It’s the latest kickoff yet this season. Students and many fans will be excited about the night game. That this is Homecoming though takes a bit of the shine off of the late start. Homecoming weekend is important for many student organizations but also for many older fans for whom the late night will be a hardship or just impossible. That’s why Homecoming kickoffs are typically so much earlier. The new experience of a Homecoming game in prime time will be interesting for sure, and you can bet that many groups planning Homecoming activities and tailgates are scrambling right now to deal with the later start.
The saddest part is that the advanced stats only go two quarters deep. Nearly the entire second half was garbage time.
Georgia’s run defense played fairly well. There were breakdowns of course like Henry’s touchdown run, but on the whole the secondary had a much worse day. (This isn’t shown in the stats, but I thought Georgia did an excellent job at sniffing out the few jet sweeps Alabama tried.)
Though the teams were about equally poor on third down, Alabama had a higher overall success rate on all downs. That means they did their damage largely on first or second down.
If it wasn’t the roughest passing performance since Hines Ward was thrown to the wolves against Alabama in 1995, it’s right up there.
Wunderlich observes that Georgia “doesn’t have a really great receiver either outside of Mitchell.” That’s not a bombshell – with Scott-Wesley out, it’s been up to guys like Davis and McKenzie to take on larger roles. Godwin is promising and has already moved into that second spot. The glaring omission here is the absence of tights ends and fullbacks. Georgia’s depth at the other skill positions was supposed to mitigate an inexperienced group of receivers. Welch was the only player from this group even targeted in the first half. It’s possible that Georgia had to keep the tight ends in for pass protection, but Alabama rarely brought pressure, relying on coverage to force Lambert to check down or scramble.
The bit at the end about Georgia’s talent not syncing up is a good one and something we’ve dealt with since Stafford, Moreno, and Green played on the same offense in 2008. Unfortunately that’s not going to begin to change until February (and then the next February…). The question now is whether Georgia can overcome those deficiencies so clearly exposed by Alabama to avoid a tailspin and get the team back on track towards its goals.
First, the only good news from the game: Nick Chubb kept his 100-yard streak alive. Moving on…
It took almost exactly one minute of game time for things to go south. Georgia was able to counter Alabama’s opening field goal, but they couldn’t muster an answer to Henry’s touchdown run. Within a minute, a blocked punt, another three-and-out, and a deep touchdown pass turned a close contest into a 21-point deficit that might as well have been twice that. Georgia was out of answers and had no effective adjustment or response to that second quarter blow.
When you set a game up as a measuring stick, such a decisive outcome lends itself to some pretty decisive and absolute conclusions. I don’t think this is an end-of-the-road type of game (as opposed to the 2009 Tennessee game). Alabama is an outstanding team that was simply better than Georgia in many areas. They’ve recruited better. As Jeremy Pruitt said postgame, Alabama’s eight years into things that Georgia is just now starting to do. As tough as it is to think about two days removed from the loss, some of the changes made in the past 12 to 18 months need some time to take hold.
But that’s longer-term stuff, and this game was about more than that. Opportunities were missed early in the game to put pressure on Alabama. Mitchell was open on the game’s first play. Outstanding field position following Alabama’s fumble was squandered. Even a high-percentage pass to the fullback wasn’t completed. A questionable penalty set Georgia up with the game’s intitial first-and-goal. Was Alabama fortunate to get to the second quarter with a tie score? Yes and no – yes in that Georgia misfired on several chances to go up early but no in that Alabama was a very active force in limiting what Georgia was able to do with those opportunities.
So from the beginning Georgia’s execution – at quarterback, in the secondary, at receiver, on special teams, and especially on the sideline – was lacking. Teams that beat Alabama make those plays and take advantages of the few openings the Tide allow. Alabama on the other hand made their own opportunities and cashed in on them with several explosive plays.
It’s not worth going into the bullet points – they’re all variations of the same thing. The more important thing now is to avoid letting this poor performance become a second loss. They were able to do that in 2012, but it took some exceptional leadership to get there. Does this Georgia team have that kind of rebound in it?
While Hurricane Jaoquin dominates headlines, its exact track won’t have much to do with a forecast for some heavy rainfall in east Georgia over the weekend. We won’t go full weather nerd here, but the message is to be prepared for rain during travel, tailgate, and the game.
