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Post Georgia’s other third down issue

Thursday October 10, 2013

Georgia’s defensive woes have crystallized around third and fourth down. In the past two games, opponents are converting third and fourth down at a 55.5% (20-for-36) clip. That’s not good, and it’s been the subject of more than one article recently.

But getting less attention is the fact that Georgia’s high-powered, explosive, and talent-laden offense has its own third down issues. This offense producing so many points and yards is 12th in the SEC in third down conversion at 37.5%. Only Mississippi State and Kentucky have had less success moving the chains. (In fairness, the Dawgs are a successful 6-for-8 on the year on fourth down.)

The Tennessee game didn’t do much for Georgia’s conversion rate. The Dawgs were 4-for-13, but that doesn’t tell the story. Prior to the final drive, the Dawgs had converted a single third down: a 3rd-and-1 from the Tennessee 13 on Georgia’s first touchdown drive. Georgia was 1-for-10 on third downs for the first 58 minutes of the game.

Georgia’s game-tying drive at the end of regulation was remarkable for many reasons: Murray’s poise, the contribution of true freshmen in a pressure situation, and the ability to execute after so much had gone wrong. Most remarkable might have been how Georgia flipped its third down difficulties into drive-sustaining big plays. Georgia was a perfect 3-for-3 on third down on that drive, and all three plays did a lot more than just move the sticks. On the first, Green used good vision to find the initial hole and then showed a great cut back to the right to turn a small gain on 3rd-and-1 into a 17-yard run. On the second, Murray went to Douglas on a swing pass that turned into a 32-yard pickup down the left sideline. That’s a play we’ve seen before with Marshall, but this big play depended on a freshman tailback who had just dropped a hot pass across the middle. The third conversion was the payoff: Murray fit a pass into the smallest of windows, and Wooten, who was covered, did a great job to make himself available and secure the touchdown reception.

Is Georgia a bit of a feast-or-famine offense? When they’re clicking, which has been often, third downs are rare. On Georgia’s first four drives that led to points at Tennessee, they faced a grand total of two third downs – each of which were 3rd-and-1. We saw them fly down the field on the first and last drives against LSU without getting to third down once. When you have a fleet of receivers and backs capable of big plays, inefficiency on third down is an occasional nuisance. It’s not an exact science of course; we’ve seen Georgia grind out scoring drives too. The numbers suggest though that if you can get Georgia to third down, you stand a fair chance of slowing down this potent offense.

What does that mean going forward? With so many weapons out injured, it’s reasonable that Georgia might get fewer explosive plays. That would mean they’d have to drive in smaller chunks which would lead to a few more third downs. Doing a better job of converting those downs then will be what allows Georgia’s offense to maintain its scoring pace. You might expect more drives like the final one at Tennessee where 2, 3, or more third down conversions are required to get into the endzone. The focus changes from the big explosive plays to sustaining drives. If it comes to it, is that an adjustment the Georgia offense can make with its reserve skill players?

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