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Post Georgia 45 – Vanderbilt 14: the offense’s turn to shine

Wednesday October 11, 2017

After a couple of games in which Georgia’s defense was the story, the offense had its moment against Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs rushed for 423 yards, the offensive line had perhaps its best outing of the year, and Georgia pulled away early in the third quarter on a deep play-action pass. Georgia tapped the brakes with a numbing nine-minute drive to end the game, once again in a position to cash in early after needing just the first 75% of the game to settle things.

This is the game everyone dreamed about when we talked about Georgia’s depth at tailback. It’s what we hoped for when Sam Pittman took over the offensive line. Georgia’s lopsided advantage on the ground was obvious from the first drive on which the Dawgs marched down the field in seven plays without attempting a pass. Six ballcarriers, including Fromm, gained at least 25 yards. Only Herrien didn’t break a run longer than ten yards. It’s true that Vanderbilt is among the bottom ten nationally in rushing defense, so it’s not going to work this well in every game. That said, a lot of things have to go right to rush for over 400 yards against any defense – especially one as well-coached that was so effective against Georgia’s running game last year.

Georgia’s line play stood out in the running game as much as the tailbacks. Vanderbilt was overmatched on the line, but we’ve seen the Dawgs struggle to run the ball even against inferior defenses. Wynn and Thomas were outstanding, but I think Gaillard had one of his better days at center. Georgia most frequently ran inside, and Gaillard was often instrumental in creating those holes. With the new threat of Fromm keeping the ball on inside zone runs, the backside end (and even the safety) can’t fully commit to crashing down, and that makes the jobs of the interior line and the tailbacks a little easier.

Once again Fromm wasn’t asked to do much, but he still had some big moments. Most importantly he avoided turnovers and some of the suspect throws and decisions that nearly got him into trouble at Tennessee. The long touchdown pass was similar to the opening pass against Mississippi State: given room and some time to set up and throw, the pass covered quite a bit of field and was placed right in stride. It wasn’t so much the arm strength you’d see on a tight out route to the wide side of the field, but it was the kind of deep accuracy you need to make those play-action plays really pay off. One other throw of note: in the second quarter with the lead still 14-0, Georgia faced 3rd and 14 from their own 31. Fromm found Godwin for a nice gain across midfield to keep the scoring drive alive. Both the throw and route were good examples of a maturing QB and receiver tandem finding the soft spot in a zone defense for the easy conversion.

It’s not that the defense played poorly. Vandy posted just 236 yards of total offense, and they managed just a single scoring drive of note. Their second touchdown required four attempts from the 1-yard line against the second team defense. They managed only 64 rushing yards, and 39 of those came on two early runs. The defense was more than good enough to win this game – and most games.

If the defense is playing against a standard though rather than against the opponent, the game was a slight step back from the dominant effort that resulted in a shutout a week earlier. The opponent had something to do with it: Vanderbilt’s passing game was as good as Georgia had seen since Samford. Kyle Shurmur was able to make some plays against the Georgia secondary, though Bulldog defenders won their fair share of battles. Juwan Taylor showed some early jitters in relief of the suspended Natrez Patrick, but Taylor and Monty Rice soon settled into their increased responsibilities.

Georgia’s defensive difficulties, such as they were, could be summed up by this stat: Vanderbilt was 5-9 on third down in the first half. Georgia’s defense had become proficient earlier in the season at forcing three-and-outs, but Vanderbilt moved the chains on each of their first half drives and was able to get those conversions through the air. That success changed after halftime as the Bulldog defense adjusted and reasserted itself. Vanderbilt finished the game 6-15 on third downs (1-6 in the second half.) Their first two possessions of the second half were three-and-outs. Before Vanderbilt earned a first down in the second half, Georgia had posted 17 points in the quarter on three consecutive drives and turned a potentially interesting 21-7 game into a decisive 38-7 lead.

This wasn’t the most productive game for Georgia’s pass rush. Thompson’s penetration on the interior was missed, and Bellamy was limited by the club on his injured hand. It should be mentioned that Vanderbilt, as of this week, is sixth in the nation in sacks allowed. They’ve only given up three sacks through six games. In that respect, they’re a bit like Georgia’s offensive line a year ago. They’ve struggled this year to get much going in the running game but do a decent job in pass protection. Georgia primarily stuck with their base four-man pressure, though we did see a couple of blitzes as the game went on. A well-timed zone blitz resulted in John Atkins disrupting the passing lane on a third down. The disappearance of Vanderbilt’s running game as Georgia’s lead grew allowed the defense to become more aggressive and focus on shutting down the passing game.

Extra Points

Georgia ran a version of the inside shovel pass that’s the flavor of the season from college to the NFL. I believe we saw it twice in this game. Woerner had a modest gain that came up just short of the first down line before the third quarter FG attempt.

In Nashville we’ve seen a center-eligible fake punt, kickoffs returned for touchdowns, snaps over the punter’s head, muffed punts, and blocked punts all within the past decade. In that context, special teams were an afterthought on Saturday. Georgia punted once and nailed the lone field goal attempt. Hardman had a nice punt return. In the context of the 2017 season, it was the most excitement we’ve seen from special teams. Vanderbilt actually returned kickoffs out of the endzone, crossing the 25 yard line once. We saw the first punt return of note by an opponent – a modest 13-yard gain after Nizialek launched the ball 59 yards. Hardman had another nice punt return of his own. A steady wind of about 15 MPH out of the south affected both kickoffs and punts and caused a lot of the variability we saw. Coverage units actually had something to do, and they were up to the job.

Speaking of halftime adjustments: Georgia is outscoring opponents 79-3 in the third quarter. Only Notre Dame cracked the scoreboard with a field goal. That’s very nearly an average of 14-0 every game. Only twice has Georgia failed to score at least ten points in the third quarter: at Notre Dame and at Tennessee when they were already in clock-killing mode. Notre Dame actually had a slightly higher third quarter success rate than Georgia (25% vs. 20%), but in every other game Georgia has enjoyed at least a 20% success rate margin in the third quarter. It’s been a >30% advantage in four games and >40% in two games. In SEC play, Georgia’s average success rate in the third quarter is 48% vs. 12.3% for the opponent – an average margin of 35.7%. That’s really, really good and a big reason why Georgia has been able to effectively end almost every game before the first note of Krypton.

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