This is the kind of game where Athens is overrun with people who don’t even plan on going to the game, and the wet weather will unfortunately restrict what was already expected to be tight parking. Free parking at the Intramural Fields will be limited due to soggy turf, and that will eliminate at least 2,000 parking spots.
The forecast and the parking situation lead to the same point: allow plenty of time for travel and for finding a spot to park. Arrive early. Spend some money in an Athens restaurant or shop if you need to dry out. And don’t let a little rain keep you from making Sanford Stadium red and loud from pregame on.
I won’t even begin to guess how rain will affect the teams. There’s conventional wisdom about it favoring the running game, but then I have visions of Shannon Mitchell catching 79 passes in the 1993 Cocktail Party.
Outside linebackers. They’re the strength of the defense and, after the tailbacks, comprise one of the deepest and most talented positions on the team. Having Bellamy back will help. Each of the linebackers has had his moments so far, and Jordan Jenkins had as good of a game at Vanderbilt as any defender has had this year. But if there’s a moment for the entire group to elevate its play, this is it. It will be a tough challenge – Alabama’s line has only given up five sacks through four games including just one against an outstanding Ole Miss front, and they pave the way for the only tailback duo in the SEC that can rival Georgia’s.
It might not even be accurate to include Floyd with this group. His role has been so varied that he’s spent as much, if not more, time at ILB or star than on the edge. He’ll have the ability to make an impact in this game too whether it’s covering someone like O.J. Howard or as a pass rusher.
So the question: can this unit affect a game like this? We’re talking an impact on the level of Jarvis Jones and Jordan Jenkins against Florida in 2012. Over the summer Seth Emerson wrote, “Jenkins and Floyd have to hear the time ticking on their chance to become stars.” There’s no better opportunity than in the biggest regular season SEC game. Carter is younger but has a related challenge: can he become more of an every down OLB than a fearsome pass rush specialist? The first job of the group will be to contain those outstanding tailbacks and keep them from getting into space. If they can manage that, they’ll have the opportunity to go after Coker and affect the game with the pass rush. We don’t expect another five-turnover game from Alabama, but effective pressure can lead to some takeaway opportunities.
Tight ends / fullbacks. Fullback Christian Payne’s injury changes things. Georgia’s base runs out of the I-formation rely on the fullback, and Payne’s absence leaves only Quayvon Hicks. Hicks of course is more than capable, but he’s been an inconsistent blocker. He’ll have to be in top form for Georgia’s best running plays to work.
To support Hicks, we could also expect 2-TE sets that use an offset tight end as a lead blocker rather than (or in addition to) a fullback. Freshman Jackson Harris has had an impressive September allowing coaches to use combinations of he, Blazevich, and Rome. Whether on inside power/counter runs or sweeps to the outside, Georgia’s tight ends are essential to the running game.
We’ve seen both tight ends and fullbacks involved in the passing game too. Pass protection will become more important against a quality Alabama front seven, but these players have proven to be effective receivers also especially out of play-action. At times Blazevich can be flexed out to help spread out that front seven and hopefully open some things up both running and passing.
Specialists. It’s cliched to lump special teams into posts like this, and we know that Georgia’s coverage units in particular will be in the spotlight. But in a game that’s projected to be close, things like starting field position matter more. Grabbing three points when given the opportunity could provide the final margin. Alabama’s specialists have had their issues with consistency (as have Georgia’s), and either group having a good game will give its team an advantage.
It’s a tough subject to bring up, but we still don’t know much about Marshall Morgan’s mental state after his accidental involvement in last week’s tragic injury to Devon Gales. His next kick will be the first since that play. From the Brad Gaines story we know that being on the other end of the hit can understandably affect a player’s mindset.
Returners will also be under the gun. Bama’s ArDarius Stewart fumbled the opening kickoff against Alabama. Isaiah McKenzie had an adventurous afternoon against Southern. Both return units are capable of big plays, but any mistakes would be a disaster.
