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Same Old Dawgs: Great Defense, Struggling Offense at Arkansas

Stetson Bennett saves the day. Credit: Walt Beazley / UGA Athletics

It’s been a bad year. I think we can all agree on that. Between a world-shaking pandemic, an entire coast being subsumed in flame and a never-ending presidential campaign that will probably end with a fascist coup, 2020 has sucked.

So if you were hankering for an escape from the End Times and a brief return to the halcyon days of 2019—by which I mean a rickety, ineffective offense propped up by one of the best defenses ever to wear the red and black—Georgia football has you covered. We’re back, baby!

The Bulldogs traveled to Fayette-nam to take on former Dawgs offensive line coach Sam Pittman and his Arkansas Razorbacks. Kirby Smart and the Dawgs returned to Athens triumphant with a 37-10 victory in tow, but the final scoreline does not do Georgia justice in the worst possible sense. 

The first half of the showdown with the Hogs featured one of Georgia’s worst offensive performances in recent memory. That’s saying a lot, considering what we saw from that unit both last season and in 2016. 

Despite a starting field position that averaged its own 48-yard line, the Dawgs ended the first half with just three offensive points scored and trailed Arkansas 5-7. No, that is not a typo. Georgia’s only points in the first half came from a last-second field goal and a safety on an ill-advised double-reverse from Arkansas deep in their own territory. Folks, it was bad.

There are plenty of reasons the offense was so dreadful in the first half. The simplest reason is that it’s breaking in a new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken, as well as new starters across the offensive line, at running back, tight end and, most importantly, quarterback. 

Redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis got the start under center. Aside from a few promising runs early in the first quarter, he was, uh, not good, to be diplomatic about it. He looked easily rattled in the pocket, threw an interception straight to a defender in the red zone, ran out of bounds a yard shy of a first down on an important third down and botched a snap that put us outside field goal range. That final mistake was the last straw, and Smart yanked him and put in Stetson Bennett IV. (USC transfer JT Daniels still hadn’t been medically cleared to play.)

But it’s unfair to lump all the blame for the offense’s first-half performance on Mathis. Sucking that bad is usually a group effort. The team committed 11 penalties for 98 yards in the first half, which was a big reason we trailed after 30 minutes.

Credit does have to go to Bennett, however, because the offense almost immediately calmed down and started performing with his veteran presence on the field. Bennett ended the first half with five completions for 57 yards to set up the field goal. It’s clear he’s not as talented as Mathis or any other QB on the roster, but he has a poise that comes only with experience, which Mathis sorely lacks at the moment.

In the second half, the offense actually started producing some gains with Bennett in charge, and the junior led it to two third-quarter touchdowns, including a two-point conversion, that finally swung the momentum in Georgia’s favor and dashed Arkansas’ hopes of pulling off a program-defining upset.

As has become a tradition since last season, here is the paragraph where I take a break from crapping on the offense to remind everyone how crazy good the defense is. Y’all, it’s real good! Like, “historically great” good. Poor coverage from Richard LeCounte led to Arkansas’s only touchdown in the first quarter, but he made up for that mistake with two interceptions. Eric Stokes also had a third-quarter pick-six to put the game on ice. As was the case last season, any success the Dawgs have this season will be on the backs of this tremendous defense.

The offense still has a lot to work out but little time to do it. Because of the weirdness of the 10-game COVID schedule, Arkansas was our cupcake game this season. We welcome Auburn to Athens next, the first time we’ve played All Barn outside November since the 1930s. Then comes Tennessee. Then a trip to Alabama. Business is about to pick up—and in a hurry.