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Post Georgia 16 – Kentucky 6: Mistaken identity

Tuesday November 22, 2022

Going undefeated in SEC play is incredibly difficult. Just ask…any other team because it happens so infrequently. Consecutive undefeated SEC seasons had only been pulled off twice before by two of the most dominant dynasties of the last 30 seasons. Georgia joined that exclusive club Saturday with a 16-6 win at Kentucky that earned them a second-straight 8-0 SEC record. It’s another feather in the cap for the SEC’s newest emerging power.

The nature of this win seemed to reinforce the challenge of maintaining a high level of play each week. Kirby Smart thought so: he said postgame that he expected a difficult grind-it-out game. His team seemed determined to make it so.

Smart might have been wise to expect a low-scoring grind of a game given Kentucky’s style of play and the conditions. But to stop there and say, “well, that’s Kentucky for you” is to overlook some missed opportunities on both sides of the ball. Even with the cold and the wind and the road environment Georgia was in a position to make this a much more lopsided outcome. They reached the red zone on four of their first five possessions. Kentucky’s best starting field position was its own 25 and had four drives start inside its own 11. Neither the offense or defense was able to do much with those favorable situations. Three of Georgia’s four scoring opportunities ended with field goals (which turned out to be a very important nine points!) Only once was Georgia’s defense able to pin Kentucky deep with a three-and-out.

It was unusual to see Kentucky hit several deep pass plays to escape poor field position. I’m sure that’s not how Christopher Smith wanted to celebrate being named a Nagurski finalist earlier in the week. But Will Levis also had time to drop deep, wind up, and uncork those deep shots. The pass rush might have been the most puzzling thing about the defense. Kentucky gave up 40 sacks entering the game. Georgia’s pass rush had come to life since the return of Jalen Carter. Georgia did get some pressure, but they tallied only one sack and one hurry. Another sack was negated by a penalty.

The long fields Kentucky faced gave Georgia’s defense room to recover from the occasional big pass play and eventually end most drives without it costing them points. But Kentucky’s ability to move the ball and sustain drives kept the ball away from the Georgia offense. It was nearly halfway through the second quarter before Georgia’s offense began its second possession. The complimentary football with defense leading to offense that worked so well against Tennessee was less effective in this game. Fortunately the offense was able to be efficient with their few possessions and get something on the scoreboard even if was just a field goal.

While the offense was able to squeeze out some points, they did their own part to chew clock and limit possessions for both teams. An early overthrow of Darnell Washington hinted that Stetson Bennett wasn’t his sharpest. He might have been affected by the cold or was still dealing with soreness from last week, but few pass attempts had much distance, and the one deep shot missed badly and was intercepted. Georgia stuck to the run game, and Kenny McIntosh delivered with a career-high 143 yards. The Bulldogs were able to move the ball consistently between the 20s, but they found less success in the red zone when things became more compact.

Three first half field goals weren’t ideal outcomes, but Georgia’s scoring difficulties came to a head at the end of the third quarter with two unsuccessful attempts to score from the Kentucky 1. Georgia’s jumbo formation, with Jalen Carter as the lead blocker, was stuffed and pushed backwards on two similar straight-ahead running plays. Smart faced two decisions: whether to take three points or go for the touchdown and then how to get the ball in the endzone. The decision to go for it was a bit incongruous considering the fairly safe approach for most of the rest of the game. A three-possession 19-0 lead early in the fourth quarter would be untouchable. Kentucky used the momentum from the fourth down stop to become the aggressor. It took just one drive to get the Wildcats back into the game.

Smart defended the decision to go for the touchdown. “It’s a play that’s a statement play, it’s an identity play,” he said. “You’ve got to be more physical than them, and they were more physical than us.” We know how much of a core concept physicality is to this program. We saw it in the success Georgia had running the ball up and down the field. We saw it on defense in the success Georgia had stuffing one of the SEC’s more talented tailbacks. This is a physical team.

But if Smart is correct that these short-yardage situations are statements about his team’s identity, what statement does the continued ineffectiveness running out of the jumbo package make about that identity? Does Jalen Carter in the formation make the play call predictable? Are there better ways to use Georgia’s superb tight ends and Stetson Bennett’s mobility on short yardage plays? We saw wide-open scores to tight ends in these situations at Mississippi State, but in this case Georgia chose to run between the tackles twice. Short-yardage difficulties continued to plague Georgia later in the game as they were unable to kill the clock and had to punt twice, keeping the door open just slightly for a Kentucky comeback that fizzled out.

Georgia won the running game on both sides of the ball. That, some key defensive stops, and the steady leg of Jack Podlesny was enough to secure Georgia’s eighth SEC win. They know they’ll need more to turn that into Georgia’s first SEC title since 2017.

  • If it seemed as if opposing kickers couldn’t miss against Georgia, you were on to something. Kentucky’s missed field goal was only the second miss by a Georgia opponent this year in 18 field goal attempts. (Vanderbilt also missed one to preserve Georgia’s shutout.)
  • Kendall Milton continues to work back from injury and had a string of three strong runs for 28 yards to begin Georgia’s touchdown drive.
  • At the same time, it was curious that Milton was the choice on the fourth down run at the goal line to open the fourth quarter. Fresh legs weren’t an issue coming off the quarter break; the coaches had their choice of ballcarrier. McIntosh was having a career day, and Edwards is typically a tough runner between the tackles.
  • Georgia’s best chance for a big pass play was a Darnell Washington wheel route on the first drive. Bennett overthrew the pass, but Washington also slowed up. That’s a connection that should be much more in-sync at this point of the season.
  • The Bulldog offensive line was in flux as Tate Ratledge was held out with a shoulder injury. Devin Willock saw a lot of time at right guard and played well.
  • Kamari Lassiter’s ability to blow up a receiver screen is unmatched.
  • Nazir Stackhouse had one of his best games and was a big part of Georgia’s success limiting Kentucky’s running game. He, Carter, and Mykel Williams have become an excellent base defensive line. Stackhouse allowed the coaches to move Carter around and attack from the outside as much as he has all season.
  • Ringo had another fantastic interception (and for a moment had us thinking of another pick-six), but my favorite play was his tackle on third down just before Kentucky scored. Ringo fought through a pick and prevented any forward progress after the catch to limit Kentucky to just a two-yard gain.
  • Georgia’s lone sack came late in the game. Bullard, just as he did against Tennessee, crashed in from the outside and met Beal at the quarterback.
  • It was another great turnout for Georgia fans, but the cold and wind got to them too. The far-from-capacity crowd was subdued and muffled as we focused on keeping warm. Most were just interested in being done with the game as quickly as possible, and that attitude seemed to mirror what we were seeing on the field. We’re obliged to the two teams to getting us out of there as expeditiously as possible.

Post Georgia 45 – Miss. St. 19: Champions bearing gifts

Tuesday November 15, 2022

This was the one. An SEC road game after the Florida rivalry and the emotional Tennessee win. A unique and noisy environment these players had never experienced. An opponent that was unbeaten in its home stadium. A perplexing defensive system that held Georgia to 8 total yards rushing two seasons ago. An unconvetional offense coached by its master and led by a quarterback nearly as experienced as Georgia’s. It was the third offense in three weeks that required special preparation with little carryover from the previous game. If you can spot a trap game in August, is it really a trap game?

The 2020 Mississippi State game might have been a bigger challenge in terms of preparation. J.T. Daniels made his first start in place of the injured Stetson Bennett. The defense just had its tail handed to them by Florida. A Georgia defense used to being the aggressor was slow and tentative as they adjusted to the challenges of facing the Air Raid. In 2022 the defense seemed more comfortale with the assignment. Georgia held Mississippi State out of the endzone until the second half. They held Will Rogers, with two more years under his belt, to 1.5 fewer yards per attempt in 2022 than in 2020. There were still a handful of costly breakdowns and unneccessary penalties, but Georgia’s defense was the steadier unit for the Bulldogs in this year’s meeting.

Jalen Carter appeared in both the 2020 and 2022 game, and his development and increased role during those two seasons was a big part of Georgia’s defensive success on Saturday. Carter was a handful from the inside with 7 tackles, a sack, and 1.5 tackles for loss. Mississippi State is typically near the bottom of SEC rushing stats, but the broadcast documented how MSU had improved to nearly 80 rushing yards per game. Carter and the defensive front made sure MSU didn’t reach 50 yards on the ground in this game. The blueprint for defending MSU is to rush three defenders and drop eight into coverage. Georgia was able to rush three and occasionally four and could still generate a decent pass rush and formidable run defense largely because Jalen Carter was nearly unblockable.

Georgia faced a similar challenge on offense as they saw in 2020. Mississippi State’s 3-3-5 defense again sought to take the run game away, and Todd Monken was again happy to make MSU pay with big chunks on pass plays. Instead of J.T. Daniels throwing bombs down the sideline, Stetson Bennett attacked with his tight ends and big passes to the slot at a fair 7.8 yards per attempt. Georgia didn’t have a pass play over 30 yards this time after having three or four in 2020, but five receivers had catches between 15 and 30 yards. Georgia’s difficulty running the ball on early downs put pressure on the offense to convert on third down, and Bennett, playing through arm pain, was up to it. He was 7-for-11 on third down with a touchdown and a fluke interception.

Apart from the tight ends Bennett’s favorite target was Ladd McConkey. McConkey seems back in form after a midseason slump, and his versatility was on display with a 70-yard touchdown run and a 28-yard reception on a slot fade to the goal line. Kearis Jackson also had a nice game at receiver with season highs in receptions and yardage. In two career games against MSU, Jackson has 8 catches for over 100 yards and a touchdown with a 40-yard reception in 2020 and a 30-yard catch in 2022.

A big difference in this meeting was that the Dawgs managed some longer gains on the ground. Two touchdown runs by McConkey and Milton accounted for 104 of Georgia’s 179 rushing yards. Why did Georgia have two explosive scoring plays from the running game when they couldn’t move the ball on the ground in 2020? Darnell Washington played in this game. Washington’s block on McConkey’s sweep was so effective that it essentially neutralized a second defender. Washington then combined with Broderick Jones to create one of the cleanest lanes of the night for Kendall Milton to burst through. Those blocks would have been enough, but Washington added 5 receptions and a touchdown as Georgia exploited their advantage at tight end for two scores and over 100 receiving yards.

Georgia had some good performances on both sides of the ball, but they made things difficult for themselves with miscues. Bennett threw two interceptions. If those were somewhat unlucky, he got away with a couple of other forced throws. A mismanaged sequence at the end of the first half led to a Mississippi State punt return touchdown. Georgia led 17-3 with 2:30 left in the half but gave up 9 quick points to lead only 17-12 at intermission.

There’s been a theory floating around since Kent State or so about Georgia “playing with its food.” Georgia’s good enough that they become unfocused or invent ways to make things more difficult. I tend to think that’s a little simplistic and gives short shrift to the opponent, but sometimes you do have to wonder where the focus goes. It could be missed tackles. It could be Bennett eschewing the layup to Washington in favor of throwing into coverage. It could be half-hearted run blocking knowing that Bennett might make a play on third-and-long. You saw Kirby Smart yelling “Do you want to play?!?” at a player, perhaps Ringo, after an unnecessary facemask call late in the game. It’s not just players, either. The end of the first half has been an adventure as far back as the Kent State game when Bennett squirming across the goal line narrowly averted the clock running out. Smart lamented that he didn’t have enough speed on the field to cover the punt – why is that an issue on a routine special teams play in game 10?

McConkey’s run to open the second half was a palate cleanser that got Georgia back on track. The Dawgs weren’t in danger and turned it on just as they’ve done all season with three touchdowns on their first four possessions of the second half. There’s no question that the team is a machine when the players are locked in, but it can be frustrating when the lapses show up. It won’t matter in the regular season; a 26-point win in a situation like this shows that Georgia has more than enough to overwhelm the teams on their schedule. Clinching the SEC East title starts us looking to the postseason though. Does it matter if games like this get a little sloppy? We’ve seen Georgia turn it on for their toughest opponents, but you know that coaches want the team more locked in with an SEC title shot and a return to the playoff on the line.