The Super Detergent Salesmen from Tusculoosa will visit the Sanford Kennels to try out a new Flea and Tick Soap on Vince Dooley’s K-9s, and if the Dogs ain’t ready for this wash job they could get a sudsing they’ll remember for a long time. The Water Walker from Alabama is famous for puttin’ a hurtin’ on the Bulldogs, and he has the equipment to do it again, but the Bear might be surprised by the new Bulldog Breed he’ll run into on his trip to Athens. The Red Clay Hounds are hungry and fond of Elephant meat, so I’m inclined to think the Pachyderms will get lightened up considerably in their hind quarters. Leonard’s Loser: Bama by 7
Chris Brown of Grantland and Smart Football wrote during the summer of 2013 about an emerging approach to offense called “packaged plays”. Offenses combined options for run and pass within a single play that could lead to very different decisions and outcomes based on what the defense showed. The concept allows for offenses to push tempo by keeping play calls simple (or even unchanged) while keeping the defense guessing. Brown illustrated with just one play from Ole Miss that included all of the following:
Ole Miss combined a five-yard hitch route to the single receiver to the left, an inside zone, a quarterback read-option keep, and a receiver screen to the offense’s right. And as a final wrinkle, their tight end ran an “arc” release to block an outside linebacker.
We’ve seen these plays spread throughout college football and even the NFL, and variants like the pop pass are some of the most well-known / infamous / notorious plays in college football’s recent history. Now it appears to be Georgia’s turn. Whether you call it a “packaged play” or an “RPO” (run-pass option) in Schottenheimer’s NFL-flavored playbook, the idea is the same. Of course as the Senator points out, Lambert’s lack of mobility reduces (but doesn’t entirely eliminate) the QB run option, but Georgia’s variety is more likely to be a handoff combined with the option for a quick slant or WR screen – exactly what we saw against South Carolina.
Most importantly, our prayers are with Devon Gales, his family, and the Southern community. There was some encouraging news on Sunday, but it’s telling that reports are mentioning movement only in the upper body. He has a long fight ahead, but we know that the treatment and rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries has come a long way. The Georgia program has gone the extra mile in this situation, and we’d expect nothing less.
Not much to take from the game itself. Georgia got pushed around on the line of scrimmage in the first half, woke up for the third quarter, and emptied the bench for the last 15 minutes. The Dawgs got off to a quick start thanks in large part to field position, but there was a bit of fool’s gold there. Georgia wasn’t effective running the ball at any point in the half, racking up just 35 yards on the ground in the first half.
The message delivered at halftime had its desired effect as Chubb equaled Georgia’s first half rushing total on the first three plays of the second half. The Dawgs rebounded with 226 second half rushing yards and scored 28 points in the third quarter. Greyson Lambert, meanwhile, had another extremely efficient day with 9-for-10 passing and 14.6 yards per attempt.
Just a few more points before we move on to Alabama.
Kickoffs: You can tell there was some work done during the week. There were a fair number of touchbacks and some nice tackles early in the return. Even when a very capable return man got into space, Georgia usually had it contained. Still some things to work on but an improvement from South Carolina.
McKenzie took a few more risks – maybe it was a casual attitude towards the opponent, maybe just a bad day. His first return was a dangerous Family Circus-style jog around the field for an eventual four-yard return. His last return turned out even worse. There was some interference as the ball landed near Briscoe engaged with a defender, and no one seemed quite sure what to do. Maybe this is the trade-off for the “human joystick” plays, but in some situations there’s no shame in a fair catch.
It wasn’t just the offensive line that looked sluggish. Georgia recorded only one sack, and that came in the fourth quarter. The Dawgs tried a few blitzes, and pressure was a big part of ending an early Southern drive that ended with a missed field goal. It was a fairly quiet day for the outside linebackers – with Bellamy injured, Carter and Jenkins combined for only four tackles, two QB hits, and no sacks or tackles for loss.
There were only two Georgia penalties, but they were costly. Jenkins lined up offsides, giving him a head start on the hit that led to an interception. Houston was too deep in the backfield on a beautiful touchdown pass to Mitchell, but Malcolm scored two plays later anyway.
Mitchell is looking like his 2011 and 2012 self not just in terms of health and explosiveness but also dependability. He was one of the top receivers in the SEC as a true freshman in terms of catch rate, and he was a nice security blanket for a young quarterback to have. Lambert and Mitchell are really starting to click.
