Florida came into the 2010 Georgia game winless in October with a punchless offense that had scored a combined 13 points in losses to Alabama and Mississippi State. Urban Meyer’s response to that slump might sound a little familiar.
The Gators used their bye week to tweak their floundering offense. They got running back Jeff Demps healthy, worked Chris Rainey into the mix and used several different looks with John Brantley, (Trey) Burton and Jordan Reed lining up at quarterback.
Of all the changes, a greater role for the freshman Burton proved to be the most effective. He ran for 110 yards on 17 carries and two scores from the quarterback position including a 51-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
When we heard that Faton Bauta was, if not starting, poised to take on a larger role in Georgia’s offense against Florida, my mind first went to Burton and 2010. With a running back (Michel) getting healthy and McKenzie available, Georgia’s version of the Demps/Rainey/Burton trio was taking shape. It didn’t preclude using Lambert; Brantley still had a role in the 2010 game. It seemed reasonable to shake things up given Georgia’s unproductive October offense, and so there was a little excitement to see what the coaches could do with Bauta given a bye week and some talent at the skill positions.
Alas, we overestimated a few things. First and foremost was the creativity of the coaches. Bauta’s mobility was largely limited to play-action rollouts, and after a tantalizing look on Georgia’s first snap, we saw very little difference in Georgia’s offense. Is Bauta really that capable of a runner? We may never know.
But beyond the offense Bauta and his teammates were asked to run, they still had to execute those plays. As much as we all have problems with the playcalling, some big plays were left on the table. Rome missed two potential touchdown catches – one was dropped, but another was thrown behind him. A devastating stop-and-go by Mitchell was wide-open, but Houston couldn’t protect the back side. Georgia had two penalties on its first possession, and one erased an electrifying run by Michel that could have given Georgia some early confidence and momentum. Both penalties were committed by seniors. It’s those details – accuracy, sure catching, blocks, penalties – that can come to define a game or a season or a coach.
I’ll say this for the passing game – there were more open receivers than I can recall seeing in a while. The tight ends were more involved. The cat-and-mouse game Bauta played with a defender before lobbing the ball to Rome for a first down was a good example of what you can get with a more mobile quarterback. But the highlights were few and far between the poorly-executed plays. Perhaps that’s to be expected when a quarterback who’s been taking third-string reps all season gets the nod. Then again, perhaps that’s why he was third string. Did the coaches put him in the best position to succeed with so many pass attempts and so few runs?
While the passing game teased us, the running game just disappointed. When a few bursts by Marshall have everyone discussing more playing time for him, you know there wasn’t much else going on. We know now that Michel played most of the game with a broken hand, and no one can question his toughness. There’s talk of shaking up the offensive line now, but it has to be asked how many problems dominant backs like Gurley and Chubb covered up.
I thought the defense did a good job of building on their success against Missouri. Georgia did a much better job containing the run this year, though a few leaked out late especially after the deflating interception that ended Georgia’s best scoring chance. But containment isn’t just about the running game. Though Georgia’s pressure was as good as it’s been all season, it continued to have difficulties finishing off the play. Several of Florida’s biggest passing plays, both in terms of yardage and significance, came after Harris eluded initial pressure. That’s going to happen from time to time with any mobile quarterback, but Georgia was in the backfield far too often to only come away with two sacks.
The defense did what they could to stop the bleeding in the second half. They caused a rare Florida turnover that gave the offense a short field, and a fourth down stop near the Georgia goal line started the team’s last stand that ultimately fell short. Individuals like Bellamy and Ganus played outstanding games. But so many turnovers and another special teams error made these individual efforts almost futile.