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Post Georgia 31 vs. Appalachian St. 10: Sweet, sweet boredom

Wednesday September 6, 2017

Saturday’s season-opening 31-10 win over Appalachian State was an unremarkable drama-free win by a top 15 program over a quality mid-major team, and it barely moved the needle beyond Athens. In other words, it was a novelty.

The past two seasons of home games have been less pleasant than pulling teeth, so Saturday’s win was a much-needed release for the Sanford Stadium crowd. After the slow start and the early injury to Jacob Eason, Georgia’s defense bought time for a freshman quarterback to come off the bench and build a comfortable lead by halftime. It was, dare we say, fun to watch. The weather was perfect, the crowd was engaged, and damn near the entire roster saw the field. After hearing all week about Michigan 2007, Nicholls, and the fact that Georgia hadn’t won a game by more than 14 points in almost two years, it was a welcome and refreshing sight to see a dominant win.

Georgia’s strongest unit was, as expected, the defense. When you have that much talent, experience and, presumably, decent enough coaching, it should show up in the results. The Bulldog defense was stingy on the interior, and Appalachian State’s tailbacks weren’t much of a factor. Georgia’s pass defense was equally effective, holding Appalachian State to under 5 yards per pass attempt.

The good news is that the defense can be even better. The base pass rush can improve – one of Georgia’s two sacks came on a safety blitz, and the team recorded zero quarterback hurries. Appalachian State’s most effective running plays were by the quarterback on read option plays, and that discipline on the edge will have to be better against a Notre Dame quarterback that rushed for over 100 yards. There was the occasional breakdown in pass coverage, and that’s to be expected with so many inexperienced defensive backs playing large roles. If this is the reference point though, this could be a fun defense to watch.

Less expected was the special teams performance. The return units didn’t have much to do – kickoffs were sparse, and punts were often fair catch candidates. Georgia’s kicking though was eye-opening. Cameron Nizialek was a true weapon as the punter. His usual punts were good enough, but twice he was able to pin back Appalachian State inside their own 10, and that field position helped to set up a very short field for Georgia’s first score. Thanks to good hangtime and good speed on the coverage team, no Georgia punts were returned. Rodrigo Blankenship was true on a short field goal attempt but really showed progress on kickoffs. I want some of what got into his leg in the offseason. The one kickoff that was returned was snuffed out inside the 20.

So add good defense and special teams, and you have Kirby Smart’s ideal: an opponent forced to drive the field and the occasional good field position for your own offense. Three of Georgia’s four touchdown drives began beyond the Georgia 30. Georgia’s advantage in field position was such that the defense could afford infrequent long runs or passes by Appalachian State and still have plenty of room to recover. Mix in an offense that eventually found ways to move the ball, and you have all three phases of the game contributing. The result? Points on five out of six drives and a lead that grows to a comfortable margin.

On offense, of course the quarterback situation has to dominate the discussion about the offense. Eason didn’t have a strong start and overthrew Nauta, but the playcalling was also fairly restrained on those opening drives. Before we get to Fromm’s performance, I have to commend the preparation of both Fromm and the coaches. It helped that he was an early enrollee, but Fromm was poised and put into situations where he could gain confidence. It’s standard now to compare Fromm and Murray as we do with Eason and Stafford, but Fromm wasn’t without his Stafford gunslinger moments. You couldn’t see that sidearm pass he threw in the third quarter without thinking about some of the unconventional fearless (if not occasionally ill-advised) throws Stafford became known for.

So what do we have in Fromm? We know the leadership qualities are there, and we know he’s not afraid to make most any throw. His arm isn’t what Eason’s is, demonstrated by the trajectory of some of his deeper passes. He might be a quick study in the film room, but coaches won’t feel comfortable using as much of the playbook as they might otherwise have. Of course he’ll likely make a poor decision or two as he sees more pressure from better defenses. We didn’t see him flushed from the pocket much, but he’s supposed to be a little more mobile than Eason. (That said, how much do we want him scrambling without a viable backup?) What seems to matter most is that he has buy-in from his coaches and teammates. Even former players noticed it and commented on it during the game. Those around him and those who have been in the Georgia program recognize someone capable of running and leading the offense. That’s good enough for me.

  • A turning point in a game like this? It was early, but J.R. Reed’s sack and forced fumble came at an important moment. Taylor Lamb ripped off a long run into Georgia territory, and Appalachian State threatened to post the first points of the game. Reed came off the right side, got off a block as he kept his eyes on Lamb, and then charged the quarterback at a sprint to force the fumble. The loss of over 20 yards killed the drive. Georgia didn’t score on their next possession, but Nizialek punted the ball inside the 10 and set up the field position that would result in Georgia having only 40 yards to go for their first points.
  • Reed was just one of several newcomers to have impressive debuts. LeCounte played most of the game and survived his trial by fire. Swift was used both at tailback and in the slot and showed promise.
  • Fromm’s two best throws might’ve been on Georgia’s first scoring drive. First was the quick pop down the seam to Nauta that Isaac caught in stride. Next was the completion to Wims to set up Chubb’s touchdown. The ball was placed perfectly between defenders and settled into the hands of Wims. Fromm had his share of questionable throws, but those two early passes showed a special ability.
  • Was Fromm’s pass to Nauta an RPO? There was certainly a fake to the tailback that helped to create space for Nauta. Was there a run option built into that play?
  • Things we didn’t see? Tailbacks weren’t involved in the passing game. Swift caught three passes, but he often lined up in the slot, and only one of those receptions came from the backfield. No need to show those elements yet.
  • We also didn’t see many of the jet sweeps or “Isaiah McKenzie” plays that were so effective last year. Certainly there was some motion, but it was almost always a decoy.
  • Kudos to the UGA staff for $2 water until 6:00. A nice plus for people who are in the stadium early. I rarely visit the concessions, so most of the improvements were lost on me, but the water deal was one of those little things that you appreciate after a walk over from tailgate.

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