Georgia’s offense and mixed nature: ‘It’s called momentum and it’s real’

ATHENS, Ga. — There’s a reason Todd Monken was named Monday as one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top assistant coach. Georgia’s offense ranks in the top 10 for total yards, yards per game, top 20 for both rushing and passing and is a big reason the Bulldogs could repeat themselves as national champions. There are just two nagging issues that Monken is likely to want to address:

• The red zone, which has already seen plenty of teeth grinding at these points.

• Streakiness, a minor issue, but one thing nonetheless: When Georgia’s offense rolls, it’s been as good as any in the country. But it can also be prone to stretching if it seems to go into a shell.

That’s not just anecdotal, the analysis backs it: Overall, Georgia has had touchdowns on 39.9 percent of its offensive drives this season, second best in the SEC (Tennessee is at 49 percent) and 10th best in the nation.

But in four games this season, Georgia has had touchdowns on 25 percent or fewer of its drives. No other team ranked in the top 10 by drives-with-touchdowns percentage has more than two such games.

Part of that comes from weaknesses in the red zone: Georgia has settled for field goals or nothing on 23 of its 66 trips within the 20 this season. But that’s not all.

It was the beginning of the Missouri game, which included five direct goalless possessions. Then the next five drives were all points and saved Georgia from an embarrassing upset.

Georgia touchdown percentage

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There was the Auburn game, which started with three scoreless drives and had another scoreless overtime with three drives, but then four of the next five were touchdowns, resulting in a 42-10 win.

How about the Florida game when Georgia had punts or turnovers on four of five drives in one move and the Gators were back in the game. After the Bulldogs’ offense was adequately tested, they put the game out of the way with two straight touchdowns.

Even in the last game against Georgia Tech, Georgia only led 10-7 at halftime, but then the offensive ran five straight drives in points.

“A lot of that gets things rolling and like you said it just keeps going. Once we find that rhythm and get that rhythm over us, it’s hard to stop us,” said second receiver Ladd McConkey. “We have so many playmakers who can make a lot of plays. Great calls. Yeah just get that rhythm going and once that happens it just builds on that.”

Anecdotally, quarterback Stetson Bennett seems to do better when he gains confidence early or when he picks up the pace, which is easier when the offense has just played a winning game. But that’s by no means a hard and fast rule: Bennett struggled early in Missouri but was spot on in the fourth quarter.

“Rhythm always helps. But I don’t know why,” Bennett said after the Georgia Tech game. “Overall, we start hitting them more when there’s more momentum.”

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It’s a hallmark of almost all crime, Kirby Smart said.

“It’s called momentum, and it’s real,” Smart said. “Momentum is a real thing. Shooters are like that in basketball, right? That’s how hitters are in baseball. Kickers are like that in football. Defenses are like that. We’ve had really bad rides and bad quarters, and I’m like, “Where does that come from?” It’s no different on offense. You try to find what makes you more consistent. But sometimes it’s the momentum and the flow of things and making things flow and playing better.”

Georgia started the season with the biggest stokers: seven straight possessions against Oregon that resulted in touchdowns. That didn’t really stop for the next two weeks: Georgia held a 30-0 lead against Samford at half-time before essentially throwing in the substitutes in the second half. Then there were touchdowns on six of the first eight drives in South Carolina. Even the next week against Kent State, the Bulldogs never punched, turning the ball around only twice and settling for three field goals.

It was the Missouri game when things stalled for an extended period. Since then, there’s only been one game where Georgia’s offense has been essentially wire-to-wire great: a 55-0 win over Vanderbilt. The first half against Tennessee was almost perfect with three touchdowns and a field goal from a total of six drives. The weather got in the way in the second half, so a break would be unfair.

The same could arguably be said for the Kentucky game, when the cold and wind slowed attempts at passing. Red zone and short yard issues were the bigger culprits for Georgia, with a season-low 16 points.

Then there was the trip to Mississippi State, where Georgia was a mixed bag again: touchdown on the opening drive, then three drives without one (punt, interception, field goal), followed by touchdowns on three of the next four drives, then an interception, then touchdowns on two of the last three drives.

(Note: For clarity, we never count squats as drives at the end of halftime or the end of the game.)

Now that Georgia is stepping into the SEC championship game, an offense that looked like one of the best in the country at the start of the season ranks “only” 12th in the standings, despite being seventh in points per trip . Georgia has punted 29 times this season, the fourth fewest in the country.

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The bottom line is that the offensive is still good, but not as spectacular as it looked at the beginning of the year.

One theory is that the defense is adapted to what Georgia has done so well — quick and short passes to the playmakers — making it harder for the Bulldogs. Smart was skeptical.

“No, I don’t really believe in any of that. Good crimes are good. They find ways to attack you,” Smart said. “You can’t get people to say, ‘Ooh, man, we’re going to come up with this new play every week.’ You do what you do, and the best offenses I’ve ever taken action against, LSU’s and Alabama’s, you knew what you were going to do. You just had to find a way to stop it. So it’s not about tricking them. It’s really about efficiency and having a good plan and playing well.

Another theory that Smart wasn’t asked about, and probably wouldn’t confirm, is that the coaching staff occasionally deviated from what worked early in the season in an attempt to establish the running game or downfield passing game. And taking the theory one step further, perhaps at times the Bulldogs have been purposely dull and saved a game or two (or three) for the postseason. Now that the games have more meaning, Monken will once again show everyone why he is a Broyles finalist.

Smart, of course, would not confirm any of this. His public explanation of why things aren’t quite as spectacular as they were in September is more nuanced.

“If you play good defense, you have to understand that they will find ways to stop you. You will find and do good things,” Smart said. “Part of that comes down to who we play. And a lot of it is how we play it. Once again I was proud of the performance of our boys. Sometimes the conditions dictated it. And sometimes we didn’t play really well. But I’m always looking for our guys who are doing their best.

“And our best game is yet to come. That is our goal.”

(Photo of Brock Bowers (19) and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (1): David J. Griffin / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)