Georgia defeated South Carolina 48-7 in the Bulldogs’ first SEC matchup of the 2022 season. Following the game, football writer John James graded each position group’s performance.
Stetson Bennett had another excellent outing in his third game of the season, throwing for 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns against South Carolina. Bennett was accurate and decisive, and he looked particularly impressive as he connected with Brock Bowers for his longest pass of the season. With his third rushing touchdown of the year, he became the first quarterback since Patrick Mahomes to record 250 passing yards and a rushing touchdown in three straight games. Carson Beck also made an appearance in the game, looking confident from the start. Beck connected with freshman Oscar Delp for a 28-yard touchdown pass on his first drive of the game.
This was not a highlight-filled afternoon for Georgia’s backfield. Bennett - a quarterback - had the most rushing yards in the game, which never reflects kindly on the running backs in the offense. Additionally, Kenny McIntosh entered the game as the Bulldogs’ leading receiver. He had one catch for 14 yards against South Carolina, far below his season average. On the other hand, the score differential allowed Georgia to experiment with some of the other members of the backfield. Branson Robinson and Daijun Edwards both had season-highs for rushing yardage. Robinson looked like an imposing, physical option in the rushing game. Edwards was the inverse, a lightning-quick, elusive weapon that kept South Carolina on its toes.
Bowers was the standout from this game, racking up a trio of touchdowns that showed his versatility of skills. His longest, a 78-yard pass from Bennett, showcased his athleticism as he evaded and outran a number of Gamecock defenders. The rest of the receiving core was less dominant on Saturday. 11 different receivers recorded a catch, but only Delp and Ladd McConkey had multiple receptions in the game. The Bulldogs’ depth at wide receiver was tested by the injury to AD Mitchell. It’s unclear when he will return, and with him out of the lineup, the Bulldogs need another receiver to step up. That didn’t happen against South Carolina.
The offensive line was at its best when Georgia chose to pass on Saturday. Bennett and Beck were both kept relatively clean for most of the game, allowing them time to explore their downfield options at receiver. The Gamecocks failed to register a sack on either quarterback. The rushing game, however, looks better on paper than it did in the game. The Bulldogs’ most success on the ground came on runs to the perimeter, relying on speed rather than strength. As head coach Kirby Smart continues to tinker with the line’s rotation, one has to wonder about the effect it has on the chemistry of the unit.
The defensive line was a force against South Carolina. The Gamecocks only averaged 3.1 yards-per-carry on Saturday, and most of the rushes were blown up before the running back could get to the second level of the defense. The passing game was consistently disrupted, too. Quarterback Spencer Rattler was repeatedly thrown out of rhythm by a pass-rusher bearing down on him, forcing him to bail out of the pocket. The concern, though, is that Georgia failed to notch a sack for the second time. The defensive line has been dominant, but they’ve failed to finish plays.
Trezman Marshall made himself felt in Columbia, impacting the game in several ways throughout the afternoon. Marshall hauled in a fourth-quarter interception and stopped a rushing attempt for a loss of yards. Georgia dialed up the blitz packages against South Carolina, and Smael Mondon flashed his speed on those looks, getting after Rattler on several occasions. Jamon Dumas-Johnson rounded out the linebacker core, leading the team in tackles for the game.
True freshman Malaki Starks continues to make plays for the secondary, bringing down his second interception of the season. If Starks continues at this pace, he could find himself as a permanent starter on this defense. Elsewhere, Dan Jackson added to the takeaways, pulling in his first interception of the year. Jackson, a walk-on, is one of Starks’ primary competitors for the safety position opposite Christopher Smith. The secondary’s lone lapse of the game was a critical one; Luke Doty connected with Traevon Kenion for a touchdown pass with just 53 seconds left in the game. That was the first touchdown surrendered by the Bulldogs defense this season, one of the few blemishes on their near-perfect record.
Georgia’s special teams unit was, for the most part, mistake-free on Saturday. Jack Podlesny was perfect on extra point attempts, and hit his only field goal try during the game. His backup, Jared Zirkel, also made a field goal in the fourth quarter. Brett Thorson appeared for a pair of punts, though the results weren’t exactly positive. Georgia was penalized for an illegal formation on the first and allowed a 21-yard return on the second. Georgia doesn’t punt often, so that’s something to watch going forward.