Bulldogs seek to reclaim September’s offensive dominance

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Sophomore tight end Brock Bowers and the Georgia Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first seven possessions during an opening 49-3 thrashing of Oregon inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Sophomore tight end Brock Bowers and the Georgia Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first seven possessions during an opening 49-3 thrashing of Oregon inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Georgia Bulldogs have known all year that there would be comparisons to last season's national champions.

What they didn't expect is for their offense entering Saturday's showdown versus LSU in the Southeastern Conference championship game inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium to be compared to September, when the Bulldogs were unstoppable in Power Five routs of Oregon (49-3) and South Carolina (48-7). Georgia is 12-0 and No. 1 in the country heading into the clash against the No. 11 Tigers, but the Bulldogs are coming off a recent six-quarter stretch against Kentucky and Georgia Tech in which they scored just 26 points.

Georgia seventh-year coach Kirby Smart was asked this week in a news conference if his offense had become streaky.

"I think all offenses are that way," Smart said. "I think it's called momentum, and it's real. Momentum is a real thing, and it's like shooters being that way in basketball, right? Hitters are that way in baseball. Kickers are that way in football. Defenses are that way. We've had some really bad drives in bad quarters when we're on defense, and I'm like, 'Where did that come from?'

"It's really no different with offense. You're trying to find the thing that makes you more consistent, but sometimes it's momentum in the flow of things, and when you get things flowing, you play better."

The Bulldogs certainly had things flowing out of gate this season inside Mercedes-Benz, scoring touchdowns on their first seven possessions in the demolishing of the Ducks. Todd Monken's attack produced 571 yards on 62 plays for an average of 9.2 yards per snap, and the Bulldogs were 8-for-8 on third-down conversions and scored on all six trips in the red zone against Oregon.

Sixth-year senior quarterback Stetson Bennett completed 25 of 31 passes for a career-best 368 yards and two touchdowns, and a good time was had by all wearing the red and black.

"When we get into our rhythm and we get going, that's probably when we're at our best," redshirt sophomore receiver Ladd McConkey, who had a rushing and receiving score against Oregon, said this week. "I feel it's kind of like that for anybody. If you're having success and you're having fun out there and you're playing with confidence, that's when you're going to be your best.

"I feel like the opening game this year was probably a good example of that when we went all those possessions without punting and stuff like that. I feel like really that's what we want to try to do, convert on third downs, be explosive and score in the red zone. That's where we try to be every week."

Two weeks later at South Carolina, the Bulldogs came close to mirroring their opening productivity by racking up six touchdowns, a field goal and a punt on their first eight possessions to establish a 45-0 lead midway through the third quarter.

Georgia became turnover-prone during lackluster wins against Kent State and Missouri but then regained a lot of its offensive prowess in drubbings of Auburn, Vanderbilt and Florida.

The Bulldogs are averaging 488.8 yards per game, which is significantly superior to their 442.9-yard clip last season. Their current average of 38.3 points per contest, however, is just behind last year's 38.6 average.

"Lately we haven't been the best in scoring in the red zone," redshirt junior right tackle Warren McClendon said. "We've been getting field goals, and we want to score seven. We're just working on that and finding out the little mistakes we're making and cleaning everything up."

Georgia leads the nation in red-zone efficiency, scoring on 64 of 66 trips for a 96.97% conversion rate, but 21 of those 64 scores have transpired via field goals. Georgia's 21 field goals within the red zone are four more than any other Bowl Subdivision team.

The first three offensive possessions for the Bulldogs at Kentucky on Nov. 19 ended in short field goals by Jack Podlesny, and last week's 37-14 win over Georgia Tech was just 13-7 nearing the midway mark of the third quarter.

"I would say the opponent you play has a lot to do with your red zone, the execution of your offense in terms of ability to execute and do things right at critical times -- millions of things," Smart said. "You can't even go into all the factors that factor into red zone. It's not one thing. Ultimately, you better be able to move people. You better be able to block people, and you've got to be able to make some plays at critical times.

"You can't beat yourself down there. We've been really, really good at times, and we've been pretty average at times."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.