When Georgia tight end Brock Bowers went down with a high ankle sprain against Vanderbilt on Oct. 14, many wondered how the Bulldogs would fare without their star player and former Heisman contender. After all, the do-it-all junior had already racked up 41 catches, 567 receiving yards, 28 rushing yards and five total touchdowns through seven games.
His usage rate was among the highest in college football, with no other UGA receiver having recorded over 31 receptions or two touchdowns during that time span. He essentially won Georgia the game against Auburn and had a streak of three-straight 100+ yard receiving games going into the contest with the Commodores.
Every catch in Brock Bowers 8 Catch,— Back2Back 704 Dawg ➐ (@FSFRecruits) October 1, 2023
157 Yards, and 1 TD performance against Auburn pic.twitter.com/f1XM05Tvut
Thus, every college football fan in the nation was intrigued to see how the Bulldogs’ offense would fare without Bowers against its arch-rival in Gainesville. Specifically, people wanted to see how emerging junior quarterback Carson Beck would perform, as he would have to find a new security blanket in the passing game.
43 points later, we have our answer: Georgia’s offense will be just fine without Bowers until he returns, and they may even gain from his temporary absence.
Who Stepped Up In His Place
Ladd McConkey was the obvious choice for someone to step up in the Bulldog receiver room, and he did just that with 6 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown last Saturday. The junior ranked second to Bowers with 58 catches and 762 receiving yards in 2022, and after being limited by a back injury early this season, McConkey has emerged into the game-changing player that UGA fans know he can be. He’s got track speed in the open field to go along with some sure-hands, and Beck already appears to have great chemistry with the veteran target.
He’s not necessarily a deep-ball threat, but McConkey is targeted in the 10-19 yard range 44% of the time and excels at creating explosive plays on his own. In terms of positioning, McConkey lined up out wide 85% of the time against UF and 15% in the slot.
A name that Missouri fans will certainly recognize also saw an increase in usage this week. Dominic Lovett, who paced the Tigers with 846 yards and 56 catches last season, transferred to Georgia this past offseason looking to become the the Bulldogs’ next great WR1. Lovett had yet to truly come into his own in Athens prior to the Vanderbilt game, but as soon as Bowers went down, he was targeted more often. Lovett had nine catches (season-high) for 72 yards against the Commodores, and he followed that up with 83 yards (season-high) on four receptions against the Gators. He’s shown flashes throughout this season, but Lovett’s top-tier speed and route-running ability make him tough to contain in the open field. But, Missouri defensive backs Kris Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw already know that all too well.
Unlike McConkey, Lovett has made his living as a Bulldog by operating close around the line of scrimmage. Roughly 70% of Lovett’s targets come from either behind the LOS or within 10 yards of it, and he’s played in the slot on ~85% of snaps this season. He complements McConkey well with his short game, but he is certainly capable of taking the top off a defense as well.
It was a clinical day from this duo, as depicted by this highlight tape:
Highlights from Ladd McConkey and Dominic Lovett combining for 10 catches and 218 yards against Florida pic.twitter.com/CkbuLlOKOp— Back2Back 704 Dawg ➐ (@FSFRecruits) October 29, 2023
In terms of tight ends, former 4-star recruit and sophomore Oscar Delp led a by-committee effort. Delp recorded two catches for 31 yards against Florida, and while the 6-foot-5 target may not be the same athlete Bowers is, he does possess some solid speed in the open field and has great hands:
“Hey, is Brock Bowers’ backup any good?”— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) October 28, 2023
Oscar Delp: pic.twitter.com/Ziel40mwBU
The Mike Bobo Offense
With a quarterback that was still growing within the college game, Mike Bobo knew how to approach this game against Florida. After all, Bobo has been around the block once or twice before, having coached QBs and then the offense at UGA from 2001-2014 before taking over as head coach at Colorado State for a brief stint. Now, Bobo is back for his second “first” year as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator, and this successful campaign has produced plenty of moments like this in the coaches’ box:
This was one SERIOUS high five from Mike Bobo pic.twitter.com/UN3eboawds— CBS Sports College Football (@CBSSportsCFB) October 28, 2023
Bobo allowed his new quarterback to settle into his starting role early in the season, not putting too much on Beck’s shoulders and allowing Bowers and the running game to take control in a handful of early-season victories. Then, Bobo took the training wheels off against Auburn, and his guy responded well. Beck threw for 313 yards and a score in the win over the Tigers, followed that up with his best game of the year against Kentucky and has since lit up Vanderbilt and Florida. Beck hasn’t recorded a QBR of less than 71% since Week Two, and his 73.0 completion percentage is the seventh-best mark in the nation.
The Bulldog offense has not been as balanced as it has been in years past, ranking 4th in the country in passing offense but 46th in rushing offense. UGA ranked 19th in rushing offense in ‘22, and Kirby Smart has generally employed a run-first mentality with his teams. But, while there has been only one game (Kentucky) where Georgia threw it more than they ran it, UGA has just not found the same success on the ground that it has through the air.
