football and anything can happen. Will they win? Probably not. The talent gap is far too wide, it’s on the road, and Missouri has only beaten Georgia one time in its SEC tenure. If Drinkwitz keep building the roster in the way he has this offseason then I do think that Missouri could be equipped to take a few from the ‘Dawgs. But I don’t see it this year and that’s fine: as the least likely win on the schedule, this game is more for proof of concept and morale victories than achieving any realistic goals.