A review of the season opener coming up just as soon as I change into my Gameday Gown.
Let’s get the big stuff out of the way: the Georgia debuts of Brian Schottenheimer and Greyson Lambert went about as well as could be expected. The tailbacks and outside linebackers are everything we thought they were. Special teams has improved. Georgia got out in front and put away a weaker opponent, survived some lapses around both ends of halftime, and responded to put the game away before Mother Nature ended things.
Schottenheimer’s playcalling wasn’t put to the test, but the execution of the plays that were called was solid, and that’s as much on the coordinator as the playcalling is. It’s a low bar to set, but seeing some of the problems other teams around the nation had just running their offense, we’ll take a fairly clean performance. It’s the downside of a runaway win like this that Georgia didn’t have to open it up much. Mitchell’s outstanding touchdown catch was the lone pass attempt downfield, and only two wide receivers caught passes. We knew though that Georgia isn’t going to air it out when they have a tailback roster this deep, and Schottenheimer was able to manage exactly the kind of game he wanted.
Lambert also wasn’t asked to do much, but he looked competent running the offense. The two touchdown passes were well-placed throws. He adjusted the formation to set up Chubb’s second touchdown run. Perhaps most important for this type of offense, he didn’t make mistakes that cost the team field position. There were no turnovers or sacks, and even unproductive drives ended in long punts that put ULM deep in their own end. That was enough for the defense and special teams to set up some short early scoring drives and ensure that Georgia would have the lead that would put them in complete control of the game.
Lambert didn’t face much pressure – a positive for him getting comfortable running this offense but a negative if you wanted to see how he’d respond. There were a few plays where he might’ve held on to the ball too long or not pulled the trigger against tight coverage. We’d rather he do that than force bad throws, but hesitation won’t be a virtue when the game is moving much faster against better opponents. The batted passes were a concern for a 6’5″ quarterback. Given a clean pocket though, Lambert showed he could make accurate throws up to 30 yards down the field. The performance was good enough that no one batted an eye when Mark Richt announced postgame that Lambert would remain the starter. No controversy.
That’s a good thing because Brice Ramsey gave us enough in his one series to start a controversy had Lambert opened the door. The sack on second down wasn’t Ramsey’s fault (ULM sent three defenders at two offensive linemen, and neither Hicks nor Chubb picked up the additional rusher), but Ramsey rebounded to throw one of the nicer passes of the day – a laser across the middle to hit Godwin in stride. Ramsey’s touchdown screen pass to Michel was another impressive throw. Ramsey had to be patient against another ULM blitz while the screen set up, and he executed a delicate pass. Georgia fans will be pleased that the screen game is alive and well.
The defense didn’t have as much to prove, but they gave us plenty to talk about. As dominant as they were for much of the first half, they had difficulties against the pass and one specific area of the run. ULM had some success using play action out of a read option to make it a fairly efficient 23-for-29 day for the quarterback. Georgia held ULM to around 7 yards per attempt, so they usually did well to keep these passes short. It was when ULM could string together a few longer passes that they scored. There wasn’t a specific weakness. Sometimes it was a rookie corner like Rico McGraw taking his licks. Other times it was an interior linebacker out of position. These are all areas we should expect to improve with experience and coaching, and the defense more often than not made enough plays to get off the field.
ULM’s offense isn’t going to run the ball much, and Georgia did well to make sure they didn’t get many cheap yards on the ground. The most successful running plays were quarterback keeps on the read option. That’s something we’re likely to see again soon from teams like South Carolina and Tennessee, particularly on third and short.
- We saw a healthy Marshall and Mitchell. It’s great for the offense but you’re also happy for them personally. The cheer Marshall got from the fans was one of the best moments of the day. Mitchell’s touchdown was a highlight, but his ability to shake the first defender on his other receptions will be a valuable skill.
- You can’t mention Marshall without Michel. We had seen Sony in the passing game at South Carolina last year, but putting him in the slot with Chubb in the backfield is almost cruel. He beat a cornerback on that long gain, but often he’ll be matched up with a linebacker. As bland as the offense was, Michel was a nice reminder of the possibilities. He looks to be a more physical runner too – both he and Marshall were impressive finishing runs.
- Again we talked a lot in the preseason about the depth at tight end. We saw plenty of them – at least three touchdowns in the first half came on two-TE sets. Their role in the passing game was more limited – only Blazevich caught a pass.
- The weather saved us from Georgia killing the clock, but the final delay came at a time when we were just starting to see significant numbers of newcomers take the field. Georgia ended up playing 19 true freshmen, but many of them only got a series or two before the game was called. We might’ve also seen another series for Ramsey (or even Bauta), but it was the young talent on defense that I was most interested to see.
- That said, freshmen still had a big impact on the game. Godwin was the headliner (just hold onto the ball!) D’Andre Walker had the big special teams play. McGraw took his lumps, but that’s what happens when you’re thrown into the fire as a true freshman starting at cornerback.
- Floyd had a very good game, but I’m still not sold on him at the star spot (or even ILB.) He’s terrifying coming off the edge and can be very quick in pursuit, but I don’t know about the pass coverage or taking on a big back running downhill. I get moving him around just to get him (and Carter, etc.) on the field, but in certain roles he’s just good rather than exceptional. For this defense and its personnel, “good” might be the best option though.
- The team should get credit for using the first weather delay to refocus, and they looked sharper once play resumed. But the play before the delay was significant – Parrish fought off a block on a receiver screen and made a tackle for loss that set up a longer third down coming out of the delay. Parrish quietly had a solid day.
- The up-tempo offense is also alive and well. Georgia sped it up several times during the game.
- Barber was impressive on kickoffs (except when he wasn’t.) His first punt – after a high snap – was rough, but the rest looked good. Field position mattered throught the game, and Barber was a big part of that. Coverage was exceptional even on the kickoffs that didn’t make it to the endzone. Seeing guys like Lorenzo Carter, Natrez Patrick, and several touted freshmen on special teams is encouraging.
- Que sure looks the part, doesn’t he?
It was a game settled long before the second lightning delay made it official. There were no significant injuries, no turnovers, and no real controversies going forward about the lineup. Without much else on the line, that outcome is just how Georgia wanted to head into SEC play.