  • We lump several operations into “special teams,” and Georgia’s results among those different operations are all over the place. Podlesny remains a reliable placekicker, but his shorter kickoffs into the wind were nearly all returned across the 25. Thorson has been above-average if a little inconsistent, and a lot of things went wrong on the punt returned for a touchdown. Georgia’s return games have been nothing special. Some nice midseason McConkey returns have Georgia at 38th in the nation in average punt return yardage. Kick returns though are an abysmal 99th. We know that Kearis Jackson is a capable returner, but blocking has been so poor that it’s just best to take the fair catch.
  • It had to be a big boost to Kendall Milton’s confidence to break a long touchdown run. Edwards and Robinson took a step forward on the depth chart during Milton’s absence, but it was nice for #2 to have a positive moment to build on.
  • Jalen Carter, as a true freshman, caught a touchdown pass out of the fullback position against Tennessee. I kept wondering if he’d once again be a target from the goal-line package as Georgia struggled to punch it in, but why get cute when you’ve got a fleet of tight ends?
  • Kamari Lassiter’s development has been a late-season bright spot for the defense. He, along with the rest of the secondary, held their own against Tennessee’s fleet of receivers. Lassiter continued to stand out against MSU with a fantastic 4th-and-1 stop to sniff out a screen and end a scoring opportunity that was Mississippi State’s last real chance to get back into the game.
  • Christopher Smith hasn’t nececsarily been known as a big hitter, but his big hit to separate a receiver from the ball on a third down pass was textbook. Targeting is always a big risk on collisions with receivers in the middle of the field, but Smith’s hit was clean and effective.
  • Dumas-Johnson seemed to be a step slow. He still had four tackles but wasn’t nearly as active as Mondon. He might be banged up, and he’s important enough to getting the defense set up that we’ll take diminished production if it means he’s on the field. Marshall got some good minutes and also finished with four tackles.
  • Robinson only got two carries, but it was still a positive to get him on the field in his home state.
  • The punt return and quick score following Bennett’s second interception obscure a really solid performance by the defense. Maybe the only disappointing play was the 40-yard reception before halftime that set up a field goal. Smith and Starks mismanaged the coverage communication, and Mondon missed a tackle in such away that the receiver was able to cut back against the flow for a long gain. It was one of the few negative plays on an otherwise standout night for Mondon.
  • Thorson struggled to get much distance on his first few punts – maybe it was the cold. The punt returned for a touchdown was a line drive. But his final punt was yet another cannon shot for 62 yards that flipped the field.

The Bulldogs are SEC East champions for the fifth time in Kirby Smart’s seven seasons. They’re 10-0 in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. The gap between this era of Georgia football and other successful Georgia periods is growing wider. There are still two games left to close out another undefeated regular season, but another division title puts bigger goals in sight.


Post You want a night game. You don’t want *this* night game.

Monday November 14, 2022

The 2019 Notre Dame game gave new life to night games under the lights at Sanford Stadium. The “Light Up Sanford” tradition that began some years earlier combined with the new LED lighting system made for an impressive and entertaining show. Night games also mean elaborate day-long tailgates and all that comes with them.

Georgia, though, hasn’t had many opportunities to show off their investment in the in-game experience. The 4th quarter scene at twilight during the Tennessee game gave a tease as the lights dimmed and danced, but there was still too much daylight to get the full effect. That was about as close as Georgia will get to a night game experience in the 2022 season. Students are writing heartfelt appeals for just one late kickoff to share the experience with the next generation of UGA students. The reasoning might be shaky, but the clamor is unmistakable. Night games have become the new blackouts.

We know Georgia gets fewer night games than other SEC schools. The reasons why range from the conspiratorial to the mundane. There was a climate on campus some 10-15 years ago aimed at curtailing Georgia’s tailgating and student life scene. Time has passed, and leadership has changed, so I have my doubts that someone at UGA is sliding notes to the SEC office that just say “noon” each week. There are several other factors determining Georgia’s home start times:

  • Georgia is good and good for ratings. Home games against better SEC opponents and rivals have been picked up by CBS in the conference’s top time slot at 3:30. That prime slot might change as ABC/ESPN takes over the entire SEC inventory of games.
  • Attractive non-conference games are at neutral sites. Last season’s Clemson game kicked off at 7:30 pm. It was in Charlotte. There are better home-and-home series on the books, and we’ll see if they actually happen.
  • The rest of the home schedule is weak. It’s true that Kent State or Vanderbilt could theoretically be slotted anywhere from noon to night on the SEC Network once the big networks pass on them. The vibe for a night game against a weak opponent isn’t what you’re after. The red lights of traffic leaving the stadium early rival the 4th quarter light show. If you just want the long tailgate, say so. You’ll likely be headed downtown or pointed towards home by halftime.
  • Georgia is on Eastern Time. If you hate noon kickoffs, imagine what over half of the conference thinks about 11 am kickoffs.
  • Kirby Smart isn’t as big of a fan of night games as you might think. You’d expect Smart would love to have recruits experience a rocking crowd with the lights doing their thing, and he might. But granting that most night games don’t turn out to be Notre Dame 2019, Smart seems to prefer a midafternoon kickoff for recruiting purposes.

There was one last chance for a night game, but we learned on Monday that the Tech game will kick off at noon. That’s become the norm for this rivalry game. It’s still getting a national time slot – ESPN’s Gameday will lead into the broadcast. That early start might be disappointing at first, but this was the one game on the schedule no one should want at night. Students will be away for the Thanksgiving holiday. They might be back in force if this were a compelling matchup, but few expect this game to be competitive. The 4th quarter festivities echoing off empty seats during a blowout on a chilly late-November night would definitely have been a monkey’s paw type of outcome for those dead-set on a night game. If it makes you feel better, think about how pleased Kirby Smart will be knowing he has a seven-hour head start on LSU resting and preparing for the SEC Championship Game.


Post Georgia 27 – Tennessee 13: Slingin’ in the rain

Tuesday November 8, 2022

It’s a painful memory, but most of us remember the 2015 Alabama game. A top ten Georgia team was humiliated by Alabama as the Tide shook off an early loss to Ole Miss and used the Georgia game to regroup for a run at the 2015 national title. A key moment came in the third quarter when a steady rain increased in intensity to a tropical downpour. Much of the Sanford Stadium crowd decided they’d seen enough and abandoned the hopeless game en masse. If we want to reach a little, it was also when fans began to realize the wide gulf that existed between their program and title contenders like Alabama. As they left the stadium many also left behind their confidence in the leadership of the program.

Seven years later it was Georgia’s turn to make a statement in a big game at Sanford Stadium. While last season’s national title was the payoff for the changes made after that 2015 season, Saturday’s win over Tennessee was evidence in support of Kirby Smart’s longer-term vision for the program. “We built a program to be sustained,” he claimed over the summer. “This program was built to be here for a long time.” Faced with a challenge for its division crown and place as a playoff contender, Georgia rose to the occasion. The talent advantage built through years of sustained elite recruiting was evident. Coaches deployed that talent in ways that attacked Tennessee’s shortcomings to neutralize what the Volunteers did best. Teams that aim to beat Georgia either have to match their talent level (and only a handful come close) or gain an advantage through coaching and scheme. Many believed Tennessee had that scheme advantage with their outstanding offense, but the Bulldogs were ready with a defensive game plan that was executed to near perfection.

Even the Georgia crowd understood that it had a role and delivered perhaps the best home environment experienced at Sanford Stadium. The crowd. Georgia fans, fresh off a rivalry win in Jacksonville, regrouped with plenty of energy for the highest-ranked home matchup in decades. Fans were in place early and vocal from the start. Tennessee had two false start penalties on their opening drive, and it continued all day. Erik Ainge might have been right at one time: Georgia did have a frustrating reputation for a muted home crowd. But that claim hasn’t been true for a while. Fans have answered Kirby Smart’s call since his first spring game, and the confidence that the Dawgs will deliver in big home games keeps them coming back. Even another downpour was on Georgia’s side this time. As the skies opened in the third quarter, a raucous crowd only grew more resolute and impactful as the Georgia defense stood its ground on multiple fourth down attempts.

The rain didn’t chase Georgia fans this time. A satisfied and jubilant crowd was slow to leave the stadium after the win. The rain had ended, the skies were clearing, and Georgia was back on top. There was no cause to storm the field after toppling #1; the Bulldogs had simply reclaimed what was theirs. But the Dawgs also understand the work involved in staying on top, and this win – while impressive and historic – only earns Georgia the right to keep it going for another week.

The next couple of weeks will be a strong test of maturity for the young Georgia team. It’s one thing to play with a chip on your shoulder in front of a frenzied home crowd. No one is disrespecting Georgia or its players now. They’ll be ranked at the top and celebrated as much as Tennessee was entering the game. The slights are getting fewer and fewer without venturing into the absurd for motivation. Georgia now has to take their #1 ranking back on the road for their final two SEC games, and we know how unpleasant the last true road game was for the Bulldogs. Kirby Smart will have to keep the team focused on how these games fit into the season’s larger objectives. The Tennessee win keeps Georgia in control of its goals but clinched nothing. The importance of taking a 12-0 record into the postseason is the message now, and that starts with beating some decent SEC teams in their stadiums.

Rather than trying to pick out one or two big moments from a monumental game, it might be better just to walk through the game.

