Bulldogs fans, you can now exhale! It is over! After a shaky first half, it was ugly, and looked like the Bulldogs were going to be in a true rebuilding year. Some of you were preparing your statuses and tweets announcing your decision to opt-out of the 2020 season! However, the Georgia Bulldogs woke up and looked like a championship contender, en route to a 37-10 win at Arkansas Saturday afternoon. They looked like the defending SEC runner-up and SEC East champions.
Head Kirby Smart who is known for halftime adjustments, either gave his team a great halftime speech, a heart to heart with team leaders, or something of that sort. Whatever it was, the Bulldogs scored 32 points in the second half and only allowed a field goal.
As we look ahead to the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” with the Auburn Tigers and the rest of the Bulldogs’ schedule, there are some things to take away from this game.
Defense: They met the high standard
No surprise here with the defense allowing only 10 points in today’s game and having a head coach in Smart whose specialty is defense. Although the Bulldogs struggled offensively in the first half, the defense held everything together. They gave the Bulldogs their first points of the game with a safety and kept the Razorbacks pinned in their own territory for most of the first half. To keep a team from doing a lot of damage on offense with a quarterback in Felipe Franks who wanted a win badly says a lot about the havoc the Bulldogs defense seeks to create each game.
The defense overall had two sacks with sophomore defensive lineman Nolan Smith leading the way with 1.5. Linebacker Nakobe Dean was credited with half a sack. Smith also led the team in tackles for losses with 1.5.
Overall, the defense kept the Razorbacks offense off the field as they were only 3-14 on third down and 0-1 on fourth. They kept the offense to 77 yards on the ground but allowed 203 yards through the air. Eric Stokes Jr. and Richard LeCounte both had interceptions (LeCounte with two) but Stokes had a pick-six.
Offense: Slightly concerning
Coming into this game, the elephant in the room (or maybe not to some people) was the starting quarterback. D’Wan Mathis or JT Daniels was in the battle for the starting position but with Daniels not cleared, Mathis got the start. It was an atrocious first half and first game for Mathis as he finished 8-17, 55 yards, and one interception.
Who would’ve thought that backup quarterback Stetson Bennett would be brought in to save the day for the Bulldogs and jump-start the offense. To put things into perspective, Bennett finished 20-27, 260 yards and two touchdowns and one interception.
With Mathis coming back in later in the fourth quarter, you have to wonder how Smart will handle the quarterback situation. Do you stick with Mathis and give him the starting position or more reps on the season? When Daniels is cleared, do you start him instead and give him a chance? Do you start Bennett who has proved he is somewhat capable of handling the offense? These are genuine questions and concerns that Smart has to think about moving forward but at the same time, it could be an overreaction.
Smart had this to say about the quarterback situation moving forward.
“Right now going forward, we’ll decide this week how we’re going forward,” said Smart.
Smart admitted that Mathis’s mistakes today were not all on him.
“[We] have to go back and watch the tape. Not all of those things going wrong were D’Wan fault. Not all those were bad decisions and not all were bad throws. We have to get better, that’s for sure.”
The Bulldogs struggled to run the football early in the game due in some part to the play of Mathis. This is a huge concern mainly because this is the Bulldogs’ bread and butter. Running the football is the Bulldogs offense and everything starts with the run. The offensive lineman has to get better in their early downs and sets as the season moves forward.
Most importantly, since the offense did not wake up until the second half, no running back rushed for more than 100 yards. Zamir White lead the Bulldogs in rushing with 71 yards on 13 attempts for one touchdown. James Cook was behind him with 26 yards on seven carries. White made it known that he wanted to take on the leadership role for the Bulldogs at running back right before this season. More will be expected from White and the running backs moving forward.
All of this being said, it is only the first game of the season. Not only that, teams have been battling under the circumstances of COVID-19 which means no spring practice and only four weeks of football practice. A lot of teams Saturday looked very rusty and sloppy in their games and the Bulldogs’ first-half play was in most part due to that. I expect more second-half performances in full games for the Bulldogs for the rest of the season.
Special Teams: It’s Solid
After kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s graduation and becoming the kicker for the Indianapolis Colts, many including myself wondered how the Bulldogs’ special teams would fare; not especially concerning field goals. Jack Podlesny was perfect in this game on field goals. He was 2-2 with his longest field goal kick of 38 yards. This is a plus for the Bulldogs moving forward.
Special teams coverage was great as well and returning punter Jake Camarda punted seven times, pinning the Razorbacks inside their own 20 with one touchback on the day. Depending on how the offense performs for the duration of the season, special teams will continue to play a pivotal role for the Bulldogs.
At the end of the day, a win is a win. No matter how ugly the game, no matter that the Bulldogs turned in on offensively in the second half, it was a win. One thing for sure is that this type of performance will not cut it next week against Auburn who is searching for their first win since 2018. Although it is a home game, the atmosphere will be different and this game will be a true measuring stick for the Bulldogs.