No. 1 Georgia look to rest, improve during bye week

Georgia defenders begin to celebrate with 3 seconds left in the 30-13 victory over Kentucky Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia defenders begin to celebrate with 3 seconds left in the 30-13 victory over Kentucky Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

ATHENS — And then, they rested.

That was the main thing on the minds of the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0 SEC) as they turned out the lights on the first seven games of the season Saturday night and headed into the first and only bye week.

With a 30-13 win over No. 11 Kentucky at Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs are off to a 7-0 start for the first time since that magical 2017 season that saw them make it all the way to the National Championship Game. But not one player or coach mentioned a championship of any kind or even anything remotely big picture. The primary refrain was rest, repetition and improvement.

Georgia 30, Kentucky 13

“If I can speak for the whole team, honestly, we don’t care that much about being No. 1,” senior outside linebacker Adam Anderson said. “It’s OK and everything but, as a team, we take it like we ain’t done yet and we’ve still got some things to improve and get better.”

Kentucky clearly showed where Georgia needs to shore up. The Bulldogs gave up two touchdowns in a game for the first time this season. They allowed a 22-play scoring drive. They were 2-of-7 on third down. They missed an extra point for the first time since 2014, snapping the NCAA’s longest streak at 363 in a row.

But the big-picture truth is, things could not have gone much better to date. The rest of the Eastern Division seems to be collapsing beneath Georgia. And now a team that has gotten to this point of the season with a ridiculous number of injuries, the Bulldogs have a chance to heal up over the next two weeks.

In the meantime, recruiting is rolling. Georgia’s 2022 class of 18 commitments currently is ranked No. 3. The Bulldogs had a huge group of blue-chip prospects on campus on Saturday and coach Kirby Smart plans to get even busier on that front over the next week.

Smart said the Bulldogs will practice Monday through Thursday of next week, with an emphasis on future opponents. Then, the players will be excused for the weekend before reconvening on Oct. 25 to put in the game plan for the Oct. 30 matchup against Florida (4-3, 2-3 SEC).

“I don’t know that I’ll get any time off (Sunday) because we’ve got all these recruits here,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “So, we’ll be recruiting and we’ll be watching tape. I look forward to next weekend. … I’ll have some time to watch games and go recruit. I love going to recruit and seeing high school and being in that atmosphere.”

So, things are continuing to look good for the Bulldogs. Here is some further examination of what took place on Saturday:

QB situation

It’s an increasingly tired subject within the Bulldogs’ locker room, but the question about if and when quarterback JT Daniels might return and what happens then is going to remain in the forefront until the situation is resolved.

That could happen over the next two weeks. Daniels, who has missed the last three games with a grade 1 lat strain, warmed up vigorously on Saturday and threw the football with some zip during pregame drills. Meanwhile, senior Stetson Bennett improved to 4-0 in his starts this season while completing 70.2% of his passes for 841 yards, 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

101621 Athens: Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett looks to pass under pressure from Kentucky during the first half in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
101621 Athens: Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett looks to pass under pressure from Kentucky during the first half in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Smart was asked how it will be evaluated ahead of the Florida game.

“We evaluate that position like we do every single position,” Smart said. “We go to practice, we do third-down period, we do two-minute (drill), we ask questions in meetings, we do everything just like a normal position. We evaluate that position just like we do corner, left tackle, everything. Now it is different in the management of it. I get it in terms of reps and things. But we evaluate the same way.

“I’m proud of the way Stetson played and I’m hopeful that JT gets healthy as soon as possible.”

Tight End U

Bennett completed 14 passes on Saturday and more than half of them to tight ends. Brock Bowers continued his sensational freshman season with 5 catches for 101 yards. But sophomore Darnell Washington also had two receptions for 37 yards and junior John FitzPatrick had one 20-yard catch. They also did a good job – mostly – of run-blocking help the Bulldogs total 166 yards rushing.

“Coach Hartley’s done a great job,” Smart said. “First, it starts with recruiting. Go get great players, and then get them to buy into the team and buy into blocking and buy into being selfless, and then, buy in to making plays when you get an opportunity. … Our tight ends are weapons. They’re size guys, they make plays down the field. And let’s give Stetson some credit.”

Bennett definitely has had success targeting tight ends. Saturday, their eight catches came on nine targets. Bowers’ 107 yards receiving game against UAB came with Bennett under center. He hit Washington on a 25-yard play in the first quarter against Arkansas.

In short, he likes throwing to tight ends.

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers catches a touchdown pass from Stetson Bennett past Kentucky defender JJ. Weaver to take a 30-7 lead during the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia tight end Brock Bowers catches a touchdown pass from Stetson Bennett past Kentucky defender JJ. Weaver to take a 30-7 lead during the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“It’s mismatches,” Bennett said. “People with Fitz’s and Darnell’s size and Brock’s explosiveness, it creates match-up problems for whoever you’re going to put on them — somebody who’s faster who’s smaller or somebody who’s bigger but slower. And they’re just so big. It’s kind of like a safety blanket when you throw to them.”