  • Holding Tennessee to an opening field goal. Tennessee is known for their quick starts. They took less than two minutes to score on Alabama and led 21-7 after a quarter. They recovered a turnover on the opening kickoff at LSU and put the game away early. Even last year they led Georgia after the first quarter before Georgia took control of the game. So when Tennessee’s first possession began near midfield after a Georgia fumble, it wasn’t ideal. Quickly we saw two themes emerge. First, Georgia was effective at forcing Tennessee to move the ball in small chunks. The Vols completed five passes but none went for more than seven yards. Second, Tennessee got behind the chains on two false start penalties as the home crowd became involved. The Vols scored first, but a field goal wasn’t the worst outcome after giving Tennessee a short field.
  • Welcome back Arian Smith. Tennessee’s big play offense was the toast of the nation entering the game and the force that propelled them to #1. Meanwhile Georgia’s missing deep threat at receiver had been an unfortunate footnote for a Bulldog offense that was otherwise extremely efficient. Arian Smith’s gradual return to the lineup hadn’t yielded much fruit until Bennett uncorked a 52-yard bomb to the speedy receiver to open Georgia’s second possession. It was the longest reception by a Georgia wide receiver this season, and it would come to represent the Georgia offense flipping the script on a perceived weakness. While the Georgia defense did its best to limit the Tennessee deep threat, Georgia completed three passes – two of which went to receivers – longer than any Tennessee reception. Bennett took two more deep shots to Smith, and one probably should have been caught. Georgia rediscovering a vertical element to its passing game is an exciting development for the last third of the season.
  • Run, Stetson, run. I wrote last season about the theory “that Stetson Bennett needs a good QB run to get going.” It was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Georgia scored on four out of six possessions after Bennett scrambled and dove at the pylon in the first quarter. It’s not that he wasn’t on target before his run (the long pass to Arian Smith was outstanding), but Bennett was in complete command in the final 20 minutes of the first half. The wheel route to McIntosh, the long touchdown to McConkey, and the perfectly-placed strike to Rosemy-Jacksaint were all examples of Bennett playing at a level that earned him brief Heisman chatter after the Oregon and South Carolina games.
  • Complementary football. Georgia’s first possession after their opening score didn’t go well. Edwards was tackled for a loss. Bennett and Blaylock miscommunicated on a third-down pass that ended up behind the sure-handed receiver, and the Dawgs were unable to build on their lead. Punter Brett Thorson quickly reignited the crowd with an improbable 75-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the Tennessee 1. With the big special teams play in hand, the Georgia defense took over and pinned the Volunteer offense against their own goal line. Jalen Carter fought into the backfield and forced a fumble (and what should have been a safety), but a short punt out of the endzone turned out to be damaging enough. Bennett found McConkey on the next play for a 37-yard touchdown, and Georgia led 14-3. Special teams leading to defense leading to offense is about as complete of a team score as it gets.
  • Jalen Carter. The depth of talent built through recruiting gives Georgia a big advantage, but let’s not kid ourselves about the importance of individual superstar talent. Jalen Carter has fortunately been able to return from a knee injury suffered at Missouri. He had a limited but active role on third down plays against Florida. His role increased against Tennessee, and so did his impact. Carter looked very much like a projected high first round pick and tallied four tackles, two tackles for loss, the sack in the endzone, and also forced two fumbles. His presence isn’t just about his stats; he changes the identity of the defense. Georgia’s overall defensive pressure has gone to another level over the past two games as Carter becomes healthier and more involved.
  • Georgia’s defensive backs. Georgia’s cornerbacks hadn’t intercepted a pass this season. We saw a communication issue lead to a long Florida touchdown a week ago, and that was a cause for concern: Tennessee’s tempo, formations, and personnel are designed to cause confusion and get receivers open for big plays. Beyond that Tennessee’s receivers are big and physical, and a broken tackle could easily lead to a big play when the defensive backs are isolated in man coverage. Bulldog defensive backs were excellent on both counts: most Tennessee passes were completed in front of Georgia defenders, and those defenders made the tackle. It wasn’t perfect – Volunteer receivers got beyond the coverage a handful of times, but the Georgia pressure was effective enough to force errant throws. The result was an astonishingly-low 5.9 yards per attempt for a Tennessee quarterback who had built a Heisman-quality highlight reel of big pass plays. Ringo and Lassiter fought all afternoon with those large receivers and were among the team’s leaders in tackles. Ringo’s interception was a textbook example of coverage and kept Tennessee from stealing points just before halftime. Bullard has emerged as a physical presence at star, and his second half sacks off of brilliant pressure calls ignited the crowd. Finally, Starks – thrown into the fire as a true freshman against a complex passing attack – was magnificent and ended up leading the team in tackles. Georgia’s commitment to pressure placed these defensive backs in do-or-die situations for much of the game, and they had their best showing of the season.
  • 11 plays, 25 yards. Georgia had a pretty fresh memory of how fast a large halftime lead can evaporate. Tennessee came out in the second half needing a score, and they had some early success moving the ball on their first drive of the second half. But as with their first possession of the game, they were unable to break any play longer than a 9-yard designed run by Hooker. When Tennessee crossed midfield, the Dawgs increased their pressure. Sacks by Dumas-Johnson and Brinson drove the Vols back to midfield and forced a punt. Without big plays Tennessee was unable to sustain the drive and took five minutes off the clock. That situation would come up again later in the game.
  • The death march drive. Any hopes Tennessee had of a quick response to begin the second half were squashed as Georgia went on a 15-play drive that ate up nearly nine minutes of clock. It’s a cliché that the best way to slow a high-performing offense is to keep it on the sideline, but that’s exactly how Georgia approached its third quarter offense with a decent lead and the weather turning bad. Most of the plays on this drive were small gains on the ground, but two key third down passes to McConkey kept the drive going. With the offense able to chew clock with small gains, there wasn’t much need to take chances downfield in the passing game. Even McConkey’s big 23-yard reception was a safe screen pass. Once Georgia got into field goal range, they finished the drive with three more runs that ate another two minutes. Podlesny’s field goal capped off the drive and gave Georgia a three-touchdown lead with only 16 minutes left in the game.
  • When it rains, it pours. As Georgia put the screws to the Tennessee defense in the third quarter, a steady rain drenched the stadium. That affected Georgia’s playcalling as the Dawgs were content to keep things close to the vest and protect the ball. Eventually both teams traded fumbles at the end of the third quarter. The rain didn’t diminish the crowd’s volume or influence. The crowd was stirred into a frenzy by the two sacks early in the quarter. The slightest hint of the fourth quarter light show was enough to keep the party going in the stands. As Tennessee’s desperation increased in the fourth quarter, the crowd only got louder with more false start penalties and the success of Georgia’s pass rush.
  • One last stand. Tennessee did get into the endzone later in the game, but I think coming up short on their first drive of the fourth quarter settled the outcome. It was another long drive that took 14 plays and over 6 minutes that came up empty. Combined with their first drive of the second half, that’s two drives totaling 25 plays that cost 11 minutes with nothing to show for it. That’s a killer outcome for a team trying to come back from two and three possessions down. It was on this drive that the crowd was at its loudest, and the Georgia defense gave them plenty to yell about. Georgia’s defensive coaches unleashed their most intense pressure of the game, and the Dawgs recorded sacks on three straight plays. Only an unfortunate facemask penalty by Jalon Walker (mistakenly attributed to Mykel Williams) gave the Vols new life. That setback didn’t take much out of the pressure or the crowd as the Vols approached Sanford’s east endzone. Another Javon Bullard sack put the Vols in a 4th-and-long situation, and Hooker’s futile fourth down pass sailed out of bounds.
  • Taking a knee. Georgia had consecutive three-and-outs surrounding Tennessee’s lone touchdown. The drives served their purpose by milking another three minutes, but you sensed that Kirby Smart expected better blocking and execution. They even attempted a deep pass to Arian Smith as a knockout blow, but Smith couldn’t complete the catch. The Dawgs did gain a first down on their final possession on a tough run by Edwards and didn’t have to give the ball back. A Tennessee comeback at that point would have taken a miracle, but you never want to give that opportunity to an explosive offense. Ending the game in the victory formation was the perfect way to finish off the (former) #1 team.

Some final notes from a day we’ll remember for a long time:

  • It wasn’t a huge day for the Georgia running game. They were more effective on the ground than a Tennessee offense that’s been surprisingly productive running the ball. The Tennessee rushing defense is also surprisingly stout, yielding under 3 yards per carry. It’s on the back end where the Tennessee defense has been most vulnerable, and that’s where Stetson Bennett did his damage getting over 10 yards per attempt.
  • Tennessee’s 2-for-14 on third downs says a lot about Georgia’s defensive success on early downs. Every decent preview of the game noted how adept Tennessee has been at staying ahead of schedule and avoiding long third down situations. Georgia, through pressure and penalties, knocked the Volunteer offense off balance enough to slow the tempo and give the crowd time to affect those third down plays.
  • It might not have shown in the rushing stats, but the Georgia offensive line was solid in pass protection. Tennessee didn’t record a sack, and Bennett had plenty of time to take deep shots. Even on an instance when Tennessee got a shot at Bennett, the downfield blocking was good enough to give Bennett a path to scramble to the endzone. Devin Willock held his own in his first start at guard.
  • Darnell Washington’s the guy you want curling himself around an onside kick, isn’t he? Not too many people are going to separate him from the ball.
  • Thorson’s punt was the special teams story, but it was another steady day for Podlesny apart from the bank shot extra point. His two field goals provided important margin (how different does the game feel at 21-13?), and nailing a 38-yard field goal in the driving rain to give Georgia a three touchdown lead was a huge play by the entire placekicking operation.
  • It wasn’t a huge day for the tight ends, but blocking doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. The tight ends helped keep Bennett upright and allowed the backs to grind out some tough yards against a difficult defensive front. Washington couldn’t quite pull in a catchable touchdown pass.
  • This was Georgia fourth game of the last six with multiple turnovers. It didn’t especially cost them in this game. and they were able to draw even against the team leading the SEC in turnover margin. If there’s an area to clean up heading into some road games against upset-minded teams, it’s ball security.
  • You wonder if Georgia could have turned the offense back on if Tennessee were able to draw closer in the second or third quarters. They managed to do so against Florida, but fortunately the defense made it a non-issue.

On a day with the #1 ranking, the SEC East, and a repeat playoff appearance on the line everything aligned for Georgia. The offense took early control. The defense was suffocating. Even special teams had its big moments. The homefield advantage, as Smart put it, was again “elite.” It wasn’t by chance for everything to come together in a big game – that’s what the program is designed to do.


Post Georgia 42 – Florida 20: A three-act play

Tuesday November 1, 2022

Most of the Bulldog Nation has moved on to this week’s showdown in Athens. If I couldn’t let a Homecoming blowout go without a few words, I’m damn sure going to give a win over Florida its due. It was kind of ridiculous that the trip to Jacksonville became somewhat of a trap game as the hype surrounding the Tennessee game began to build over the bye week. Florida had the season-opening upset of Utah to their credit, but it’s been a rough road since for first-year coach Billy Napier. The Gators had competitive losses to Tennessee, LSU, and Kentucky that featured the talent to make those games within reach but also showed the deficiencies that made a coaching change necessary. Florida was a decisive underdog against Georgia, and “crazy things have happened in Jacksonville” is true enough but not exactly firm ground around which to build a winning game plan.

Fans might have been overlooking the game, but Kirby Smart is never going to give the Florida game less than his best. Georgia was prepared and took early control. The Bulldogs scored on two of their first three drives while holding Florida to three-and-out on their first four possessions. Florida’s only offense of note in the first half was a 41-yard reception by Justin Shorter as Kelee Ringo mis-timed his jump. Georgia’s 28-3 advantage at halftime was as decisive on both sides of the ball as the score suggested.

Florida rebounded out of halftime behind their running game. A run and reception by Trevor Etienne moved the ball to midfield. A 5-yard run by quarterback Anthony Richardson set up a manageable fourth down attempt. Kirby Smart called a last-second timeout as the ball was snapped, and Bear Alexander wasn’t able to pull up in time. The personal foul gave Florida the break they needed to get into the endzone, and the comeback was on. As with most large swings in momentum, Georgia had to help with breakdowns in all phases of the game. Kearis Jackson tried to return three straight kickoffs and failed to reach the 25 due to poor blocking. Georgia had a fumble and interception on consecutive drives. A communication failure let Xzavier Henderson get behind the Georgia defense for a 78-yard touchdown reception that pulled Florida within one possession.

Georgia turned to the ground game for their answer. Kenny McIntosh rebounded from his fumble, and he and Daijun Edwards combined for 59 yards on a much-needed scoring drive. A tough 19-yard reception by Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint was the only pass play on the drive, but it got Georgia out of a 2nd-and-12 hole. Edwards rumbled for 22 yards three plays later for the score as he squeezed through a small hole and emerged from among the giants.

Georgia was back in control at 35-20, but it’s quite likely that the deciding point in the game was Florida’s fourth down attempt from midfield with nearly 14 minutes remaining. The Gators were still within 15, and the broadcast questioned whether it was too soon yet to go for it on 4th and 6. Florida had scored on their previous three possessions, but Georgia had just answered with a score of their own. The decision was set up by a nice defensive play on third down as a Florida running play was stuffed for a one yard gain. Napier might have already been thinking about the fourth down play, but the unsuccessful run on third down changed the situation. Richardson’s pass fell incomplete under heavy pressure from Carter and Dumas-Johnson, and Georgia cashed in the short field with the touchdown that put the game out of reach for good.

Even up 42-20, the Bulldogs weren’t as dominant as they had been in the first half. Florida didn’t have a three-and-out in the second half, and their final two drives reached the Georgia red zone. Georgia’s defense, to their credit, made the plays to force a turnover on downs on Florida’s final three possessions. It was the offense, though, that was able to turn it back on and put the game away. What deflated any chance of another Florida comeback was a stifling 11-play Georgia drive in the fourth quarter that ate up seven and a half minutes of clock. Darnell Washington dropped a fourth down pass that would have extended the drive even further, but the damage had been done: by the time Florida got the ball back there was only 1:32 left and the outcome settled.

That shaky third quarter was enough to put a scare into fans that were well into revelry at halftime. The turnovers, coverage problems, and the near-meltdown in all phases hit just as fans began looking ahead to the next opponent. It’s obvious what turnovers and missed assignments could mean against a top 3 team. Perhaps the team itself had also begun to peek ahead before this job was finished. We’ve praised the composure of this team several times already this season and will do so again – it was commendable to right the ship in a big rivalry game and not collapse entirely. It would have been just as commendable to stay in the moment and not make the sloppy mistakes that let Florida back in the game. Give the Gators credit – they didn’t fold at halftime and took advantage of the opportunities Georgia opened up. It’s a trait they showed in their game at Tennessee and a hopeful sign for a new coach. But a Georgia team that prides itself on making the opponent quit can’t be pleased with how that went.

