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How Georgia football plans to remain ‘elite’ during 2022 season
A recent ESPN article profiled a handful of teams looking to join the ranks of the college football elite. Michigan State, Miami and Texas A&M were among the teams featured in the story.
In years past, it is the type of article that Georgia often would’ve been named in. The Bulldogs had talent but prior to the 2021 season, the program had just one conference championship since the start of the Obama presidency.
The 2021 season ensured that Georgia did not find itself on that list. The Bulldogs won the program’s first National Championship since 1980 and answered a lot of questions about the state of the program.
The mantra for the team was, “you’re either elite or you’re not?” The Bulldogs proved to be so in a resounding fashion.
In 2022 the question isn’t how the group goes about joining the elite programs in college football. It is if the Bulldogs can be elite again.
“Everybody thinks you have to be a certain age to be a performer on the football field, but if you’re talented enough, then you’re old enough,” Smart said at SEC team spring meetings. And we’ve got some talented guys; we just don’t have a lot of experience. But, they’ve bought in, they’ve done a tremendous job in our offseason. I’m excited.”
The Bulldogs had 15 players drafted with another 13 electing to transfer elsewhere. Much of that came on the defensive side of the ball, with five defenders going in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Georgia also has a new defensive backs coach in Fran Brown, outside linebackers coach in Chidera Uzo-Diribe and co-defensive coordinators in Glenn Schumann and Will Muschamp.
Needless to say, Georgia will have a lot of obstacles to overcome on the defensive side of the ball if it is to be elite in 2022. Defensive tackle Jalen Carter and outside linebacker Nolan Smith will help, but the Bulldogs will be relying on unproven players in 2022.
It’s why Smart has frequently lamented the lack of experience. Georgia may be able to replace Quay Walker’s speed or Travon Walker’s size. But there’s no replicating the countless number of snaps logged by Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis and others.
Related: ESPN’s David Pollack speaks candidly about UGA defense
Georgia will see some regression on the defensive side of the ball. How much that is will go a long way in determining the ceiling of this team. Georgia led the country in scoring defense last season, surrendering 10.2 points per game. If Georgia gives up one more touchdown per game, a 17.2 average would have given them the No. 6 scoring defense last season. Still very good. If Georgia allowed an additional 10 points per game, the 20.2 mark would give Georgia the No. 19 scoring defense. Alabama had the No. 18 scoring defense for reference last season.
“They can’t emulate what some of those guys do on the field,” Smart said after G-Day. “They can emulate the standard, though, and I thought they really did that for 14 of the 15 practices. Man, I was like, dude, they had a great attitude, they worked really hard today and we made it tough, and they did it.”
That is why many want to and expect to see Georgia take another step forward on the offensive side of the ball. Georgia returns quarterback Stetson Bennett, offensive coordinator Todd Monken and a host of contributors such as tight end Brock Bowers and offensive tackle Broderick Jones.
Last season Georgia averaged 38.6 points per game, good for ninth in the country. Most crucially, Georgia finished with the best point differential in the country. The best defense paired with a great offense.
In 2022, the recipe to being elite might require the inverse as the offense will have to lead the team early on, especially with games against Oregon and South Carolina away from the confines of Sanford Stadium.
Instead of choking the life out of opposing offenses, Georgia will instead have to overwhelm foes with its offensive firepower.
“We’re going to have to have a little different personality,” Smart said. “We’re going to have some grit, some toughness because it won’t just be talent. We were really talented last year, and not that we’re not talented now, but we’re going to have to win in different ways.”
Related: What Kirby Smart, Todd Monken contracts say about the direction of Georgia football
Georgia is likely to be favored in every regular-season game it plays in 2022. That was the case in 2021, due in large part to the talent advantage accrued by Georgia’s recruiting prowess. The Bulldogs signed 30 recruits in the 2022 recruiting class to make up for the talent lost. Players such as Daylen Everette, Marvin Jones Jr. and Branson Robinson all enter with great expectations and Bowers and AD Mitchell proved that freshmen can in fact develop into meaningful contributors over the course of the season.
That is going to need to be the case if Georgia is to be elite in this coming season. And not just with the freshman class but across the team. Even while being the defending champs, this is going to be a team that has to get better over the course of the season.