Again, the coaches gave Lambert some quick passes to get comfortable, but he was as sharp as he was a week ago. Georgia was able to lean on the passing game before the run blocking kicked into gear.
We were trying to think of the last time we saw Georgia go five-wide with no one in the backfield. It’s not a common thing for sure. The interesting thing about that look: Georgia can show that spread look with five receivers split out and without changing personnel come back on the next play with a tighter ace formation as Blazevich moves back next to the tackle and Michel returns to the backfield. That’s a difficult defensive adjustment if Georgia’s pushing the tempo.
The downside of the shortened ULM game was the missed opportunity to play even more freshman than Georgia managed to play in three quarters. They got their chance against Southern. Jayson Stanley cracked the box score with a couple of catches. Faton Bauta is no freshman, but we were glad to see him get his first snaps of the season. (Would have been nice to have seen Bauta run the ball himself.) The defensive reserves had a nice moment late in the game forcing a turnover on downs after McKenzie’s fumble. Trenton Thompson and D’Andre Walker punctuated the defense’s stand with a fourth down sack.
It seemed unfair to put Trenton Thompson in. “Hey, tired and beaten opponent…we’ll empty our bench now. That guy? Just a 5-star prospect with incredible speed for his size and position.” Thompson’s emphatic tackle was the cherry on top of the South Carolina game, but we got to see a lot more from him on Saturday. He’ll have a more significant debut on a bigger stage soon, but this was our first good look at a bright future.
Brice Ramsey actually ended up attempting more passes than Lambert and finished 11-for-14. Two of those incompletions were nearly interceptions – an overthrown pass that went through the safety’s hands and then an underthrown deep ball that fell short of a sliding defender. He did a good job though of running the second team offense and getting the ball to a diverse set of receivers that included Keith Marshall, Glenn Welch, Jayson Stanley, and Kenneth Towns.
Georgia’s October 10th game at Tennessee will be at 3:30 on CBS. It will be Georgia’s third appearance in the SEC’s marquee slot. Another scheduled CBS broadcast for the Florida game means that at least half of Georgia’s SEC games will be on CBS. Three remaining SEC games (Missouri, Kentucky, and Auburn) haven’t been picked up by any network yet.
I wanted to see how Jeremy Pruitt and the defense would approach the South Carolina game after giving up 38 points last year. But when the offense operates nearly flawlessly and puts up 52 points, it’s not exactly the best crucible in which to test the defense under pressure. Still, the defense had an important role in the big win – especially in the third quarter when Georgia blew it open.
Before the game fades away, I wanted to look at a specific situation Pruitt identified as a problem in 2014: second down.
The main problem, as (Pruitt) saw it, was South Carolina having too much success in second-and-long. There were a lot of long completions by the Gamecocks, many on second down, and Pruitt said there was only one “bust in the secondary”: The second play of the game.
You don’t have to dig deep into the 2015 stats to know that Georgia didn’t give up big plays on any down. South Carolina’s longest gain of the day was for 17 yards, and they had no plays longer than 15 yards. The Gamecocks had limited weapons relative to last season, especially at quarterback and tailback once Wilds went out, but the defense still had to contend with Jerell Adams, Pharoh Cooper, and a playcaller who has had some success against Pruitt.
The Gamecocks started out fairly well on second down, getting at least six yards on three of their first four attempts. Pharoh Cooper’s longest gain of the day came on the game’s second play: a 13-yard run to the left side. Orth completed two second down passes on South Carolina’s second drive that led to a field goal. That was as much second down success as they’d have until the fourth quarter with the game decided.
If South Carolina had the slightest bit of success on second down in the first half, Georgia shut it down in the third quarter. South Carolina faced five second down plays in the third quarter. They had an incompletion and four runs that totaled just seven yards. The Georgia defense took complete control of the game in this quarter and that included second down.
The Dawgs allowed a total of 81 yards on second down Saturday and only 19 through the air. It happens that both South Carolina touchdowns came on second down, but those were short-yardage carries.
This year’s South Carolina game surely gave Pruitt some different things to work on, but he has to be much happier with how the defense prevented long (or even moderate) gains on all downs and improved in the area with which Pruitt was most frustrated in Columbia last year.
