An interesting turn of events has occurred in the last 48 hours and storylines have shifted a lot in that timeframe. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you probably didn’t see the same game that I was watching.
I’m talking about the fact that going into Georgia’s season opener against Arkansas, the buzz was around redshirt freshman quarterback D’wan Mathis and his journey. Mathis underwent brain surgery in May 2019 and just a year-and-a-half later, he was starting his first ever college football game. Stuff like that doesn’t happen everyday because he might’ve never played football again, but he did it yesterday.
Even though he didn’t play well in his first appearance, it doesn’t mean his career is over. Georgia wasn’t able to do anything on its first six offensive drives, and even though part of that is his fault, his team didn’t help him out at all. Countless undisciplined penalties and a bad snap by center Trey Hill proved to be costly for the entire team, not just Mathis.
Head coach Kirby Smart defended Mathis yesterday in his post game press conference.
“No one is going to give you plays on second-and-15 and second-and-20, it’s not going happen,” Smart said referring to situations Mathis found himself saddled in.
“Not all those things that went wrong were D’Wan’s fault,” Smart said. “I know a lot of people will blame D’Wan — fans, media or whatever — but end of the day, it’s on all of us to get it right. It’s not all on the quarterback, but to the average fan’s eye I get it, there will be criticism.”
Mathis was 8-of-17 for 55 yards and an interception after starting the game and re-entering midway through the fourth quarter.
After those first six drives, Smart made the right coaching decision and brought in fourth-year junior Stetson Bennett with 10:07 left in the first half.
It was then when those aforementioned ‘interesting turn of events’ occurred.
Suddenly, the focus shifted to Bennett and his journey to get that unique opportunity. The Bulldogs were down 7-2 at the time, and had nothing going for them on offense. Bennett provided the Bulldogs a little bit of spark going into halftime as he led a drive down the field with under a minute to go and no timeouts. That set up placekicker Jack Podlesny with great field position to get Georgia within two.
After James Cook fumbled on the opening drive, the defense held and gave Bennett another chance. That’s when Georgia really started firing on all cylinders as Bennett led the team down the field to score its first touchdown of the game. It was a touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver George Pickens.
Bennett said that final of the first half really helped his confidence level.
“I don’t know if it was any easier coming off the bench. I can’t speak to that, because I’ve never started a game,” Bennett said. “But it was easier starting the second half. The two-minute drill really boosted my confidence before half.”
In fact, that first touchdown to Pickens seemed to boost the whole team’s confidence level. The defense held Arkansas to a three-and-out, then running back Zamir White blocked the punt giving the offense great field positon.
It seemed like at the moment everything was starting to finally come together. It didn’t take long for Bennett to hit John FitzPatrick in the end zone for his first ever collegiate touchdown. That touchdown extended Georgia’s lead to ten.
Even though the defense was already playing great, I think that the offense really inspired them to do better. Georgia had consecutive interceptions on the Razorbacks’ next two drives, with one of them being returned to the house by cornerback Eric Stokes.
“I always expect to come in, because if you don’t, then it’s kind of poor when you do,” Bennett said. “The first half was pretty poor. The second half was better.”
It seems to me that when the offense and defense can get in sync together, that they are a force to be reckoned with.
“We work hand in hand. Our offense is only as good as our defense, It’s our first game since the bowl game, so we expect some mistakes,” LeCounte said. “We are going to wake up tomorrow, go get those mistakes handled and get ready for our next opponent. I’m not worried about anything that happened on any side of the ball because I know we have the best players in the nation.“
Georgia’s offense is far from where it wants to be, but it seems like all they needed yesterday was to be led by a quarterback with a little bit of experience. That’s no shot at Mathis, whatsoever. Although, the storyline did change to be all about the kid who’s been on the bench, and how he seized the opportunity to come in and win the game.
It’s going to be a long season if the offense can’t figure it out, though. We should be able to tell a whole lot about this team as a whole next week after the Bulldogs take on Auburn. I think that this team showed a lot of heart yesterday, but still in Smart’s program ‘a win isn’t a win’ anymore. I expect him to push these guys to on the edge this week in practice because of all the mishaps.
Even though they played a great second half, that doesn’t excuse those blunders in the first half. The team had more charged penalty yards in the first half than offensive yards in the first half. The defense had a lapse in coverage for 10 seconds as Feleipe Franks hit receiver Treylon Burks in stride wide open for a 49-yard score.
There were inexcusable things that happened in the second half as well, with one of them being Cook’s fumble for starters. The offensive line let defenders get through and sack Mathis in the fourth quarter. There was an illegal formation penalty that backed the team as Podlesny was about to attempt another kick.
Put the great storyline about the underdog coming in and winning the game in the end aside.
Overall, I think that they played an ‘ok’ game for the most. This team will be tested in the next three weeks and we will see how tough they really are. We know there’s a lot of heart in the locker room, but there also needs to be a lot of mental toughness. Because those mistakes will need to be fixed if Georgia wants to beat Auburn, Tennessee or Alabama.
Let’s see how this thing plays out.