Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The silver lining of 2nd-and-Chattanooga

Monday October 10, 2011

2nd-and-56 is nothing but an amusing footnote on the game. Even Richt was smirking about the absurdity of the situation. (Perhaps he should have just punted then – at least he didn’t take the safety.) It’s a shame that we’ll just remember those penalties and the ridiculous down-and-distance, because all of it came right as Georgia was playing some of its best football of the season.

Midway through the third quarter, Georgia was pinned down in the shadow of their own goalpost nursing a one-score lead. Bottled up for much of the game, the offense strung together a series of big plays to score on Isaiah Crowell’s second touchdown run. Crowell had been a battering ram on Georgia’s first scoring drive of the third quarter, but he showed what he can do in space on that second score.

Tennessee responded with a kickoff return to midfield – one of the few Bulldog special teams mistakes. There was still plenty of time left in the game, and the Vols had their best field position of the night. Though Tennessee faced a 3rd-and-1 after a Georgia offsides penalty and a 4-yard run, the Vols stalled after a delay of game penalty. The Bulldogs held and forced a punt.

For the second consecutive series, the Bulldogs started a drive inside their own ten yard line. They didn’t instantly flip field position with a long pass this time; instead they moved the ball in much smaller chunks, spreading the ball around to four different receivers. Bennett, Brown, King, and Conley all caught short-to-intermediate passes on the drive. You had to love Bennett going airborne on his reception. It was also encouraging to see a nice, safe pass to Marlon Brown on 3rd-and-1. Yes, with a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, Georgia was putting together a long drive by throwing the ball.

Eventually Georgia drove as far as the Tennessee 23, and they looked almost certain to get at least a field goal that would pretty much end the game. That’s when the hilarity started. 46 yards in reverse and a pair of pointless runs later, Georgia was punting from their own 31. Yes, it was ridiculous. Yes, it cost Georgia a chance to put the game away. Yes, that series of penalties and the late hit penalty on Lynch fired up the crowd.

Still, the drive chewed up 8:21 of clock on one of the longest Georgia drives of the season. It took us from a contested game in the third quarter and awful field position to Tennessee getting the ball back still down 14 with under 10 minutes left to go. It also gained enough net yardage to move the ball from inside the Georgia 10 to a more reasonable spot outside their 30. Even with a good punt return and Lynch’s penalty, the Vols weren’t much past midfield. For a team that had committed three holding penalties and two personal fouls, that wasn’t the worst possible outcome.

Then the defense took over. Rested after over 8 minutes of game action on the bench over two quarters, the defense made certain that 2nd-and-56 wouldn’t let Tennessee back in the game. Michael Gilliard came crashing through on first down, forcing Bray to take a grounding penalty rather than a sure sack. A harmless pass on second down put the Vols in 3rd and long, and the defense forced another punt after a three-and-out that deflated what lift Tennessee got from Georgia’s mistakes on the previous series. With great field position and a reinvested crowd, the Vols actually lost six yards.

It was similar to the response of the defense after the successful Ole Miss onside kick. The Rebels had the crowd fired up after scoring on a trick play, got a huge boost from the onside kick, and Georgia’s defense responded with an interception. In recent years, we’d explain away an opponent’s score by noting the bad position in which the defense had been placed. Even this year, Boise State was able to cash in on a good punt return. Georgia’s mistakes against South Carolina almost invariably led to points. Georgia’s defense isn’t just looking strong when they have favorable field position or down-and-distance; they’re showing resilience when placed in tough spots. To paraphrase Mark Richt, it’s OK to get a three-and-out or to keep a bad situation from ending in points.

Comments are closed.