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Post Georgia 45 – Georgia Southern 14: Annoyance

Monday November 19, 2012

If Tech is all about clean, old-fashioned hate (and it is), Georgia Southern was just…annoying. The early-ish start time, the half-full student section, and especially the jersey-clad Southern fan nearby bellowing “HAIL SOUTHERN” for most of the first half – I was in an unusually foul mood for this one. Even the football didn’t cooperate. Fans who might’ve expected an early start on traffic found themselves with a football game, albeit an ugly one, to worry about right up until halftime.

When Tavarres King dropped an easy pass on a smoke route on the game’s first play, you got the feeling this wasn’t going to be tidy. Georgia went on to score on that opening drive, though it took a fourth-down conversion to do it. The Georgia offense stumbled through the rest of the first half turning the ball over, killing drives with penalties, and providing us with the rare opportunity to see the successful return of a missed field goal. It was looking like Ole Miss again – you never really sweated the outcome, but it took that last-minute scoring drive to be able to relax a little.

The defense wasn’t particularly sharp either. You got a little uneasy during the week hearing defenders talk about dreading playing against the cut blocks that go along with this annoying offense. That’s only natural – the defensive line saw a teammate’s season ended last year when a Tech defender drove at an ankle. But when a defender starts wondering about whether he’s insured before facing a certain style of opponent, it follows that they’d come out tentative, reactive, and…well, a little scared. Though the visitors only scored once in the first half, they stopped themselves more often than the Georgia defense did. Thank goodness for the well-timed arbitrary chop block penalty.

What changed in the second half? The offense stayed with the up-tempo and pass-heavy approach that got them points late in the first half. Southern, especially with most of its defense aimed at stuffing the run, just couldn’t match up with Georgia down the field. Murray’s execution was sharp again, and I’d bet that around half of his incompletions were drops. His touchdown passes to Mitchell and King were perfectly placed, and the touch on Conley’s first TD showed another important skill.

Christian Robinson, who lived in the Georgia Southern backfield during the second half, summed up the basic change in the second half defense. “We started knocking them back a little more,” Robinson explained. There were certainly more specific adjustments (thanks to whomever lit a fire under Geathers at the start of the second half), but Robinson identified the biggest difference from half to half. Georgia’s defense stopped reacting to Southern and forced the Eagles to make no-win decisions. “When you’re messing up those running lanes and making them have to read you, that’s when you start dictating what happens,” Robinson continued. As the line handled the interior running lanes and Jarvis Jones rocketed towards the quarterback, the QB was forced to read and pitch right where someone like Robinson or Ogletree was waiting. Georgia Tech will bring different challenges and looks for the Georgia defense, but the Dawgs learned the most important lesson for themselves – you’re far more effective against the option when you’re the aggressor within the framework of your assignments.

Georgia’s superior skill in the passing game and a defense more willing to assert itself kept a mildly annoying first half from turning into something a lot more concerning. The final result was both enjoyable and satisfying.

  • Murray’s November is shaping up to be one of the best months ever by a Georgia quarterback. In the three games since Florida, Murray is 57-of-80 (71%) for 822 yards (274/game), 11 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He learned from his shaky performance in Jacksonville and continues to make good decisions. I know the Dawgs haven’t seen the best defenses in the nation lately, but that’s outstanding execution against anyone, and it’s coming without two important targets.
  • It’s worth noting that Murray hasn’t had more than 28 attempts during that stretch. Not only have these games been decided by the fourth quarter, but defenses are having to key on a set of very good running backs. It’s important to establish the run and make use of those weapons at tailback, but Murray’s current form presents the choice any defense hates: do you respect the run and see Murray carve you up, or do you play off and watch Gurshall go for over 200 yards?
  • This passing game won’t work without receivers stepping up in place of Bennett and Brown. Conley shone with two scores on Saturday, but the contributions of Wooten are big also: Conley doesn’t get five yards on his last touchdown reception without Wooten’s textbook block. Even Justin Scott-Wesley got his first touchdown reception on a very tough catch. Tight ends continue to have a larger role, and there are few plays more certain now than part-time hoopster Jay Rome snagging a high pass across the middle as if it were an alley-oop.
  • He only had one play Saturday, but Collin Barber has also had a big November. Since the Florida game, Barber has boomed a punt of at least 50 yards each game and is averaging over 48 YPP.
  • It’s still not all rosy on special teams. McGowan nearly coughed up a punt after fumbling on a pass play. Morgan’s only sin on the missed FG was getting under it a little, but it was embarrassing for the unit (all but Mark Beard) to be caught asleep as Georgia Southern returned the miss. Mitchell was better on kickoff returns and was a few inches from breaking the game’s opening kickoff.
  • Special teams stat of the day? Marshall Morgan credited with two tackles.
  • Even with Georgia Southern’s early success on the ground, the Dawgs at least avoided the big play. QB McKinnon had a few runs of 23 and 24 yards on the 4th quarter scoring drive, but that was about it. Georgia forced the Eagles to drive and usually got the mistake they needed to get off the field.
  • I know the Dawgs were disappointed about that second half score. It came about in the worst way, too. Georgia had forced a 3rd-and-13 deep in Southern territory, but McKinnon busted right up the middle for 24 yards. The Eagles got 121 of their 302 rushing yards in the 4th quarter.
  • As much as we heard about Josh Harvey-Clemons during the week, he didn’t see much time until the fourth quarter. Two guys off the bench who did have an impact were Ray Drew and Christian Robinson. Robinson had a career-best 13 tackles against Boise State last year, but I don’t know if he’s had a more significant performance than he had Saturday. His nine tackles – two of which went for big losses – had a lot to do with the success of the defense in the second half. Drew finished with four tackles and got the lion’s share of time at the defensive end spot usually played by Washington.
  • I’m not surprised to see Garrison Smith leading the way among defensive linemen with seven tackles. Georgia’s top six tacklers were all linebackers or defensive backs – except for Smith. He’s done well against the option before and we were hoping for a repeat performance. He’ll be key again this week, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tech try to account for that. Kwame Geathers was also important in plugging the middle and getting the option outside where others were in a position to clean up.
  • This game was a great illustration of how important first down is when going up against an option offense. When Georgia was able to get Georgia Southern in 2nd-and-7 or worse, the drive ended on that series of downs six out of nine times. When Georgia Southern faced 2nd-and-6 or better, they eventually got first down yardage every time.

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