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This Year’s Dawgs Are Flawed but Still the Favorites

Maybe Carson Beck (No. 15) will make more big plays when other playmakers join Brock Bowers (No. 19). [Kari Hodges / UGA Athletic Association]

We’re a quarter-way into this college football season, and the Dawgs are once again undefeated at 4–0. So far in four home games, they’ve outscored opponents 166–45, and no game has been in doubt beyond the third quarter. But, for whatever reason, these victories have been unsatisfying. Or, at least, unsatisfying in comparison to most we’ve experienced over these unbelievable past few years.

The main disconnect for me has been the play of quarterback Carson Beck, who has played well by any metric. His 1,184 passing yards are the fourth-most in the SEC, with a third-best 72.7% completion percentage, and he has six passing touchdowns to a single interception. He’s a good quarterback.

But something feels off with Beck as the starter. It may be that I had gotten used to the je ne sais quoi of Stetson Bennett and his ability to make something happen. Or maybe, for all of Mike Bobo’s positive qualities as a coordinator, he’s not as good a play-caller as Todd Monken, because so few are.

I think what is holding me back from fully trusting Beck is his inability to take the top off. He’s had a handful of explosive downfield passes, but none that beat the last defender. The most important aspects of an offense are limiting turnovers and creating explosive plays. If he can get more explosive while still protecting the ball, he can take this offense to the next level.

I’m certain I’ve been spoiled by past Georgia defenses, particularly that vaunted 2021 unit that only gave up more than 20 points once. There was a ruthlessness about that defense—and the defense last year, to an extent—that I don’t see this season. The best example I’ve seen came at the end of the first half last week against UAB. With a firm 28–7 lead and a little more than a minute left, UAB marched down the field and scored a touchdown to get back within two scores.

It’s not that the scoring drive happened that had me pulling my hair out in Sanford Stadium. We’ve seen this happen somewhat frequently over the past few seasons, which is a problem in and of itself. My issue was the lack of urgency displayed during that drive. In years past, the defense would be in each other’s faces, making sure that it didn’t happen again.

But what looks like an attitude problem is more likely an attrition problem. Eight Georgia defenders were drafted by the NFL in 2022, with five more going in 2023. No matter how good Kirby Smart and his staff are at recruiting, you don’t lose that much without a dip in quality. The dissatisfaction is aided by a poor early schedule and a slew of injuries that have hit some of Georgia’s most visible players.

I’ve enjoyed having a month straight of games here in Athens. I just wish we could’ve played a team that was a proper judge of this team’s capabilities. Based on how we’ve played at moments, a game against Oklahoma in Norman, which was supposed to happen this season, might have been difficult and ugly, but it would’ve told us a lot about a Georgia team I still feel like I’m getting to know.

That unfamiliarity is due in no small part to the injuries. Smart said last week that it’s the longest injury list since he’s been at Georgia. Among the injured are receiver Ladd McConkey, who could help open the field vertically when he returns, and safety Javon Bullard, who could bring some much-needed experience and leadership to the defense. The pieces are there. We just haven’t been able to play them all yet.

And not for nothing, Kirby is still the head coach, and he has earned the benefit of any doubt. Through his first 100 games at Georgia, Kirby has won 85. That’s the best winning percentage through 100 games in SEC history. (Nick Saban won 84 of his first 100.)

So yeah, I’m spoiled—not just because I’ve been upset with how we’ve played, but because despite all that, I’d still favor us to win another national title.