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The Key to Unlocking Georgia's Vertical Passing Game

Being explosive on offense is the goal; Georgia now has the tools to be even more explosive in 2022.

One of the biggest knocks on the Georgia program under Kirby Smart is the vertical passing game, or the lack thereof. The knock doesn't just come from those in the media; it is also talked about within the fanbase, as fans admire the offenses ran at other elite programs such as Alabama, Ohio State, and Oklahoma under Lincoln Riley.

This admiration is also why many fans were hesitant and vocal about their opposition to starting Stetson Bennett at quarterback over JT Daniels. Daniels, now at West Virginia, started the season at quarterback versus Clemson before consecutive injuries saw Stetson Bennett unseat him. 

As a quarterback, Daniels represented what many wanted out of Georgia's offense, and it certainly fit well with what offensive coordinator Todd Monken had done in the past. A strong-arm, pocket quarterback who could vertically attack the defense downfield. Add in the fact that Daniels was a former five-star coming out of high school, which added to the attraction of fans. 

On the other hand, Bennett is often labeled as a "game-manager" and does not get enough credit for his arm talent or his arm strength. His small stature limits him in the pocket, but he makes up for it with his mobility. 

The former walk-on quietly almost threw for 3,000 yards (2,862 yards), with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That is not including the 259 yards and one touchdown Bennett picked up with his legs. As for the criticism of not advancing the ball down the field, Bennett averaged 10-yards per attempt. 

What makes Bennett's number more impressive is that he did it without having his number one receiver George Pickens for the first eleven games of the year, and even after his return to the field, Pickens was limited. Adding to the offseason excitement, Georgia returns most of its production at receiver, minus Jermaine Burton and George Pickens. 

The loss of the top two deep threats on Georgia's roster may look daunting when it comes to replacing those guys. Yet, Georgia has accumulated talent over the years to help reduce the burden of those losses. One of the only things that have held that talent back is injuries. 

Looking back at Georgia's 2020 recruiting class, the top three receivers taken in that class struggled with staying on the field. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint suffered a season-ending leg injury in his freshman season and missed time in 2021. 

Arian Smith, the second highest-rated receiver in the class behind Rosemy-Jacksaint, has also struggled to stay on the field. The Lakeland, Florida, product played in four games his freshman season and four this past season. A wrist injury saw him miss action early in the season before a broken leg sidelined him for the rest of the season. 

With Burton no longer in Athens, following his transfer to Alabama, Georgia will need one of the two guys mentioned above to step up. Adonai Mitchell and Ladd McConkey currently project as the two outside starting receivers, with Kearis Jackson likely getting the majority of the reps in the slot. However, Jackson's snaps may be reduced with a stacked tight room, all of which can and will get moved around.

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On paper, looking at the pass-catchers, the one thing that Georgia needs is an explosive deep-threat. George Pickens and Jermaine Burton brought that to Georgia in two separate ways. Pickens did it as a jump-ball receiver, while Burton's route running and yards after catch ability shined. 

Mitchell and Rosemy-Jacksaint bring the necessary frame to become Georgia's jump-ball receiver potentially. While redshirt sophomore Arian Smith could be one of the most explosive playmakers on Georgia's roster. 

Smith averages 37.6 yards a reception for his career with a limited sample size of five receptions. Three out of those five receptions resulted in touchdowns. Injuries are the main problem with the dual-sport athlete, who was also a member of Georgia's track and field team. 

Smith recorded a 4.29 forty-yard dash in high school and has shown his speed translates on the field. Head coach Kirby Smart has described his speed as an "elite trait" and something that will undoubtedly get him on the field when healthy, which is the major question. 

Making the most out of prospects like Smith, who possess unmatchable speed or another "elite trait," separates Alabama and Ohio State from the rest when it comes to developing wide receivers. On paper, Georgia has all the tools to possess an explosive vertical passing game, and redshirt sophomore Arian Smith provides the skillset to unlock it.

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