Context is coming as No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs open SEC play

ATHENS – Two weeks into the 2022 college football season, everybody is still searching for context. That goes double for the Georgia Bulldogs.

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On the same weekend the Bulldogs expressed disappointment in their play in a 33-0 win against Samford, an FCS opponent, they moved up to No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. That, of course, had as much to do with how previous No. 1-ranked Alabama looked in a narrow win over Texas as well as what Georgia did against Oregon in a 49-3 win on Sept. 3. The Crimson Tide committed 15 penalties and needed a field goal with 10 seconds remaining to defeat previously-unranked Texas in Austin.

Alabama’s struggles initiate some rare poll phenomena. The Crimson Tide dropping a spot despite winning is actually not that unusual. It has happened 91 times since the poll started in 1936, according to AP. However, the Longhorns are believed to be the first team to lose and still enter the AP Top 25 since Missouri did it in 1997. Texas (1-1) moved from unranked to No. 21 after losing.

Perspective is coming, though. A good dose should be provided this week as the Bulldogs open SEC play.

Georgia faces South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday (noon, SEC Network). The Gamecocks (1-1, 0-1 SEC) are still trying to figure out some things, too, after dropping a 44-30 decision to Arkansas in Fayetteville.

ExploreGeorgia gets job done against Samford

“We told our team after the game last week we are better than we were, but we are not as good as we are going to be,” South Carolina coach Shane Beamer told reporters after Saturday’s game. “I feel that way right now as well. We lost today, but I feel like we are farther along offensively than we were but still not as good as we are going to be.”

The Gamecocks’ offense is under the direction of quarterback Spencer Rattler, a first-year transfer from Oklahoma. Against the Razorbacks, at least, South Carolina put its fate in the hands of its new quarterback. Rattler’s 376 yards passing accounted for 90.4% of the Gamecocks’ 416 yards offense. Receiver Antwane Wells – aka “Juice” -- grabbed 189 of those yards, including 64 on a touchdown.

The flipside of that is South Carolina managed only 40 yards rushing. Rattler was sacked six times, fumbled three times, lost one, and threw an interception. The Gamecocks turned the ball over three times in the game, while Arkansas had zero.

What about Oregon? Well, the Ducks finally got their offense going after failing to reach the end zone against Georgia. Quarterback Bo Nix threw for 277 yards and five touchdowns in a 70-14 win over Eastern Washington. Like Samford, the Eagles of Eastern Washington are an FCS program.

Afterward, Oregon coach Dan Lanning was asked to compare the Ducks’ execution to what they did against the Bulldogs in the opener.

“Let’s be honest, Georgia is a phenomenal team,” Lanning said. “We asked ourselves, can we play better and tackle better? Absolutely. … But the standard is our standard, and we must continue measuring ourselves up to that. We can certainly play better.”

Georgia believes it can, too. That certainly was the message after the Bulldogs dispatched Samford this past Saturday at Sanford Stadium. There wasn’t much to complain about defensively as Georgia limited its visitors to 128 yards, three first downs and one explosive play (36 yards). But the Bulldogs were disappointed in their overall offensive effort.

While Georgia piled up 479 yards, it did not run the football with the authority expected against an overmatched opponent. The Bulldogs had to settle for field goals on four of eight trips into the redzone and failed to score at all another time.

“I feel like we didn’t really play to our standard,” said junior running back Kendall Milton, who led Georgia 85 yards rushing on 10 carries. “There is still a lot to improve on if we want to reach the goals that we want to reach.”

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Early on at least, pollsters are saying they believe the Bulldogs can repeat. Georgia received 53 of the 63 first-place votes Sunday in the new AP poll. Alabama got nine and Ohio State had one.

No. 4 Michigan and No. 5 Clemson held their places, but the rest of the top 10 was shuffled. Oklahoma moved up a spot to No. 6, USC jumped three places to No. 7, No. 8 Oklahoma State moved up from 11 and No. 9 Kentucky jumped 11 places after knocking off then-No. 12 Florida 26-16 in Gainesville. The Gators (1-1, 0-1) fell six places to No. 18.

Meanwhile, the pollsters like what they saw from Arkansas against the Gamecocks. The Razorbacks got 156 yards rushing and two touchdowns from running back Raheim Sanders and rolled up a gawdy 295 yards and five TDs on the ground. They jumped six spots to No. 10, giving the SEC a national-best four teams in the Top 10 and eight in the Top 25.

Georgia is, of course, at the top of that list. The Bulldogs spent nine weeks at No. 1 last season on the way to winning the program’s first national championship in 41 years. But this is the earliest Georgia has been voted No. 1 since 2008, when it opened the season atop both polls.

The coaches who vote in the USA Today poll kept Alabama No. 1 and Georgia No. 2. As ever, whichever is college football’s best team this year is at best a guess.

As the Bulldogs foray into conference play, more perspective is on its way -- quickly.

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