ATLANTA, Georgia – The Reigning National Champion Georgia Bulldogs sent two clear messages with their impressive win over a talented, 11th Ranked Oregon Ducks squad.
First, the Bulldogs put to bed any notion that this might be a rebuilding year. Instead, Georgia put college football on notice that it remains one of the top programs in the country. This is the case despite losing five defensive starters in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, having fifteen players selected overall, and despite losing former defensive coordinate Dan Lanning, who took over the head coach position at Oregon.
Second, the Bulldogs reiterated the fact that SEC speed is still much faster than Pac12 speed.
Georgia started the game with an impressive first half. Quarterback Stetson Bennett IV went 18 for 21, for 254 yards and one touchdown, and added a 1-yard touchdown run. Bennett remarked that he was “most proud” of converting on all third down plays, and ability of the offense to execute. He added that today “was probably” the best game he has ever played, because of “a combination of things” including the fact that he is in his third year in Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken’s system.
In any event, Bennett carried over into today’s game that hard-earned/hard-won confidence he gained in leading the Bulldogs to its most recent victory over Alabama a few months ago, to help Georgia claim its first National Championship in forty-one years.
The offensive line did its part as well. On several occasions, Bennett had enough time in the pocket to hit his third, fourth and fifth reads. The Bulldogs in many ways looked more like a PAC-12 team, showcasing receivers Kenny McIntosh, Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell and tightend Brock Bowers, and only calling 10 running plays, much to the delight of the Georgia faithful. Those running plays though accounted for two lightning-quick touchdowns, as Georgia raced out to a 28-3 lead.
Then there was Georgia’s defense. Not only did the Bulldogs bottle up Oregon’s vaunted run offense, but their defensive backs intercepted Oregon quarterback Bo Nix twice and blanketed the Ducks receivers all day.
A majority of Nix’s 142 first half pass yards came on screen plays – the only plays that seemed to result in any positive yardage. Georgia defensive back Chris Smith stated “we [are] always trying to make a statement,” and he did not want anyone to get the impression that the defense would slip due to NFL Draftees.
Oregon for its part did not do much to help itself. Maybe it was because of the hostile environment – a majority of the record-setting 76,490 fans in attendance at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium were decked out in Georgia red and black. Perhaps the Ducks still have scar tissue from their two-game losing streak (including the somewhat shocking loss to Utah in the PAC-12 Championship). Or maybe, the sluggish start is due in part to the fact that Nix – who transferred to Oregon from SEC stalwart Auburn — has not had enough time to build good chemistry with his playmakers.
Whatever the reason, Oregon was uncharacteristically slow out the gate. Their first few drives featured conservative play calls. Short runs, followed by lateral or screen passes, in which the Ducks running backs and wide receivers never had a chance to showcase their speed, get into any kind of rhythm, or produce the types of plays that typically get their fans excited. Then, just when you wanted to splash your face with water to stay awake, Nix finally attempted a deep pass. Unfortunately, Bulldogs defensive back Malaki Starks intercepted that pass at the Georgia 8-yard line to kill that drive.
Oregon finally got on the board a few drives later, just before halftime. A ticky-tack unsportsman like conduct penalty on a tackle of Oregon RB Noah Whittington — for what looked like a textbook tackle by the Georgia defender — moved the Ducks into the redzone, and set up first down on the Georgia 12-yard line. After failing to move the ball, however, and then incurring a false start penalty, Oregon settled for a Camden Lewis 35-yard field goal, to make it 21-3. The field goal would be Oregon’s only scoring drive of the day.
The Bulldogs poured it on in the second half. Georgia Bennett led two more scoring drives. He finished his day going 25-31, for 368 yards and two touchdowns, along with his earlier rushing touchdown, before giving way to quarterback Carson Beck, with the score 43-3. Georgia’s new starting running back – Kendall Milton – also had a career day, rushing for 50 yards and a touchdown on eight carriers, and then hauling in 9 passes for 117 yards.
After the game Milton remarked that today was a culmination of all the time he put in, in the offseason, and the time he spent waiting and watching great backs like DeAndre Swift and others set the standard that he wanted to uphold now that it was his turn to be Georgia’s starting tailback.
Meanwhile, the Georgia’s defense shutout the Ducks. Even though the Oregon players seemed to play until game clock read 0:00, the image of the normally sassy and confident Oregon Duck Mascot – on the 360° HD Display Halo Board — offering the Georgia Bulldogs Mascot (UGA) a large bone in exchange for showing mercy best summed up how the day went.
In case you are wondering, Georgia showed some mercy: Oregon’s starting offense moved the ball down the field against Georgia’s backups. The Ducks still didn’t score. The Bulldogs took over on downs, after Oregon failed to convert on a fourth down play in the redzone.
After the game, Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart was glad to get the win. He nonetheless wanted to pour cold water on the praise and accolades that the media and others will likely heap onto his team following this dominant win. Focusing on the fact that he wants to get better, he noted that “we didn’t have any sacks, did we?” Even though he credited Oregon Nix with being a smart player who is hard to sack/tackle, he expects more from his defensive line.
Coach Smart, however, did dole out compliments to the offensive unit. He was pleased that ten different receivers caught passes, adding that any prospective college players watching tv will want to come to Georgia where “we spread the ball around.” All told Coach Smart was most pleased with the fact that he wanted his team “to be aggressive.” He lauded the players and his staff for answering the call on both offense and defense. He wants that mentality to carry Georgia as it begins its 2022 campaign and title defense.
Georgia hosts Samford on September 10, 2022 before opening SEC play at South Carolina the on September 17, 2022.
Oregon hosts Eastern Washington on September 10, 2022, before hosting BYU the following week.