ATHENS – Georgia football has established itself so well in so many ways that it’s hard for some to remember that Bulldogs remain a work in progress.
But Kirby Smart knows better than reading too much about the 27-6 win over Auburn, and his assistant coaches are being paid big bucks to ensure Georgia’s players continue to train and improve.
The Bulldogs know a difficult task is on deck, with next Saturday’s game against Tennessee scheduled for prime time at 3:30 pm. showdown.
Here is a subjective take on the position group̵
Stetson Bennett’s preparation and balance continue to amaze, even if his passing numbers 17/28 (240 yards, one touchdown, one sack) aren’t overwhelming. When Bennett walked away from famous Auburn defender “Big Kat” Bryant and was quick to find Kearis Jackson for a first down with a third and a 10 to back UGA’s opener it was arguably the biggest play of the game. as it set a tone. D’Wan Mathis is late to get important reps, but the freshman in the red shirt needs to exhibit better body language.
RUNNING BACK (A-)
Tremendous turnaround for James Cook, who looked more like the rising star he was thought to be with explosively and physically when needed, and blast and swiftness where appropriate for the melody of 5 carries for 41 yards. Zamir White is finding his pace and quick feet, amassing 2 active 88-yard TDs on 19 carries. Kendall Milton, Kenny McIntosh and Daijun Edwards all seemed very capable in those figures for being a competitive backfield going forward.
This group is coming but still lacks the precision of a championship body. Kearis Jackson had a night career with 9 catches for 147 yards, but no one else took more than 2 passes. George Pickens had a pending penalty and a false start, and Matt Landers seemed to surrender on a deep ball that could have gone into touchdown. Freshman Marcus Rosemy seemed to be losing his hot read on a blitz, not interrupting his path.
OFFENSIVE LINE (B)
Adequate but not dominant, the offensive line did not hinder the Bulldogs’ offensive success. Left tackle Jamaree Salyer looks solid enough, and the center position seemed to solve the sprinting issues that plagued the offense in the first week in Arkansas. Owen Condon had a pending penalty that wiped out a nice run from Milton. Overall, the progress made by Matt Luke’s group.
DEFENSIVE LINE (A-)
A special group of players here, key to limiting Auburn to just 39 yards on 22 carries. Smart regards his “Jack” supporters as linemen, so the downgrade for Adam Anderson missing Bo Nix on two sacks in the open goes here. Anderson made 2 more layoffs, however, showing why he was involved in a specific step. Azeez Ojulari had an impressive layman with 5 tackles and 3 TFLs. Jordan Davis impresses, 4 stops in between.
Monty Rice was ready for his Tigers home state, leading the team with 7 tackles and 6 solo stops. Last year Rice was shocked to see Auburn become the first team to run for a TD in Georgia and wouldn’t let his teammates let that happen again. Nakobe Dean continues to amaze with his instincts and his chasing skills. Quay Walker is another player on the rise and has also had four tackles in the game.
Auburn’s longest pass of the night was 20 yards, a homage to Christopher Smith after Richard LeCounte was sent off in the first half for a questionable aiming call. Tyson Campbell has come forward big with Auburn WR star Seth Williams. Campbell’s 3 tackles and a PBU do not do justice to his performance. Lewis Cine continues to show up as running support with physical games, and Tyrique Stevenson is starting to show why Dan Lanning was so excited about him. Veteran Mark Webb invented the big intercept and 13-yard return that kept the momentum on UGA’s side.
SPECIAL TEAMS (B +)
Georgia sets the standards high on these units, so it has become normal for Jake Camarda to perform as an All-American, who averaged 51.3 yards with two punt. Kenny McIntosh had another good comeback, 38 yards, while the cover team held Auburn at an average of 18 yards on his four football returns. Kicker Jack Podlesny was good from 21 and 25 yards, but missed a 43 yards. Kearis Jackson had two punt returns for 6 yards.
Kirby Smart is 9-4 against the Top 10 and showed his management skills this week, although he downplayed them after the game. The influence of new OC Todd Monken is starting to show now that the offense is reducing its penalties and players are gaining confidence. The third conversion rate down 9 out of 14 with no turnovers is proof that Monken got the better of famous defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. On the defensive level, Dan Lanning continues to amaze with the attention with which he plays his unit and the timing of his pressures.
The sum was greater than the parts, the victory was more dominant than the final score. This was a major win for a Georgia football program that is starting to look like the league contender that was expected. Smart is right when he says it starts with physicality, but also important is the chemistry and the buy-in of the team. The defense bounced back when Richard LeCounte came out, a pivotal moment, and the offense continues to evolve despite a complex quarterback situation.