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You asked, we answered. Evaluating roster depth and more after UGA’s SEC opener

‘Good is not gonna be good enough’: Kirby Smart speaks after Georgia’s 30-6 win over Vanderbilt

Georgia Bulldog head coach Kirby Smart speaks to the media after the Bulldogs' 30-6 win over Vanderbilt August 31, 2019, in Nashville.
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Georgia Bulldog head coach Kirby Smart speaks to the media after the Bulldogs' 30-6 win over Vanderbilt August 31, 2019, in Nashville.

Stop worrying.

If you’re one to over-analyze a game’s result and suddenly have concerns about Georgia after its 30-6 season-opening win, maybe those should be calmed down a bit. Georgia won.

Let’s clarify this, too: Georgia didn’t look dominant, but it did dominate Vanderbilt. The game never wavered from the Bulldogs’ grasp. That second half was pretty stagnant though, I’ll agree.

While making rounds around Vanderbilt Stadium for postgame interviews, some displeasure was evident. Georgia didn’t click like it wanted — even for opening-game standards — and expects much more explosive success. Nonetheless, and here’s the cliche, all wins count the same regardless of margin.

“I think that you have to be careful how much you delve into one game,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said Monday. “We’ve got an opportunity to get better at everything we did not do well, including the things we did do well.”

No. 3 Georgia has a couple of chances to try and execute against a lesser level of competition — Murray State and Arkansas State — before the primetime showdown against Notre Dame.

Before then, let’s take one last evaluation of the SEC-opening win at Vanderbilt by taking some questions. Welcome to the “Bulldog Box.”

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Georgia running back D’Andre Swift (7) is tackled after a first down run during the Bulldogs’ game against Vanderbilt Saturday night. Jason Vorhees jvorhees@macon.com

Reggie Pope: Which position group has the highest ceiling this season?

After one look at the roster, the volume of talent and depth at Georgia is better than it has been in quite some time. Most of the scholarship players from freshmen to seniors possess a talent that could be useful to the Bulldogs this season — obviously, that’s not needed from everybody and the new redshirt rule (playing in four games while still maintaining status) allows teams to tinker around with the best fit.

Each position group has a set of players who flash potential, from Eric Stokes in the secondary to Matt Landers at the receiver spot. But my so-called highest ceiling award has to go to running backs.

The term “RBU” has become an overused cliche, but Georgia has the position room to fit that term. D’Andre Swift, the assumed leader, had some frustrations built up after averaging nine yards per carry against the Commodores. Wait, excuse me? Well, he wanted 11 yards per carry and wants to take a step above where he finished a season ago. Along with Swift, Brian Herrien received a starting nod and presents a different look. James Cook looked like Mr. Motion and gave the defenders many different challenges.

If this group continues to grow, the Bulldogs can place the run game on its proverbial back even more than before.

Side note: I also like what I’ve seen from the outside linebackers. Azeez Ojulari, now healthy, is a specimen coming off the edge. Freshman Nolan Smith and JUCO transfer Jermaine Johnson flashed a time or two in their debuts.

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Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis celebrates a victory over Vanderbilt in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. Curtis Compton AP

Jacob Mason: (Are) the lack of sacks concerning moving forward or was this just a conservative defensive look?

No, to both. Georgia allowed six points to Vanderbilt and that’s what led the amount of frustration. Crazy, right? Much of that probably had to do with a rash of penalties toward the end of the first half, and some all-around sloppy play that might’ve naturally made some scratch their head.

I thought Georgia did a fairly OK job with its linebacker corps and making it tough for Vanderbilt quarterback Riley Neal. But Neal ran the ball more often than expected and didn’t allow the sack numbers to escalate, despite Ball State transfer Deuce Wallace being known as the dual-threat. Smart said there were busts, and Ojulari wasn’t too pleased by those miscues, either.

“We have to play better at every position,” Smart said. “Defensive line, secondary, tackling (and) communication.”

For a conservative defensive scheme, not sure that’s it either. They’re not going to hold back on getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, especially when you hear the words “havoc rate” for a month. They wanted an uptick in that pressure, and maybe a turnover or two to go with it. Georgia’s probably more likely to scale back offensively with play-calling (which it did, this isn’t the full James Coley) rather than ease up defensively.

Defensive tackle Jordan Davis indicated it, too. He said the havoc rate — based on a mathematical equation in which it’s hard to find the exact details of — was at 11%. Georgia prefers it to be around 20%.

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Georgia tailback Brian Herrien (35) during the Bulldogs’ game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Chamberlain Smith Georgia Sports Communications

Biscuit Salad: What’s your take on Herrien starting over Swift?

Mr. Salad, wherever your true identity might lay, I appreciate your Twitter game and get a laugh of your avatar as a boiled egg. Nice work. Thanks for following along, by the way.

I heard a few rumblings that Herrien would get the start, and my eyes opened up for a couple seconds. My first thought was “Huh? Over Swift, no way.” The surprise was confirmed as he walked out on the game’s first offensive snap. I asked him about it postgame, and Herrien said it was decided two weeks into camp and that the rotation is “part of football.”

I almost feel like there’s more significance than that, though. Maybe it was a senior send-off type of thing, but that’s not something for Smart to do. He hasn’t stopped talking about Herrien as preseason camp came to a close. He loves the guy, and frankly doesn’t care that he didn’t pick up the rankings from recruiting services.

Smart added that he thought Herrien was as good as the other five-stars out there. Words like “violent” and “worker” have been used repetitively as descriptions for Herrien. So, maybe Georgia does like him as much. We’ll see how it transpires as the season lives on.

“Everyone wants to see each other win no matter who is starting,” Swift said Monday. “Everyone is going to get the amount of touches needed to win the game.”

Herrien is a good dude, though, and deserving of a bit of spotlight after his journey. He signed late after National Signing Day in 2016 after some academic troubles, and could’ve left as a graduate transfer after last season. Herrien has been through quite a bit, but now gets his chance.

Chase H: What differences did you notice between last year’s offensive scheme and what was shown at Vanderbilt?

I think one of them was evident from the first drive — motion and a lot of it. Someone always moved around, and that’s a more-exciting style of play that serves as Coley’s so-called “juice.”

I thought things might’ve been a bit more creative, but Georgia still stuck to its power run game and trusted the strength of its offensive line. It’ll be interesting to see how that’s altered as more of the playbook is opened up, especially in short-yardage where the Bulldogs might’ve remained a bit stubborn.

It might’ve also been intentional to play a bit vanilla and not show much on tape. Coley should reveal more of that against Notre Dame and when SEC play starts.

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Brandon Sudge has covered Georgia athletics as a correspondent for The Telegraph since 2016. He focuses on telling the deeper story within football, basketball, gymnastics and other sports. You can follow Brandon on Twitter at @brandonsudge.
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