ATHENS — Kirby Smart usually lets the “G” on his team’s helmets do the talking, but this offseason the Georgia head coach has been particularly insistent the Bulldogs’ offense is better than some realize.
To be fair, Georgia was so dominant on defense that UGA could and often would play conservative and patient on offense, winning the turnover and field positions battles most every week.
It only made sense when one considers just how historically dominant Smart’s defense was, to the extent it allowed a modern-era record 6.9 points per game in the regular season and had five players selected in the first round.
“That’s all people talk about: five first-rounders on defense, that’s an unbelievable stat,” Smart recently said on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show.
“That’s great, but what’s overshadowed is we were one of the most explosive teams in college football last year,” he said. “Now, we won a lot of games by a margin that we didn’t get to continually pound people with explosive plays and numbers, but when you look at passes over 10-12 yards, we were top-5, top-10 in the country. So, nobody even acknowledges that because they’re overshadowed by this really good defense.”
The Bulldogs finished 10th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 38.4 points per game, and they were 26th in total offense with 442.8 yards per game. On third downs, UGA converted at a 44.8-percent rate, 23rd in the country.
But to be fair to the critics, part of the reason the Georgia offense doesn’t get as much credit is that in high-profile games against Clemson, Florida and Alabama, the offense looked less than stellar.
Playing with an injured quarterback, a shuffled offensive line and new receivers against a Tigers’ defense that finished second in the nation in scoring defense, the UGA offense failed to get into the end zone.
Playing against a beleaguered Gators’ defense in Jacksonville, the offense turned the ball over three times and was actually outgunned.
There were two more turnovers, two turnovers on downs and a Pick-6 in a deflating 41-24 loss to the Tide in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta.
And, while the Bulldogs won the CFP Championship Game, the offense didn’t get into the Alabama end zone until its 10th possession, with just 1:20 left in the third quarter and the defense keeping Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young in check.
The Bulldogs’ blowout wins over UAB, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Missouri, Charleston Southern, Georgia Tech and even Michigan, however, had many explosive plays.
It could be a matter of mindset this season, as much as it was circumstance and elite competition last year.
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken enters his third season calling the plays fresh off a $2 million a year raise.
That’s a good place to start, as the UGA terminology should be second nature and players should have a good feel for the nuances of what makes Monken’s offenses work.
By offensive position group, here’s a UGA stock report comparing the 2022 Bulldogs to 2023:
Quarterback (STOCK UP)
Stetson Bennett has gained valuable experience entering what will be his third season starting in a Monken offense.
Bennett’s understanding of the offense wasn’t lacking last season, however, so his biggest gains will come in his timing with receivers and advanced film study.
Backups Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff are more prepared with another year in the system, though neither had significant game action. Freshman Gunner Stockton is still learning the offense.
Unlike last season, Georgia does not enter the season with two battle-tested quarterbacks with JT Daniels’ transfer to West Virginia.
That loss of experience somewhat offsets the gains, when one considers injuries have forced UGA to use at least two quarterbacks each of the past two seasons.