ATHENS — Georgia might be the most nit-picked No. 2-ranked team in recent memory, but the Bulldogs just keep on winning.
Georgia is 5-0, but none of its opponents are ranked in the top 25, and the high ranking is partly a byproduct of a No. 3 preseason Top 25 rating.
Still, there’s plenty to like about the defending SEC champion Bulldogs, a team that has yet to play a complete game this season.
The defense is led by a secondary featuring Deandre Baker, rated the top cornerback in the nation by Pro Football Focus.
Georgia has allowed only five passes of more than 20 yards and just two explosive plays of more than 40 yards. It adds up to the Bulldogs ranking second in the nation in the yards per completion category, at just 8.37, trailing on Washington (7.92).
The offense might still be searching for an identity, as offensive tackle Andrew Thomas suggested this week, but it’s multi-faceted and a headache for defenses to prepare for.
Sophomore Jake Fromm ranks among the more efficient quarterbacks in the nation.
The continued emergence of freshman quarterback Justin Fields provides an explosive RPO element Georgia grows more comfortable with each week.
But there remain doubters, and has there has been since the start of the season when South Carolina was a trendy upset pick, and then Missouri was thought by some a potential stumbling point.
The narrative has shifted from an inevitable Georgia-Alabama showdown in the SEC Championship Game, to the Bulldogs Nov. 3 game at Kentucky determining the SEC East Division.
This week’s “Ask Griff” question comes from the DawgNation Forum:
Which areas need the most improvement?
The downfield passing passing game, the level of play on the defensive line and the skill position players all need to step up.
Third and Fromm
Fromm ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency (186.1), but that formula doesn’t take into account third-down performance.
The Bulldogs are 15 of 36 on third down conversions against SEC competition, but only one of 14 on third-and-9 or longer over the course of the season. Further, Fromm has thrown two interceptions and been sacked four times on those third-and-long plays.
Coach Kirby Smart identified the downfield passing game as needing work earlier this season, and receiver Jayson Stanley said the Bulldogs continue to work on that element of the offense in practice.
Fromm appears to miss 2017 go-to target Javon Wims, and leading returning receiver Terry Godwin is just now starting to get back into form after being slowed by knee and calf injuries in fall drills.
Transfer WR Demetris Robertson, who had more than 700 yards receiving in his FWAA Freshman All-American campaign at Cal, has yet to catch a pass five games into the season despite glowing praise from teammates and Smart.
The defensive line, meanwhile, got moved around in the 43-29 win at Missouri, the Tigers averaging 5.3 yards on first-and-10 runs. Smart pointed out that Missouri ran the ball even when Georgia was loaded up to stop the run in the red zone, scoring four rushing touchdowns.
Tennessee’s smallish offensive line didn’t generate enough push to get much done last Saturday, and Vanderbilt’s run game is rather pedestrian as well.
But future opponents Kentucky (254.2 yards per game, 12th nationally), LSU (192.0 ypg) and Auburn (178.6) will bring stronger offensive lines.
Georgia misses departed nosetackle John Atkins, in particular, as the Bulldogs have experience drop-off at that position.
Further, Georgia ranks last in the SEC with just five sacks in five games.
Skill position questions
Mecole Hardman paced the skill position players with at least one touchdown in each of the first four games, but Tennessee contained the explosive wideout, limiting him to four catches for 40 yards.
With Hardman drawing more attention, Riley Ridley and Jeremiah Holloman will be asked to step up.
Ridley has not appeared in sync with Fromm, while Holloman short-armed a well-thrown deep ball against the Vols, and Godwin had an uncharacteristic drop.
Feature back D’Andre Swift has yet to record a 100-yard rushing game and has been battling a groin injury. Hard-charging Elijah Holyfield continues to work on his hands, most recently fumbling a snap in the wildcat formation on what appeared to be a sure-fire touchdown.
Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta produced the most explosive play against Tennessee, showing his speed and open-field running skills on a 31-yard fumble advancement. But Nauta has just eight catches for 89 yards through five games, making him one of the more underutilized talents on the team.
Freshman tailback James Cook appears to have assumed the role Swift had last season with six catches for 59 yards through five games.
But the explosive Cook might ultimately be one of the young players out of the No. 1-ranked 2018 class growing into a bigger role the second half of the season.
Georgia football vs. Vanderbilt
- Bulldogs are ‘putting an emphasis on starting fast’
- Kirby Smart updates injuries for Vanderbilt week
- Georgia football trying to find its offensive identity
- The ‘plan’ is to play 2 QBs, and it’s a good one
- On the Beat: Bulldogs can’t afford slow starts
- Georgia a prohibitive favorite over Vanderbilt
- Podcast: Avoid enflaming QB controversy