  • I’m sure Stetson Bennett is glad to be rid of Jacksonville. He led Georgia to two wins after the nightmare of 2020, but neither win was a showcase for Bennett. He entered the game with only one interception thrown all season and left town with two more. His completion rate was just 50%, though it didn’t help that some of his better passes were simply dropped. Bennett still threw for over 300 yards and a respectable 8.3 yards per attempt. 73 of those yards came on one pass and a remarkable reception by Brock Bowers. (It reminded me of Bennett’s scramble escape and touchdown pass against Oregon – it made for a great highlight, but the outcome was very, very lucky.)
  • Kenny McIntosh ripped off runs of 13 and 15 yards after his fumble, and no player better represented Georgia’s resolve to get back on track after Florida’s scoring run. Edwards and Robinson deserve a ton of credit for their midseason production in the absence of Kendall Milton, but McIntosh had his highest rushing output of the year in Jacksonville. More than half of his 90 yards came after his fumble, and he finished off the scoring with a powerful run to drag the pile into the endzone.
  • As productive as McIntosh was on the ground, his role in the passing game has taken a back seat. He had 21 receptions in September but only 8 in October. Surely defenses have adjusted as Georgia’s deep passing threat has diminished, but we know how dangerous McIntosh can be out of the backfield and wonder if something is in store for him.
  • To take that a step further, McIntosh’s single reception (for a five-yard loss) against Florida was the only reception by a tailback. That’s quite a change from the four tailbacks who caught a pass against Oregon.
  • It was also surprising to see Bennett only have one carry in the game. That’s not to say his mobility wasn’t used – there were a handful of nice bootlegs and rollout passes. You also don’t want to expose him to contact if you don’t have to. That said, we know how effective his scrambling and option reads can be. As with McIntosh’s role in the passing game, you wonder if Bennett’s running ability is something we’ll see more of against better opponents.
  • The loss of Nolan Smith was big – perhaps as much against the run as it was in pass rush. Smith has been fantastic at setting the edge and disrupting running plays before they get going. It’s no coincidence that Florida began to run the ball better in the second half without Smith in the game.
  • While the defense missed Smith, the return of Mondon and Carter was welcome. Carter was primarily used on third down packages and was extremely active and disruptive. Hopefully he can give the defense some early down snaps soon.
  • Javon Bullard really makes a difference. He and Christopher Smith played lights-out. Smith’s pressure and sack of Richardson just after Bennett’s first interception was a great play to make sure Florida didn’t get anything going out of the turnover.
  • Just as important was holding Florida to a field goal after McIntosh’s fumble. The Gators got the ball inside the Georgia 30 and were able to move down to the 10, but the defense did well to hold it together facing the short field. Georgia’s three turnovers ended up costing them ten points, but it could have been worse and much more costly.
  • Sacks didn’t really mount up until the final possession, but the defense was effective for most of the game with pressure. Georgia had ten QB hurries, eight tackles for loss, and held Richardson under 50% completion.
  • You don’t run for nearly 250 yards and allow zero sacks without good offensive line play. Devin Willock had some nice moments at guard with Truss a little banged up.
  • We didn’t quite get the burst of points just before halftime that opened up the 2021 game, but it was still an important period in the game. Brett Thorson, as he’s done all year, pinned Florida inside their own 20. It might not have been reasonable to expect Florida to go 85 yards in the two minutes that remained in the half, but they might have hoped to run out the half and head to the locker room down 21-3 with no further damage done. Georgia didn’t force a turnover, but another three-and-out was good enough: a short Florida punt set Georgia up near midfield with over a minute left and timeouts in hand. Georgia was able to run seven plays and hit two big pass plays to McConkey for the fourth touchdown of the half. That score turned out to be bigger than it seemed at the time. Georgia still had some breathing room to regroup up 28-20.
  • Georgia has built an efficient and productive offense around their depth at tight end and tailback. They leaned on those strengths in this game as much as they have all season, especially when they needed a response to Florida’s third quarter comeback.

Post The future will be streamed

Saturday October 22, 2022

Earlier this season many Georgia fans were sent scrambling to find out just what the SEC Network Plus was and how to get it on their TV *. Georgia’s home game against Kent State was exclusively available on the SEC’s streaming outlet, and there were no over-the-air, cable, or satellite options to watch the game. This is an experience common to fans of each SEC team: under the SEC and ESPN’s most recent broadcasting agreement, “each SEC football team will have one non-conference home game each year that is only available via streaming.”

Notre Dame’s broadcast partner NBC is also leveraging its streaming platform. This weekend’s Notre Dame-UNLV will be streamed exclusively on the Peacock subscription streaming service.

While streaming games might be a once-a-season annoyance for college football fans, it’s a way of life in other sports. Diehard soccer fans know to jump from service to service to find their games. NBC’s Peacock has the English Premier League. ESPN+ has Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga. If you want to watch Europe’s best compete in the UEFA Champions League, you must subscribe to CBS’s Paramount+. With each service costing between $5 and $10 per month, subscribing to multiple services can be costly on top of a traditional cable or satellite bill. There are partnerships that help lower the cost for some customers. Comcast and NBCUniversal merged, so Peacock access is included for many Xfinity customers. T-Mobile cellular customers have access to Paramount+. For most, though, the monthly subscription (after a free trial) is the only way to access these services.

Tech companies have joined the broadcast networks with their own streaming services, and they are beginning to acquire rights to the major American professional leagues. Amazon is broadcasting Thursday night games over its Prime Video service, and fans are tuning in. While the numbers might not yet match traditional broadcasts, the NFL is blowing away other streamed content. Apple broadcasts a Major League Baseball game each Friday night on its Apple TV+ service as it looks to become more involved in sports.

The big prize is the NFL. The NFL Sunday Ticket package is up for bids as DirectTV drops out, and Apple is a player in the negotiations. Apple previous acquired the exclusive rights for all Major League Soccer games to expand its sports operation, but the conflict between the Apple way of doing things and the NFL’s preference to have multiple broadcast partners is complicating the Sunday Ticket deal.

Whether or not Apple is able to complete the deal with the NFL, it says enough that companies see enough value in the future of streaming sports to enter into negotiations worth billions of dollars on behalf of their streaming services. Even with the large deals being announced as college conferences grow and realign, college sports is still small potatoes next to the amounts paid for the NFL.

For now the broadcast rights of most college sports – whether over the air or streaming – are in the hands of traditional broadcast partners: FOX, NBC, CBS, and ABC/ESPN. The first conference to look at a more nontraditional approach might be the Pac-12. The broadcast rights of the Pac-12 are up in the air, and the chaotic state of the conference with USC, UCLA, and perhaps others leaving has the Pac-12 unsatisfied with the offers they’re getting. That might open the door for a partnership with Amazon. Fans haven’t (and won’t) beat down the door just for Pac-12 content, but perhaps when bundled with the other benefits of an Amazon Prime subscription it might mean some more Prime subscribers for Amazon.

Well-rounded fans of college sports are probably already used to navigating the streaming world. The SEC Network Plus has been a godsend to follow Georgia and SEC sports other than football. It would have been unthinkable 15 years ago to be able to tune into nearly every SEC baseball or softball game, but they’re all streamed now. (We can gripe about the costs of multiple streaming services, but that really doesn’t apply here – if you have access to the SEC Network as part of your cable or satellite package, you likely have free access to the SECN+ once you authenticate in the ESPN app.) Football games, other than the mandated one game per year, have mostly remained on the broadcast channels, but even basketball has seen a fair number of games moved to streaming. It’s an issue of inventory – there are only so many channels and broadcast slots, and those slots are increasingly overlapping and running into one another. That’s not an issue in the streaming world, and you’re set once you get the technology down and find the local manpower to produce and present the games.

We should expect more college sports – even football – to find their way to streaming platforms. As with any technological change there will be a rough period of transition. Younger and more affluent viewers are more likely to be heavily immersed in streaming already. For older viewers navigating streaming options or even cutting the cord from traditional cable and satellite can be confusing and challenging. The conceptual model of channels, networks, and the TV guide don’t apply. Costs, whether for programming or the streaming devices themselves, can also be prohibitive for those whose entertainment budget is stretched. The services and the companies who own them will consolidate, merge, disappear, or even just get out of the streaming business. It’s one thing when SEC games move down the dial from CBS to ESPN. It’s another when you have to add another $9.95 per month service because the league you follow jumped to a competing platform.

It’s an interesting time. There are more sports than ever available to watch, an audience that keeps demanding more, and technology emerging that can deliver it all. The money involved keeps growing also, and that has attracted new competitors to the broadcast marketplace. Some of these new entrants are changing the metrics involved – subscribers matter more to them than viewership. The potential Apple/NFL and Amazon/Pac-12 deals could be signs of what’s next as the broadcast rights of other leagues and conferences come up for bid. For now it’s just the Kent State game, but have that Apple TV or Roku ready for what might be ahead.


Post Georgia 55 – Vanderbilt 0: The Ballad of Cash Jones

Monday October 17, 2022

Blowout wins against heavy underdogs tend to blur into each other. The outcome is expected, many fans leave or lose interest after the game is well in hand, and often you only have something to talk about if a team like Kent State plays you a little too close. Conference blowouts are nice, shutouts are even nicer, but we’re on to the next game before the fourth-string quarterback takes the victory formation.

While a second-straight shutout of Vanderbilt might seem like one to file away so that we can move on to the meat of the schedule, there was enough to enjoy in this game that it’s worth a moment to savor it:

  • Vanderbilt’s offense is decent enough that shutting them out is pretty impressive.
  • Georgia managed to get out ahead and put a game away in the first half for the first time since South Carolina.
  • Darnell Washington continues to be used in fun and exciting ways.
  • Carson Beck can run the offense.
  • Georgia’s defense has some talent waiting in the wings.
  • Arik Gilbert, Dominick Blaylock, and Cash Jones scored!

It’s no slight against an efficient offense that scored on four of its first five possessions, but I think the defense should lead the story in an SEC shutout. Georgia’s defense gave up 22 points in consecutive games over the past month and looked a little more dominant in last week’s win over Auburn (even with their late touchdown.) That improvement continued against Vanderbilt. Before you “but Vandy…” this is an improved and somewhat competent Vanderbilt offense. Their offense came into the game averaging 5.83 yards per play – better than Kentucky, LSU, Texas A&M, Missouri, and Auburn. They put up over 20 points against two current top 15 teams and led Ole Miss at halftime. Their defense, as we saw, has been their undoing, but it was impressive to hold that offense to 150 total yards and zero points.

In most shutouts you need a combination of good defense and a bit a luck. Georgia had both. The Commodores had two good scoring opportunities in the first half and came away empty both times. Tykee and Christopher Smith combined for a forced fumble recovery inside the Georgia 20 in the second quarter. Just before halftime Nolan Smith pressure forced an intentional grounding penalty that led to a missed 44-yard field goal attempt. That drive featured Vandy’s first empty red zone possession of the season as well as their first missed kick. Georgia did catch some breaks. Kelee Ringo mistimed his jump against a 50/50 ball and left a Vandy receiver with a clear path to the endzone had he made the catch. Vanderbilt also got a receiver open down the sideline past Robert Beal and couldn’t connect. The Commodores weren’t able to convert any of the few openings that presented themselves downfield and didn’t have a reception longer than 22 yards.

Actual scoring opportunities were few and far between though for Vanderbilt and nonexistent after halftime. Vanderbilt’s first four possessions of the second half were all three-and-out and gained a total of 12 yards. They managed one first down in the second half. What’s most impressive is that most of those second half possessions came against Georgia’s reserves. The young depth on the Bulldog defense gave fans another tantalizing glimpse of the future. A well-timed corner blitz by Nyland Green on 4th-and-1 ended Vanderbilt’s only second half drive of any length and ensured that the shutout wouldn’t be in jeopardy.

Georgia’s offense had their most complete and well-rounded performance since the September trip to South Carolina. They also matched the season-high 14 first quarter points from the South Carolina game – a welcome development after consecutive games with scoreless first quarters. If the Bulldog passing game was a little muted against Missouri and Auburn, it bounced back well against a struggling Vanderbilt pass defense. Stetson Bennett threw for an efficient 289 yards in fewer than three quarters and completed 80% of his passes. Bennett was especially strong on third downs and had two big conversions through the air on Georgia’s opening drive. As usual the receiving stats were diverse with 11 Bulldogs catching passes. What might be more interesting is that it wasn’t McConkey or Bowers leading the way. Darnell Washington and Dillon Bell were Georgia’s leading receivers, and Washington had two more jaw-dropping catches to feed his growing legend.

The Bulldog running game had a decent follow-up to last week’s breakout game. McIntosh, Edwards, and Robinson all averaged over 4 yards per carry, but it was clear that Georgia’s game plan was to attack the soft Vanderbilt pass defense. Only Edwards had at least ten carries and had the longest run (20 yards) of the main group of backs.

