Catch up on previous 2021 opponent previews!
Well, they finally did it. After being occasionally close but never able to crest the mountaintop, Georgia won its first national title since 1980 thanks to Kirby Smart and the 2021 Georgia Bulldog roster. And while every defending national champion is projected to win two or three more during offseason discussions - and most inevitably “collapse” back to merely conference titles and Playoff appearances - it’s truly hard to imagine the machine that Kirby built do anything but chug along at full steam, recruiting every 5-star, winning every division title, and making championship game appearances every other year or so.
It is, however, worth a discussion about retention. There’s bad retention problems - like the type I highlighted in the Auburn preview, where the Tigers lost ten players to the portal, including four starters - and then there’s good retention problems, like our friends in Athens have. Georgia lost 15 players to the NFL Draft, including five 1st-Round picks (an NFL record). They also lost 8 players to the transfer portal but don’t worry: they once again inked a top three recruiting class. I’m sure one could dive fairly deep and find some things to be concerned about with the ‘Dawgs but writing previews for perfect teams is so boring: they recruit well, win games, replace good assistants with better assistants, and have tons of players drafted every year. Snore.
Here is a graphical representation of Georgia’s SP+ performance since 2005:
I will be the first to admit that I chuckled heartedly when UGA chased off Mark Richt, hired Kirby Smart, and promptly did worse than they ever did under Richt. I figured that Smart would be like any other Saban acolyte and fail miserably while trying to install his old boss’ program without the same iron fist that Saban wields over all aspects of the football institution. Obviously I was very wrong! Smart got the Bulldogs right back to Richt-ian levels of competence in Year 2 and became the second college football juggernaut in the SEC by Year 3. And given the institutional support, a gigantic war chest, and multiple Top 3 recruiting classes lining the roster, that sort of success isn’t going away anytime soon.
Here’s what Georgia did last year:
Other than a defensive slugfest against Clemson in Week 1 and a worse-than-the-score-indicates loss in the SEC Championship game, the Georgia Bulldog football team played well enough to have a 100% win expectancy in their other 13 games. That’s an insane level of consistent dominance and speaks to the ability of the staff to keep this roster locked in and devastatingly effective week to week.
Kirby Smart - 7th Year - 66-15 (40-9)
After breaking into coaching at Valdosta State and Florida State, Kirby Smart first joined Nick Saban’s staff in the last go of that regime at LSU in 2004. Saban took the Miami Dolphins job in ‘05 while Smart returned to his alma mater to coach...running backs, for some reason. His old boss then called him up to the NFL ranks to coach safeties for Saban’s last year at the pro level, and Smart followed him to Alabama where the sensei slowly molded the learner into the lethal college football coaching machine that we currently know. After 3 SEC Championships and 3 national championships Kirby went off to replicate the Tuscaloosa Death Star 274 miles east in Athens, Georgia. It’s...uh...working just fine, thanks.
Todd Monken - Offensive Coordinator: I have sung the praises of Todd Monken’s college football acumen - particularly when coaching offense - many times on this website before so I’ll save you another glowing review. It is worth pointing out that he crafted the 2nd best offense (according to SP+) in the country in 2021 with a walk-on quarterback who is definitely going pro in something other than sports at the end of this year. Sigh. Monken is so good, man. I wish he was the offensive coordinator for my team.
Glenn Schuman & Will Muschamp - Co-Defensive Coordinators: Dan Lanning is now the head coach at Oregon so Georgia promoted two dudes to replace him: Glenn Schuman and some dude named Will Muschamp. Schuman has been exclusively in the Saban/Smart system since 2008 and will absolutely know how to call this defense. Will Muschamp, on the other hand, is every bit as good as a defensive coordinator as he is bad as a head coach. The Muschamp defensive philosophy is a tad more aggressive than the Saban/Smart model but this should be an excellent pairing of minds and, once again, a devastating defense with effective tactics and blue-chips at every position. Yawn.
Dell McGee - Running Backs
Bryan McClendon - Wide Receivers
Todd Hartley - Tight Ends
Stacy Searels - Offensive Line
Tray Scott - Defensive Line
Chidera Uzo-Diribe - Outside Linebackers
Fran Brown - Defensive Backs
Have you ever heard of The Hold Steady? It’s required listening in the Edwards household. If not, take a few minutes and listen to these three tracks. Everyone has their own opinion but, if you asked for mine, I’d say they are one of the greatest bands of all time. The instrumentation is top tier across the board, the lyrical material is bitingly funny and poetically sharp, every single riff they come up with slaps, the backing vocals are tight and perfectly interspersed, the solos are tremendous...oh, and the lead vocalist Craig Finn mostly just talks through the lyrics. No singing. Just kinda talks. Loudly. No other band would want him and he wouldn’t work with any other band...but he works for them.
