When you think about the University of Georgia’s football program, often the first thing that comes to mind is “defense.” Athletic, fast, aggressive defenders at every level that have quickly placed the Bulldogs on college football’s throne as we approach November. The No. 1-ranked team in the nation, Georgia hangs their hat on their ability to dominate opposing offenses. A flip of the script compared to the majority of college football’s elite who opt to outscore teams on a weekly basis via a high-octane offensive vehicle, as Georgia eyes its first-ever CFP National Title, their continued defensive prowess will remain paramount if head coach Kirby Smart looks to secure his ticket to the dance in January.
But, as good as the Bulldogs have been defensively—and the names of Nakobe Dean and Jordan Davis have become household tongue for the college-football-crazed—two of their most productive impact starters have come on the opposite side of the football.
Following a torn ACL by all-everything wideout George Pickens, who was looked upon to become one of college football’s most dominant perimeter threats, the Bulldogs were left with a massive hole in their receivers room. And while you’d assume Georgia would have no issue recruiting their region's elite, it was an issue that quickly came to light following Pickens’ injury.
A lack of depth and playmaking ability outside of the running backs room quickly surrounded Smart’s unit with questions aplenty in the ever-competitive SEC. The issues migrated to the quarterbacks room, where JT Daniels was looked upon to captain the ship, only to suffer a lat injury in Georgia’s 62-0 rout of Vanderbilt nearly a month ago, welcoming Stetson Bennett IV to the front of the line. In Daniels’ absence, it would be an understatement to compliment Bennett’s performance as “excellent.” He’s been superb mastheading the Georgia offense, leading the Bulldogs to three consecutive top-25 victories, with the latest coming via a 250-yard, three-touchdown performance against No. 11-ranked Kentucky.
While his impressive performances haven’t gone unnoticed, more importantly, they’ve welcomed the workload from wideout Ladd McConkey and true freshman tight end Brock Bowers, who have quickly become two of Georgia’s most relied upon offensive weapons.
“He is everything right about college football,” Smart said of McConkey.
A 6-foot redshirt freshman out of nearby Chatsworth, Georgia, McConkey took the path less traveled to his current offensive role with the Bulldogs. A scout team member last fall for Smart’s group, injuries suffered to projected slot men in Kearis Jackson (who’s recovering from knee surgery) and Dominick Blaylock (ACL surgery) saw the lightly recruited McConkey skyrocket up the depth chart. With 17 catches for 195 yards and two scores in seven weeks, McConkey has quickly become the Bulldogs’ most reliable pair of hands, and one of Bennett’s favorite targets in Todd Monken’s offense. And while his numbers fail to compare to the likes of college football’s top targets, his presence on the No. 1 team in the nation speaks volumes toward Smart, and specifically, Monken, whose ability to tailor his offense toward his athletes’ skill sets, no matter how many stars they had out of high school, has resulted in the Bulldogs offense scoring 30 or more points in six consecutive weeks.
Bowers is the next big thing at the tight end position. Highlighted within an offense that flashes 13 personnel (1 RB, 3 TEs) Bowers is currently on pace to shatter every single-season tight-end record in Georgia’s program history. And while the list of prestigious in-line talents remains minimal in comparison to other programs around the country, names in Randy McMichael and Benjamin Watson are common to even the casual NFL fan, and as a true freshman, Bowers is doing something the combined 26-year NFL vets failed to do during their time in Athens. Through seven games, Bowers has been dominant, totaling 25 catches for 416 yards and 7 total touchdowns. And with five regular-season games remaining, along with a deep playoff run likely in Georgia’s future, Orson Charles’ record of 45 catches for 574 yards in 2011 will be obliterated by the time Thanksgiving arrives.
Through six weeks, Georgia hadn’t played in many close games outside of their narrow defeat of Clemson in Week 1. However, up seven on the Wildcats in the second half, it was obvious where Bennett had his sights set to put distance between the high-powered Wildcats offense.
The alignment in which Bowers releases from the LOS is great stuff from Monken. Lined up in the backfield as an H-back, Bowers initially fires off the snap as if he is going to chip the linebacker, only to kick into gear before running a wheel route along the boundary. A sneaky athlete in space, Bowers’ 4.5 speed at 6-foot-4 with elite vertical prowess and ball skills gave Kentucky’s defense fits all afternoon. The first of what would be a two-touchdown effort, Bowers’ progression into one of not just the SEC’s premier pass-catching talents, but one of the country’s premier aerial threats has had many placing a red dot beside the former 4-star recruit with future draft cycles in mind.
A campaign in which Georgia entered with an abundance of questions in the passing game, the arrivals of McConkey and Bowers have introduced the top-ranked Bulldogs as college football’s clear team to beat. With all cylinders firing on both sides of the football, Smart’s group is playing with their hair on fire, and there’s no sign of them slowing down.