Numbers game: Georgia offense on schedule, but not up to pace
ATHENS — Kirby Smart has hammered home the same desires for his offense since taking over the program in 2016, seeking a combination of balance, efficiency and explosive plays.
This season’s No. 3-ranked Bulldogs are not where they need to be in that respect, per Smart, entering into a titanic clash with No. 2-ranked Alabama at 8 p.m. on Saturday night.
Georgia has the nation’s No. 1 defense on the other side of the football, to date the best Smart has put together.
Those Bulldogs, who lead the SEC in every major defensive statistical category, will be counted on to slow Alabama’s No. 1-ranked and vaunted offense in the matchup drawing all the headlines.
But Smart knows keeping the Tide out of the end zone will be challenging.
“People are going to score points in college football, guys, they’re too good,” Smart said. “The really good teams, they score points.”
Indeed, and that’s why the other half of the game, which features UGA’s offense against a Tide defense that got lit up for 647 yards in a 63-48 win over Ole Miss last Saturday, is just as important.
“We are not Ole Miss,” Smart said, asked if Georgia might exploit Alabama in the same manner. “We don’t run Ole Miss’ (hurry-up) offense.”
But Smart likes what Todd Monken is doing growing the Georgia offense, and the poise former walk-on Stetson Bennett has shown at quarterback to date.
“I think he’s getting better; I definitely think he’s getting more confidence,” Smart said of the redshirt junior. “He understands Coach Monken’s system better and better and where his eyes need to be and his decision making. He’s made some plays with his feet.”
“The biggest thing is that when we execute, we are hard to stop,” Smart said. “When we don’t execute, we go backwards. It’s that simple.”
Except when it’s not, which would be when UGA has snap issues or motion penalties that put the team behind the chains from the perspective of down and distance.
“I feel like we are growing up on offense before our eyes, it can be a painful growth process,” Smart said of the offensive inconsistencies in each of the first three games.
“I am not pleased with where we are, but I am pleased with the progress we have made.”
A look at Georgia last season compared to UGA this season — relative to the other teams in the SEC — shows a drop off in pass efficiency (4th in the league last season, 9th this season) and third down conversion rate (4th last season, 7th this season).
Some of it was to be expected after losing two first-round offensive tackles and a three-year starting quarterback.
Georgia’s offense has just three returning starters. It has had center shotgun snap issues in two of three games and more penalties and missed assignments than Smart is comfortable with.
“Each game is different because you can’t run the same plays in our conference and expect to be successful,” Smart explained. “You have to be able to window dress, eye-candy, move people around and try to take advantage of the defense.
“When you do that you create missed assignments for them and you.”
Explosives on schedule
Monken, a veteran of the collegiate and professional coaching ranks who directed the NFL’s top passing offense two years ago in Tampa, is on schedule in two of three areas he outlined before the season.
Georgia, by Monken’s standard, has met the quota of explosive plays.
Monken describes an explosive play as a 12-yard run or a 16-yard pass play, and he aims for 10 per game.
The Bulldogs had just seven in the 37-10 season-opening win at Arkansas, but with Bennett under center for approximately just over half the game, there were six.
Georgia had 10 explosive plays, on the dot, against Auburn and Tennessee.
“How do you get explosive plays? First off, your ability to run the football, put the defense and run past conflicts, is the number one way to gain explosives,” Monken said in August.
“Either hitting open space in the intermediate levels or over the top, and then the next part is, how do you get skilled players in space? How do you get really good skill players in [a] space that can make people miss?”
That’s where redshirt sophomore receiver Kearis Jackson has come into play.
Jackson has 10 of UGA’s 27 explosive plays, while running backs Zamir White and Kenny McIntosh have three apiece, and receiver George Pickens and tight end Tre’ McKitty have two (7 players have one).
Red Zone Issue
Sophomore walk-on Jack Podlesny has come up big, connecting on 7 of 8 on his field goal attempts, and it’s a good thing.
Georgia has not been scoring touchdowns at a high enough rate relative to the team’s field goals. The count is 10 offensive touchdowns to 8 field goal attempts.
The Bulldogs’ Red Zone efficiency ranks 9th in the SEC, with scores on 11 of 14 trips deep into opponents’ territory.
Last season, with an experienced Jake Fromm having the power to check off and serve as coach on the field, UGA was 2nd in the SEC in Red Zone efficiency with scores on 53 of 56 trips inside the 25-yard line.
“You’ve got to be able to score touchdowns in the Red Zone,” Monken said. “It’s really pretty simple that way. It’s to be explosive offensively, and then once you get down there, find a way to score touchdowns.”
Here’s a look at where the Georgia offense ranks this season in the SEC compared with where it ranked last season with other league teams.
It’s interesting to see how the offensive numbers have trended up across the league, likely because of the COVID-19 practice limitations.
2020 vs. 2019 offense
4th Bulldogs (2019), 30.8
5th Georgia (2020), 36.0
5th Bulldogs (2019), 408.1
7th Georgia (2020), 420.0
5th Bulldogs (2019), 223.0
8th Georgia (2020), 248.0
4th Bulldogs (2019), 142.4
5th Georgia (2020), 135.29
4th Georgia (2020), 172.0
5th Bulldogs (2019), 185.1
3rd Down efficiency
4th Bulldogs (2019), 41.2 percent
7th Georgia (2020), 46.0
Red Zone offense
2nd Bulldogs (2019), .946
9th Georgia (2020), .786