Youth and inexperience come for just about every college football team at some point. They very nearly came and dragged the Bulldogs away on this sultry evening in east Alabama.
The Athenians tried really hard to lose this one. There were poor routes, a few iffy passes, and turnovers which led directly to 14 Auburn points. There were poor run fits and lapses in coverage. I don’t think the Tigers are a great football team. But for awhile on this day Kirby Smart’s team made them look phenomenal.
Auburn rushed for a season-high 219 yards, the first time the UGA defense has given up 200+ on the ground since LSU went for 275 on October 13, 2018. Shifty, speedy junior Brian Battie had some nice runs but weirdly it was the normally stationary Payton Thorne who did the real damage. The Michigan State transfer managed 92 yards on the ground, 61 on a single first quarter scamper, but also had a couple of other nifty scrambled for critical third downs.
Georgia also ran the ball well in spots, grinding out 107 yards on the ground (76 of them courtesy of Daijun Edwards). However the offensive line is still a work in progress, and isn’t consistent enough to simply grind opponents down as it has in the past. Some of that is injury, some of it is youth. But it remains concerning.
And if you want to borrow worry from the future, imagine life without Brock Bowers next season. In theory, the Heisman Memorial Trophy is awarded each December to the most outstanding player in college football, who embodies the values of diligence, integrity and hard work.
If that’s not Brock Bowers I simply don’t know who it is. The Napa Nightmare had a slow first half, with 2 catches for 9 yards and a 3 yard run. If Georgia hadn’t pulled this one out I was primed to blame misuse of Bowers for a large part of the loss.
But what a difference a half makes. Carson Beck leaned heavily on Bowers down the stretch, hitting him 6 times for 148 yards in the second half, including the go-ahead 40 yard touchdown with 2:52 left.
You do have to give the Auburn defense some credit for Bowers slow start. They knew where Bowers was on every snap, and committed double teams to stopping him. Beck and his other receivers however had difficulty connecting in order to make the Plainsmen pay for that attention.
But in the end Georgia’s junior signal caller found his best receiver, then found him again and again. Carson Beck has the arm talent. We already knew that. But today he looked less twitchy in the pocket and took some shots from an Auburn defense that clearly wanted to rattle him.
It didn’t work. Beck finished 23 of 33 passing for 313 yards. Five games into the Carson Beck Era I’ve come away with the impression that the Georgia Bulldog offense is probably going to be very good in 2024. The signs are there. Beck had what we may look back on as a coming out party of a game. He threw a bad interception, true. But when it really mattered he stood in and made plays.
The question is whether the offense can do enough in 2023 to deliver a third straight national title. I continue to nurse lingering doubts that it can, but I’d love to be pleasantly surprised.
Again, there may just be too much youth. Oscar Delp for is going to make some wonderful place during his time in Athens. But he is absolutely not yet ready to fill the role that he has been thrust into this season in the absence of Darnell Washington, Ryland Goede, and Brett Seither.
Between not coming down with a deep ball from Beck that had touchdown written all over it and a crippling fumble to open the second half, the sophomore really struggled at times today. But on the plus side, he also did some of his best blocking of the year down the stretch, including springing Edwards on the edge for a big first down. Again, the sophomore is going to get there. But it’s a jagged climb upward.
The old coaching saw was that you lose one game for every true freshman you’re forced to start. I don’t know if that’s true in the current NFL early entry/transfer portal era. But by my quick count the Bulldogs started two in this game (CJ Allen at linebacker and Peyton Woodring at kicker). Both of those guys played well. Woodring in particular hit the biggest kick of his young collegiate career to tie the game at 20. Allen continues to take snaps from Jamon Dumas-Johnson, not because JDJ isn’t an elite talent, but because Allen can be trusted to spell him. That’s quite a feat for the Lamar County native.
The Bulldogs will need a great game from Allen, Dumas-Johnson, and every other member of the defense next week when they host a 5-0 Kentucky team next Saturday. The Wildcats will lean on Vanderbilt transfer Ray Davis, who went for 280 yards today in a victory over Florida.
This wasn’t a pretty victory. It wasn’t a victory that affirms Georgia as the front runner to repeat as national champions. If anything it affirmed that these Bulldogs may not be quite ready for prime time. But it did confirm that this team has toughness. They don’t fold. I’m proud to cheer for them and I hope you are too.
Today they beat the Auburn Tigers, and there are few things I enjoy more than watching the Georgia Bulldogs beat the Auburn Tigers, whether in football, foosball, tae kwon do or tiddlywinks. Now and forever,