That was fun. Every so often Sanford Stadium gives us one of these games – Clemson 1991…51-7…the 2007 blackout…2013 LSU – and Saturday’s trouncing of South Carolina belongs up there. Whether or not it was Steve Spurrier’s last visit to Athens, this one will leave a mark, and Georgia fans will remember this game for a long time.
We have to start with Greyson Lambert. Nitpicking Lambert’s game must be what it feels like to criticize dishes on a Top Chef finale. Even the incompletion wasn’t a bad pass – Blazevich was covered, and the throw was high enough so that only the taller tight end would catch it or no one would. We weren’t surprised to see Georgia come out throwing, but the ease of passing the ball quickly turned even the most “run the damn ball” spectator into an Air Raid advocate. We didn’t even bat an eye when Schottenheimer called the slant to Godwin rather than a run on 3rd and 2 on Georgia’s first touchdown drive.
Many of Lambert’s throws were easy enough to be extended handoffs. Georgia ran the same curl to Malcolm Mitchell on consecutive plays early in the second half. And why not? Those were free yards. Still, there were a few throws later in the game that required either a well-placed pass (over the top to Rome), a great catch (Mitchell’s back shoulder reception), or both (Davis along the sideline).
It’s a bit of a relief – these were ideal conditions, and Lambert ate it up. He’s not likely to see a rush that anemic, coverage that soft, and tackling that poor again. Had Lambert seen this defense and struggled, we’d have more to talk about. He’ll face more intense pressure, tighter coverage, and more difficult decisions. Little things that didn’t matter in this game will become more magnified in those situations, but for now it was Lambert’s night. He made the most of a great opportunity, and at least we know that the ceiling might be higher than we thought.
Kudos to Tyler who saw this gameplan coming a week ago. Even if the plan was obvious, sometimes you have to credit coaches for accepting what’s there for the taking rather than overcomplicating things. Georgia’s quick scoring drive to open the second half was a statement against a defense that hadn’t allowed a second half point all season.
It wasn’t even a question of opening up a vanilla offense. Certainly Georgia placed a heavier emphasis on the passing game, but these were largely versions of the same plays we’ve seen all season – power/counter/iso runs and play-action/slants/curls in the passing game. There wasn’t anything exotic; this was a straightforward offense executed well against a poor defense. Schottenheimer did well to identify and go after the weak spots, and he put Lambert in position to get into an early groove.
It was a treat to see attention paid to Georgia’s playmakers lead to tough choices for the SC defense. The defense keyed on Michel releasing into the flat, so Lambert found Jay Rome over the top on a flag route. Later the defense bit on Mitchell coming inside on a slant, and that left Michel open just long enough for a swing pass and a short touchdown.
ALERT THE MESSAGE BOARDS! Georgia was a woeful 25% on third downs. (Fun with stats!) I still can’t get over Georgia going from their opening drive to a 45-13 lead facing a single third down. That efficiency is as impressive as Lambert’s completion percentage. When I questioned the use of tempo last week, I hedged it by saying “they’ll have to become much more effective sustaining drives.” I’d say that was the case on Saturday. As it turned out, both teams ran under 70 plays – totals skewed by Georgia’s clock management for the last quarter and a half. You can run at whatever pace you like if you’re cashing in on nearly every drive.
You’d expect a good defense to have success against an offense with few weapons that was missing its starting quarterback and, eventually, its starting tailback. For the most part, Georgia’s defense did perform well. They allowed 17 points (the end-of-half FG was not on the defense), 7 of which came against the reserves. It wasn’t shutdown defense – South Carolina didn’t go three-and-out until the third quarter – but it didn’t have to be. South Carolina wasn’t going to put up a big number unless the Georgia defense allowed big plays, and the four-man rush kept everything contained to small chunks of yardage. South Carolina had only one play from scrimmage longer than 15 yards.
If there was a dim bright spot for South Carolina, it was the running of young backup quarterback Nunez. It’s possible that Georgia didn’t have much for him in their game plan, but Pruitt didn’t look especially happy after Nunez scored after a fairly easy drive in the fourth quarter. We’ll take the backup QB as South Carolina’s leading rusher any day, but it’s another data point to file away for when Georgia faces other mobile quarterbacks later on the schedule.
