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Season Preview: Georgia

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith previews the 2022 Georgia Bulldogs

2022 SEC Season Preview: Georgia

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Head Coach: Kirby Smart – seventh season at Georgia and overall (66-15 overall, 40-9 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Todd Monken (third season)

Defensive Coordinator: Will Muschamp, Glenn Schumann (first seasons)

2021 Recap: 14-1 (8-0 SEC); defeated Michigan in Orange Bowl, defeated Alabama in CFP National Championship Game.

1980 went from a source of pain to merely a footnote in and around Athens, as Georgia finally finished the job and ended a four-decade national title drought with a comeback win over arch nemesis Alabama in Indianapolis last January. A historically great defense held opposing offenses to just 10.2 points per game, but five starters were NFL first-round draft picks, showing just how much talent has departed. After J.T. Daniels started the season at quarterback, Stetson Bennett IV took over after three games and never gave up his job, despite plenty of fan calls for a return to Daniels. He was rarely spectacular, but was brilliant down the stretch of the national championship game to ensure his legend status for life in his home state.

2022 Schedule

Sept. 3 – vs. Oregon (Atlanta) (3:30 p.m., ABC)

Sept. 10 – SAMFORD (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Sept. 17 – at South Carolina (Noon ET, ESPN)

Sept. 24 – KENT STATE

Oct. 1 – at Missouri

Oct. 8 – AUBURN

Oct. 15 – VANDERBILT

Oct. 29 – vs. Florida (Jacksonville) (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Nov. 5 – TENNESSEE

Nov. 12 – at Mississippi State

Nov. 19 – at Kentucky

Nov. 26 – GEORGIA TECH

Under Center

“How do you like me now?”, says Bennett, after doing what Eric Zeier and David Greene and Aaron Murray and Jake Fromm couldn’t in guiding Georgia to the pinnacle of the sport. Without the physical tools for the NFL, Bennett is back in Athens for a fifth season and an encore. At this point, he is who he is as a quarterback. He avoids trouble and knows when to cut his losses, but also isn’t afraid to take some shots, as displayed in the national championship game.

What happens if the defense takes a few steps back? Bennett was forced into a few shootouts in 2020, and couldn’t keep with Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask in Georgia’s two losses. His job is probably safe, especially with a light schedule, but there probably will again be some moments where we’ll hear whispers for either redshirt sophomore Carson Beck or redshirt freshman Brock Vandagriff. Bennett will likely again get the last laugh, however.

In The Trenches

The “worst” of the starting Georgia defensive linemen in 2021 was selected No. 28 overall in the NFL Draft. That is some serious talent departure for the Bulldogs, who must replace three first-round draft picks. Jalen Carter, a rotational player in 2021, anchors a new-look front for the ‘Dawgs. He’s not as massive as predecessor Jordan Davis, but he could join Davis as a first-round draft pick at nose tackle next spring. True freshman Mykell Williams leads an abundance of options at defensive end, none of which are proven. Nolan Smith’s return for a fifth season was a massive win for the linebacking corps, which has first and third-round draft picks to replace.

The offensive line is experienced, but missing its top player from a year ago in left tackle Jamaree Salyer, a late-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Chargers. They’ll have a new position coach after the retirement of Matt Luke, but don’t expect a drop-off with returning center, Sedrick Van Pran, a surprise 15-game starter in 2021, and a pair of Warrens in guard Warren Ericson and tackle Warren McClendon. If there’s a dip in production, it will likely because of the losses at running back. Kendall Milton and Kenny McIntosh are capable backs, but they don’t quite match up to the departed James Cook and Zamir White.

On The Edge

Losing second-leading receiver Jermaine Burton to Alabama was a huge blow, but Burton was always going to take a back seat to tight end Brock Bowers. The best tight end in the country (sorry, Notre Dame fans), Bowers burst onto the scene with 56 catches and 13 touchdowns as a true freshman, and can run away from defenders in the open field unlike most at his position. Sophomore Adonai Mitchell, one of the heroes of the national championship game win, should ease the loss of second-round NFL Draft pick George Pickens. Ladd McConkey has a nice rapport with Bennett, and the third spot could depend on how healthy Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint are after ACLs limited them for more than a year.

The secondary is in a bit of a reboot mode, but they have back Kelee Ringo at cornerback, whose pick-six sealed the national championship victory, and safety Christopher Smith, whose pick-six was the difference in the massive season-opening win over Clemson. There are new faces elsewhere, but they’ve recruited well, and both their head coach and defensive coordinator are former Bulldogs defensive backs, so don’t expect any slippage here.

Ranking The Units

1.   Offensive Line

2.   Tight Ends

3.   Defensive Backs

4.   Receivers

5.   Defensive Line

6.   Running Backs

7.   Quarterbacks

Schedule Analysis

The Bulldogs have just three SEC home games, but the home slate is actually more attractive in those years because it brings Auburn, Georgia Tech and Tennessee to Sanford Stadium. The rotating opponent is Mississippi State, but that’s on the road in November after two key games against Florida and Tennessee. A trip to Kentucky follows the game in Starkville, but the Wildcats have never threatened the Bulldogs since Georgia became a juggernaut. A fun game with Oregon in Atlanta to open the season features former defensive coordinator Dan Lanning in his debut as Ducks head coach.

Season Prediction

This team isn’t going to run roughshod through all 12 games like it did a year ago, but is there a team on the schedule that can beat the Bulldogs? The opener with Oregon will be tricky, but Georgia has faced Ducks quarterback Bo Nix at Oregon three times when he was at Auburn, allowing just 30 total points. Tennessee landed some punches a year ago, but this year’s game is in Athens. Back-to-back road trips to Mississippi State and Kentucky seem tricky, but the Wildcats never threaten Georgia, and Mike Leach’s offenses fall flat against elite defenses.

I’m sticking with 12-0, but there will be a couple close calls this year. That will set up a sadly meaningless SEC Championship Game, with the only prize to the winner being avoiding Ohio State in a CFP semifinal. Repeating is really, really hard, which is why it’s happened just one time since the start of the BCS in 1998. Georgia has the talent to do so and will work its way back to the College Football Playoff, but the title defense seems likely to end there without another trophy coming back to Athens.

Record: 12-1 (8-0 SEC)

CFP Ranking: 3

Bowl: Fiesta Bowl (CFP Semifinal) vs. Ohio State

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.