When the No. 3-ranked Georgia Bulldogs take the field for the first time on Saturday against the Austin Peay Governors, the Bulldog defense will be pitted against an offense that could provide challenging looks.
The Georgia defense will be expected to dominate the Governors, but in order to do so, the Bulldogs will have to stay sharp on the many dimensions of the Austin Peay offense.
Under head coach Will Healy, the Governors incorporate a run-heavy offense with elements of the option and two dual-threat quarterbacks. In Healy’s second season at the helm in 2017, Austin Peay averaged 258.8 rushing yards per game and over 5 yards per carry.
"The number one thing is that they have a lot of elements of the option,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “Both quarterbacks do a great job of running the ball … They have a plethora of offensive sets and motions, and they do a very good job offensively of trying to keep you off balance. I think we have a good physical front. I'm not saying they're going to come in and dominate and be able to run the ball every down on us, but I think what they can do is get explosive plays.”
Austin Peay has a variety of prolific rushers to throw at Georgia, even with the suspension of running back Kentel Williams. The Governors still have 2017 leading rusher Ahmaad Tanner and quarterbacks Jeremiah Oatsvall and JaVaughn Craig as weapons in the running game.
Despite the heavy emphasis on the ground, one of the main concerns for Smart is the Governors’ ability to use the option to eventually beat Georgia’s young secondary on the perimeter.
“If you don't play the option right, which is not something we practice against every day, it can become a problem for you,” Smart said. “That's why they score so many points because teams get in trouble and don't look at the right thing. And when you're ever dealing with a young secondary, sometimes that can happen to you."
Georgia, obviously, played elite defense last season and finished sixth nationally in total defense, allowing 294.9 yards per game.
However, with the departures of the likes of defensive mainstays Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and Dominick Sanders among others, the new-look Bulldog defense will need to be on the same page in order to turn in an impressive performance on Saturday against a tricky offensive scheme. But the Bulldogs are welcoming the challenge of facing a different offensive system to kick off the year.
"It'll teach us how to be focused, teach us to play within the framework of the defense that we are preparing for this week,” junior defensive lineman Julian Rochester said. “I feel like it's going to be a challenge for us to just stay in our gaps and do what we are are supposed to do this week, so it's going to be really good.”