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Thursday February 2nd, 2023 3:37AM

No. 3 Georgia shows deep offense ready to play new lead role

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Even when keeping No. 11 Oregon out of the end zone in a dominant opening win, No. 3 Georgia proved its offense is ready to lead.

Last week's 49-3 rout of Oregon was a showcase for the Bulldogs' depth — and its new attacking, pass-first style.

No one seems certain whether the opener was an indicator of what to expect in 2022, including in Saturday’s home game against Samford.

“We’re still trying to find our identity,” wide receiver Kearis Jackson said Monday. “That was just the first game. ... It’s just one game. We just have to be able to be consistent. If we can keep being consistent, then maybe that will be our identity.”

Oregon was held to only a field goal, though Georgia allowed 21 first downs and 313 yards. The defense, which must replace five first-round picks from this year's NFL draft, can't be expected to dominate as it did during the national title run last season.

But a deep offense showed it can take some pressure off the defense during the transition. Georgia showed impressive depth at running back, wide receiver and tight end while quarterback Stetson Bennett accounted for three touchdowns.

For one game, at least, Georgia was content to rely on its passing game. Bennett completed 25 of 31 passes for a career-high 368 yards and two touchdowns. Backup Carson Beck also was efficient, passing for 71 yards with a score.

The Bulldogs passed for 439 yards and rushed for only 132.

“Who’s to say we don’t run it 40 times next week?” Bennett asked after the game.

Running back Kenny McIntosh was the team's leading receiver with nine catches for 117 yards. He ran for only 18 yards but enjoyed being able to run after his catches.

“It was real fun,” McIntosh said. “I love catching the ball, not only running the ball but catching the ball. ... It was real fun to be able to run with the ball in my hand like a receiver, a lot of fun.”

Kendall Milton led Georgia with 50 yards rushing. Daijun Edwards and freshman Branson Robinson also played behind McIntosh.

Georgia scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions and averaged 9.2 yards per play. The impressive win caused some to wonder if the Bulldogs should have been ranked higher in the preseason Top 25.

It was no surprise that coach Kirby Smart offered words of restraint Monday.

“You go to the tape to watch it and you think you played really good, and you see glaring mistakes and errors that you made that you got away with,” Smart said. “It brings you back to reality really quick on Saturday night and Sunday morning when you watch that tape.”

Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken will be challenged each week to use the depth chart at tight end. Starter Brock Bowers, who had a 29-yard gain on one of his two catches, is regarded as one of the nation's top tight ends.

Massive Darnell Washington (6-foot-7, 270 pounds) showed his athleticism when he jumped over an Oregon defender following of his two catches. LSU transfer Arik Gilbert and freshman Oscar Delp also played behind Bowers.

“Certainly, they’ve got two good players playing in front of them,” Smart said when asked about Gilbert and Delp. “We think the sky’s the limit for both those guys.”

Seven players had two or more catches. Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell combined for nine catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

“Having Stetson Bennett as our quarterback the whole fall camp really gave us confidence as a receiver group,” Jackson said. "Those two guys were able to showcase their abilities and especially how they make plays.”

___

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