That was fun. Every so often Sanford Stadium gives us one of these games – Clemson 1991…51-7…the 2007 blackout…2013 LSU – and Saturday’s trouncing of South Carolina belongs up there. Whether or not it was Steve Spurrier’s last visit to Athens, this one will leave a mark, and Georgia fans will remember this game for a long time.
- We have to start with Greyson Lambert. Nitpicking Lambert’s game must be what it feels like to criticize dishes on a Top Chef finale. Even the incompletion wasn’t a bad pass – Blazevich was covered, and the throw was high enough so that only the taller tight end would catch it or no one would. We weren’t surprised to see Georgia come out throwing, but the ease of passing the ball quickly turned even the most “run the damn ball” spectator into an Air Raid advocate. We didn’t even bat an eye when Schottenheimer called the slant to Godwin rather than a run on 3rd and 2 on Georgia’s first touchdown drive.
- Many of Lambert’s throws were easy enough to be extended handoffs. Georgia ran the same curl to Malcolm Mitchell on consecutive plays early in the second half. And why not? Those were free yards. Still, there were a few throws later in the game that required either a well-placed pass (over the top to Rome), a great catch (Mitchell’s back shoulder reception), or both (Davis along the sideline).
- It’s a bit of a relief – these were ideal conditions, and Lambert ate it up. He’s not likely to see a rush that anemic, coverage that soft, and tackling that poor again. Had Lambert seen this defense and struggled, we’d have more to talk about. He’ll face more intense pressure, tighter coverage, and more difficult decisions. Little things that didn’t matter in this game will become more magnified in those situations, but for now it was Lambert’s night. He made the most of a great opportunity, and at least we know that the ceiling might be higher than we thought.
- Kudos to Tyler who saw this gameplan coming a week ago. Even if the plan was obvious, sometimes you have to credit coaches for accepting what’s there for the taking rather than overcomplicating things. Georgia’s quick scoring drive to open the second half was a statement against a defense that hadn’t allowed a second half point all season.
- It wasn’t even a question of opening up a vanilla offense. Certainly Georgia placed a heavier emphasis on the passing game, but these were largely versions of the same plays we’ve seen all season – power/counter/iso runs and play-action/slants/curls in the passing game. There wasn’t anything exotic; this was a straightforward offense executed well against a poor defense. Schottenheimer did well to identify and go after the weak spots, and he put Lambert in position to get into an early groove.
- It was a treat to see attention paid to Georgia’s playmakers lead to tough choices for the SC defense. The defense keyed on Michel releasing into the flat, so Lambert found Jay Rome over the top on a flag route. Later the defense bit on Mitchell coming inside on a slant, and that left Michel open just long enough for a swing pass and a short touchdown.
- ALERT THE MESSAGE BOARDS! Georgia was a woeful 25% on third downs. (Fun with stats!) I still can’t get over Georgia going from their opening drive to a 45-13 lead facing a single third down. That efficiency is as impressive as Lambert’s completion percentage. When I questioned the use of tempo last week, I hedged it by saying “they’ll have to become much more effective sustaining drives.” I’d say that was the case on Saturday. As it turned out, both teams ran under 70 plays – totals skewed by Georgia’s clock management for the last quarter and a half. You can run at whatever pace you like if you’re cashing in on nearly every drive.
- You’d expect a good defense to have success against an offense with few weapons that was missing its starting quarterback and, eventually, its starting tailback. For the most part, Georgia’s defense did perform well. They allowed 17 points (the end-of-half FG was not on the defense), 7 of which came against the reserves. It wasn’t shutdown defense – South Carolina didn’t go three-and-out until the third quarter – but it didn’t have to be. South Carolina wasn’t going to put up a big number unless the Georgia defense allowed big plays, and the four-man rush kept everything contained to small chunks of yardage. South Carolina had only one play from scrimmage longer than 15 yards.
- If there was a dim bright spot for South Carolina, it was the running of young backup quarterback Nunez. It’s possible that Georgia didn’t have much for him in their game plan, but Pruitt didn’t look especially happy after Nunez scored after a fairly easy drive in the fourth quarter. We’ll take the backup QB as South Carolina’s leading rusher any day, but it’s another data point to file away for when Georgia faces other mobile quarterbacks later on the schedule.
- One player the Georgia game plan did account for was Pharoh Cooper. As expected, we saw Cooper line up seemingly everywhere. The Dawgs did an outstanding job against a dangerous playmaker: Cooper finished with only 34 yards rushing and one reception. His longest gain was 13 yards on South Carolina’s first possession, and he had a nice reception to move the chains on their first field goal drive. Other than those meager gains, he was a non-factor. With Wilds unfortunately injured in the first half, South Carolina’s biggest playmakers were neutralized.
- Georgia’s edge rush wasn’t especially effective thanks to Brandon Shell and company more or less holding their own against Carter and Jenkins. The solution was to bring pressure inside against a freshman center, and we saw those twists and stunts play a big part in Georgia’s third quarter success. Even when the pressure didn’t get to the quarterback – Georgia generally rushed four – it still forced bad throws including the high pass that Sanders picked off.
- South Carolina only accounted for 84 passing yards, but two of Georgia’s best defensive plays were pass break-ups that prevented a couple of big downfield receptions. Aaron Davis steered Pharoh Cooper out of bounds before Cooper could get a foot down on a nice catch near the Georgia goal line. Malkom Parrish got his hand in on a pass that was all but caught and separated the ball from the receiver. Georgia’s coverage did a good job all night preventing the big play.
- Yeah, kick coverage. It starts of course with there being a return in the first place. South Carolina, based on the first two touchbacks, didn’t seem interested on returning any ball that reached the endzone. Morgan and Barber just couldn’t get it there. Barber kicked off just before halftime, brought in presumably because Morgan’s previous few kicks fell short of the endzone. Barber came up just short too. Not going to go into each coverage breakdown, but one saw freshman Natrez Patrick miss badly. Patrick had an impressive body-slam later in the game, but special teams can humble even the most promising freshman.
- Is Georgia the only team that gets called for offsides on kickoffs? That’s twice already this year.
- Best special teams moonlighting gig: Marshall Morgan tackling or Brice Ramsey punting?
- I was glad to see the targeting penalty reversed. That’s good for the game – hopefully future uses of that penalty can be as equitable. By the way – nice catch, Reggie.
The challenge now is consistency. Any team can put it together for a single emotional game. Georgia has a breather coming up this week but a difficult SEC stretch soon to come. Maintaining that high level of play will be tough to do, but a Georgia team that can execute that well on both sides of the ball should realize what could be possible if they approach each game like this one.