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092422 Athens: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart confers with Stetson Bennett during a time out on a scoring drive against Kent State during the fourth quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis Compton@ajc.com

National media begins nitpicking Georgia football as Bulldogs move into SEC play

When you find yourself needing a late drive to put away Kent State for good, you open yourself to questions about how good you really are. Nevermind that Georgia won its first three games by a margin of 130-10 and that it led by double digits for the entire second half of said Kent State win.

The Bulldogs are still the No. 1 team in the country in both the Coaches Poll and AP Poll. But after this past weekend, there’s now enough of a sample size to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Georgia Bulldogs.

ESPN’s Bill Connelly noted that there are some holes in Georgia’s pass defense, at least as far as their statistical profile. The Bulldogs sit 81st in passing success rate allowed, 67th in completion rate allowed and 121st in sacks per dropback. Georgia has just 4.0 sacks through the first four games.

“The Georgia run defense appears sound, and on offense the Dawgs rank first in success rate and fifth in points scored per drive,” Connelly wrote. “If everything else is working, they can perhaps afford having a merely good pass defense. But future opponents Tennessee, Mississippi State and Kentucky could land some blows if the defense doesn’t improve.”

Tennessee, Mississippi State and Kentucky are all on the schedule for November. Before then, Georgia takes on Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Florida. It’s not exactly a murder’s row of foes.

Especially given the affront to football played between Missouri and Auburn this past weekend, with Auburn winning 17-14, only after Missouri missed a late field goal and then fumbled a would-be touchdown out of the back of the endzone on the game’s final play.

“The next two games are on the road against Missouri and Auburn, two teams the Bulldogs will again be big favorites against, and their offense continues to put up big numbers,” ESPN’s Chris Low wrote.

But as the Kent State game showed, Georgia still has areas it can improve upon. There is also the fact that Georgia has only one 20-plus yard rush from a running back this season. While Georgia did get a 75-yard touchdown run from Brock Bowers this weekend, the running backs know they have to do a better job of creating explosive plays.

“Just being able to get into those long runs and stuff like that, but that has to come with being patient, as well,” Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh said. “But it’s going to come. Definitely going to come. Definitely, by the way we’re practicing and competing throughout the week. Being patient running the ball throughout the holes and getting one of them long runs. We’ve been having decent runs, just being able to finish them, and stuff like that … I really think that getting vertical and downhill can make that run game be what it should be, I should say.”

Related: Kenny McIntosh updates his status ahead of Missouri game: ‘Lot of ice baths ahead of me’

There are reasons to believe the Kent State performance is a one-off for Georgia. For starters, Ladd McConkey isn’t likely to fumble twice in a game going forward. The sure-handed McConkey’s fumbles led directly to 10 Kent State points.

What’s more, is that Georgia hadn’t turned the ball over in the first three games of the season. The Bulldogs also gave up a 56-yard touchdown, the longest play of the season against Georgia.

The one drawback is that Kent State did string together back-to-back 12-play drives in the second half for two scoring drives. Georgia once again settled for three field goals on the afternoon, with all three coming in the red zone.

Georgia will be going on the road once again this weekend, as it visits Missouri. Its Georgia’s second road game of the season, with the first being a 48-7 win over South Carolina. The Bulldogs will be looking to replicate that performance this Saturday.

“Any time you go on the road in the SEC, we talk about it all the time, it’s tough to win on the road in the SEC,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I have a lot of respect for Eliah (Drinkwitz), the job he’s done, what he does offensively and defensively. They do a good job.”

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