ATHENS — The 2022 Georgia football team introduced itself on Saturday, and it’s not exactly who we thought it was.
At least, not yet.
The preconceived notion was that this next version of Bulldogs would have to transform into more of an offensive machine to compensate for all the talented defensive players headed to the NFL draft.
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Indeed, it’s possible seven of the first 100 picks in the draft will come off the Georgia defense, and as many as five of those could be first-round picks.
But a funny thing happened in Kirby Smart’s scrimmage on Saturday: The first-team defense proved legit.
Stetson Bennett (15-35, 273 yards, 3 TDs, 2 Ints), Brock Vandagriff (4-7, 29) and Carson Beck (1-5, 28) all had issues completing passes against the first-team defense when under center for the first-team offense.
The Bulldogs’ first-team offense also had issues running the ball: Kenny McIntosh was the leading rusher with six carries for 25 yards and Kendall Milton had 6 carries for 14 yards.
This, against a reloaded defense that was missing 10 of the 11 players who started in the opening game against Clemson last season and 7 of 11 from the CFP Championship Game.
This new version of Bulldog defense will surely experience some drop off, and yet, it might still be the best in the SEC East if not the league.
Smart hasn’t revealed who is taking over defensive play-caller duties for Will Muschamp and Glenn Schumann.
Fact is, it doesn’t matter, with Smart also having a hand in the game-planning and in-game adjustments.
The more-dominant-than-expected defense was without a doubt one of the more pleasant surprises.
Here are 3 more takeaways upon further reflection:
Brock Bowers was missed
Bowers was arguably the most irreplaceable player on the 2021 CFP Championship team, possessing a skillset that no other player could come close to replacing.
Time and time again, Bowers made key catches and runs after the catch, extended drives and sparking momentum.
It’s fair to say that at least part of the first team offense’s struggles could be attributed to the go-to target being out this spring with an injury.
Freshman Oscar Delp did his best Bowers impression, but he was with the second team.
Arik Gilbert New Dimension
The story of Gilbert’s successful start to the 2022 season goes well beyond the field and into last season, which he sat out dealing with personal issues.
But what Gilbert did on the field Saturday was more good news.
Gilbert was targeted five times and caught three passes for touchdowns. On the other two targets, he drew pass interference penalties.
Smart was quick to point out Gilbert missed a couple of run blocks that resulted in TFLs, but the upside for this former Marietta High School 5-star prospect and LSU transfer is clear.
The thought of Bowers, Gilbert and Darnell Washington or Brett Seither or Delp on the field at the same time will scare defenses.
Todd Monken knows best
Monken has been tasked to build an offense around the strengths of the talent, as opposed to trying to make players fit into one set scheme.
The result was an offense that relied on tight ends and backs to catch passes almost as much as receivers last season.
A look at the catch ratio at each position for the first-team offense in the G-Day Scrimmage provides evidence of why Bowers had 56 catches last season and the leading receiver (Ladd McConkey) had only 31.
Eight different players caught passes for the Black Team.
• Wide receivers caught 10 of their 24 targets
• Backs caught 5 of the 9 passes they were thrown
• tight ends caught 5 of 12 targets
Smart pointed out UGA’s decision not to run the ball often in the scrimmage — likely to minimize risk of injury — took a toll on Georgia’s play-action game.
The short, controlled passing game and wheel and fade routes were most effective for the first-team offense, with the post route the go-to matchup in the spring game.