Things slowed down somewhat for the offense in the third quarter. Georgia had two long drives of over 5 minutes each in the third quarter but only came away with a pair of field goals. Bennett seemed frustrated with the playcalling on those drives, and there was clearly some confusion and delay in getting lined up and communicating the play from the sideline at critical moments on those drives. Bennett took a hit along the sideline on his final snap of the game as a pass play broke down. The offense got back into rhythm with Carson Beck taking over at the end of the third quarter. Beck smoothly led Georgia on a pair of scoring drives and finished the game 8-of-11 for 98 yards. There was a good zip on his passes, and he showed good patience to let Dillon Bell break open across the middle for a 24-yard scoring strike. Beck later found Arik Gilbert in close quarters to convert on third and goal and get Gilbert his first touchdown reception as a Bulldog. The good feelings continued on Georgia’s next possession as walk-on tailback Cash Jones broke a tackle and reeled off Georgia’s longest run of the day for the final score.

  • One of Beck’s more impressive plays wasn’t a pass: he recognized an opening and scrambled 13 yards across midfield. He has a level of comfort and awareness in the offense that you hope to see after a number of years in the system. I’m glad the staff continued to have him run the offense even with the outcome settled. It was valuable experience for Beck, the reserve linemen, and the young receivers.
  • Christopher Smith had a fantastic game. He led the team with five tackles, recovered a fumble, and fought through a block for a physical tackle for loss.
  • Warren Brinson blew up a reverse or trick play before it could even develop. The play should have gone for a loss but was stopped a few yards downfield.
  • Ringo made perhaps the play of the last 40 years of Georgia football, so it seems a bit ungrateful to ask the cornerbacks to please start making some plays. With the exception of Trezman Marshall’s late pick at South Carolina, Georgia’s interceptions have all come from the safety position. How well we know that turnovers can change games or end comeback attempts. It’s more than just interceptions of course – missed tackles, mis-played balls, and unnecessary penalties can also cause problems. To be fair, we don’t talk about all of the plays on which good execution leads to a failed play or the ball going somewhere else, and these negative plays are just footnotes in an overall outstanding defensive effort. Georgia will face better offenses with potent passing attacks in the next four games, and these individual plays, and whether they’re made or not, will matter.
  • Quiet day in terms of the pass rush. Smith’s well-timed sack was big, and Vanderbilt hasn’t allowed many sacks this year. Georgia still got some pressure and played solid defense behind the rush to limit Vanderbilt to 4.6 yards per attempt.
  • We know there’s much, much more to the story, but LOL at Arik Gilbert being your mop-up tight end. The reaction to his score from fans and teammates showed how much people are pulling for him to succeed.
  • Speaking of welcome returns, Dominick Blaylock tightroped the sideline for his first touchdown reception since 2019. It’s been a long way back, and Blaylock’s role is growing.
  • Georgia’s rush defense was stifling. One of Vanderbilt’s usual tailbacks left the program last week, and the remaining backs weren’t able to get a gain longer than 8 yards on the ground.
  • Brett Thorson didn’t have much to do, but look at that – another punt dropped inside the 20.
  • It might be frustrating to see Brock Bowers stats lower than you might expect, but the attention he draws on the field opens up so much of what Georgia is doing. His underneath route opened up an early third down completion to Rosemy-Jacksaint, and of course his blocking is essential to the running and screen games. As Mitchell and Smith return and Washington’s profile takes off, there’s only so much defenses can do against Bowers. He’ll have many more big plays this season.

For the first time in four years we were able to take part in pregame festivities as members of the Redcoat Alumni Band. It’s an incredible rush to be on the field as the team comes out, and even for a warm low-profile game against Vanderbilt, it was simply deafening down there. Homecoming might seem like a trite anachronism sometimes, but celebrating our connections to the University, its student and alumni organizations, and the people we met along the way is a big part of what makes college football unique.


Post Georgia 42 – Auburn 10: Much obliged!

Tuesday October 11, 2022

Last week at Missouri we saw how early turnovers and field position could help an underdog hang around long enough to have a decent change at an upset. Saturday against Auburn we saw how the same advantages can help a heavy favorite take control of a game and roll to a lopsided win. If this young Georgia team is still finding its way, their rival from the Plains helped by making enough mistakes to help Georgia muddle through a slow start without repercussions before the Bulldogs kicked into gear.

Auburn’s not a very good team, and they’re reaching down the depth chart for a quarterback. They’re at the bottom of the SEC in turnover margin and have shot themselves in the foot all season with unforced errors. They stayed true to form in Saturday’s game. At times Auburn looked like a team playing its first game of the season, let alone its first road game. Penalties, errant throws, fumbles from out of nowhere, and missed tackles are trouble even if you’re the favorite. If you’re a 29-point underdog those same mistakes will lead to the series’ most decisive win in a decade.

The trick though is being able to capitalize on those mistakes. If a team is going to hand the game to you, let them. Missouri couldn’t pull the upset last week because they managed only one touchdown on six scoring opportunities. Georgia, for the first time in a while, was nearly perfect in turning its opportunities against Auburn into touchdowns. A failed fake punt and a punt return into Auburn territory set up Georgia’s only scores of the first half. The Bulldogs were not nearly as generous with field position as they were a week ago: with the exception of Bennett’s fumble that led to an Auburn field goal, most Auburn drives started with no better field position than their own 25. Podlesny was his usual reliable touchback-booming self, and Brett Thorson did well to pin the Tigers deep.

A failed Auburn fake punt in the first quarter opened things up after a scoreless opening period. South Carolina and Kent State executed fake punts against Georgia, but those came with both teams facing double-digit deficits and nothing to lose. Auburn tried their fake during a scoreless tie, helping to kickstart a Georgia offense that hadn’t done much in the opening quarter. Georgia only had to go 36 yards for their first score. The fake itself wasn’t a bad play, but it was poorly executed with several missed blocks. Nolan Smith made a great effort to elude a would-be blocker and make the tackle that blew up the play.

The return of Georgia’s running game was the highlight. The maligned running game and offensive line showed signs of life at Missouri by featuring more of a gap blocking scheme, and that success continued against Auburn. It wasn’t just a question of scheme – overall execution in the running game was better regardless of gap or zone blocking. It was also a breakout day for Georgia’s reserve tailbacks. With Kenny McIntosh still a little hobbled by a thigh contusion and Kendall Milton sidelined early in the game with a groin injury, Daijun Edwards and Branson Robinson combined for 181 yards and four touchdowns. Both showed patience, a burst through the hole, and toughness to break contact. Several runs ended with Georgia exerting their physical dominance and pushing the pile forward for extra yardage.

Unfortunately the story hasn’t changed much for Georgia’s passing game. The vertical passing game remains MIA and might continue to be without AD Mitchell and Arian Smith at full speed. 25 first half passing yards is the definition of playing offense in a phone booth, and Georgia didn’t really take a shot downfield until the attempt to Bowers at the end of the half. Auburn’s defensive front wasn’t as effective as Missouri’s either against the run or pressuring Bennett (though their lone sack could have been costly), but the Tigers were physical and disruptive at the line of scrimmage against Georgia’s receivers. Georgia’s screen and perimeter passing game was limited and had to find most of its passing success with intermediate routes in front of deeper safeties. Georgia didn’t need much from its passing game, but it will soon enough.

Georgia’s defense played well after allowing 22 points to consecutive teams. The poor tackling that led to Auburn’s lone touchdown was a blemish, but the defense deserves credit for forcing a three-and-out field goal attempt after an early third quarter Stetson Bennett fumble could have opened the door for an Auburn comeback. To be clear, Auburn doesn’t have a good offense. Ashford is still learning the ropes at quarterback and struggles with accuracy and decision-making. His scrambles were Auburn’s most productive plays, and he had a lot of room in front of him when he improbably dropped the ball. Georgia never sacked Ashford, but they did flush him often – I wonder if he had more throwaway passes or completions. The Bulldog defense didn’t break down and allow the kinds of big plays that Auburn used to score on LSU. If there was a disappointment, it was that Georgia couldn’t turn Auburn over more than once. Starks came close on another great play on a 50/50 ball. You’d hope for better than break-even against a team dead-last in the SEC in turnover margin.

Though losing containment of Ashford was concerning, Georgia shut down the rest of the Auburn rushing attack. No other Auburn player had a gain longer than nine yards or had over 20 yards rushing. Tank Bigsby, capable of creating tough yards of his own after contact, had just 19 yards and 1.9 yards per carry. Auburn’s fate was left in the hands (and feet) of Robby Ashford, and he wasn’t going to lead Auburn to an upset win. The state of Auburn’s offense makes it difficult to cite this performance as evidence of growth for the Georgia defense, but it would have been a sign of trouble if Auburn were able to mount a more consistent scoring threat.

  • Georgia’s response to Auburn’s field goal more or less out the game away. You weren’t uneasy at 14-3; it was more frustrating than anything that Georgia couldn’t put points on the board just before or after halftime. The 11-play, 81-yard answer was a nice mix of passes and then runs that took up nearly 5 minutes of clock. With half of the third quarter in the books, there didn’t seem to be a path back into the game for Auburn down 21-3. The only question left was the final margin. That drive was the first of four Georgia touchdowns in the final 22 minutes of the game.
  • It seems a different defensive lineman steps up each week. This time it was Zion Logue’s turn. He recovered Auburn’s fumble and, along with Stackhouse, led defensive linemen with three tackles. It was impressive watching Stackhouse trying to track down Jarquez Hunter on Auburn’s breakaway touchdown. He never had a chance, but the effort was there.
  • Oscar Delp scored his first touchdown at South Carolina, but he was involved more in this game with some nice catches – holding onto a tough pass while taking a hit from behind is a bigtime play. He was also in early as a blocker. Yes, Georgia even trotted out three tight-ends on the goal line in the second quarter.
  • It was nice to see Bennett lead the final scoring drive – he looked as much at ease running the offense with reserve players as he would with the starters. He spread the ball around to Meeks, Delp, and Bell, and Robinson added 25 yards on the ground behind various combinations of linemen.
  • Georgia’s second series showed how constrained the passing attack was early in the game. Bennett completed passes of 5, 0, and -1 yards. His first attempt longer than ten yards was a third down pass to a tightly covered Bowers. The first completion longer than ten yards didn’t come until a 16-yard play-action rollout to Washington in the third quarter.
  • Rian Davis was another player who saw more than his usual playing time due to injuries. Davis, himself slowed by injuries over his Georgia career, filled in for Smael Mondon at inside linebacker. He was active and finished second on the team with four tackles. His inexperience showed though as he was unable to make a stop on an Ashford keeper, and he got crossed up in pass coverage on a play that would have led to a big gain had Ashford been able to hit an open receiver. Overall not a bad day for Davis, and Dumas-Johnson continues to be impressive.
  • Podlesny’s missed field goal didn’t look right from the start. Bennett seemed to get the ball down, but something was off with the operation. An extra point later in the second quarter was also hooked left, but Pod looked solid the rest of the way.
  • Thorson’s 41.4 average isn’t going to win him any awards, but landing 5 of 5 inside the Auburn 20 with no returns is exactly what Georgia needed from its punt unit.
  • Cool to see Georgia use an unbalanced line for their fifth touchdown. Broderick Jones flipped to the right side of the line to give Georgia two tackles behind which to run. Jones seemed a bit confused in his assignment, and it was amusing to see a tackle go in motion, but Edwards followed the beef for an easy score.
  • Auburn’s late score was unfortunate by itself, but it was also Auburn’s first second half touchdown in Athens since 2009.
  • No question that McConkey has had his issues with ball security, but we saw why coaches keep putting him back out there for punt returns. He looks to make things happen, and he can be a big advantage in the return game. He was also, quietly, once again Georgia’s leading receiver.
  • Bennett’s long run to start the fourth quarter was a fantastic play. From my seats in the East endzone, the hole opened up as soon as Auburn’s safeties split towards the sidelines. With a nice block from McConkey, Bennett had no intention of sliding and took it all the way. The team’s reaction showed why Bennett is still out there even after a subpar first half and perhaps affected by a sore shoulder. He seemed even more in control after a little oxygen and was 8-of-10 for 86 yards on two subsequent scoring drives.

Post What leads to a Georgia field goal?

Wednesday October 5, 2022

Georgia’s so-so red zone offense has emerged as one of the top concerns for an offense that otherwise is performing quite well. The Bulldogs are among the lower half of the nation in getting touchdowns from their red zone possessions. Fortunately Jack Podlesny’s accuracy has allowed the team to come away with points on nearly every trip, but of course you’d rather come away with 7 points rather than 3.