One player the Georgia game plan did account for was Pharoh Cooper. As expected, we saw Cooper line up seemingly everywhere. The Dawgs did an outstanding job against a dangerous playmaker: Cooper finished with only 34 yards rushing and one reception. His longest gain was 13 yards on South Carolina’s first possession, and he had a nice reception to move the chains on their first field goal drive. Other than those meager gains, he was a non-factor. With Wilds unfortunately injured in the first half, South Carolina’s biggest playmakers were neutralized.
Georgia’s edge rush wasn’t especially effective thanks to Brandon Shell and company more or less holding their own against Carter and Jenkins. The solution was to bring pressure inside against a freshman center, and we saw those twists and stunts play a big part in Georgia’s third quarter success. Even when the pressure didn’t get to the quarterback – Georgia generally rushed four – it still forced bad throws including the high pass that Sanders picked off.
South Carolina only accounted for 84 passing yards, but two of Georgia’s best defensive plays were pass break-ups that prevented a couple of big downfield receptions. Aaron Davis steered Pharoh Cooper out of bounds before Cooper could get a foot down on a nice catch near the Georgia goal line. Malkom Parrish got his hand in on a pass that was all but caught and separated the ball from the receiver. Georgia’s coverage did a good job all night preventing the big play.
Yeah, kick coverage. It starts of course with there being a return in the first place. South Carolina, based on the first two touchbacks, didn’t seem interested on returning any ball that reached the endzone. Morgan and Barber just couldn’t get it there. Barber kicked off just before halftime, brought in presumably because Morgan’s previous few kicks fell short of the endzone. Barber came up just short too. Not going to go into each coverage breakdown, but one saw freshman Natrez Patrick miss badly. Patrick had an impressive body-slam later in the game, but special teams can humble even the most promising freshman.
Is Georgia the only team that gets called for offsides on kickoffs? That’s twice already this year.
Best special teams moonlighting gig: Marshall Morgan tackling or Brice Ramsey punting?
I was glad to see the targeting penalty reversed. That’s good for the game – hopefully future uses of that penalty can be as equitable. By the way – nice catch, Reggie.
The challenge now is consistency. Any team can put it together for a single emotional game. Georgia has a breather coming up this week but a difficult SEC stretch soon to come. Maintaining that high level of play will be tough to do, but a Georgia team that can execute that well on both sides of the ball should realize what could be possible if they approach each game like this one.
Georgia’s a double-digit home favorite against a team coming off a home loss to Kentucky and starting a backup former walk-on at quarterback. So naturally, we’re all biting our nails.
Is “redemption” too strong of a word? Jeremy Pruitt is 0-2 as a coach against Steve Spurrier, and his secondaries have been put on the spot in both of those losses. He blamed himself for putting the defense in poor position on “10-15 plays” in last season’s loss. Can he get the better of Spurrier this time? It is at least an opportunity for Pruitt to show his growth against one of the better playcallers.
Expect Spurrier to use everything at his disposal, especially given their quarterback situation. We’ll see some wildcat, and they can and will pass from that look. It won’t be just Wilds and Williams running the ball – seven players had at least one rush in the UNC game, and they’ll involve quarterbacks and receivers. As we know from Lambert’s touchdown in the Vanderbilt game, even a pocket passer can make a big play on the read option if everyone keys on the tailback. The Gamecocks do that too.
A matchup to watch will be SC left tackle Brandon Shell against Georgia’s pass rush. It might or might not be Jordan Jenkins going against Shell – it all depends on Georgia’s defensive alignment on a given play. South Carolina’s new starting quarterback, in his first true road game, can’t be allowed to get comfortable. It will be nice to have Lorenzo Carter back – hope he sticks around for a while.
We saw Spurrier fake a punt inside his own 20 in the opener. The rugby-style punter will have to be watched until he gets the kick off. South Carolina’s fake punt in 2011 was devastating. Special teams, in the form of two missed field goals, played a role in Georgia’s 2014 loss in Columbia.
This is usually an obvious point, but jumping out to a lead seems more urgent in this game. Bernie’s post shows why that might be the case. Do you get a feeling when a team misses its chance to take control of a game? In South Carolina’s opener against UNC, the Tar Heels could have built a big lead early. They got a touchdown but dropped a sure pick-six and had the first of two endzone interceptions. With the early scoring window closed, South Carolina got the big play they needed to win.
