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Post Georgia 56 – FAU 20: Taste the rainbow

Tuesday September 18, 2012

If you left Saturday’s game concerned about the defense, you either had money on the 40-something point spread or you didn’t watch the Missouri game. Georgia, starting a pair of true freshmen in the front seven and a cornerback at safety, figured things out pretty quickly and played lights out in the second half. Against Buffalo we saw a bit of disinterest and lackluster effort in the first half. That was a little alarming for a team that had been focused on the possibilities of this season for months. The early defensive struggles against FAU had nothing to do with effort or focus, and you only had to watch Shawn Williams for a few plays to get that. Like a holding call on Burnette that came after he had driven his man 20 yards downfield, you can live with mistakes of over-aggression a lot more than you can a lack of effort.

Georgia’s piecemeal secondary was tested early and gave up several big pass plays. There was confusion and a little finger-pointing as assignments were figured out on the fly with predictable results. The secondary wasn’t helped by the lack of pressure from a pass rush that typically used no more than four defenders. The base defense rarely changed much with a lot of nickel that put Commings as a lone deep safety and even some dime that had Norman in as a second deep safety.

This isn’t the defense we’ll see against Tennessee or even Vandy for that matter, so you can’t evaluate much based on what we saw. There were still a couple of things I took away:

  • Malcolm Mitchell is still “new” to the cornerback position. He has great skills that are evident in man coverage, but zone assignments are still a work in progress. Combine that with the relative inexperience of Swann and Commings at their respective positions, and you had three of the five guys in a nickel package learning not only their position but also how to play as a unit with other inexperienced guys.
  • Commings played out of his usual position, but it reminds us that there will still be an adjustment when Rambo and Ogletree return. Even though the suspended players have and will get plenty of practice time, it’s another thing to adjust the instincts of the other defenders that have developed over the first third of the season. This will be worth watching early on against Tennessee as the defense adjusts to a new (and hopefully permanent) normalcy.
  • Vasser, as you’d expect, had fewer issues and some nice plays returning to his usual position.
  • Though shaky early on against the pass, the run defense was fine. FAU gained 43 yards on one carry and was held to under 92 yards on 37 other runs (under 2.5/run). That 43-yard touchdown came as two defenders, including a freshman, ended up engaged with the same blocker and left a gap wide open.
  • I was surprised not to see more Corey Moore at safety especially as the game became decided in the 3rd quarter. I understand that Commings will likely be the answer at safety again against Vanderbilt, so it was important to get him as much work as possible. Still, not much has been done until late in the 4th quarter to develop that depth at safety whether it’s Moore or Harvey-Clemons.

