32.3 points per game. That was the average offensive output for the Georgia Bulldogs in Todd Monken’s first year at the helm as offensive coordinator. Now, there was certainly a slew of inhibiting factors that contributed to limiting the potential of the Dawg offensive attack in 2020. Firstly, COVID halted any normal installation of a new offense at a new program that Kirby Smart and Todd Monken surely had hoped to have benefited from upon Monken’s being hired. Also, the quarterback situation was in flux all the way up until the week of the first game. Still, the 32.3 points per game were good for 5th in the SEC, but they were a far cry from the level reached by that of the past 3 National Champions in Alabama, LSU, and Clemson. Those 3 title-winning teams averaged 48.5, 48.4, and 44.3 points per game, respectively.
12 to 16 points per game is a dramatic gap to bridge, on the surface at least. However, when you analyze some of the numbers inside those total point outputs, you start to see that the Georgia Bulldogs, especially with JT Daniels at quarterback, were not that far off from being in the ballpark of elite offensive efficiency. However, before examining some of the data points and connecting some of the proverbial dots on how and where Georgia can find this improvement in 2021, it is worth acknowledging that the offenses in 2019 and 2020 by LSU and Alabama were 2 of the greatest to ever grace the gridiron, at any level. As for 2018 Clemson, they had a cakewalk schedule in which they racked up points and confidence. They and a generationally talented quarterback played about as well as a football team can play in the College Football Playoff that year.
The first stat that Georgia needs to improve upon to bolster offensive output is pass completion percentage. Stetson Bennett IV and Dwan Mathis completed 55% and 40% of their passes, respectively. When JT Daniels took over as the Georgia signal-caller, that percentage jumped up to 67%. Clemson’s 2018 championship team had the lowest completion percentage of the past 3 teams to win it all with a 64% mark. UGA’s overall 58.2% pass completion in 2020 was not a result of poor offensive design. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Todd Monken had Georgia wide receivers running open more frequently than I had seen in the entirety of Kirby Smart’s tenure. For most of the season, there was simply an inability to deliver the ball accurately down the field, and not all of the accuracy issues were on the quarterback(s). Georgia had a very youthful receiving core, and there were many situations in which routes did not run to the expectations of the quarterback in the game. Regardless, Georgia must complete the passes that are there to have a chance to add another 2 scores to each contest. Think of the Alabama game alone. Jermaine Burton was behind the Crimson Tide secondary multiple times, especially in the 3rd quarter, and the Dawgs could not take advantage.
The second offensive number that Georgia must improve upon is the number of first downs per game. The 2020 Dawgs averaged 20 first downs per contest. Clemson was the lowest in that category among the last 3 champions, 24, and Alabama and LSU each averaged 28. This number is tied to the aforementioned accuracy problems that Georgia experienced most of the season and the inability to run the ball efficiently. Georgia failed to average at least 3 yards per carrying in 3 games in 2020. The 2020 Alabama team, 2019 LSU team, and 2018 Clemson team only did so once in 43 games combined. The game has certainly changed to where the ball has to be thrown down the field explosively and efficiently to be a contender. Still, there will always be important to running the ball effectively and imposing your will on the opponent’s front 7 when needed. Too often, last season, that was not the case for Georgia. Once Matt Luke and the Georgia coaching staff decide on their starting 5 and key rotation guys, it’s imperative that the group gel and operate in such a way that movement can be created when desired to allow Zamir White, James Cook, Kendall Milton, Kenny McIntosh, and Daijun Edwards to churn out yardage.
The first question is, is JT Daniels the level of quarterback of Mac Jones, Joe Burrow, and Trevor Lawrence? That honestly remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, Daniels played tremendously in his 4 starts to close the season for Georgia. One would expect Daniels to take a step forward in his performance with a full offseason and the experience of spring ball to help solidify his control of the offense and build a rapport with the receiving core. But, all 3 of the QBs for the last 3 championship teams have played at an elite level and have all been drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. The potential is there, but JT Daniels must be the straw that stirs the drink if Georgia hopes to contend for a title. The other question is, will the surrounding cast mature to the level of picking up Daniels, the offensive line, or the defense when any one of them is not having the best game. Every year a champion is tested. 2020 Alabama, Ole Miss. 2019 LSU, Auburn. 2018 Clemson, Syracuse. These questions begin to be answered on September 4th, and the collective Dawg Nation cannot wait to see them unfold.