Bowers has been the biggest surprise. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound freshman from Napa, Calif., continues to lead the Bulldogs in receiving with 25 catches for 416 yards and 6 touchdowns. With at least five regular-season games remaining, Bowers already has tied Leonard Pope (2006) for the most TD receptions in a season. But Smart pointed out that Bowers needs to work on other aspects of the position.

“Brock missed a couple of blocks today,” Smart said.”He missed a big, key block on a play (midway through the third quarter) that hurt us. Probably could have put the game away if we score there. Instead, we kick a field goal.”

JD for Heisman?

Georgia’s Jordan Davis continued to build on his cult-like following Saturday. He had only three tackles in the game, but he had a tackle for loss on Chris Rodriguez on a third-down play in the first quarter and was given partial credit for a blocked field goal to end the third quarter. Best buddy Devonte Wyatt also got a hand on that kick. Davis famously blocked a field goal in the Peach Bowl last New Year’s.

But Davis’ greatest impact continues to be tying up blockers in the middle of Georgia’s defense and freeing up linebackers and defensive backs to make tackles. Inside linebacker Quay Walker led the Bulldogs with 9 tackles and fellow ILB Nakobe Dean was next with 7.

Davis’ multifaceted contributions had Yahoo.com columnist Pat Forde asking if he or any other Georgia defensive player should be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Georgia defenders smother Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. to bring up third down and 16 yards during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens. Georgia beat Kentucky 30-13.   (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia defenders smother Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. to bring up third down and 16 yards during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens. Georgia beat Kentucky 30-13. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

“You know I don’t know the answer to that,” Smart said. “I would probably have said before the season that’s impossible, because statistics lead you to believe that it’s always going to be an offensive player. … But I certainly think when you look at the (NFL) draft people look at it different. What is the Heisman, the best college football player, the most dominant, the most valuable?”

Ultimately, Smart resolved to say, “we don’t really care.” But outside linebacker Adam Anderson felt “Jordan Davis for Heisman” had some merit to it.

“A lot of the time, when you look at the Heisman they look at quarterbacks or running backs. But, honestly, when you see somebody like Jordan Davis, how can you not have him for the Heisman?” Anderson said, apparently totally serious.

Block that kick

In addition to a blocked field goal, Georgia also had a blocked point-after attempt at the end of the game. Including a blocked punt for a touchdown against Arkansas earlier this season, that’s three blocked kicks on the season for the Bulldogs.

To which Smart said: “Yeah, we practice blocking field goals. We practice that all the time. … . I always think we have an opportunity to block a field goal because we’ve got people that care about points. We say that field goal block is part of red-zone defense. You want to be a good at red zone defense? Then block field goals. There’s nothing worse or more demoralizing than to get a field goal blocked.”

Sophomore defensive lineman Jalen Carter blocked the point-after try of Kentucky’s Matt Ruffalo in the final seconds of the game. Nakobe Dean scooped up the ball and tried to return it for two points. But he was run out of bounds after 32 yards and the Bulldogs were flagged for two personal-foul penalties on the play anyway.

The block came after the Wildcats called a timeout with 7 seconds remaining trailing 30-7 to set up a final play from the Georgia 1. They scored on a pass from Will Levis to Wan’Dale Robinson. The growls that came out of the Georgia coaches’ booth in the press box indicated they weren’t at all happy about the sequence of events.

Georgia Kentucky in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Georgia Kentucky in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Healing needed

There are two positions at which the Bulldogs desperately need to get well, and that’s wide receiver and defensive back.

Sophomore flanker Jermaine Burton (groin) got into the game, but was gimpy, failed to make a catch and still doesn’t look like the receiver he was last season when he had 27 catches and 3 touchdowns. Likewise, junior slot man Kearis Jackson (knee) had only one target in the game and was unable to haul in the pass. He mishandled two punt returns but got 12 yards out of one. Dominick Blaylock (knee, hamstring) finally played but was unable find his way onto the stat sheet. Running back Kenny McIntosh (hamstring) did not play for a second game in a row.

In the secondary, senior Christopher Smith dressed out, but did not get onto the field as walkon Dan Jackson (7 tackles) handled most of the snaps at free safety, with occasional assistance from William Poole and Latavious Brini. Star/nickelback Tykee Smith had a bulky brace on his left knee after suffering an ACL tear in practice this past week. Cornerback Ameer Speed (ankle) was unable to play for a second consecutive week.

The best news on the injury front was that left tackle Jamaree Salyer (ankle) was able to play and start a week after missing more than half the Auburn game.

About the Author

ajc.com

Editors' Picks