I do this thing every year where I pick a team that’s good and fun and kind of root for them intermittently throughout the season. Two years ago it was Michigan, fresh off hiring Jim Harbaugh and immediately looking like an elite Big Ten team again. Last season it was Texas, which lasted all of, like, three weeks. And while there are plenty of good teams in college football, as well as plenty of fun teams in college football, the amount that fall under both isn’t large. This can cause for slim pickings, or in some cases, falling off a bandwagon when I’ve realized the team isn’t fun and/or good after all (see: Texas last season).
Maybe it was last year’s willingness to jump the gun on the Longhorns that had me hesitant this time around. After all, I fell in love because they beat a then-highly ranked Notre Dame team who, if you’ll recall, went 4-8 in 2016. However, with half of the season under our belts, I’m willing to call my shot here and say that Georgia football is both very fun and also quite good in 2017.
They know their strengths on offense and avoid their weaknesses
When Jacob Eason went down in the season opener against Appalachian State, a lot of people wondered if it was a sign of things to come for Georgia this season. After all, their backup was true freshman Jake Fromm, who had to make his first start on the road against Notre Dame. Even after the Bulldogs escaped South Bend with a one-point win, many wondered if Georgia could get enough out of its offense to keep their record immaculate until Eason could return.
Since then, the Bulldogs have only scored less than 40 once.
It isn’t necessarily because Fromm suddenly started playing incredibly well, though he’s been quite efficient. Through the last four games, he never attempted more then 15 passes. He only threw for more than 200 yards twice, and once failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark. And yet, he threw eight touchdowns to only one interception, and the Bulldog’s slimmest margin of victory in that stretch was 28 points.
This is largely attributed to the run game. In that same stretch of games, running back Nick Chubb ran 63 times for 459 yards and six touchdowns. Receiver Terry Godwin caught 291 yards worth of passes, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that he only caught more than two passes once during that span (against Samford). But with the starting quarterback injured and a freshman at the wheel, Georgia is doing the smart thing: relying heavily on the run and coming up big when they actually need to throw the ball.
Defensively, they’ve been nothing short of elite.
One of the reasons why Georgia hasn’t had to do a ton offensively is because the defense has been so damn good up to this point. This was most evident after the Tennessee game, in which the Bulldogs only allowed 142 total yards, forced nine punts, and took the ball away four times. After the fact, The All American’s Max Olson pointed out just how good the defense had been not just in that game, but up to that point in the season.
The Bulldog’s rank fifth nationally in overall S&P, despite ranking 35th offensively. This is largely because of the defense, which ranks fourth nationally, and a special teams unit that currently ranks first. They’ve only allowed more than 14 points once (against a Notre Dame team that’s much better than a year ago, when they went 4-8), and except for that game, none of them were even close by halftime. The Bulldogs are shutting teams down defensively, causing them to blow teams out down the stretch. When your offense is fighting through injuries and a relatively timid game plan with a young quarterback, this is the type of production you need from your other units.
It says a lot about a team when you feel better about their defense being on the field than their offense. This was the case with the 2009 Nebraska team that had a defense full of NFL talent and a world-beating defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh. The Bulldogs don’t necessarily have a player like Suh (turns out once-in-a-generation talents are few and far between) but they have an offense that can actually produce points, pound opposing defenses and control the ball on the ground, and will only get better as time goes on. Speaking of that…
The Dogs haven’t played perfect, meaning they could be even better.
With as good as Georgia’s been so far, this could feel like nitpicking, but when your road to the playoff consists of having to beat Alabama, you can’t afford not to be. The Tide ranks first nationally in defensive S&P, meaning that if the Dogs want to beat them to make the playoff, they’ll have to clean things up offensively. Conversely, Alabama ranks seventh nationally on offense which would make them, up to this point at least, the best offense they’ll have played all season.
The biggest areas of concern for Georgia, to be specific, are third downs and turnovers. Georgia ranks 27th nationally in third down conversions, going 39-84 on the season thus far. They’re 55th in turnover margin and despite how elite the defense has been, they don’t take the ball away a ton. They currently sit on a +1 margin, and while you can’t totally trust these numbers (it’s a lot easier to get interceptions in a pass-happy conference like the Big XII), if Georgia is going to continue to be middle of the road on offense, then they could use a wider turnover margin to help.
That isn’t to say they need to fix these things immediately; their next three games are Mizzou, Florida, and South Carolina with a bye week tucked in there as well. The next big chance for Georgia to make national noise will be a mid-November tilt at Auburn, giving them more than enough time to figure out the few issues they actually have.
If they can’t figure those out, or if they take a game off and slip up, the Bulldogs could miss a prime opportunity to both dominate the SEC East this year, and legitimately challenge Alabama for a playoff spot. They’re halfway there already, in more ways than one.