That Georgia beat Samford wasn’t a story. If it hadn’t won — or if it had struggled mightily in victory — that would have been a story. And a cause for alarm.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said his team used the game as a learning experience, particularly defensively.
“We got lots of reps,” he said. “We ran two huddles with the scouts. They are faster than anyone we’ve gone against. The benefit is we’ll see more speed teams with bigger receivers and bigger linemen.”
With Samford in the rear view mirror, Georgia can turn its attention to conference play. It begins next week, as the “other” Bulldogs of the SEC, Mississippi State, come to Sanford Stadium.
Mississippi State decimated LSU 37-7, its largest margin of victory ever against the Tigers.
Smart said Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has built “a tremendous program” and expects a formidable challenge next week.
“They have a physical football team and they have a quarterback who can run and throw,” Smart said, referring to the versatile, talented Nick Fitzgerald. “They’re hard to defend. They make you defend all over the field. It will be an exciting game. … It will be two Top-25 teams and that’s what the SEC is all about. It will be a great environment and our fans can create an atmosphere to help us be successful.”
To beat Mississippi State will take Georgia’s best effort to date.
That’s why we ask, did Georgia use its first three games to accomplish what it needs in order to keep its perfect record intact by the end of next week — and beyond?
We look at five areas, posing a question, mixing in Smart’s insight from Saturday’s postgame (where applicable) and summing it up with our own take on the matter.
Has Jake Fromm shown the type of week-to-week progress expected of a true freshman? And is it good enough to help the Bulldogs navigate through the SEC if Jacob Eason remains on the sideline?
Smart says: “Jake Fromm is a bright kid who knows where to go with the ball. He makes good decisions most of the time and he’s growing up as a player.”
Our analysis: Fromm has been steady, and at times special, since taking over the starting job in the first quarter of the opener after Eason went down with a knee injury.
His numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page — a completion percentage of 59.6 (34-for-57) for 449 yards and five touchdowns — but they’re efficient. Fromm is in an enviable position. With the defense playing at the high level many expected and a seasoned, deep stable of running backs, Fromm doesn’t have to put the team on his back every week.
That’s part of the reason why he’s thrown just one interception. Yes, he’s a decision-maker wise beyond his years; but he’s also not being asked to put the ball in the air 35-plus times a game, either.
Yet that leads to our one lingering question: If Georgia’s ground game is stifled, can Fromm beat opponents with his arm? The sample size, at this point, is far too small to come to a reasonable conclusion. But it’s a safe bet every SEC team Georgia faces going forward will try to make Fromm do just that.
How do the running backs look through Week 3?
Smart says: “Running back is one of our depth spots. All of the running backs ran the ball hard (Saturday), they protected the ball and they protected the quarterback. They ran with great toughness. They do that every day.”
Our analysis: Before the season began, we pegged this group as arguably the strongest on the team. That has held up thus far. Even with Sony Michel sitting out Saturday due to an ankle injury suffered against Notre Dame, Georgia showed no sign of drop off.
Nick Chubb, already a Georgia legend on numbers alone, had 16 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns — a light workout for him. That allowed the Bulldogs’ less seasoned running backs to get plenty of reps, which will come in handy down the road — if not this season, then next, when Chubb and Michel are gone. This is one area the Bulldogs need not worry about the remainder of the season barring the dreaded injury bug.
Have the Bulldogs finally found a go-to option in the passing game?
Smart says: N/A
Our analysis: It hasn’t really been stated publicly. But it’s obvious just by watching the first three games of the season: Terry Godwin has emerged as the Bulldogs’ lead receiver. He’s tied for the team-high in receptions (6) and is tops in receiving yards (134), receiving touchdowns (three), yards per reception (22.3) and yards per game (44.7). If you dispute Godwin’s primacy among Georgia’s pass-catchers, I kindly ask you to watch the embedded video below.
Has the defense played up to Smart’s expectations?
Smart says: “The defense has confidence in the system. They’re playing really hard and physical and we haven’t had a lot of injuries. We’ve been able to develop some depth and that helps with the spirit and the camaraderie when a lot of people get to play. If you play hard, you’ve got a chance. Throw in good players and that makes it easier.”
Our analysis: Smart, like his mentor Nick Saban, is always going to find ways to nitpick and see where there are still strides to be made. But there hasn’t been much to complain about so far — as long as you’re not on the coaching staff. The most points Georgia has allowed is 19. No team has cracked the 300-yard barrier yet, either. Both numbers will be put to the test this week, though, as Fitzgerald and the Mississippi State offense are as explosive a unit as there is in the SEC.
Smart says: N/A
Our analysis: The oft-forgotten third phase has been a solid group.
Punter Cameron Nizialek has averaged 44.3 yards per attempt (on 15 kicks), with three going 50-plus yards, 10 being fair caught and eight pinning an opponent inside its own 20-yard line.
Rodrigo Blankenship, now on scholarship, is 3-for-4 on field goal attempts this season, including the game-winner at Notre Dame. But his most notable improvement has come on kickoffs. Last season, just 20 of his 55 kickoffs went for touchbacks, or just 36.4 percent of the time. This season, 13 of 18 — 72.2 percent — have reached the end zone.
And Saturday, position players got into the special teams fun, as defensive back J.R. Reed blocked a field goal.
“I just told DeAndre Baker when we go, I’m gonna go block this kick,” Reed said. “We just blocked the whole left side and I told him, ‘I’m gonna go get it,’ and I went and blocked it.”
And the return game has been bordering on excellent as well.
To wit: Sophomore receiver Mecole Hardman has averaged 29 yards per returns on kickoffs this season, which put him among the top 25 players in the FBS entering Saturday.
How Georgia’s season will turn out is anyone’s guess.
But Smart’s objective never wavers. He wants to see his team get better, little by little, each and every day.
“We’ve made some improvements in some areas, but we’ve got more improving to do,” he said. “It’s frustrating with some of the decision-making and the lost-yardage plays. If we continue to improve, we can be a good football team.
Source: Saturday Down South