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ATHENS – Kirby Smart and the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs will be tough to beat – unless they help out the other team.
It’s really hard to believe that there are only two regular season games left in the 2022 season. Coming from the first national championship in forty-one years, this highly anticipated season has now come down to an icy tilt with Kentucky and a pseudo-practice game with Tech. While I believe the Wildcats will fight with their bruised egos on Saturday, the only thing standing in the way of another undefeated regular season is…Georgia. Also, the only team standing in the way of a championship repeat is…Georgia.
Soccer is a fun game. They can be a preseason top 10 team and end up not qualifying for a dumpster fire program viewable from the International Space Station. You can also have a first-year coach and rise unexpectedly to remain undefeated and firmly in the top 4 of the CFP rankings. You can also build a program that continues to wear down opponents fairly quietly despite losing so many great players to the NFL.
Georgia is without question that team. Week after week in Georgia it’s all about winning. No glitz and glamor, just winning. We’ve all seen the stats on both sides of the ball and where the Dawgs stand. However, stats don’t win games. Just ask Tennessee. The CFP committee even said so Tuesday night when the rankings for that week were released, saying there was a disconnect between the Dawgs and everyone else. To me, that simply means that the decision makers see what many see – that UGA is simply better than the other competitors.
It’s a fun exercise to look at the predicted spreads for potential opponents. Vegas odds makers are generally spot on and each of the predicted spreads for potential CFP opponents has the Dawgs as the winner. I think we will take all these chances. After watching several top 8 games (much to my wife’s chagrin), I think there are teams that would offer some resistance to the red-black machine that is Kirby Smart’s program.
But resistance does not equal victory. It simply means that their best will not suffice against our best. Getting back to the point of this article, if the other potential contenders are not considered favorites in any situation, how can the Dawgs be beaten?
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How can Georgia beat itself?
This might come across as “duh,” but I’ll grant you that there are two areas where the Dawgs pose their own greatest threat. First are sales. Georgia is -2 this season and ranks 82nd in the nation. wowzer For a team that prides itself on discipline, that’s not very disciplined. I can think of three of Stetson’s five interceptions that were either great defensive plays or just plain bad luck. However, there were several passes that should have been intercepted but were not. Much luck?
The Dawgs have also fumbled eight times after only having five times throughout the 2021 season. While getting the ball on the ground is tedious, it puts pressure on a young defense not to generate free turnovers to pick up our whoopsies when the opposing offense is given extra scoring chances. So far, turnovers haven’t cost the Dawgs a game, even though they came very close in Missouri. So what happens when Georgia plays against a team with equal talent? Will two turnovers against Ohio State be easily erased? In a rematch with Tennessee? I don’t know, and to be honest I don’t want to find out.
The second “duh” area is penalties. The Dawgs are averaging 4.4 penalties per game this season, up from 5.4 last season. The only team in the CFP top 6 with a better penalty ratio is Michigan at 4.1. Ohio State and TCU both have 4.9 penalties per game, while LSU sits at 6.9 and Tennessee at a whopping 7.9 penalties per game. Those numbers look pretty good for the Dawgs, but getting back to the questionable roughing of the punter call in the Mississippi State game. That bad man Jalen Carter had fired the MSU quarterback in the previous game.
The penalty gave MSU a first down and a chance to close the gap. Penalties are another measure of discipline alongside turnovers. And while the total number of penalties is really good for the Dawgs, a misconduct against better teams could spell trouble. To sack CJ Stroud with a 14-point lead and then give him another opportunity to score on a discipline infraction is very different from last Saturday.
While penalties are less important to me than turnovers, setbacks in any of those areas are the only thing that can stop Georgia. Struggling against physical teams, OSU doesn’t seem to be staying healthy. Michigan can’t throw consistently and hasn’t really been challenged by any opponent other than Penn State. TCU is an enigma in that they have only shown the required physicality once this season. Tennessee obviously needs turf, good weather, and a neutral venue to compete with the Dawgs. LSU is a beautiful story in Brian Kelly’s first season but can’t protect their quarterback and can’t step in to save her life.
All of the contenders don’t sit well with Georgia’s physicality, offensive balance and a stifling defense. While each of these teams can find some success against the Dawgs, none will be able to withstand the pressure Georgia puts on each opponent on both sides of the ball. Cover Brock Bowers? I’ll give you Darnell Washington and Ladd McConkey. Want to throw quick passes to mitigate the pash rush? I’ll give you JDJ and Smael Mondon, teeth chattering, if you do catch the ball. I give you Chris Smith and Malaki Starks filling the alley with ruthless abandon. What this team and their staff have demonstrated is that they have an answer to any potential problem you may come up with. They hit and the Dawgs respond with a combination.
Kirby famously said last season that the Dawgs didn’t train to hit anyone, they trained to hit anyone. He also said something last week about there being no overlap between the last few opponents. This means that each game has a different game plan on each side of the ball. There are different calls and formations that this team needs to learn in relation to each team they play against. I find it amazing that these people can push this young team to learn and do different things every week.
This doesn’t bode well for future opponents as you can’t plan the game for tendencies. All this just to say that there is no opponent that scares this team. And the only team standing in the way of a repeat national championship is none other than our beloved Dawgs.