Without Bowers against a team like Florida, one figured that the Bulldogs would lean more on the ground attack, and they did so with 38 rushing attempts compared to 28 passing. Georgia also ran for 291 yards on 7.5 YPC against Vandy when Bowers went down, but that is the only 200+ yard rushing performance the offense has put forth this season. The ground attack racked up 171 yards and three scores against Florida, but signs indicate that UGA utilized the running game in key short-yardage scenarios and to just keep defenses honest. Some of that may be due to the offensive line being stronger in pass protection than in run blocking, or it may just be that Daijun Edwards—while still a great back—is not a game-changer like the Nick Chubbs and D’Andre Swifts of years prior.
In the end, the moderate success of this ground attack does bode well for this offense, as Beck has completed 78% of his play-action passes this season (7th in the nation). He’s involved in some form of play-action on 37% of his dropback attempts, a noticeably higher number than the 26% of play-action dropbacks that Brady Cook has undertaken this year.
Regardless, Bobo has found a formula that works with Beck and this receiving core. He utilizes a shallow-oriented, efficient playbook that generates plenty of completions and quarterback confidence, very occasionally testing the defense with a deep ball (only 13 completions of 20+ yards this season). McConkey excels on deep crossing routes and finding soft spots in zone coverages, while Lovett can be a dynamic threat with the ball in his hands by the line of scrimmage. It also helps that this UGA offensive line has only allowed six sacks all year and has generated 5.0 yards per carry on average.
Add all of that up and throw in the fact that Beck has largely exceeded expectations and flashed considerable arm talent, and it’s fairly easy to figure out why the Georgia offense fared well without its star player this past weekend.
In case you needed another reason to note why Bobo is one of the better OCs in America:
Georgia is averaging 40.5 points per game this season.— Jon Tweets Sports (@jontweetssports) October 29, 2023
This is only the 3rd season of 40+ ppg in UGA history.
2014: 41.3 points per game (Mike Bobo OC)
2022: 41.1 points per game (Todd Monken OC)
2023: 40.5 points per game (Mike Bobo OC)
Bobo has been on staff for all three. pic.twitter.com/Xugs4YV3X7
What Mizzou Needs To Do
You’re going to hear this sentence a lot this week:
It will be a tall, tall order to walk into Athens and take down the two-time defending national champions.
In a world of hypotheticals, let’s say that Missouri’s defense makes that tall order and plays a perfect game against Bobo and Co. What would that entail?
For starters, it would require KAD and Rakestraw to be absolutely suffocating in man-to-man coverage. With how much UGA runs play-action and how efficient McConkey and Beck are at finding soft spots in coverage, I doubt that Blake Baker will throw much zone out on the field this Saturday. This will be a game where Abrams-Draine and a now-healthy Rakestraw can up their draft stock and make a lot of money, and the key to that will be if they are able to effectively limit McConkey and Lovett after the catch.
Lovett will be on the receiving end of plenty of screen passes, stick and out routes. Bringing him down once he has the ball in his hands—while easier said than done—will be imperative so as to not allow a 4-5 yard completion to turn into 15-20. In covering McConkey, the veteran receiver is just too crafty and experienced to truly take him out of the game. The key for KAD and Rakestraw will be to stay in McConkey’s hip-pocket so as soon as he has the ball, a Tiger defender has his hands on him. All it takes is a sliver of separation for McConkey to turn on the jets and burn by defenders, and thus the defense needs to be in position to get him to the ground as soon as he gets the ball in his hands.
Continuing on with our hypothetically perfect defensive performance, Mizzou would also need to accomplish something no other team has done this season: Heat up Beck in the pocket. That will be difficult to do, as Beck has been kept clean on 85% of his drop backs and UGA left guard Dylan Fairchild specifically has allowed zero pressures on 175 possible snaps. But, Darius Robinson figures to be as healthy as he has been since the beginning of the season, and the Tiger pass rush as a whole has excelled recently by racking up nine sacks in the past two games.
The attention paid to Darius Robinson opens up a clear path to the QB for Triston Newson pic.twitter.com/pKbSX5tmN0— Quentin Corpuel (@quentincorpuel) October 22, 2023
Lastly, and this could be a key to virtually any football game, but making UGA one-dimensional would pay major dividends in this game. While the Bulldogs have not been an overly successful running team this season, they do rely on the ground game to generate consistent yardage and open up the passing game. Holding UGA to under 150 yards/4.0 YPC on the ground would take away a lot of the play-action game for Bobo and force Beck to make plays on his lonesome.
In the end, individual matchups in the trenches and on the perimeter will determine the outcome of this matchup.
After all, coaches prepare players, but players win games.