The Skeptic’s Guide to the 2022 Georgia Football Season

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Coming out of the national championship, Georgia is still on course to win at least 11 games per ESPN Football Power Index. That’s the 3rd best FPI projection in the nation, barely a drop from the perennial college football playoff contender.

Between LSU, Clemson, and even Ohio State, there has been a consistent year-over-year decline among National Championship Game teams in recent years. It’s a new challenge for Kirby Smart, and it’s already taken a leap into messaging.

If the Dawgs do take a step back in 2022, it will be for these 6 reasons.

Unable to duplicate historical defense

How special was Georgia’s defense in 2021? The No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft was down the line in terms of production.

That’s what happened with the Georgia defense, which entered the college football playoffs with 5 players with at least 6 tackles for loss and 5 players with at least 4 sacks. And only 2 of those players were in each category. Travon Walker, the eventual No. 1 overall pick, was only in the team’s top 5 in sacks (4). Of course, he changed positions, but the production suffered.

This defense had only 5 players drafted in the 1st round and 8 players in total. No wonder, then, that the 2022 squad ranks 122nd out of 130 FBS teams in returning defensive production percentage. Georgia, like any other team, can’t replicate that unit like so many others have tried to install high-flying offenses because 5-star first-rounders aren’t exactly in spades.

That’s not to say Smart and company can’t replenish the depth chart. After all, Smart was the first to offer Walker a scholarship. But gathering all that talent on 1 unit like Georgia’s 2021 defense will be impossible.

Strategist

As if the Georgia fan base needs more fuel around the quarterback situation, Stetson Bennett will struggle to replicate the nearly flawless leadership that marked the 2021 season.

While the tight end position is very deep and in its own historic class, wide receivers will find it hard to separate themselves and develop a bona fide group of reliable wides. Without that elite defense, getting into an offensive shootout with players like Tennessee and Kentucky will be hard to follow. The first warning sign will come against Oregon, which by all indications should be an easy win for Georgia, but don’t be surprised if there are moments of white articulation and some fans are clamoring for Carson Beck or Brock Vandagriff in the middle of the game. After all, Alabama’s loss only fanned those about the flames coming out of Atlanta, and undefeated teams are about as rare as they are in college football. .

racing game

The vaunted RBU is in a 2-year slump without a 1,000-yard rusher, and there are questions about whether Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton can handle the load.

After Georgia led the SEC in rushing in 2018, the Bulldogs have slipped to 6th and 5th over the past 2 seasons. Georgia has had usable backs in recent years but was missing a star. In Smart’s 6 years as head coach, Georgia did not have a consensus 1st team All-SEC running back. UGA did not have a running back listed among the 4 to earn All-SEC honors in 2021 or the 5 in 2020. The talented but somewhat inexperienced offensive line, particularly at guard, will be on display when it will be most needed.

Disappointment/motivation

Smart came out early after the national championship and said Georgia would not defend the national title. The 2021 won it. The 2022 team is starting from scratch. This will be combined with a greater point of revenge and motivation, both with the likes of Bennett no longer an underdog or counted out, and the full reset to not let players get complacent while admiring their championship ring .

But also with the fan base and the media no longer having the 4-decade drought as a narrative, and Alabama’s revenge isn’t really on the table anymore. Alabama’s injury apology tried to grab traction but likely won’t last long when it counts. Ultimately, how will the majority of Georgia fans react if the Bulldogs lose in the SEC Championship but come back and win the Sugar Bowl, for example? Smart has largely wiped the slate clean of criticism of its game management in major games.

Linebackers turnover

Replacing his top 3 linebackers from last season in Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker ask many questions about leadership.

This will test the so-called next wave of recruiting and how Jamon Dumas-Johnson and former 5-stars Smael Mondon Jr. and Xavian Sorey Jr. fare in this vacuum. How are they going to react when the defense gives up a big play or isn’t as stifling as last year?

Change play style

Obviously, Georgia will have to score more because the defense will drop some, naturally. It will be up to Todd Monken to find a creative way to maximize the tight offense and continue to put Bennett in successful positions. There have been comments before that downplayed Dan Lanning’s exit, but no matter how smooth the transition to the new defensive co-coordinators, losing an assistant like this will leave a mark.

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