5 takeways: Lots of improvement for No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs to make

Credit: UGA

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Georgia football coach Kirby Smart comments on critical plays during the first half and the passing game vs. the run game.

Credit: UGA

ATHENS – You know you’ve reached a different echelon as a football program when you can score a 27-point win in a conference game and walk away with a wheelbarrow load of teaching points.

That’s where No. 2 Georgia is at the moment following Saturday night’s 40-13 win over South Carolina. Despite the lopsided, relatively stress-free win, there wasn’t a lot of chest-thumping in the Bulldogs’ postgame locker room

“We’ve got to play better, cleaner football,” junior outside linebacker Nolan Smith said. “We 100% have to understand that the standard is the standard and we have to meet it. But we got the win and we’re going to enjoy that. Then we go to the doctor on Monday and the doc will tell us what’s wrong and we’ll be grown men and take it.”

Georgia broke open a competitive game with five points in the final 24 seconds of the first half and 14 more in the first seven minutes of the third quarter. The rest was dominant but not decisive.

Georgia 40, South Carolina 13

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The Bulldogs will have another week to fine-tune with Vanderbilt (1-2) next on the docket. Here’s what we learned Saturday against South Carolina:

Defense getting after it

Georgia’s havoc statistics were incomplete in the hours immediately after the game. But it wasn’t hard to observe that the Bulldogs are flat out getting after the quarterback. Officially, they were awarded with just three quarterback sacks – giving them 13 on the young season. But Georgia was pressuring and harassing and affecting the South Carolina quarterbacks on almost every passing play.

Smith finished with 1.5 sacks, he and senior nose tackle Jordan Davis shared a sack on Luke Doty that resulted in a safety, and outside linebacker Adam Anderson recorded another giving him a team-best three for the season.

“They have like 100 5-star football players on their defense,” South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said. “They have a defensive lineman (Davis) that weighs 340 pounds that runs better than everybody on this Zoom call. They’ve got 5-star defensive backs. They’re big, they’re physical and fast. Other than that, they are really freaking good, that is why they have the top defense in the country.”

Georgia scored 14 points off two turnovers. Cornerback Derion Kendrick, a senior transfer from Clemson, recorded his first interception as a Bulldogs and returned it nine yards to the South Carolina 9-yard line to set up one score. Smith caused a fumble on his sack and linebacker Quay Walker recovered it at midfield to set up another Georgia scoring drive.

Give ‘em 6

That said, Georgia’s defenders were having a hard time swallowing giving up their first offensive touchdown of the season. The Bulldogs’ defense actually had outscored opposing offenses 14-3 coming into the game.

Credit: UGA

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Georgia quarterback JT Daniels comments on the team's proficiency against South Carolina and the state of his injury.

Credit: UGA

That changed when Doty hooked up with Josh Vann on a 36-yard touchdown strike with 10:55 remaining in the fourth quarter. Vann, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior from Tucker, finished the night with 128 yards on three catches, not counting another 31-yard reception that was nullified by penalty.

“Of course that upsets us,” Smith said of giving up a score. “The standard is the standard. It doesn’t mean the first quarter or the second quarter or the fourth quarter. We don’t want anybody in our end zone ever in any game.”

Said Kirby Smart: “Josh had a good night, but we’re going to face guys like that every week in the SEC.”

Third-and-JT

Georgia was pretty much lights out on third down Saturday night, most of that due to the excellent work of quarterback JT Daniels. In his first start after missing one game with injury, the 6-3, 210-pound junior was a remarkable 9-for-11 on third-down conversions during the game. The Bulldogs were 9-of-12 for the game.

On a 90-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, Daniels converted third downs three times.

“I definitely did my job, but it has to be 11 players executing for that to happen,” said Daniels, who finished with 303 yards on 23-of-31 passing with three touchdowns and an interception. “It’s definitely toughest on third down when there’s a certain yardage you need. But it’s just a matter of everybody doing their job.”

“Impressive,” Smart said when he first heard the stat. “When you’re efficient on third down, you’re hard to beat. And it can be extremely frustrating for the defense.”

Georgia had 466 yards on 66 plays, a stout 7.4 yards per snap.

J-Pod back on track

It won’t go down as a long, crucial kick, but Smart saw it as an important one for Jack Podlesny.

The junior place-kicker, a former walk-on was placed on scholarship after last season, made a 36-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. And it seemed pretty important at the time. Georgia had just zipped down the field in the final 19 seconds of the first half following a safety that made it 23-6. Podlesny had missed his last two kicks from a similar distance, 36 yards against Clemson and 32 against UAB.

This one split the uprights as the halftime horn sounded.

“Pod is a great kicker and it was great to get him back on track at the end of the first half,” Smart said.

It was a good day for Georgia’s special teams. Punter Jake Camarda averaged 51.7 yards on three punts, one of which Ameer Speed downed at the 1-yard line. That led to a safety on the next play.

Run game report

While it won’t exactly resurrect Georgia’s reputation as RBU, but the Bulldogs were better on the ground than it has been this year. They recorded 184 yards rushing on 31 carries, an average of 5.9 yards per attempt.

Sophomore Kendall Milton led the way with 66 yards on 10 carries, Zamir White added 51 and touchdown and James Cook had 51 yards on only four carries. Cook scored on a 23-yard run and also had 4-yard TD reception to go with a total of four catches for 20 yards.

“It’s not taking what the they’re giving,” Smart said of throwing for considerably more yards than rushing this season. “I think we’re just throwing the ball better right now. We weren’t bad running the ball. But if we’re going to be an elite team, we’ve got to be good at both.”