So lets go through the drives that ended with field goals rather than touchdowns and see if anything jumps out. (Yes, there’s plenty of confirmation bias here since we’re focusing only on the drives that stalled. Look at it this way – if a Georgia drive stalls out in the red zone, what has probably happened?)

Right away you notice how ineffective Georgia has been on first down. The most successful first down plays in these series were a Milton run for 4 yards and a Carson Beck run for 5. There are several short or incomplete passes. Four other drives had penalties that effectively ended those drives. If you’re not successful on first down in the red zone, you’re more likely going to be throwing tough passes against more compact coverage later in the series. Sure enough, only one of these drives ended by getting stuffed on a 3rd-and-short run. The rest all ended on incomplete passes or sacks. Though the Dawgs have occasionally been able to recover, an unsuccessful first down play often means a field goal attempt will be coming soon.

Georgia’s tight ends, as expected, have been a bright spot for the offense. We’ve seen Bowers excel in the red zone running the ball on sweeps as well as coming down with a beautiful catch at South Carolina. Washington has been a fantastic blocker on some of those touchdown runs. They’ve been less involved at the end of these stalled drives though. Again, that’s not saying tight ends haven’t been active in Georgia’s red zone offense. They’ve just been targeted less frequently on the drives that didn’t get into the end zone.

1Q SAM 12:

  • 1-10: Bennett incomplete to McConkey
  • 2-10: Bennett complete to Milton for 7
  • 3-3: McIntosh run for 1

After coming up short on 3rd down, Georgia lined up to go for it on 4th and 2 and drew a delay penalty.

1Q SAM 11:

  • 1-10: Milton run for 4
  • 2-6: Bennett incomplete to Bowers
  • 3-6: Bennett incomplete to Washington

Georgia did try to use the tight ends on this series after a decent run on first down.

2Q SAM 10

  • 1-G: Bennett complete to Bowers for 2, holding penalty
  • 1-G: Edwards run for 5
  • 2-G: Bennett complete to McIntosh for 7
  • 3-G: Bennett incomplete to Bell

The holding penalty killed the drive.

3Q SAM 20

  • 1-10: Bennett incomplete to McConkey
  • 2-10: McIntosh run for 1
  • 3-9: Bennett sacked for -17

Bennett tried more of the scramble magic that led to a touchdown against Oregon, but he took the sack here. Podlesny was just short on the 54-yard FG.

4Q SAM 9

  • 1-G: Beck complete to Robinson for 2
  • 2-G: Beck incomplete to Bell
  • 3-G: Beck incomplete to Gilbert

The reserves were in to finish it off. Again two passes on goal-to-go after a short gain on first down.

2Q SC 25

  • 1-10: Bennett incomplete
  • 2-10: Bennett incomplete to Meeks
  • 3-10: Bennett incomplete to McConkey

Not really a red zone opportunity. Georgia was trying to steal points before halftime and managed a field goal.

4Q SC 10

  • 1-G: Beck run for 5
  • 2-G: Beck complete to Jones for 2
  • 3-G: Beck incomplete to Morrissette

Another late-game drive by the reserves. Morrissette dropped a touchdown pass. Zirkel nailed his first career FG attempt.

1Q KENT 14

  • 1-10: Edwards run for 2
  • 2-8: Bennett incomplete to McConkey
  • 3-8: Bennett sacked for -10

Bad protection on third down after a timeout led to the sack.

3Q KENT 19

  • 1-10: Edwards run for 2
  • 2-8: Edwards run for 3
  • 3-5: Bennett incomplete to Rosemy-Jacksaint

Not sure where Bennett was going with the pass. MRJ was open for the first down.

3Q KENT 15

  • 1-10: Milton run for 10, illegal contact penalty on McClendon
  • 1-25: Milton run for 3
  • 2-22: Bennett complete to Rosemy-Jacksaint for 12
  • 3-10: Bennett incomplete to Bowers

15-yard penalties are drive-killers.

2Q MIZZOU 23

  • 1-10: Bennett incomplete
  • 2-10: Bennett incomplete to Washington
  • 3-10: Bennett incomplete to Rosemy-Jacksaint

Three straight incompletions after two long gains through the air.

2Q MIZZOU 12

  • 1-10: Bennett incomplete to Rosemy-Jacksaint
  • 2-10: Georgia OL penalty – hands to the face
  • 2-25: Bennett complete to Bowers for 11
  • 3-14: FG to end the half

Georgia wasted a lot of time getting into scoring position, and a personal foul all but guaranteed this drive would end with a FG.

3Q MIZZOU 7

  • 1-G: McIntosh run for -1
  • 2-G: Bennett incomplete
  • 3-G: Bennett sacked for -3

Georgia had two cracks at first and goal thanks to a Mizzou penalty but twice lost yardage on first down.

3Q MIZZOU 15

  • 1-10: Georgia false start
  • 1-15: Bennett incomplete to Washington
  • 2-15: Bennett incomplete to Bell
  • 3-15: Bennett complete to Blaylock for 9

Another red zone penalty and early down incompletions led to a difficult 3rd-and-long.


Post Georgia 26 – Missouri 22: A substandard escape

Tuesday October 4, 2022

“A win is a win.”

If there’s one overarching element of the culture Kirby Smart has build around the Georgia program it’s the emphasis of process over results. If “process” sounds a little too Alabama-y, we know where Smart cut his teeth and how much of that successful model he brought with him while putting his own touches on it. Smart built a program to be sustained (as he put it over the summer) by drilling his principles of physicality, toughness, composure, and discipline. Even after a decisive win the same standards drive expectations in practice.

If all of that is true and not coach-speak, then “a win is a win” is meaningless and counterproductive. It says something about how you performed relative to the day’s opponent, but it says nothing about the performance against the standards by which you measure yourself. Fans have the luxury of just enjoying the wins, and I hope we do – especially after the catharsis of the national title. After all, what do we have to do with setting and enforcing the program’s standards? It’s dangerous though within a program if outcomes begin to overshadow standards. To be blunt, it’s more in line with late Richt-era thinking. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that a change in thinking is occurring within the program or that Smart would allow that to happen. But if we are to take the coach and players at their word when it comes to how they approach building a championship program, it’s OK to recognize when the standards they’ve set and taken ownership of aren’t being met regardless of outcome.

It’s to the team’s credit that they were able to overcome the slow start, double-digit deficit, and the road environment to get the win. Composure is one of Smart’s core concepts for a reason, and if Georgia had a mild test of their composure last week, it got a serious stress test at Missouri. Bennett deserves credit for leading the offense back, but we didn’t see many players on either side of the ball making the kinds of mistakes you expect when players get tight and begin to try to force things. The defense held Missouri to just six second half points, the offense made adjustments to blocking schemes, and the coaches got the ball to the offense’s best players. When the opportunity came to turn the game around, the players stepped up.

Georgia might not have been in trouble against Kent State, but I thought that “it’s probably more useful to look at it as a profile of a game that might get Georgia in trouble later this season.” Turnovers, sloppy tackling, dropped passes, and an offense that struggled to create explosive plays made that game closer than it should have been, and we saw at Missouri that those weren’t one-off problems. Throw in some early turnovers and a lopsided field position disadvantage, and another huge underdog began to believe.

The defense didn’t play a poor game with the exception of a handful of broken plays. If you’re frustrated about Georgia’s red zone issues, imagine Missouri having to settle for five field goals. It seemed all night as if Georgia’s defense would do its job, Missouri would string together just enough plays to barely get into field goal range, and then convert the kick. Four of Missouri’s five field goals were 40+ yards, and three of them were from 49+. Credit Harrison Mevis for recovering from his nightmare at Auburn, but holding Missouri to field goal attempts kept the score close enough for Georgia to hang around. A second Missouri touchdown (especially from goal-to-go) would have put tremendous pressure on a struggling Georgia offense.

We can’t ignore the mistakes and broken plays that got Missouri most of their yardage. We saw the defense start well against Kent State, but it only took one misplay along the sideline for them to get into the endzone. Against Missouri we saw the combination of Smith not finishing a sack and Lassiter letting a man get behind him result in a long pass play. We saw a couple of dropped interceptions by safeties that could have ended Missouri drives. We saw over-pursuit that opened up big running lanes. Georgia tackled well in the first three games, but they’ve regressed in the last two games. These are things that can be worked on, yes, but we’re running out of opportunities to see improvements within games before the important stretch that ends the season.

Kent State began to challenge Georgia’s receivers, and the Bulldogs weren’t able to establish much of a vertical passing game. Stetson Bennett had been averaging well over 10 yards per attempt through the first three games, but he was a much more ordinary 7.5 yards per attempt against Kent State. Missouri likewise didn’t show much respect for Georgia downfield and was more aggressive with blitzes and tight coverage at the line of scrimmage. Bennett’s yards-per-attempt fell to 7.25 in this game, and he completed just 56% with the offense relying more on dropback passes than the screens and short passes that were an extension of the running game earlier in the season.

That pressure disrupted Georgia’s offense. Missouri had two sacks, nine tackles for loss, and seven QB hurries. Several of those unproductive Georgia plays came on first down – especially in the red zone. On Georgia’s four drives that ended with field goals, there were three incompletions and a lost yardage running play on the first downs of the series that ended those drives. Georgia found themselves on third-and-long eight times and had a decent (given the situation) 37.5% success rate thanks to Bennett’s ability to make plays. You’d like to see better success on early downs to avoid so many long third downs. Georgia’s overall success rate was about 47% – still slightly above average, but it’s a far cry from what we saw in the first few games.

While Bennett wasn’t able to take the top off of the Missouri defense, he was able to find some success with more intermediate routes. Six players had receptions of at least ten yards. Even those successful passes were often tightly covered as Georgia’s receivers struggled to gain separation. The longest pass plays of the game came to Georgia’s tight ends. That’s great – Bowers and Washington are unique talents that need to be used, but there were no explosive pass plays (20+ yards) to receivers. It’s a little funny (or karmic) for a Georgia fan to single out two injured receivers, but players matter. Arian Smith and AD Mitchell have special skills that can help this offense, and I think we’ve seen how much Georgia needs them back in the lineup. Opponents will continue to try to constrict Georgia’s offense until they’re made to pay for it.

  • Lots of talk this week about zone vs. gap running plays given Georgia’s struggles with the former and more success with gap plays in the second half. It’s not an all-or-nothing question, and good lines should be able to block for either if the situation calls for it. It will be worth watching if this change sticks around and brings the running game to life in the next stretch of the season.
  • Is Daijun Edwards your closer? It sure felt like it.
  • One bright spot among the receivers was Dominick Blaylock. Blaylock continues to work himself back into the offense after two knee injuries, and he had three catches on three targets in this game. He is a former 5* prospect and showed some special skills as a freshman in 2019. Each of the receivers brings some valuable skills – Rosemy-Jacksaint is a fantastic blocker, McConkey can be a dangerous playmaker if he can get over the drops, and Blaylock is a reliable ball-catcher. It’s a lot to ask these guys to take over the lead in the absence of Mitchell.
  • Georgia forced a rare three-and-out after taking the lead. It was perhaps a little early for Missouri to abandon the runs that had some success, but we’ll take three passes into coverage. Tykee Smith’s well-timed breakup on third down reminded me of the big play William Poole had against Alabama in the title game.
  • Georgia has a young defense, but some of its more experienced players didn’t have a great game. Kelee Ringo was beaten for a deep completion and had an unnecessary pass interference penalty. Robert Beal was nearly invisible. Christopher Smith dropped an interception and bit on Missouri’s touchdown play. These are the guys you want to lean on as the younger players get up to speed, and they have work of their own to do.
  • Can’t imagine a more terrifying thing than Darnell Washington flying though the air at you mid-hurdle.
  • Stackhouse had a fantastic play to blow up a reverse and force a 10-yard loss following Bennett’s fumble. Missouri still ended up with a field goal, but that lost-yardage play kept Missouri from turning the fumble into anything more costly.
  • Malaki Starks got off to a fantastic start and had one of the most important tackles in this game. Teams are beginning to spread the field to isolate him in coverage and force him to defend one-on-one.
  • Georgia’s only SEC loss to Missouri came in 2013, and it featured a fumble returned for a touchdown. I had a flashback when Bennett and Edwards fumbled on a read play, and it was a tremendous response by Bennett to recover and tackle a larger defender. Bennett and Starks saved two touchdowns by chasing down Missouri players with nothing but the end zone in front of them.
  • Starks’s tackle showed why you never concede a yard or give up on a play. The subsequent false start and goal-to-go stand by Georgia averted big trouble before halftime.
  • Bennett’s toughness, experience, and leadership couldn’t have been bigger. He was clearly favoring his shoulder in the face of relentless pressure. He overcame the pain to make some precision throws and lead six straight scoring drives after his fumble.
  • If there’s one intangible to be concerned about and turn around right away, it’s the fear factor. Kirby Smart said earlier in the season that “our goal is to strike fear in every part of the game in our opponent.” Will future opponents fear Georgia, or do they see what Kent State and Missouri were able to do and see opportunity?

