There was no 95-yard kick return or blocked punt or kickoff fielded on the 3. There were no explosive, back-breaking Florida plays: the Gators had no run longer than 12 yards and no reception longer than 21 yards. Georgia, for the second straight game, didn’t turn the ball over. In fact, they – once again – came out on top in turnover margin. In a game without many big highlight-worthy moments to turn the tide, Georgia’s deficiencies on the offensive line and in the punt game were more than enough to tilt things in Florida’s favor.
Sony Michel didn’t promise a win over Florida, but he was confident that we would see a more competitive game. “I guarantee this year is going to be different…I can guarantee we’re going to leave it all on the field.” He was right. Georgia led twice in the game. It was a one-possession game until late in the third quarter. I saw nothing that made me question the effort or desire of the players, especially when the game threatened to turn in an ugly way following Florida’s third quarter touchdown.
When you’re down on the coast for several days before this game, you get a lot of chances to talk with other fans about what to expect. Not many were especially high on Georgia’s chances (backed up by the volume of tickets available on the street), but almost every conversation came back to a single glimmer of hope: the opponent. Florida isn’t the ’85 Bears. They had struggled on offense at times, and if Georgia could avoid giving Florida a defensive or special teams score, anything could happen in a low-scoring game.
And that’s just what we got. The Gators were able to turn favorable field position into points, and Georgia couldn’t. The early Florida turnover led to just a field goal for the Dawgs. And though the Georgia defense generally played well, they offered little resistance on the few occasions that Florida got into the red zone. Georgia’s inability to move the chains left them unable to flip the field, and even weak offenses will do some damage given the starting field position that Florida enjoyed.
So, yes, Georgia looked more or less the same after the bye week. Just a year after the disastrous quarterback experiment, I wasn’t expecting (and hoped not to see) any radical new looks. That disappointed some people. We know by now that unless the coaches plugged Trinton Sturdivant or A.J. Green into the lineup over the bye week some of the more fundamental problems with the team weren’t going to be fixed in two weeks. That doesn’t absolve the coaches from criticism for not getting the ball to the team’s playmakers, but the game plan wasn’t going to vary much. Georgia just didn’t have the special teams to win the field position game they’d need to beat a good defense like Florida.
Eason doesn’t trust his line, and that leads to all sorts of problems. A former lineman remarked after the game that Eason’s first read was his own left tackle. In other words, before he can begin to read his defensive keys, he has to first figure out if he’s going to be upright long enough to even get into the play that was called. Eason has had to develop some sharp self-preservation skills, and it’s to his credit (or just plain luck) that he was able to hold onto the ball on a few of the shots he took. But that distrust also leads to poor decisions even when the protection is adequate. Eason has rushed throws, missed receivers open for bigger plays, and gotten into some questionable mechanical habits because he senses pressure that isn’t there.
Georgia’s lone productive drive featured some great improvisation by Eason and his receivers. As a result there’s been some postgame chatter wondering whether the offense would be more productive if Eason were given more freedom to improvise and take more risks. I don’t know that the staff is all that willing to go that route especially with the presence of two great tailbacks. Zero turnovers in the last two games has been a welcome development, but is it an indication that an offense that’s averaged 13 points in those two games is trading some production for risk management?
The defense played a decent game. After giving up 418 and 258 yards on the ground in the previous two Cocktail Parties, the Dawgs held the Gators to 100 rushing yards and 2.1 yards per carry. Granted, this isn’t the strongest backfield Florida has ever fielded, but they still average over 170 yards per game. More impressive to me was not allowing a carry over 12 yards.
With some good rushing attacks ahead in coming weeks, there is one quibble with the run defense. You’d like to see more tackles closer to or behind the line of scrimmage. Even when Georgia was able to stuff Florida’s runs, the runs still often resulted in about three yards gained thanks in large part to a good push from the Florida line. Kirby Smart long ago identified size on the defensive line as a concern, and this is where that deficiency manifests itself. Even with good tackling, run fits, and other fundamentals under control, there’s no substitute for being able to push back against a big offensive line. As Georgia’s #13 rushing defense is tested in November, keep an eye on the line of scrimmage to see if the line can do a better job with the initial push.
As weak as the Georgia offense was, Florida wasn’t much better. The big difference, and the one significant blight on Georgia’s defense, was Florida’s ability to convert 9 third downs (and one fourth down.) That was enough to finish off a couple of scoring drives and, just as important, helped Florida establish the field position advantage that would set up those scoring drives.