A season-opening game against a decent FCS program presents a bit of a dilemma for an elite SEC football team. Even if you win, and win convincingly, you’ve only accomplished what you were expected to. Underachieve however, even slightly, and even only in stretches, and the whispers of your obvious demise start.
Georgia didn’t demolish the UT-Martin Skyhawks tonight in Sanford Stadium. And demolition was absolutely the expected outcome. Georgia did not accomplish what fans were craving, a bajillion point shutout.
But they did put a decisive win on the board despite many of the players they’ll ideally be relying on later in the season spending the evening as spectators. Daijun Edwards, arguably Georgia’s most reliable tailback, sat to nurse his sprained MCL. Ladd McConkey, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, and Jackson Meeks we’re out of the receiver rotation.
The offensive line looked a bit demotivated. There were some drops offensively. The defense occasionally had some trouble with misdirection. Mike Bobo made some calls that could have been better. But then some of them would have looked a whole lot better if they’d been well-executed.
Georgia played what I suspect is far from its best football. Fans were furious. Twitter was aflame. I’m pretty sure a plague of locusts started warming up over on Lumpkin in case they were called on to swarm and black out the sun.
After all, Georgia only won by 6 measly touchdowns.
Carson Beck was obviously the center of attention, and while he looked a little wound up to start the game, the junior from Jacksonville settled in nicely in the second half. He finished 21 of 31 passing for 294 yards, a touchdown pass, and a somewhat Mailman-reminiscent shimmy shake of a rushing score.
He shrugged off some early drops which could have gotten in his head and by the time he gave way to Brock Vandagriff had found a nice rhythm. There are some things to work on, and as Aaron Murray said (from experience) will probably get some helpful coaching from Mike Bobo this week. All in all, he doesn’t quite look like the sixth year senior who finished third in the Heisman voting in 2022, but I don’t think that was a reasonable measuring stick at this point.
I was reasonably pleased with the performance of young running backs Andrew Paul and Roderick Robinson. I criticized Robinson a bit for a lack of elusiveness when he committed to Georgia, and I still think that’s a weakness of his game. But if he can continue to throw his 240 pound frame through the hole and around the end for 20+ yards that becomes entirely irrelevant.
Brock Bowers led the Athenians in receiving with 5 catches for 77 yards, which is t at all surprising. What was a bit of a surprise was exactly how effective Mekhi Mews was in relief of his missing teammates, snatching 3 passes for 75 yards, including an electrifying 54 yard touchdown.
For the most part it felt as if Mike Bobo ran the ball too frequently on first down in much the same way he has for almost two decades. But if some of those plays had been better blocked and resulted in 2nd and 2 rather than 2nd and 8 they would have looked smarter.
Speaking of, the first down goal line draw with 27 seconds on the clock and no timeouts was flashback-inducing. At a minimum it deprived Georgia of at least one more shot at the end zone and smacked of the “too cute by half” playcalling which occasionally dogged his first stint in the Classic City. But the offense still churned out 559 yards of production once it actually got humming. With key players back and some fine-tuning I’m confident the unit’s best 2023 production is still to come.
Defensively the Bulldogs played the game we were expecting. They didn’t surrender a third down until we’ll into the third quarter. They held the shutout until the midpoint of the 4th, by which point there were seven freshmen on the field. If the worst that can be said is that UT-Martin’s starting offense was a bit better than Georgia’s 3rd/4th stringers on one series then I’m good with it.
I didn’t see the intensity I would have liked in the first half, and while that’s disappointing it surely isn’t surprising. There’s a reason Kirby Smart said this summer that the thing he worries about is complacency. It’s a real worry the further the ‘Dawgs go into their current seventeen game winning streak. The Bulldogs played with their food a bit tonight, and that’s certainly frustrating. But I didn’t see anything that truly worries me, at least not yet.
The Classic City Canines will be back in action next week Between the Hedges hosting the Ball State Cardinals. I think there’s a fair chance we see a few more familiar faces and a bit more focus. If we don’t, you then have my sincere permission to get just a little worried. But for now, I’d just be glad that 48-7 is what passes for panic in Athens these days. Until later….