On to the rest of the game…

  • At the heart of the “old man football” kerfuffle last week was a contrast of styles on offense. Missouri’s spread versus Georgia’s pro-style. Old, boring, predictable, bland, vanilla…all criticisms we’ve heard before, especially from our own fans. Michael Bennett was asked about playing in a “vanilla” offense, and he replied, “If we execute like we know how to do, we can make a vanilla offense look rainbow.” We were treated to 713 yards worth of ROYGBIV on Saturday.
  • Heavy favorites don’t often show much in games like this unless they’re trying to work on new concepts. So there was the pistol formation – one of the few truly interesting developments from this game. The pistol isn’t new – its roots in Division 1 go back to Nevada in the middle of the last decade. It’s also not a gimmick – we’ve seen it used in offenses as diverse as the Air Raid to Alabama’s stodgy offense. It’s primarily a running formation, though of course there are passes and play-action built in. (If you want a nice introduction to the theory behind the pistol, start here.) For a team with a nice set of tailbacks and a quarterback that can run, the pistol is a very nice tool to have in the shed. It will be an interesting subplot to see how Georgia continues to use the pistol and how (or if) Bobo riffs off of the basics with some play-action or keepers for Murray.
  • Gurley’s popularity is well-earned, and in every game Gurley has done something to wow us. Against FAU Gurley’s downfield vision and speed through the secondary on his touchdown run was breathtaking. I was glad then to see Marshall get his chance to shine as well. We saw several good examples of the speed and shiftiness that brought him accolades as a prospect. Unlike, say, a quarterback controversy, we’re fortunate that this isn’t an either-or situation. Each had similar stats on 10 carries apiece. It’s going to be fun to watch this combination develop. And then you bring in a legitimate SEC back like Malcome when a defense has chased Gurley and Marshall for a while…
  • Speaking of backs, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see at least a late carry or two for Samuel. After the play he made at Missouri, he deserved to have his name called and the fans given the chance to show their gratitude. That’s not too much to ask for someone named a captain for the game.
  • As raw as he is at cornerback, Malcolm Mitchell the receiver is just fine, thanks.
  • Michael Bennett has become such an important receiver that his few drops at Missouri were noteworthy (and unusual). The FAU game was his moment to shine, and he showed everything from agility laying out on a 3rd down reception to keep Georgia’s first drive alive to speed as he outran the FAU secondary on a long touchdown. We continue to see the depth of the receivers – last week it was Brown’s turn. Wooten had the impressive TD catch in the opener and showed his speed on a reverse against FAU. Conley did what he does best – beat isolated 1-on-1 coverage to set up a score. King is always there for a long reception. Even Justin Scott-Wesley got in on the act this game and raised some eyebrows with his speed on one of LeMay’s few highlights.
  • Jerome Bettis would have been proud of Georgia’s offense – half of Georgia’s scores came from runs of 1 or 2 yards out after someone else got the ball down to the goal line. Georgia’s quarterbacks had more rushing touchdowns than the tailbacks.
  • Speaking of the quarterbacks, we’re at an uneasy truce with the backup situation. Give LeMay time in his current role with the understanding that the redshirt would come off of Mason if Murray were unable to go for any extended length of time. Fine. We’d prefer not to think about that scenario right now because either alternative – the shaky LeMay or Mason coming out of cold storage – isn’t reassuring.
  • The most impressive part of the offense’s record-breaking display was the efficiency. Murray was as effective out of the gate as he’s ever been. Even on the drive ended by Lynch’s fumble, Georgia was moving right down the field again. Consider the competition, but we’ve seen much worse execution against comparable teams.
  • Can you quibble with coaching decisions in a game like this? Letting 20 seconds run off the clock before deciding to call a timeout with a minute remaining in the first half would have received more scrutiny had FAU not moved the chains.
  • Every touchdown is worthy of celebrating, but I hope everyone noticed the unfiltered joy the team showed on Lynch’s touchdown. They campaigned for the review, and they made sure the senior wouldn’t forget his first career touchdown. It was a classic tight end rumble worthy of Mark Bavaro, and it took a good deal of skill to stay in-bounds and extend the ball over the pylon while holding off a would-be tackler.
  • The key block on Lynch’s touchdown? WR Rhett McGowan. McGowan also had a big block on Gurley’s first touchdown against Buffalo. He added the lone bright spot from the punt return game against FAU. I’m sure he’d like a few passes thrown his way, but he’s making some nice plays when given an opportunity to contribute.
  • The return game was the sore spot on an otherwise good night from the special teams. Coverage was fine, and kickoffs alternated between touchbacks and inconsequential returns. Pooch punts weren’t as successful this time, but one was unlucky as it bounced to the right and into the endzone instead of out of bounds. Morgan didn’t have any field goal opportunities, but extra points were much less of an adventure for the first time. Credit to Geathers for blocking an extra point. The return game is worrisome. Georgia hasn’t settled on a punt returner, though Swann seems to be the default. The opportunity was there for a few longer returns, but the punts were either fumbled or too long based on where the returner set up.
  • Lastly – and this has nothing at all to do with the FAU game – a tip of the cap to Michael Elkon for an August comparison of 2012 USC to 2008 Georgia. SoCal didn’t have the defensive meltdown that Georgia experienced a few times in 2008 – Stanford isn’t that potent of an offense. The Trojans just couldn’t overcome a poor game from its offense. The offensive skill players are great, but the core is hollow and the defense is soft. Been there.

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