What if UGA is - gulp - better than last year?

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

What Georgia did last season? What if that was but a preview? What if the really good stuff is arriving …. oh, about now?

Final score (not a misprint): Georgia 49, Oregon 3.

The reigning national champ faced the Associated Press’ 11th-ranked team Saturday. If Oregon is indeed among the West’s best, Georgia’s third-stringers should apply for Pac-12 membership. I hear there are vacancies.

I also hear the College Football Playoff is expanding to 12. The Bulldogs have enough talent to staff two qualifiers, maybe three. Some worried about all those stalwarts lost to the NFL. Nobody should ever fret about Georgia being caught short. Last season’s team might have been the Red & Black’s greatest. Come December, we might be watching a better one.

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Oregon’s first four possessions Saturday: punt; interception (fabulous coverage/catch by Malaki Starks); interception (Christopher Smith jumped the route); field goal after being positioned at the Georgia 11 by a personal foul.

Georgia’s first four possessions Saturday: an 85-yard drive to a touchdown; a 92-yard drive to a touchdown; a 56-yard drive to a touchdown; a 75-yard drive to … well, you know.

Stetson Bennett completed 12 of his first 14 passes – the misses were throwaways – for 181 yards. He finished the half 18-for-21, making like Fran Tarkenton to buy time and deliver to Ladd McConkey for the touchdown that made the score 28-3 at the half.

Said Kirby Smart, Georgia’s coach: “We can execute at a high level. We’ve got an experienced quarterback.”

Brock Bowers caught two passes for 38 yards and enabled McConkey’s touchdown reverse by blocking a defender deep into the end zone. Darnell Washington, the 6-foot-7 tight end, hurdled a Duck – pulled a Knowshon, in UGA parlance – on a 25-yard gain. Georgia gained 314 yards in 30 minutes. If it wasn’t a perfect half, it was darn close.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Flash back to the 2021 opener against Clemson in Charlotte. Georgia won 10-3. With JT Daniels at quarterback, the Bulldogs didn’t score an offensive touchdown. Granted, Clemson plays better defense than Oregon. But Georgia should play better offense in 2022 than it did last year, possibly any year.

Say what you will about Bennett − by now, haven’t we said it all? − but offensive coordinator Todd Monken trusts him. To manage the game, yes, but also to control it. Bennett distributes the ball. He can handle a fast tempo. He runs when there’s nobody open. As Smart said, “He’s hard to get on the ground.”

Monken’s offense this day resembled nothing that we’ve seen from Georgia. In the first half, it ran 12 times for 59 yards against 21 passes for 254. In not quite three quarters, Bennett completed 25 of 31 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns. Kenny McIntosh caught nine passes for 117 yards. That’s a running back with wide receiver numbers.

The Bulldogs spread the field and left Oregon grasping. Their longest gain came on a pass to McIntosh. They were 9-for-their-first-9 on third-down conversions.

Georgia 49, Oregon 3

The second half commenced. Georgia took the ball at their 36. It needed six plays – four passes, then two runs by Kendall Milton, the second a delay that popped on third-and-3. They’d gained 377 yards in 32 minutes and 43 seconds. They’d been favored by 16.5 points. They led 35-3, almost twice the spread in a tad more than half the game. They weren’t done scoring.

Caveat: It’s one game. Oregon might not be very good. (Dan Lanning’s first game as head Duck won’t prompt Nike to issue a commemorative shoe.) But Georgia managed 256 yards over 60 minutes in its opener on a neutral field last season; it amassed 533 yards in the first 45 minutes Saturday, 571 in all.

Said Bennett: “Who’s to say we don’t run it 40 times next week? However we need to play the game to win is how we play the game.”

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

We’ve been told – warned, actually – that this isn’t last season’s Georgia. We and Oregon just learned that there’s more to this program than Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean and Travon Walker and Zamir White and James Cook.

Smart again: “We hunt. We embrace expectations.”

There’s a reason Smart recruits like a maniac every year. There’s always another team, another season. This Georgia team, this Georgia season, won’t necessarily be worse than the last one.