The Opponent: Georgia Bulldogs (1980 jokes no longer included)
Date: October 15, 2022
Where: Athens, Georgia
Last year: 14-1 (8-0 SEC.) They won a national championship. You might have heard about it. (Somehow, they did not win the SEC championship.)
Series record: Georgia leads, 58-17-2. And yet, somehow, Vanderbilt has beaten them twice since the last time they beat South Carolina.
The last time we saw these guys:
Georgia won, 62-0. Somehow, it felt like more than that.
Kirby Smart, onetime Nick Saban defensive coordinator, seventh-year Georgia head coach who had the Bulldogs a Tua Tagovailoa Hail Mary away from a national championship in his second year and then finally did the thing last season, building the nation’s most dominant team and surviving an SEC Championship game loss to Alabama to beat them in the national championship game. Also just signed a new contract that will pay him north of $100 million over ten years and he still has ... that ... haircut.
Somehow, on a roster that included former five-star quarterbacks J.T. Daniels and Brock Vandagriff and a high four-star in Carson Beck, Kirby Smart decided to go with former walk-on and two-star recruit out of the junior college ranks Stetson Bennett as his quarterback, and somehow, this also worked.
Then again, this was also the formula of the Greg McElroy-era Alabama offenses, where you surround the quarterback with enough weapons elsewhere that you can just tell the quarterback not to beat you. Sure, Bennett wasn’t bad, but you never got the sense that he was the reason that Georgia was winning games, did you? Anyway, he’s back for his sixth year of college and somehow will start ahead of Beck (now a redshirt sophomore), Vandagriff (now a redshirt freshman), and incoming freshman Gunnar Stockton (a four-star.) Next year’s quarterback competition will be fierce.
Now we get into the weapons around him, who will be largely different from last season, but this being Georgia, they’re still going to be a bunch of four- and five-stars. Some combination of Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton, and true freshman Branson Robinson (the #1 running back in the country, per Rivals) will replace the departed Zamir White and James Cook. And Kirby will need to replace two starters on the offensive line. Matchup-nightmare tight end Brock Bowers (56 catches, 882 yards, 13 touchdowns) is back for Bennett to throw to, as is Ladd McConkey (31 catches, 447 yards, 5 touchdowns), though Jermaine Burton is now at Alabama. Georgia’s offense is never going to be accused of being innovative, but it’s probably going to score points. If it doesn’t, again, they can simply go to the five-star on the bench.
Last year’s defense, at least in terms of the modern game, was absurd: 10.2 points per game, three shutouts, five more opponents held to single digits — and, sure, two of the shutouts were against Vandy and Georgia Tech, but the third was against a top-20 Arkansas team.
And that was last year’s defense. This year’s defense has a total of three starters back, and while Nolan Smith is good and Kelee Ringo and Christopher Smith aren’t bad players to have in your defensive backfield, they’re not the reason why last year’s defense was absurdly good. Also gone: defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who’s now the head coach at Oregon, replaced with Will Muschamp, who keeps getting jobs for some reason. The last time Muschamp held the title “defensive coordinator,” the result was the 2015 Auburn defense.
Anyway, it’s Georgia, the guys who have been waiting in the wings are talented, and actually, the incoming freshman class (and especially the defensive backs in said class) are absurdly talented. But you do not simply replace guys like Nakobe Dean and Lewis Cine and Quay Walker and Jordan Davis. Hell, something like the fifth-best player off last year’s Georgia defense went first overall in the NFL Draft. Is it weird that I’m more concerned about Georgia’s defense than its offense?
Jack Podlesny is a reliable placekicker, albeit not a guy with a huge leg. He’ll hold down placekicking duties while Aussie freshman Brett Thorson and in-state redshirt freshman Noah Jones fight to replace Jake Camarda, who led the SEC in yards per punt (as though Georgia needed its punter to be a weapon.)
Kenny McIntosh and Kearis Jackson handled the return game last year; neither were anything special in that role, and with those two likely to play bigger roles in the offense this might go to someone else.
I don’t know, man, Georgia has to replace a lot on defense and if there’s ever going to be an opening for someone else to win the East, this might be it. Then again, the talent gap between them and the rest of the East is currently very large, so I’ll be surprised if they’re not back in Atlanta — though they’ll probably take a loss or two at some point. As far as their game against Vanderbilt, well, let’s try to score a point this year, I guess.