That was Georgia’s offense in 2021. Everything was perfect. The line, the running backs, the receivers, the tight ends...everything worked together, everything was max production and efficiency, there was hardly anything they were bad with...and there was 5’10” Stetson Bennett taking snaps with the express orders of “don’t eff this up”. Did it work? Heck yeah, it did. But no other team would want him and he wouldn’t work on any other team and yet he’s the quarterback of the defending national champions. Go figure.
Anyway, Georgia ranked 15th in rushing success rate, 6th in passing, 16th on standard downs, 7th on passing downs, 9th in overall success rate, 19th in explosiveness, and 12th in point per opportunity.
Quarterback - Stetson Bennett IV - Graduate Student
I might not have been the nicest about Stetson Bennett while talking about the offense above but, in two years as a full-time starter, he’s been mostly fine. His 64% accuracy in ‘21 was way better than the 55% accuracy in ‘20 while his TD/INT ratio improved and his average net yards per opportunity jumped up to 10. There are plenty of Georgia advanced analytics folks - including the tremendous Graham Coffey - who can rattle off plenty of stats that show Bennett was better than most with certain types of throws, which is fine. But I stand by my main point: he routinely wasn’t asked to do much and didn’t have to do much so, yeah, it worked. He averaged 8.7 yards per carry but only ran it 42 times. He threw 29 touchdowns on 287 passes but had the greatest offensive line and skill position talent this side of Tuscaloosa and Columbus. He does well! I’m not denying that! But so would any other quarterback put in his position! The coaching staff trusts him, though, because he won’t make the bad decision so he will get another go this year and then ride off to whatever insurance agency or financial portfolio he decides to manage for the rest of his live.
Running Back - Kenny McIntosh - Senior
When you accumulate so much dang talent on one team you tend to spread out the reps and targets to a larger group of people, meaning there are less bellcow stars or more a bunch of stars working as a collective. The running back room was no different five different running backs carried the ball for 50 times or more. Of those five they lose the two most productive in Zamir White and James Cook. But Kenny McIntosh does return, as does his 58 rushes, 328 yards, and 3 touchdowns. They also, more importantly, return four of their top six offensive linemen. Oh, look, Georgia is going to be good at running the ball again.
Tight End - Brock Bowers - Sophomore
How good of a tight end do you have to be to be the leading receiver in targets, catches, yards, and touchdowns among a 100% blue-chip receiving corps? Ask Brock Bowers! The freshman All-SEC tight end and 2nd Team All-American became the most vicious weapon of the Bulldog passing attack, earning 20 more targets and doubling up the yards of Adonai Mitchell, Georgia’s second-leading receiver. And that was Bowers’ first year! The Bulldogs might rotate deadly receivers at a high rate but Bowers will always be on the field and always be a threat to score. As a tight end!
I don’t know how to effectively describe a defense so perfect, so dominant, and littered with so much 1st-round NFL talent so I’ll just simply post their rankings and have you shake your head in amazement: 3rd against the run, 2nd in standard downs, 13th in passing downs, 19th in havoc rate, and NUMBER ONE against the pass, tackle success rate, efficiency, 3-and-outs, explosive play rate, points per scoring opportunity, and red zone touchdown rate. There’s actually more that they were the best at but I figured, at this point, you were bored.
Defensive Line - Jalen Carter - Junior
Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt, and Jordan Davis are all gone leaving Jalen Carter as the defensive lineman with the most returning snaps. Carter had 45 tackles, 12 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 13 run stuffs on his own and, while he might have some new faces around him, they will all be blue-chip recruits that will be just as talented as their predecessors.
Linebacker - Nolan Smith - Senior
Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker were awesome throughout the year but Nolan Smith was fourth on the defense in tackles despite playing 300 fewer snaps than the 1st-stringers were getting. He had a 93% tackle success rate, 11 TFLs, 8 run stuffs, 3 forced fumbles, and 3.5 sacks with 20 QB pressures. He’s good, is the point. Kind of the theme for this defense, huh?
Defensive Back - Kelee Ringo - Redshirt Sophomore
Best remembered as the dude who had the game-sealing pick-6 against Alabama in the national championship game, Ringo played nearly every snap that the defense had in ‘21 to go with 23 tackles, 8 passes broken up, and 2 interceptions. He and Chris Smith will be looked to buoy the secondary as they lose their three of their top five players but...well, I’ve been a broken record throughout this whole thing so you know what I’m going to say here. They’re talented. They’ll be fine.
So what does it all mean?
Georgia will win the East again, probably lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship, and have a good shot at being in the Playoff again. As per usual. Missouri gets them at home this year but, outside of a rash of injuries or just the absolute worst possible game from the ‘Dawgs paired with the best showing from Mizzou, this will be an easy Georgia win. Don’t worry too much about this one, folks. Give Drinkwitz enough time to recruit at his unprecedented pace and, eventually, he’ll be able to put together a roster that can go toe to toe with UGA. Until then, just check in to see what kind of fight the Tigers have against one of the best teams in the nation and get ready for a killer road trip the following week.