ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart wanted a game this week more than anybody, and why not?
The Bulldogs head coach eager to put his team back on the field to redeem themselves after last Saturday’s loss in Florida.
Georgia’s string of 58 straight weeks in the Top 10 — which dated back to the start of the 2017 season — was snapped after the Bulldogs dropped to No. 12 in the AP Top 25 poll on Sunday.
And now, with Missouri backing out of Saturday’s noon game on account of COVID-19 positives and COVID-19 tracing protocol, UGA might need to wait another week to regain its status as a Top 10 team.
Of course, the Bulldogs will actually need to play like a Top 10 team to earn it, and there’s certainly work to be done in that respect.
Here are five things to keep an eye on for Georgia down the stretch:
This is the most obvious area and the most important area, as Smart’s decision on who to play will speak volumes about the future of the program even if his top priority is to win every remaining game.
The question is: How does Georgia want to win it? With what offensive identity?
It’s not too much to suggest the Bulldogs could win with JT Daniels or a healthy Stetson Bennett under center. Indeed, Bennett went 2-2 against Top 25 teams in his five starts.
Bennett’s passer ratings, however, have plummeted and grown progressively worse.
The SEC’s most accurate passers the last 3 Weeks – min 10 att (weeks 5-7)
1. Nix 79.6%
2. Corral 75.4%
3. Jones 73.8%
4. Mond 73.1%
5. Bazelak 72.9%
6. Franks 72.75
7. Rogers 70.2%
8. Johnson 66.7%
8. Finley 66.7%
10. Seals 62.8%
— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) November 12, 2020
Starting Daniels, who has a stronger arm, would open up the Georgia offense more with downfield passes and get more receivers involved.
Daniels was getting first-team reps in fall drills despite being in a heavy knee brace, but when he wasn’t cleared for the opener, Smart went in another direction.
Daniels removed his knee brace before the Oct. 10 game against Tennessee and has been inching closer to first-team reps ever since, finally getting his chance when Bennett’s shoulder injury prevented him from throwing last week.
The most talented and most dangerous offensive weapon on the Georgia offense is George Pickens, a fact camouflaged by the fact he has only 13 catches for 140 yards in the four games he has played.
Smart will ensure whoever is under center has a plan to get Pickens the ball more, wherever that requires him to line up.
Pickens practiced well this week and might need only one game to surpass his season total for receiving yardage, provided an effective game plan and accurate throws are coming his way.
Mathis’ explosive athleticism and open-field running ability was on display for all to see when he scrambled 17 yards through the middle of the Florida defense on one play.
At 6-foot-6 with track speed, Mathis has also played receiver and it would not be shocking to see him get a turn at this position if afforded the opportunity.
Surely UGA fans remember him catching a 39-yard TD pass in the 2019 G-Day Game?
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) April 21, 2019
Smart may have been dropping a hint when he said Mathis would do whatever he could to help his team win, and if that involves the ball being thrown to him instead of snaps, it’s a safe bet defenses would have to take notice.
Mathis is too talented — and too competitive — not to be involved some how, some way moving forward.
ESPN analyst and former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers did an expose on how the Georgia linebackers were out-schemed by Florida coach Dan Mullen on the wheel route.
The Gators’ running backs had more than 100 yards in receiving in Florida’s 44-28 win, most all of them coming off the same play run out of different formations.
Georgia adjusted at halftime, but by then it was 38-21, ultimately too late.
Florida plays CHESS not CHECKERS
Shifting from a 4×0 formation..
..To a 3×1
..To a 2×2
Georgia is in Cover 6 & the underneath defenders will pattern match based on WR releases…
MONTY RICE’S COVERAGE RESPONSIBILITY CHANGES FOUR TIMES!!!
So good by Mullen. Did it all game. pic.twitter.com/zx562ohQEt
— Jordan Rodgers (@JRodgers11) November 10, 2020
Tight end production
There might not be a more underutilized unit on the team this season than tight end, where mega talents Tre’ McKitty (3 catches, 57 yards) and Darnell Washington (2 catches, 57 yards) have yet to really get loose.
John Fitzpatrick leads the tight ends with 5 catches for 46 yards, but it’s fair to say, most expected more from this well-stocked position this season.
A new quarterback might be just the remedy, provided it means higher volume.