Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post One last look back at Mississippi State

Tuesday October 4, 2011

Georgia won the game with two things: field position and defense. At the end of the first quarter, both teams had 83 yards of total offense. The score was 14-3 in Georgia’s favor. The (Georgia) Bulldogs had two short scoring drives totaling 55 yards thanks to Boykin’s brilliant punt return and a shank on another MSU punt. The visitors had to drive 56 yards in a single possession just to get into range for a field goal. Georgia’s scoring drive of any length was the 8-play, 81-yard drive to close the first half. With the exception of the late second-quarter drive that was ended by Commmings’ interception, MSU didn’t have a drive start with better field position than their own 37.

Georgia’s special teams got attention after last week’s problems, and you could tell. Returns were sharper, and Boykin had an instant impact on punt returns. It was also interesting to see the defense remain on the field for more than a couple of 4th downs – even when distance and field position made the odds of a fake nearly zero. There’s not much to say about Walsh. I’ll buy that he has the yips because I’m not informed enough to spot mechanics issues. I do wonder if he’s overkicking – he’s knocking balls through the endzone on kickoffs more than ever this year, and sometimes greater power comes at the expense of accuracy. The most important consequence is that the coaches, at least in the short-term, should not call plays inside the opponent’s 35 assuming they have three points in their pocket.

And the defense. As Munson once put it, “the beautiful defense.” MSU took a lot of heat for nearly losing to Louisiana Tech, but this was still the same team that ran all over Auburn. We knew what MSU does well – run the spread option and burn you with play-action after you bite on the run. We knew what MSU doesn’t do well – throw the ball in obvious passing situations.

A year ago, MSU was an efficient 7-of-13 on third down against Georgia. They were able to sustain drives, control field position, and pick their moments while the Georgia offense worked uphill. That story was reversed on Saturday. Georgia held the visitors to just 4-of-15 on third down, and a lot of Georgia’s success had to do with their play on first and second down. 10 of MSU’s 15 3rd downs were 6 yards or longer. They converted only one of those – a 3rd and 9 on their first-quarter field goal drive. Otherwise, the Georgia defense did exactly what it had to do – contain the running game on the first two downs and force Relf (and Favre) into uncomfortable third-and-long situations. The average MSU third down was 3rd and 7.5 to go.

My enjoyment in watching the defense is why I had a problem with the second-half offense. The offense was given field position, momentum, and a tired defense put back on the field after numerous short MSU drives and did little with it after intermission. I’m fine with being conservative in that situation, but I’m not so sure that’s what was going on. It’s just that, short of returning a few of those dropped interceptions for scores, the defense couldn’t have done more for their counterparts on offense. It’s not just the lack of production by the offense, it’s the feeling of a wasted gift.

(There is something good to say about the second-half offense. There was still plenty of time left when MSU got their pick-six. A three-and-out and an average punt return could have set MSU up with momentum and the game very much in doubt. Though the offense, and ultimately Walsh, failed to put more points on the board, they at least responded with a nice 9-play drive that ate up 5:32 and let a lot of air out of whatever lift MSU got from their defensive score. Thomas deserves recognition for his role in that drive. In fact, that drive (nine plays, 5:32) and the one before it (seven plays, 4:08) that ended on Murray’s interception ate more clock than all but one of Georgia’s drives. Some points would have been nice, but those drives did their job. We have a much bigger problem with the 3rd quarter offense that failed to eat clock OR move the ball for more than a total of 24 net yards.)

I had to remind myself a few times after the game that this was a one-sided double-digit revenge win over a team that started the year ranked above Georgia. This was a possible trap game. MSU’s offense is about as far as you can get from pro-style, and Todd Grantham’s ability to scheme against the nontraditional offense was still up in the air. I was among several wondering if MSU could make things difficult by attacking Georgia on the edge. Memories of Georgia’s struggles getting in the endzone in Starkville were erased three minutes into the game.

There’s a couple of problems with leaving things at “a win is a win”:

1 – The opportunity to develop the reserves against an SEC opponent was lost. As Brandon Boykin went down with just a couple of minutes left, my second thought – after initial concern for his well-being – was frustration at the fact that he was in the game to begin with. Georgia, though it had dominated the game, still had to worry about the remote possibility of an Auburn/Utah State scenario, and so a fair number of starters were left in to close the game. With Cornelius Washington on the shelf for a while, it would have been nice for Faloughi and Drew to see more action. Of course playing reserves is subordinate to protecting the lead and winning the game. There can be greater value in a game though than just getting the win. Georgia missed a good opportunity to realize that value.

2 – It would be one thing if the second half were really about trying to kill the clock, but I think we’re letting the offense off easy by putting their awful third quarter on ultra-conservative playcalling. Almost a third of Murray’s pass attempts (8 of 25) came during the third quarter in which Georgia managed a grand total of 24 yards. Another pass play broke down. Only two of those pass attempts were completed. The same people were in the game. The offense wasn’t particularly risky in the first half, either – the plays just stopped working after halftime. Georgia’s offense was more successful in the fourth quarter when they really *were* trying to run clock.

With the program placing so much emphasis on finishing games this year, it’s not out of bounds to ask questions of the second half offense in the past two games. The defense has embraced the challenge – they’ve pitched two, make that three, straight shutouts after halftime. The offense has a couple of things working against them:

  • Their best option at tailback, though insanely talented, is still building his endurance.
  • The offensive line depth is razor thin. I’m not sure Georgia substituted on the offensive line, and that would make two consecutive games that these five have played all snaps. I understand why that is a neccesity, and hopefully Burnette can be back soon. You also don’t rotate offensive linemen like you might defensive linemen or tailbacks. But a waning Crowell and a line that can’t afford even a series off isn’t the hallmark of an offense built to finish games.

That’s quite a problem to have, isn’t it? Why is Georgia only winning by 14 instead of 24? It’s one of the #firstworldproblems of college football.

One Response to 'One last look back at Mississippi State'

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  • Since 1995 – insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs. Your well written article definitely underscored that statement. Enjoyed your comments…on point! Please inquire if the offensive staff and players do anything at half time to put themselves in this position. Two games could be a co-incident, but a third in Knoxville will sound a bell, and it will not be the Chapel Bell.