Sentell’s Intel: The pursuit of perfection matters to this Georgia football team

DawgNation has two dedicated staff writers in the press box for almost every Georgia football game. That’s Mike Griffith and Connor Riley. We also have a guy on the field snapping off photos. There is usually much more to be seen than what shows up in the viewfinder of his camera lens.

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When Sedrick Van Pran-Granger was a recruit, he already knew he wanted to study graphic design in college. He already had a good plan for his future.

Determined. That’s a big thing for SVPG.

That was when he was ranked as the No. 1 center in the country. The redshirt sophomore, who is playing like an All-American center in the SEC, is a core leader for this Georgia football team.

Kirby Smart has seen that in him for some time. He tapped him as one of Georgia’s three representatives at SEC Media Days back over the summer. Stetson Bennett was there from the 2017 recruiting class. Nolan Smith was there from the 2019 signee group.

Van Pran-Granger had only been in Athens since the summer of 2020. Yet he’s the sort of young man that quickly makes an impression.

Check his wrists on Gamedays. There’s the phrase “Yamecita” written on his white tape. It has been there every game of his Bulldog career. It has been there every game since she passed while he was in high school.

It sounds like Sarita Yamecita Granger was a very special lady to everyone who knew her. Not just her family.

Purposeful. That’s another big thing for SVPG.

There was something Van Pran-Granger said Saturday that matters. It was in response to my question about how he critiques his play in his second year of playing at a very high level for the ‘Dawgs.

“Perfection,” he started off.

“I had two plays I messed up today,” Van Pran-Granger said. “And honestly, that’s probably going to bother me for the rest of the weekend. I think for me it is perfection. I know in the grand scheme of things - you know 50 or 60 snaps - two plays isn’t a lot but at least for me those types of things bother me.”

“So my thing is to always chase perfection.”

Chasing perfection. Kirby Smart made a comment in his post-game presser in Columbia about the media corps swelling up the heads of this very talented team. That won’t be a problem with a lot of guys looking at the scoreboard and seeing a big margin, but still going home steaming about two plays out of 50 or 60.

There was a clear example of this on the field Saturday. It came when Brock Bowers scored his first touchdown. When the most “celebratingest” Georgia team I’ve seen was done dapping him up and slapping his head, Van Pran-Granger had a conversation mid-jog with Tate Ratledge.

The ‘Dawgs just scored. But those two were fixing an execution flaw on the way back to the sideline.

“I’m taking responsibility for that,” he said. “It is on me. That’s all I will say on that.”

The work is during the week for this team. Not Saturdays. Saturday is payday.

“I think it is a roller coaster,” he said. “You work so hard during the week. Going it. Pounding. Being physical. Running. Conditioning. All those things through the week. Preparing. Watching extra film and you know you get to Saturday and it is just time to enjoy that moment with your brother. You put the work in already.”

The Georgia center said it almost feels like a relief to get to gameday. The ‘Dawgs pack so much hay into the barn during their weekly opponent prep.

“Honestly it is one of those things where it kind of takes the [pressure] off of you. You just get to go out and play.”

Chasing perfection. That might be a theme for these 2022 ‘Dawgs.

That matters because of what he said and how he said it. But also because Van Pran-Granger said it.

(Jeff Sentell/ DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

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Some quick-hit things of importance to this reporter

What does a journalist notice down at the field level when he’s not taking pictures? Lots of stuff like ...