Post Georgia 39 – Kent State 22: Getting it Out of the System

Monday September 26, 2022

Nervous?

After a week of over-the-top “is this year’s Georgia team better than (x)” overreactions to the first three games, the #1-ranked Bulldogs struggled to put away a decisive underdog. Kent State was a two-point conversion away from a one-possession game in the fourth quarter. Georgia had to convert a fourth down at the goal line just to make the final margin somewhat comfortable. The Bulldogs turned the ball over three times, missed tackles, dropped passes, and had a couple of special teams miscues. Georgia, gasp, now might not be a runaway lock to reach Atlanta, much less the NFL playoffs.

How best to (over)react this week? Do we throw away what our eyes showed us in the first three games? We could go the other way – it’s tempting to dismiss a sloppy performance as just the consequence of a noon game against an opponent few outside the program took seriously. That’s the challenge in talking about this game – what can we chalk up to just one of those days, and what might Kent State have exposed that should concern us in the future? Take for example:

  • What about the turnovers? Turnovers are more or less luck. Georgia got through three games without turning it over, and it caught up to them. That’s not really something to take from the game though of course each turnover play will be analyzed for things to improve and correct.
  • Georgia’s difficulty defending perimeter passes was uncharacteristic. This skill had been a strong point in the first three games, and Georgia had reliably held offenses to under five yards per pass attempt by snuffing out quick passes to the outside. Kent State tested Georgia’s young defensive backs, especially Lassiter and Starks, and the visitors were able to have some success. It was jarring to see Lassiter and Smith unable to force the receiver back inside on Kent St.’s first touchdown – those are plays that had become nearly routine for this defense. “Eye discipline” was the phrase everywhere after the game. It’s the kind of thing you would expect to be worked on as part of the development of a young defense, but we should expect to see future opponents try to test those players again.
  • Is Georgia’s lack of a deep threat on film now? The Bulldogs tried to hit Ladd McConkey on a deep shot on the game’s first play, and another deep pass attempt over the middle was picked off. Georgia’s longest pass play – including yards after catch – went for 23 yards. Georgia has had success this season with shorter passes to an arsenal of receivers that turn into big gains. But if deep passes aren’t a threat the defense can become more compact and take away the space that allowed those short receptions to develop. Stetson Bennett had been averaging well over 10 yards per attempt through the first three games, but he was a much more ordinary 7.5 yards per attempt in this game. Georgia was still able to drive consistently and never punted.

Rather than dwelling on this game, it’s probably more useful to look at it as a profile of a game that might get Georgia in trouble later this season. It’s no revelation that a rash of turnovers can keep an underdog in a game. A defense that takes poor angles and doesn’t work well as a unit will give up points. An offense that doesn’t get many explosive plays and settles for eight field goal attempts in two home games will struggle to put opponents away. The problems Georgia showed Saturday aren’t characteristic flaws, and many of them can be drilled on the practice field. If, though, Georgia does unexpectedly drop a game this season, I expect we’ll be talking about some of these same areas.

One of Kirby Smart’s core principles is composure, and Georgia passed an unexpected test of its composure. The interception didn’t rattle Bennett and lead to more miscues. The Bulldogs were only penalized twice. Podlesney was rock solid. McConkey had about as poor of a first half as you could have, and he bounced back to contribute in the second half. A defense that was back on its heels for the first time this season stood tall facing first and goal from the 3. The offense calmly drove to answer Kent State’s fourth quarter touchdown. Georgia was never able to put the game away until that last score, and they needed a fourth down conversion to get it, but neither did they panic or get away from what they did well. I’ll grant that this wasn’t the fourth quarter of the national title game. Smart probably wasn’t expecting his team’s composure to come into play, but it was there to prevent this game from becoming something much worse than uncomfortable.

  • Georgia’s a deep team thanks to recruiting, but players still matter. Jalen Carter was missed on the interior defensive line. We laud receivers for blocking, but sometimes they need to make more plays as receivers. The anticipated return of AD Mitchell and Arian Smith could help extend the vertical passing game.
  • I’ve mentioned before that being cleared to play doesn’t mean that a player is over an injury. Ratledge is still struggling to get up to speed. (To be fair, the other guards aren’t doing much better.) Kenny McIntosh was still able to contribute with a thigh contusion but lacked a bit of explosiveness. Players often just fight through these injuries, and fans wonder why they see less playing time or diminished production.
  • It wasn’t Kirby Smart’s finest hour either. Georgia was forced to burn their final timeout after sending 12 men onto the field before a Kent State field goal attempt. That nearly led to a clock management disaster at the end of the first half. Fortunately Bennett was able to just break the goalline, but the clock would have expired had he come up short.
  • Kent State did like to move around on special teams with mixed results. Georgia ended up using two timeouts as Kent State flirted with going for it before settling on a moderate fielf goal. Their presnap motion on the punt team opened up the path for Georgia’s blocked punt, but it also created some confusion that led to a successful fake punt. Kent State’s placekicker was as surefooted as Georgia’s.
  • Darnell Washington’s 16-yard catch in the third quarter was one of the most impressive you’ll ever see. The ball was behind him, and he had to twist around and extend every bit of his 6’7″ frame to dive for the ball. He’s always been a dominant blocker but has come a long way as a receiver.
  • Jamon Dumas-Johnson was ready for the noon kickoff and got the lion’s share of his two sacks and three TFL early. His early presence inside might’ve even led Kent St. to attack the outside a little more where they began to find some success.
  • Mondon and especially Dumas-Johnson have improved since the opener, but you definitely don’t like seeing your first team defense gashed for the runs Kent State ripped off late in the game. We were spoiled last year with a dominant defensive line, but linebackers have important gap responsibilities against the run that can be exposed if someone is out of position.
  • The absence of Carter opened up opportunities for players like Bear Alexander (even as a fullback in the goalline package!) He’s earned some more time in the defensive line rotation.
  • McConkey, for all of his first half struggles, still led Georgia in receptions and receiving yards. The Dawgs need him, especially with Mitchell out, and you saw that in the team’s response to his miscues.
  • Two touchdown runs and five receptions seems like a routine game for Brock Bowers, but his special talent and consistent play is a big reason why this game never seemed to be in danger.

Post It looks even worse on paper

Wednesday September 21, 2022

The 2023 football schedule is out, and it’s…something else. We knew that the Oklahoma trip was canceled, but that had nothing to do with the home schedule. Fans will get seven home games that fall off quickly in quality after Ole Miss and Kentucky. There are four straight warm September home games to start the season, and Georgia will end the year with back-to-back road games to Tennessee and Georgia Tech.

There is light at the end of the tunnel as SEC realignment is coming, and it could even lead to this schedule being scrapped if Oklahoma and Texas work out an earlier exit from the Big 12. We’re fairly sure that divisions are on the way out, but we don’t know yet whether the SEC schedule will have eight or nine games or what the future holds for permanent opponents and rivalries. Georgia also has some more interesting nonconference home-and-homes lined up for the future, but the fate of the Oklahoma series reminds us that it could all change at any time.


Post What a difference three years makes

Wednesday September 21, 2022

I reference the 2019 South Carolina game a lot since it’s one of the few upsets in the Kirby Smart era beyond the transition year of 2016.

ESPN’s Bill Connolly posted his advanced box score from Saturday’s game, and why not compare it to the one from 2019? The format has changed over the years, but some of the same data is in each.

Turnovers are the first obvious difference. Georgia was -4 in 2019 and +3 in 2022. One of those 2019 turnovers was a pick-six that gave South Carolina the lead. On Saturday a Georgia interception ended an early South Carolina scoring opportunity. In 2019 a similar South Carolina possession ended with a 49-yard field goal. That turnover margin was a big reason why South Carolina came out with the upset despite an 8% win expectancy.

The Georgia defense was similarly effective in 2019 and 2022. The 2019 defense finished the year rated #1 by SP+ and was otherwise outstanding until LSU showed up in Atlanta. South Carolina’s yards per play, total yardage, and success rate were right about the same in the two games. About the only difference was that South Carolina’s lone explosive pass play in each game was a touchdown in 2019 and only moved the chains in 2022.

The real reason for posting these was to see the evolution of Georgia’s offense. The Bulldogs went from a success rate of 46% in 2019 to 71% in 2022. To be clear – that 46% in 2019 wasn’t bad…it was slightly above the national average. It’s just that much better in 2022. Georgia also went from under 5 yards per play in the 2019 game to 8.4 on Saturday. Georgia wasn’t especially explosive in Saturday’s win (Bowers’ touchdown aside), but they were just brutally efficient at driving the ball with chunk passing plays. We talked in 2019 about the frustration with Georgia’s phone booth offense. In the win over Notre Dame Jake Fromm was 11-12 for just 59 yards passing at halftime – an omen for Georgia’s offensive identity the rest of the season. In the loss to South Carolina Fromm threw for nearly 300 yards on just 5.26 yards per attempt. Georgia eclipsed that yardage total in 2022 on about 20 fewer attempts at a clip of 11.3 yards per attempt – over 5 yards per attempt better than in 2019.

Anyway – enjoy the progress of the past three seasons. (Click to enlarge.)

2019:

219 UGA-SC

2022:

2022 UGA SC


Post Georgia 48 – South Carolina 7: Ready to play

Tuesday September 20, 2022

You could pin the 2019 upset loss to South Carolina on any number of causes. Four turnovers hurt. An offense that lacked much of an explosive element came to define the 2019 season and led to the changes that brought Todd Monken to Athens. Kirby Smart took responsibility for failing to “get (their) ass ready to play.” The team went through the motions for a sleepy noon kickoff against a heavy underdog and paid the price.

Georgia has been pretty good in early kickoffs since then. They put Vanderbilt away in Nashville last season before local clocks struck noon. The Gameday lead-in to a frenzied and packed Sanford Stadium set the stage for Georgia to jump all over Arkansas. You might think some of the preparations Smart made for last week’s game at South Carolina was overkill. There was pumped-in crowd noise at practice. The obsession with Columbia’s September heat shaped the team’s social media messaging. Georgia even brought their own air conditioning (and the generator to power it) for their locker room.

The point of it all was that Smart would not allow any factor to prevent his team from being ready and engaged. South Carolina was roughly as much of an underdog in this game as they were in 2019, they had their usual home crowd, and a strong comeback last week on the road at Arkansas might have fostered optimism that they were figuring some things out. From interviews with the broadcast team and postgame comments, it’s clear that Smart’s “hunter vs. hunted” message was emphasized this week to neutralize those glimmers of hope as soon as possible. The Bulldogs executed that plan about as well as they did against Oregon. Georgia jumped out to a 21-0 lead before having to punt. With no chance of a noon letdown, Georgia’s decisive talent advantage took care of the rest.

That talent advantage starts with Brock Bowers. Bowers had been involved in the first two games but hadn’t scored yet or had the kind of jaw-dropping performance that made him Georgia’s leading receiver in 2021. This was the game we had been waiting for. Bowers doubled his season reception total, had over 120 yards receiving, caught two touchdown passes, and added another score on a reverse. His full arsenal of talent was on display. You saw the elusiveness to evade four would-be tacklers on the reverse. You saw the sure-handed leaping ability to secure his first touchdown catch and the awareness to get a foot in bounds. You saw the speed and vision to take a pop pass down the seam, juke two defensive backs, and outrun everyone for a long touchdown. Georgia had the best player on the field and a system that found ways to get him the ball with devastating results. It almost seemed unfair to deploy Bowers against an inexperienced safety who had just come into the game.