A similar thing happened in Columbia last year: after the lightning-quick score on their first possession, Georgia managed just six more first half points on several good scoring opportunities. Lorenzo Carter recovered a fumble on the South Carolina 26 following Georgia’s first score, and the Dawgs had to settle for a field goal. The Dawgs had another drive end with a field goal and yet another end on a missed field goal. They also had a long Gurley touchdown run called back for holding, and that drive ended with a punt. Five chances to put points on the board in the first half led to just 13 points. South Carolina turned that missed field goal into a scoring drive to close the first half, and Georgia was in the position of playing catch-up for the rest of the game.
If Georgia does build a lead, they’ll likely face the same kind of desperate comeback we saw from South Carolina against Kentucky last week. I’m glad we got a little gut check from Vanderbilt last week. Georgia had just enough margin to play with, but the defense still had several occasions to make a late stand. At the same time, I hope the offense (and those calling the plays) don’t pack it in just because there’s some second half breathing room.
This might be purely selective memory, but one recollection from the Vanderbilt game was that Georgia’s use of tempo didn’t work all that well. Not that it was a failure – it just didn’t move the needle much. Gary Danielson has never been a big proponent of up-tempo offense, but I admit to sharing his puzzlement after Georgia pushed the tempo following Chubb’s longest run of the day. Chubb even had to come out of the game after the subsequent first down play, and Georgia’s first good scoring chance fizzled with a missed field goal.
That in itself isn’t a reason to doubt the effectiveness of changing tempo, but it did make me wonder about its value as it applies to this particular team. Speeding things up has its advantages, but it does have one big disadvantage: failure to sustain drives just gives the ball back to the opponent that much faster. Georgia converted just 4 of 13 third downs, helping Vanderbilt run over 90 plays (who fortunately didn’t do much with them.) If the Dawgs want to continue to push the tempo, they’ll have to become much more effective sustaining drives.
The question: if this is going to be a 2003-like approach to game management, where does the no-huddle and up-tempo offense fit in? Vanderbilt got over half their yardage in the fourth quarter. Certainly Georgia emptying the bench contributed to that yardage, but starters saw playing time up until Sanders’s interception return. If your basic philosophy is to run the ball and lean on the defense, putting that defense in a position to face 90+ plays doesn’t make much sense.
It’s one thing to serve vanilla if you have most of or all 31 flavors ready to go. It’s another if all you’ve got is the freezer-burned carton of vanilla from the back of the freezer. That’s the distinction several of us were discussing after the game. We know there’s more to the playbook, but does it matter if that’s what it looks like when you try to keep things simple?
As we watched a questionable targeting call and then a botched Vanderbilt punt turn into a first down, it didn’t take long for the “here we go again” groans to move through our section. Sure enough, it was going to be another stomach-turning game in Nashville. This time though the Dawgs emerged with a 17-point win. The difference this time? Georgia’s running game and timely defense.
Georgia’s passing game wasn’t much better in 2015 than 2013 (Murray with a depleted receiving corps threw for only 114 yards), but this time Chubb and Michel were more than enough to carry the offense. Chubb on his own nearly passed the team’s 2013 rushing total of 107 yards by halftime. He wasn’t able to maintain his touchdown streak, but his 189 yards on the ground and over 200 yards of total offense gave Georgia the edge they were missing two years ago.
There’s much to say about the Georgia defense, but the biggest is this: in 2013, all three major Georgia special teams breakdowns led to Vanderbilt points. On Saturday there were more special teams adventures but Georgia’s defense held each time. The Dawgs may have been unable to sustain drives or, at times, complete a pass, but at least they weren’t putting points on Vanderbilt’s side of the scoreboard. The responses in particular after the potentially deflating “fake” punt and onside kick recovery saved us from a much closer finish than we would have liked.
Was it really closer than the score indicated? It depends on which part of the fourth quarter you watched. Several minutes into the final quarter, Marshall Morgan lined up for a 43-yard field goal that would have covered the 20.5 point spread, and Georgia’s defense had held Vanderbilt to around 170 yards of total offense. Several minutes later Vanderbilt was eight yards from making it a three-point game. So the final 17-point margin seems about right to me. It reflects that Georgia had fairly good control of most of the game, but it’s also a nod to Vanderbilt making things interesting down the stretch before Georgia made the play that ended the scoring.