  • Georgia showed a lot on Saturday. The big nugget in my mind as I left the bowels of Williams Brice-Stadium was this: Is it going to be harder this year to score with Georgia or to score on Georgia?
  • Old traditions matter little with this program. There’s a new tradition at UGA. It started by and large in 2017. That’s when Kirby Smart got this train rolling. Sure, there was that SEC hiccup at home against South Carolina in 2019. But that roster wasn’t at fully operational Death Star battle station strength like this one. South Carolina used to be a hiccup game. Williams-Brice Stadium used to scare folks. Throw in the noon kickoff with a team that was getting its share of great PR and media and national love. That was a gumbo for nerves for that Columbia trip. Nope. Not anymore. Not with this program.
  • It really hit me this week when ...There’s a great friend of mine who used to live in Charleston. He can literally open up a museum with his UGA collection. The annual game with the Gamecocks worried him so much Munson might tell him to chill out and go get a drink. My guy told me this week he doesn’t worry about Georgia games on Saturdays anymore. Maybe he’s gotten more mature with age, but I doubt it. I think he realizes Vince Dooley was right earlier this year when he said Smart is on his way to becoming the greatest football coach the University of Georgia has ever had.
  • In regard to the latter, I’d like to share with you two images. There’s a game within the game right now for this Georgia team. It takes place on the defensive side of the ball. The opening bell for this game begins with the game in hand. Georgia’s first team is off the field and it is time for a group of talented newcomers to get on tape. When the opponent crosses the Georgia 35, the starters start to hone in. They start yelling and encouraging their teammates. When the stops come, they are satisfied. When the opponent gets points, you see reactions like this from first-teamers like Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Nolan Smith below.
(Jeff Sentell/ DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
(Jeff Sentell/ DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
  • This update this week will focus a lot on culture and what Smart now has fully vested at Georgia. There is that Van Pran stuff up above. There are these two images here and one more example to follow later down this page. Georgia just doesn’t have the players. It has the right players with the right mindset up and down the roster. The biggest thing the national championship did was instill complete confidence up and down this program.
  • When the ‘Dawgs gave up 70 percent of their season points allowed total on one snap late into “teach tape” time on Saturday, the coach of the nation’s No. 1 team looked like Mr. Miyagi. Calm. Composed. He greeted steadily-improving Georgia safety David Daniel-Sisavanh and started coaching. It is an extension of the relationship and promises he makes to talented young men as recruits. He put a hand on him and told Daniel what he thought about that play. The sophomore starter listened intently as the exchange went on for at least about 15-to-20 seconds. Smart can be a walking volcano at times in the middle of games. This was not the time for that.
  • Safety is a high-responsibility position at Georgia. That was Smart’s position and he was a very good one in the SEC. That chat with Daniel-Sisavanh is the same thing we’ve seen with Georgia safeties like Lewis Cine, Richard LeCounte III and JR Reed over the years.
  • There’s no surprise here for me that the Georgia defense hasn’t taken a dip after eight draft picks and five first-round picks. By and large, the next ‘Dawg up in those roles is just as talented as the guy from last year’s team, if not more so. Jordan Davis and Devont’e Wyatt might be the exceptions. Jalen Carter is a future top 3 pick, but the ‘Dawgs are not playing two interior defensive linemen as talented as those two guys. We’re all seeing Malaki Starks is every bit the talent that Cine was. He was a higher-rated recruit. Smael Mondon Jr. is rated where Nakobe Dean was. Xavian Sorey Jr. was ranked higher than the super-gifted Quay Walker. Then there’s Mykel Williams. He was actually higher-rated than Travon Walker, too. Most of those guys aside from Starks and Williams have also been in the program for over a year.
  • When looking at the 5-star count, consider this nugget: The ‘Dawgs started six former 5-star recruits against the Gamecocks in Carter, Mondon, Kelee Ringo, Nolan Smith, Starks and Williams. The fun part is watching the number of 5-stars that rotate in to replace those guys. That number shoots up to 10 with cornerbacks Daylen Everette and Jaheim Singletary plus linebackers Marvin Jones Jr. and Xavian Sorey Jr. on the field. Those are just the 247Sports composite 5-stars. That’s not even counting Bulldogs like Bear Alexander and Julian Humphrey that were a 5-star on at least one service.
  • The fun part of watching these guys is following them from the recruiting trail. When Georgia’s starters leave the field, it is very impressive to consider the future of the Georgia defense with guys like Alexander, Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins, Everette, Humphrey, Christen Miller, Sorey and Jalon Walker on the field. Now toss in Starks and Williams. This defense is just going to stay straight nasty with these guys banking these SEC reps when it is not really their time yet.
  • A few items that stick out about personnel on Saturday: 1) Adonai Mitchell, who could easily be considered the No. 1 receiver at UGA, did not make the trip; 2) Kenny McIntosh, the go-to-back so far, only had five touches for 34 yards. Milton ran for just 32 yards and the chains just kept moving; 3) The ‘Dawgs split the carries and still ran for 208 yards on 5.9 yards per rushing attempt. This offense just has more options than ways a consumer can enjoy pumpkin flavors and scents right now.
  • A Stetson Bennett stat line to ponder. Remember when Bennett threw two picks against Florida last year? The ‘Dawgs still won 38-7, but that was the zenith of the QB angst and message board fodder about JT or Stetson under center last season. That seems like such a long time ago. It might be because he’s completed 67 percent of his passes for an average of 266 yards per game since that day. He’s thrown 22 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. He also has four rushing scores. The SEC championship loss to Alabama included two of those three interceptions. He’s a dazzling mobile QB right now for Georgia. It is really hard for defenders to stay with him or get a hand on him. Remember those 2017 Baker Mayfield comps? This Stetson Bennett is just as effective in this offense as Mayfield was for his Sooners back then.
(Jeff Sentell/ DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
  • South Carolina has some good players. Remember the names Jordan Burch, Zacch Pickens and Josh Vann? Those guys all had a chance to play for Georgia. They were all Gamecocks on Saturday. Pickens had six tackles. Burch had one tackle. Vann had one catch for negative yards after hurting Georgia a lot more than that in previous seasons. It left me to wonder what those young men might have been thinking competing against the ‘Dawgs on Saturday.
  • Will Muschamp Appreciation Day (sorta): Former South Carolina coach and current UGA co-defensive coordinator was the subject of some very harsh pregame chants from the student section before the game on Saturday. When the game ended, he was swept up in love by wave after wave of South Carolina athletic department personnel, team members and current Gamecock players. It was heartfelt and real. On those sides of all those back slaps and hugged necks. His former players came up to him with clear joy in their hearts and faces. Muschamp reciprocated in turn. He would even point out a knee brace or a size gain on some of his former recruits and players. It was a nice moment that certainly still belongs in college football after the game has been played. This is a people and relationship business and Muschamp certainly left a positive mark on the South Carolina program.
Georgia co-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was greeted by wave after wave of Gamecocks and South Carolina athletics officials he used to work with in Columbia. (Jeff Sentell/ DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

