ATHENS — Georgia football asserted itself so well in so many ways its hard for some to remember the Bulldogs remain a work in progress.
But Kirby Smart knows better than to read too much into the 27-6 win over Auburn, and his assistant coaches get paid a lot of money to ensure those Georgia players continue to coached up and improvement.
The Bulldogs know a tough task is on deck, with next Saturday’s game against Tennessee scheduled for a prime-time 3:30 p.m. showdown.
Here’s one subjective view on the position group performances on what was collectively a dominant win:
Stetson Bennett’s preparation and poise continue to impress, even if his 17-of-28 passing numbers (240 yards, one touchdown, one sack) aren’t overwhelming. When Bennett spun away from celebrated Auburn defender “Big Kat” Bryant and scrambled to find Kearis Jackson for a first down on a third-and-10 to sustain UGA’s opening scoring drive was arguably the biggest play of the game as it set a tone. D’Wan Mathis came in late to get valuable reps, but the redshirt freshman needs to exhibit better body language.
RUNNING BACKS (A-)
Tremendous turnaround for James Cook, who looked more like the rising star he was thought to be with explosiveness and physically when needed, and burst and quickness where appropriate to the tune of 5 carries for 41 yards. Zamir White is finding his stride and quick feet, piling up 2 TDs off an active 88 yards on 19 carries. Kendall Milton, Kenny McIntosh and Daijun Edwards all looked plenty capable in what figures to be a competitive backfield moving forward.
This group is coming along but still lacking the precision of a championship corps. Kearis Jackson had a career night with 9 catches for 147 yards, but no one else caught more than 2 passes. George Pickens had a holding penalty and false start, and Matt Landers appeared to give up on a deep ball that could have gone for a touchdown. Freshman Marcus Rosemy appeared to miss his hot read on a blitz, not cutting off his route.
OFFENSIVE LINE (B)
Adequate though not dominant, the offensive line didn’t get in the way of the Bulldogs’ offensive success. Left tackle Jamaree Salyer appears solid enough, and the center position appeared to solve the snap issues that plagued the offense in Week One at Arkansas. Owen Condon had a holding penalty that wiped out a nice Milton run. Overall, progress made by Matt Luke’s group.
DEFENSIVE LINE (A-)
Special group of players here, key to limiting Auburn to just 39 yards on 22 carries. Smart considers his ‘Jack’ backers as linemen, so the downgrade for Adam Anderson missing Bo Nix on two open-field sacks goes here. Anderson made 2 other sacks, however, showing why he is brought in on pass-specific down. Azeez Ojulari had an impressive profane with 5 tackles and 3 TFLs. Jordan Davis impresses, 4 stops in the middle.
Monty Rice was up for his home-state Tigers, leading the team with 7 tackles and 6 solo stops. Rice was upset last year to see Auburn become the first team to rush for a TD on Georgia and was not going to let his teammates allow that to happen again. Nakobe Dean continues to impress with his instincts and pursuit skills. Quay Walker is another player on the rise, and he had four tackles in the game, as well.
Auburn’s longest pass of the night was 20 yards, a tribute to Christopher Smith being ready after Richard LeCounte was ejected in the first half on a questionable targeting call. Tyson Campbell stepped up in a big way on Auburn star WR Seth Williams. Campbell’s 3 tackles and one PBU do not do his performance justice. Lewis Cine continues to show up in run support with physical plays, and Tyrique Stevenson is starting to show why Dan Lanning was so excited about him. Veteran Mark Webb came up with the big interception and 13-yard return that kept the momentum on UGA’s side.
SPECIAL TEAMS (B+)
Georgia sets the bar high on these units, so it has become business as usual for Jake Camarda to perform like an All-American, which he did averaging 51.3 yard on two punts. Kenny McIntosh had another good return, 38 yards, while the coverage team held Auburn to an 18-yard average on its four kick returns. Kicker Jack Podlesny was good from 21 and 25 yards, but missed a 43-yarder. Kearis Jackson had two punt returns for 6 yards.
Kirby Smart is 9-4 against the Top 10 and showed his management skills this week, even if he did downplay them after the game. New OC Todd Monken’s influence is starting to show now that the offense is cutting down on its penalties and players are gaining confidence. The 9-of-14 third down conversion rate with no turnovers is evidence Monken got the better of renowned defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Defensively, Dan Lanning continues to impress with the focus his unit plays with and the timing of his pressures.
The sum was greater than the parts, the win was more dominant than the final score. This was an important victory for a Georgia football program that’s starting to have the look of the championship contender it was expected to be. Smart is right when he says it starts with physicality, but also important is the team’s chemistry and buy-in. The defense rallied when Richard LeCounte went out, a pivotal moment, and the offense continues to evolve despite a complex quarterback situation.