Some more thoughts:
The defense, with one exception, continued to improve from the opener. Interior run defense was as good as I’ve seen from a Pruitt defense. Ralph Webb, no schlub at tailback, was kept to 2.7 yards per carry and had no gain longer than 12 yards. Georgia got outstanding play on the inside from Mayes but also on the edge from Jenkins, Bailey, and a host of others. Jenkins spoke during the week about the bad taste left in his mouth from the 2013 loss, and he played with the dominant intensity of someone determined to have a better outcome this time.
Vanderbilt’s biggest plays came when Georgia lost containment – it even happened on the botched punt. McCrary has decent mobility, and he found himself with lots of room if he was able to elude the initial Georgia pressure. Whether it’s an issue of finishing those potential tackles for loss or better downfield awareness when containment breaks, it’s still something to keep an eye on for the mobile quarterbacks we’ll see later in the season.
Vanderbilt gave Georgia’s interior pass defense some work. I think most of us held our breath seeing Floyd isolated on a receiver down the sideline. He kept up, and the pass was incomplete thanks more to a poor throw than anything else. They also tested the seam with Wilkerson an occasional target. I thought Reggie held his own, and there could have been better safety help on a few of those passes. We can expect more opponents to test Georgia’s linebackers and stars in pass coverage.
Sanders sealed the win with his pick six, but there were still some moments where I had to remind myself that he’s relatively new to the safety position. Pruitt was in his ear after a couple of breakdowns.
Georgia had a +3 turnover margin to improve to +4 for the year, 6th-best in the nation after two games. Of course the margin could have gone much differently in this game. Vanderbilt dropped a sure interception on a horrifying Lambert pass. Lambert fumbled when hit from his blind side, but Georgia recovered. Georgia had opportunities for even more interceptions. When Georgia did create a turnover, it counted. The first interception set up a field goal that made it a two-possession game and got Georgia rolling in the third quarter. Ganus’s pick ended a serious threat, and Sanders took one all the way back to remove all doubt.
Jake Ganus has had two solid games and made a quick-thinking catch in the endzone to defuse a very tense moment in the game. I was afraid that we were going to have a mini-Auburn situation there: two other defenders going for the ball tipped it up before Ganus hauled it in.
Vanderbilt’s Steven Scheu had a rough game. The senior is one of the best weapons in the Vanderbilt passing game, but he had more drops than receptions. A string of Scheu drops right before halftime ended a big scoring opportunity. Then his day ended after getting knocked silly by Mauger’s knee.
It seems as if the team relaxed on both sides of the ball after Lambert’s keeper made it 24-6. Following Georgia’s drive and missed field goal early in the 4th, Vanderbilt posted over 230 of their 400 total yards in less than a quarter. True, backups played heavily, especially on the final drive, but there were plenty of starters in too. Georgia’s ultra-conservative playcalling inside their own five with under seven minutes left almost came back to bite them.
Other than McKenzie’s contribution, it felt as if special teams took a step backwards. Morgan had one of his worst games (has Bauta always been the holder?). Morgan also handled kickoffs; there were a couple of touchbacks but also a couple of returns beyond the 25. Barber cleanly got each punt away, but several lacked much hang time. After the punt snafus that occurred at the end of the 2011 and 2013 games, just executing the punt operation was an improvement.
There’s something about this game in Nashville that causes an existential crisis for the rest of the year. The 2-0 halftime deficit in 2003, the comeback and last-second win in 2007, and of course the gut-wrenching games of 2011 and 2013 should have made this 17-point win feel like a cakewalk. Usually we’ve had enough context in mid-October to process it, but this is all we’ve seen. Is there really a problem at quarterback? (Maybe so.) Is that all Georgia has on offense? (Likely not.) For now all it means is an SEC road win. We’ll quickly find out the difference between what this team chooses to show and what it’s capable of showing.
"Everyone is different, but the smartest decision you can make as a prospect is to stay in state if you are from Georgia. If a guy comes from Parkview, Thomson, or anywhere, the best thing that he can do is to be a Dawg. Everybody will know you, and it is such a big thing to play for the University of Georgia."