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Post Georgia 41 – Tennessee 0. Yep. Goose-egg. Nada. Zip.

Tuesday October 3, 2017

I spent Saturday evening thinking about some of the blowout losses I’ve sat through. Florida 1995. Tennessee 2007. South Carolina 2012. Alabama 2008 and 2015. My first thought: damn, at least we scored in those games. But there was also the enjoyment of now being on the other side of those games. In consecutive games Georgia has systematically dispatched two SEC opponents.

Georgia, like most good teams, seems to be competing against a standard. It’s not enough to beat Tennessee or even Notre Dame. Georgia has won big games before. Last week was was about maintaining the level of play on the road after a big home win. As everyone reminded us, it’s a situation in which Georgia would often fall flat. They didn’t fall flat. In many areas, they improved. The win was so complete that nearly as much postgame attention has been paid to the smoldering ruin of the Tennessee program. Yes, the Vols are down and in chaos. This was also a 3-1 team that had beaten Georgia Tech and taken Florida to the end. They’re not great, but they’re not 41-0 bad without a lot of good things happening for Georgia. I sat through too many Georgia-Tennessee games to discount a win like this.

When we talk about competing against a standard, the opponent almost becomes irrelevant. Of course there was a little extra motivation for Tennessee – collectively after losing two straight as well as individually for those like Chubb who needed to erase bad memories of Knoxville. But the principles – no missed tackles, proper coverage techniques, getting off blocks – remain the same from week to week. If those areas, rather than the opponent, are what the team is thinking about, the opponent shouldn’t matter. The offense seems to have a little ways to go, but in terms of playing to a standard, I think the defense is nearly there. It’s a very difficult place to get to, and we’ve heard coaches this week maintain that getting consistent effort each game is one of the toughest challenges they face, but this group seems to get it. It’s why I’m fairly confident they won’t overlook the next two games. The pride we saw in the late goalline stop against Mississippi State and then again to preserve the Tennessee shutout showed a defense building towards something more than just the next win.

I noted last week that’s it’s always someone different on the defense earning the spotlight. It’s not that the earlier standouts have faded – Smith, Reed, the whole line, the OLBs, and everyone else who has contributed are still playing well. It’s that each game seems to add someone new to the list. Tyrique McGhee was picked on by Samford, and Tennessee thought they could throw the ball his way. McGhee had a nice pass break-up at the end of the Mississippi State game, and he built on that with an outstanding effort at Tennessee. His read and quick reaction on the opening play made Tennessee pay for a pass that wasn’t sharp. McGhee kept it up with several more pass break-ups and solid downfield coverage.

The return of Malkom Parrish presents the defensive coaches with options. (It was a treat to see Parrish stick the receiver for a loss in the fourth quarter – no one does it better, and it was a nice “welcome back” for an important player.) Baker has grown as a solid cornerback. Aaron Davis is having a fantastic senior season. As Parrish returns to form, you can move an improving player like McGhee around (to the star position, for example) and play effective nickel and dime coverage. It’s worth noting that Tennessee’s longest play came when Lorenzo Carter found himself matched up on tailback John Kelly. Carter has speed and wasn’t outrun by Kelly, but one good move caused the separation that allowed Kelly to streak down the middle of the field before he was caught and stripped. Georgia will likely continue to drop Carter into coverage now and then, but Georgia also has the personnel in the secondary to cover any number of receivers.

Georgia won a conference game 41-0 with the starting quarterback passing 7-15 for 84 yards. It wasn’t Fromm’s best showing as a passer, though his protection was spotty at first and a couple of drops cost the team some big plays. It wasn’t quite the 5-17 for 29 yards that we saw from Eason at South Carolina a year ago (also a Georgia win!), but the Dawgs do need to get more out of the passing game. Georgia won’t enjoy an average starting position of the 40 yard line often. Turnovers and perhaps the two best punt returns of the young season bought the offense enough time and field position to get going. The Dawgs were fortunate not to have more giveaways: Fromm had a couple of errant passes early in the game, and Godwin was stripped at the sideline on a run after catch.

Fromm nearly made a bigger impact running the ball. We knew that Fromm “has a bit more mobility” than Eason (or any other Georgia quarterback since Aaron Murray.) Neither Fromm nor Murray was going to remind anyone of D.J. Shockley, but Murray was able to rip off runs like this when he had to (a key moment in a win at Tennessee, no less.) Fromm has similar ability, but we hadn’t seen much of it yet. In fact, there were several opportunities at Notre Dame for Fromm to keep the ball on read plays. I think two things changed: Fromm’s been given more discretion as he’s become more comfortable running the offense, and Jacob Eason has been cleared to play. By that I mean I would expect coaches to discourage Fromm from running without a viable second quarterback option. Now that Eason’s back, Fromm has more of a green light to run the ball. His first couple of runs were moments of improvisation to convert two big third downs, but the fact that he even had the option to keep the ball for his second score on a more conventional read-option play was the tell. Defenses now have to consider the possibility that Fromm will run, and that should make Georgia’s zone reads and RPO plays that much more effective.

One more thing: they made Tyler Clark angry. You shouldn’t make Tyler Clark angry.

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