Stetson Bennett had another efficient day delivering the ball to Bowers and the other receiving options. Kenny McIntosh was a little less involved than in previous weeks, but Bennett spread the ball around to other playmakers. That was a theme for the offense: with the exception of Bowers’ stat line, only McConkey had more than two receptions. Six Georgia players rushed for at least 20 yards, but Bennett was the team’s leading rusher with 36 yards. There’s no one element of this offense or any one or two players that defenses can key on, and that had to be a nightmare for a defense missing a handful of starters.

Georgia’s defense was also without an important starter, Jalen Carter, but Georgia still had plenty of playmakers step up on that side of the ball. At first glance it looks as if the defense hasn’t missed a beat from 2021. But while the focus last season was on the front seven (and rightfully so!), this year the passing defense is enjoying some time in the spotlight. Georgia’s two P5 opponents have featured a pair of well-known quarterbacks capable of making tough throws and evading pressure. No one is going to confuse Bo Nix and Spencer Rattler with Joe Burrow, but they have still been experienced and successful quarterbacks for major P5 programs. Georgia held each to under five yards per pass attempt. For perspective, there are only seven out of 121 FBS quarterbacks currently averaging under 5 yards per pass attempt (perhaps we should call this the Jeff Sims metric after the Georgia Tech QB who is averaging right at 5.0 YPA.)

Of course good pass defense requires contributions from all three levels. Only one sack on the season might be concerning, but that doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of pressure. We’ve seen that Georgia’s opponents have preferred quick passes to put pressure on Georgia’s young linebackers and defensive backs to make tackles. This game shows more than any other how Georgia can still be active up front while preventing big plays downfield. Georgia again didn’t record a sack, but they notched nine QB hurries and had six tackles for loss. Rattler was rarely allowed to get comfortable, and he ended up having to make rushed decisions and get rid of the ball quickly. He had a single completion for 46 yards and managed just 72 yards on 24 other attempts.

  • It’s tough to highlight a single series in a blowout of this magnitude, but a pair of possessions in the second quarter just about ended any chance South Carolina had. Georgia was pinned deep and went three-and-out after a failed and ill-advised screen attempt. An average punt gave the Gamecocks great field position near midfield. It was 21-0 at that point, but a Gamecock score just before halftime could have put the game back within reach at halftime. South Carolina called three straight running plays. The first two went for short gains, and the third was stuffed for a loss. Georgia got the ball back, drove to add three more points, and went to the locker room with all of the momentum.
  • Georgia might’ve lost focus in the third quarter of the Samford game, but they were locked in after halftime this week. Georgia’s first three drives of the second half led to touchdowns, and only a dropped pass in the endzone prevented a fourth. South Carolina managed just 17 yards of offense in response to those three touchdown drives before the reserves took over.
  • I’m glad Carson Beck is doing more than handing off when he’s in the game. Not only do we get to see his command of the offense, but we also get to enjoy watching players like Oscar Delp cut their teeth.
  • Perimeter blocking has been a strength of this team since the opener when Bowers and Mitchell cleared the way for McConkey. Much of what Georgia is trying to do with tight ends and tailbacks in the passing game wouldn’t be possible without complete buy-in and execution from blockers. Even Stetson Bennett got into the act.
  • South Carolina’s defense was in good position several times but couldn’t come up with a big play. They sniffed out a screen that led to a Georgia three-and-out (and almost a bad turnover). An edge defender was in position on Bennett’s touchdown run but bit hard when Bennett planted his leg and went back inside. Bowers was well-covered on Georgia’s third touchdown, but a precise throw and spectacular catch using Bowers’ size advantage made the play a win for Georgia.
  • David Daniel-Sisavanh has the distinction of giving up late meaningless touchdowns to Michigan and now South Carolina. He’ll have to continue to improve in those coverage situations, but he’s one of the more physical defenders Georgia has at the star position and will continue to have a role.
  • Only two Bulldog defenders had more than 2 interceptions in 2021. What odds would you give Malaki Starks to best Derion Kendrick’s 2021 team-high total of 4?
  • The game continues to slow down for Georgia’s inexperienced middle linebackers. Dumas-Johnson, Marshall, and Monden were Georgia’s leading tacklers and accounted for five of the team’s nine QB hurries. Marshall’s late interception was a heady play to drift from the line into the passing lane.
  • Thorson’s second punt was the definition of outkicking your coverage. He boomed it 56 yards, but Josh Vann was able to bring it back 21 yards to set up South Carolina’s score.
  • How lopsided was the result when the backup kicker gets to show off his leg?

Post Georgia 33 – Samford 0: Regression toward the mean?

Tuesday September 13, 2022

Georgia’s first home game as national champions could have been a bit more festive both on and off the field. But on a drizzly day with an FCS opponent in town the dominant theme was just getting it over with. Fans were late to fill in and early to leave. Tailgating was subdued. Even the teams agreed to shorten the game, and so we experienced the rare college football game to finish in under three hours. About the only party not interested in getting on with it was the SEC Network which was duty bound to empty its advertising inventory.

That dreary and disinterested setting carried over to the Georgia offense. It wasn’t a washout: Georgia scored on all six first half possessions. Some things were just a little bit out of sync. Three of the six first half drives ended with short field goal attempts. Georgia’s reserves couldn’t cross the goal line in the second half. The running game had difficulty getting to the second level. Stetson Bennett’s accuracy wasn’t as sharp as a week ago (if Darnell Washington has to extend to make a catch, the pass might be a touch too high.)

We were all blown away by Georgia’s offense in the season opener. The offense looked like an efficient machine reaching the end zone on every possession led by Stetson Bennett. It was impressive enough to vault Georgia past Ohio State in the polls and significantly shift the odds in the nascent Bennett Heisman campaign. That success was fueled by a bit of a statistical anomaly: Georgia was 9-for-10 on third downs against Oregon. I’m sure Todd Monken put the offense in some very good plays that were executed well, but we know that a 90% conversion rate isn’t sustainable. Against Samford the Bulldogs came back to earth going just 5-for-13 on third down. Outside of the three touchdown drives Georgia was just 3-for-11.

It’s fine to examine those third down plays to see what went wrong, but often third down is determined by what happened on the first two downs. Georgia’s offense under Bennett’s guidance is better when third downs aren’t a big part of the picture. In last season’s Orange Bowl Georgia faced nothing longer than 3rd-and-1 on their first two scoring drives. On the final two drives that took control of the national title game Georgia again faced nothing longer than 3rd-and-1. On the season Bennett was 65% on first down, 74% on second down, and just 53% on third down. His yards per attempt fell by over four yards from first and second down. Even his rushing yards per attempt fell on third down. Georgia’s offense was at its best when it was humming down the field on first and second down.

I expect most quarterbacks find it tougher on third down – you’re usually in passing situations with less of the playbook available and the defense knowing that a pass is coming. Still, third downs were a big reason why the quarterback controversy was slow to go away in 2021. The Oregon game was a hopeful sign of progress. Bennett was in control, accurate, and making good decisions. “That’s what I’m most proud of, it’s the third downs,” he said after the Oregon win. The Samford game was a return to more familiar patterns. Georgia faced just two third downs on its three touchdown drives and only one of any distance (Bennett found Kearis Jackson for a 17-yard gain on a 3rd-and-6.) Georgia wasn’t as effective on early down on its other drives, and the Bulldogs didn’t convert a third down after halftime.

That’s not to bag on Bennett; it wasn’t just an issue for the passing game. Georgia ran five times on third down and only converted once. Against Oregon we were dazzled as Georgia scored on sweeps and bootlegs to the outside, but maybe Georgia wasn’t confident in more conventional running plays between the tackles. The running game wasn’t exceptional with just 127 yards on the ground and 4 yards per carry against an overmatched defensive front. Georgia’s line, particularly at guard, hasn’t been great at getting a push, and only one Bulldog ballcarrier had a gain longer than 8 yards. Getting to the second level and opening the holes that lead to explosive running plays requires a coordination that isn’t quite there yet. It’s great that Georgia has enough skill talent and playcalling creativity to move the ball in other ways – we saw plenty of plays in the first two games on which passes were little more than extended handoffs. In areas like the red zone where the field becomes more compact it’s nice to have a little Manball in the arsenal.

If the offense was a little less focused from the first game, the defense showed progress. Let’s get the “but FCS opponent” disclaimer out of the way. It only takes a single broken play to lose a shutout, and the Georgia defense had very few busts. Samford’s best play was a fantastic catch against tight coverage, and the defense held fast to keep Samford from cashing in. The shutout was well-earned. Samford rarely crossed midfield, managed only three first downs, and had a single third down conversion in 13 attempts. This was an up-tempo spread offense that scored over 50 points at Florida a year ago, and Chris Hatcher knows what he’s doing on offense. Georgia once again handled quick passes to the perimeter, fought off blockers, and missed very few tackles. The Bulldog defense has held consecutive opponents who like to throw the ball under 5 yards per pass attempt, but it might soon get a different kind of test from SEC opponents who are more adept at running the ball.

  • Bennett of course had several excellent throws. One of the best came on a third down after an awkward sidearm attempt on second down fell incomplete. Bennett threw a dart right on the money across the field to Kearis Jackson along the sideline.
  • Bennett has scored a rushing touchdown in each of the first two games, but he has negative rushing yards on the season (thanks to a bad sack taken against Samford.) You can excuse the coaches for not calling many designed runs so far that expose Bennett to contact, but the plays that have been missing are the runs that turn broken pass plays into positive gains. Instead Bennett has preferred to scramble in the backfield and look for a way to salvage the passing play. He was lucky to escape for a touchdown pass against Oregon, but against Samford the results were a sack and whatever that was before halftime. The line is thin between keeping a play alive and throwing it away to play another down, but Bennett has shown that he can do damage when he tucks and runs.
  • One of the bright spots in the running game was Kendall Milton. While McIntosh has flourished in multiple roles early this season, a healthy Milton might be the team’s best pure tailback. Milton had a career-high 85 yards on ten carries and had the team’s only running plays that broke longer than ten yards.
  • Young players getting their first significant action is one of the more enjoyable things about games like this, and Georgia began emptying the bench early. Since even prospective redshirts are able to play in four games, we were able to get a look at just about everyone cleared to play. Freshman receiver Dillon Bell caught a touchdown pass and had some nice moves in the open field. Mykel Williams notched the team’s first sack of the season. De’Nylon Morrissette had a pair of receptions. Daylen Everette was an early sub into the defensive backfield and gained valuable experience. On the opposite side of the inexperience coin Dominick Blaylock had a reception after years of working back from knee injuries.
  • The secondary led the team in tackling in the opener, but the front seven was more active against Samford. Smael Mondon led the team in tackles and had 1.5 tackles for loss. Defensive linemen like Walthour and Stackhouse were disruptive. Carter might not have stats that jump off the page, but his impact is obvious on just about every snap from the attention he draws.
  • There seems to be no shortage of playmakers in the secondary. Dan Jackson forced a fumble. David Daniel-Sisavanh continues to be a physical force in the middle and tipped a pass that could have been picked off. Javon Bullard had a perfectly-timed breakup of a fourth down pass. Last week’s defensive hero and leading tackler Malaki Starks had a quiet game statistically as did Ringo, but it’s not that they had poor games – there are just different guys stepping up.
  • Carson Beck again looked stable guiding the offense to Georgia’s final score of the game. He nearly had a nice touchdown pass to Bell, but his third down throw might have been better going underneath than forced into the endzone.
  • It’s interesting to see Ladd McConkey get the lion’s share of punt return opportunities whether or not the team was in punt safe. Kearis Jackson might not be 100%, but he did get to field a punt later in the game.
  • Can’t ignore Podlesny’s day. He just came up short on his long attempt but otherwise made sure each scoring opportunity resulted in points. A few bad misses, especially early, could have easily soured the impatient crowd.
  • It was unfortunate that the day’s light rain kept the Redcoat Band off the field. You’d hope that an off-and-on drizzle wouldn’t be too much for the drainage system of a professionally-maintained turf surface. Georgia is extremely supportive of the Redcoats, but keeping them in the stands just added to the scrimmage vibe of the entire day.
  • Most of the crowd was slow to filter in, but credit to the students for showing up early and in full voice.
  • It’s a shame many were scared away by the forecast. You won’t get many early September games with temps in the 70s, no glaring sun, and a cool east breeze. After a little early sprinkle it actually turned out to be a pretty decent day for football.