All summer long, Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart has attempted to deflect praise received for winning the National Championship. Saturday afternoon, Smart will once again be in Atlanta as Georgia takes on the Oregon Ducks.
‘“It’s awesome playing these kinds of games,” said Smart. “They (Oregon) are a well liked and respected program. It’s a big stage to be on.”
Ducks first year head coach and former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Dan Lanning will seek his first win as head coach and build off last season’s 10-4 (7-2 Pac-12) finish.
There are questions surrounding both teams heading into Saturday’s matchup. Heading into the game, the identity of the Georgia defense is unclear after the departures of Jordan Davis, Trayvon Walker, Lewis Cine, Nakobe Dean and others.
Meanwhile, Oregon is rebuilding an offense under new offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham.
The most important question for the Ducks going into Saturday’s season opener is, “Can they upset Georgia?”
Before both teams can fully answer these questions, their play Saturday will give a slight indication of what is to come for both teams this season.
Here are a few things to expect from both teams in Saturday’s game:
Oregon’s defense will look sharp early
While most are concerned about the identity and play of the Bulldogs defense, the Ducks have some defenders of their own who will make an impact early in the game.
Linebackers Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe are two of the top defensive players on the Ducks defense and will dictate what the Bulldogs can do. The Bulldogs seek to establish the run in every game and wear teams down for four quarters while having a mix of the passing game. If both linebackers along with the stout play of their defensive line are able to contain the running game of the Bulldogs, they will have opportunities to create turnovers and limit the Bulldogs offense.
Sewell led the Ducks in tackles last season with 114 while finishing second in sacks with four.
Flowe, who has played in only two games the past two seasons due to injuries, will look to shine. Last season, Flowe was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week in 2021 in their win against Fresno State where he finished with a career high of 14 tackles.
Defensive end Brando Dorius will look to fill the shoes of Kayvon Thibodeaux (now with the New York Giants) by affecting Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett and wreaking havoc on the Bulldogs offensive line.
Lanning, whose strength is defense, will have the defense ready to play with a chip on their shoulder.
Bulldogs defense will be tested early
The secondary will be tested and may give up huge plays early. In last season’s 41-24 loss to Alabama, the secondary gave up huge plays of 67, 55 and 40 yards. While the Ducks may not have the same players, they understand the youth and inexperience in the Bulldogs secondary that they will look to take advantage of.
While the Bulldogs have talented players, experience is the biggest teacher. It is hard to replace last year’s defensive players in Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, Davonte Wyatt, Quay Walker and company. However, guys have to step up and lean on the veteran leadership such as defensive lineman Nolan Smith, Jalen Carter, linebacker Robert Beal and cornerback Kelee Ringo.
Ringo, who is going into his second season, has worked on his game to become a better leader.
“He’s been a leader and an everyday work guy,” Smart said. ‘We had several talks in the offseason and he admitted that (he) wasn’t where he needed to be. I expect him to have a great season.”
Guys such as Kamari Lassiter, Dan Jackson and even Malaki Starks (who could see playing time) will be tested.
Bulldogs will have some tight-end offensive sets
This may come as no surprise as the Bulldogs have arguably one of the best tight-end cores in the SEC. Brock Bowers, Darnell Washington and the addictions of Arik Gilbert and freshman Oscar Delp gives offensive coordinator Todd Monken the option of running sets tailored to their skillset as a receiver. While it may not be seen as much in this game, you can expect to see it as the season moves forward.
Crowd noise will play a huge factor for Ducks
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a neutral site for this game but the Bulldogs have a huge home field advantage. This is a huge road game for the Ducks and they will have to navigate through the crowd noise early. False starts, delay of game and other penalties that come from crowd noise can make things hard for the Ducks if they’re not prepared early in this game.
Bo Nix will be Bo Nix
Nix is 0-3 against the Bulldogs and Saturday’s contest will be an opportunity for him to get his first win. In three games played against the Bulldogs, he’s combined for 72-128, 639 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Improvement as a passer and smart decision making will determine if he can lead the Ducks to an upset win. Expect Ducks offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham to draw up plays to throw off the Bulldogs defense.
Georgia will pull away late
When it is all said and done, halftime adjustments, the ability to run the football and the playmaking ability of Bennett, Bowers and the receiving core will lead the Bulldogs past the Ducks 41-17.