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Bottom line: These ‘Dawgs pour into one another

There’s something at work around the game every Saturday. And I’m not talking about the moments the stadium JumboTrons or the TV broadcast catch either.

It looks like the current first-line ‘Dawgs are constantly pouring into the next wave at Georgia. The ‘Dawgs currently bring umpteen gazillion coaches, support staffers and other team members with their coaching hats on Saturdays.

But some of their best coaches are wearing helmets.

That was evident when Brock Vandagriff was going into the game on Saturday. Stetson Bennett was right beside him on his warm-up throws. Literally hyping Vandagriff up.

It was evident when Marvin Jones Jr. was about to go into the game. The ever-present Nolan Smith was there getting him ready and talking to him.

When Amarius Mims comes off the field, he usually gets a word or two or a shoulder bump from Warren McClendon. Or Broderick Jones. Brock Bowers and Oscar Delp are often near one another and talking back and forth during timeouts when Delp is in the game.

Van Pran-Granger will make sure to set some time aside before every practice to connect with promising redshirt freshman DL Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins. Dawkins had his best game as a Bulldog Saturday afternoon in his home state.

The next wave is getting coached up in real time by the current wave. That was what happened last year with guys like Nakobe Dean and Channing Tindall with Jamon Dumas-Johnson.

There is no worry about the talented understudy closing the gap on their reps and playing minutes. It is an investment in the future of the program. When McClendon and Smith are off to the NFL next year and they watch the ‘Dawgs largely from TV screens, they want to know they passed the “Georgia standard” on to the next waves after them.

Smith even verbalized that on Saturday. In between sound bytes of saying Columbia was not as hot as his native Savannah, he brought up the example set by Azeez Ojulari when he was the talented freshman on the come-up.

This is a powerful team. It also appears to be a selfless one constantly investing in the future.

(Jeff Sentell/ DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
(Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
(Jeff Sentell/ DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

SENTELL’S INTEL

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