We’ve had some time to re-watch the game a time or two and think about things after one of the more oppressively hot days we’ve seen in Sanford Stadium. In no particular order…
Above all things – score, stats, or stars – the thing I was looking for on Saturday was whether the team looked like it bought its own talk. Whether it played like a team excited about the possibilites that inspired this season’s player-driven motto. I thought back to an unhappy Mark Richt from August who warned his team after a lackluster scrimmage about looking like an 8-4 team. “I didn’t see a team that was ready to be great,” Richt explained back on August 15th. That would serve as a pretty good analysis for the season opener too.
If there’s a good angle to Georgia’s struggles, it’s that we’re talking about the defense. If it were Georgia’s offense that struggled, we’d be validating preseason concerns about the offensive line and freshman running backs. But we’re talking about the defense. It’s not a question of hoping these guys can play better. We know they can – we’ve seen it, and we saw it during that third quarter. They still have to get it done in practice this week and play with proper focus, but at least we’re not dealing with a lost cause.
Redzone defense was a topic of preseason conversation. It wasn’t a point of pride on Saturday. Buffalo drove into the redzone four times, and they came away with points each time – three were touchdowns. The lone field goal came at the end of the first half when time was a factor.
Of all the suspended players, Ogletree seemed to be missed the most. That’s not to say all was smooth sailing in the secondary. Several of Georgia’s biggest problems on defense – the quarterback escaping containment and the pass coverage across the middle – were areas where you’d expect middle linebackers to have an impact.
On offense, most of the attention – deservedly so – is going to SEC Co-Freshman of the Week Todd Gurley. It’s a debut for the ages. It’s worth noting that before Gurley broke his long touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Gurley and Marshall each had 45 yards. I was as pleased with one freshman as I was the other. If Marshall could have just held on to that nice pass from Wooten. That was a neat play – it was a little odd seeing Marshall in the game at the same time as another back – Malcome I believe. Marshall was lined up offset, almost like a fullback. He released through the line and was able to get wide open for Wooten’s pass.
Georgia completed no passes to tight ends. That’s not a criticism – they were often kept in to block. But it’s something that’s only happened three times over the previous three seasons. It’s an adjustment after three years of the White/Charles combination, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lynch have a bigger role in the passing game soon.
King very quietly had a great game. We’ll take 6 catches, 117 yards, and a touchdown any day. Georgia was without its #2 and #3 receivers, and the tight ends didn’t figure much into the passing game. Despite that, King was able to get open and have a big day. He frequently got behind the Buffalo secondary and could have had an even bigger day with more accurate passes. The receivers as a whole played well, and there was some great blocking going on, especially on those quick passes to the sideline. Rhett McGowan had a nice block to finish off Gurley’s first touchdown.
We’re more than pleased with zero turnovers. Murray wasn’t at his most accurate, but he didn’t make many dangerous or ill-advised throws. The freshmen backs held the ball, and there were only a couple of obvious drops. Generally speaking, when the pass was close, it was usually caught.
Speaking of Murray, he had an ambitious goal of completing somewhere between 65 and 70 percent of his passes. 15-of-26 isn’t much progress towards that goal. It’s closer to Murray’s 59.1% average last year. A lot of his incompletions came on longer pass attempts, but you can’t write off the deep ball as a weakness. The passes to Wooten and King were just fine. If it’s just a question of excitement or nerves, it’s not a new problem. It is something that could keep Murray from his goal though. He did do well to hold on to the ball when pressured – something that was an issue during the preseason scrimmages.
On the flip side of the turnover margin, it was mildly disappointing not to come away with any takeaways. The defense had a couple of chances at interceptions, and the best chance might’ve been taken away by borderline offensive pass interference. Jarvis Jones also dropped a ball thrown right into his chest, but it’s tough to catch those passes in close quarters when going full speed at the quarterback. A lack of pressure kept Zordich from making many poor throws into coverage, and he had time to convert third downs on scoring drives. Georgia clamping down on those third downs was the biggest difference from half to half.
I don’t care much about style points, but that’s the game, and they do matter. There’s a bigger reason why the game needed to be put away in the first half, and you can sum it up by John Theus being in the game in the fourth quarter when he got injured. Murray was still in there for Gurley’s emphatic touchdown run. At that point, I was just happy not to be sweating a close game like we were at halftime. Still, this was one of only a few opportunities the team would have to develop game experience for a lot of the younger guys who will be expected to contribute soon. LeMay hadn’t played in a game since 2009 and is expected to be the backup this year but only got one series. Harvey-Clemons saw very little time. Some of the younger offensive linemen began working in during the fourth quarter, but starters were still in there when Theus was injured. (By the way, the reserve line did a nice job blocking Gurley’s long run.) That was a missed opportunity, but hopefully a few other early games will offer a chance to get these young guys in.