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Post Georgia 43 – Missouri 29: Called before the Standards Board

Tuesday September 25, 2018

We’re at a strange place in this process of building the Georgia program. The national championship hasn’t come yet, and I as much as anyone dwell on this “standard” thing that’s supposed to represent the ideal performance. Most of us can recite the principles now – discipline, composure, and physicality. We see and hear enough from the coaches and players to know when the standard isn’t being met. The temptation then is for a sort of chronic impatience to set in. That’s not a particularly fun way to watch games, and it lends itself to ignoring or diminishing some bright moments along the way if the bigger picture is cloudy.

That’s not to excuse sloppy play or resign ourselves to this being as good as it gets for this year’s team. The coaches and players are as grumpy as anyone about a double-digit road conference win, and they’ll get back to work to address those areas that were substandard on Saturday. But that’s their job. It’s one thing for us to be dissatisfied with a sluggish performance in a noon road game, and it’s another thing not to allow ourselves some enjoyment from the win.

In many corners the game was billed as a showdown between Drew Lock and the Georgia defense. From that angle it was a successful afternoon for Georgia. Lock needed just 243 passing yards to reach 10,000 yards for his career, and he was denied. Georgia held a legitimate pro prospect to under 50%, just 4.6 yards per attempt, and no touchdowns. True to form, Georgia held another potent offense without many explosive plays. Missouri had just one completion longer than 16 yards, and that came from a running back. Georgia didn’t have but a couple of sacks, but pressure was more consistent than it has been.

When Missouri was able to put drives together, Georgia couldn’t do much to stop them. That was a big difference from the MTSU game a week ago. Missouri had both the talent and the patience to take what they were given. Objectively it was impressive by both Lock and Derek Dooley: we build up Missouri as some sort of big-play, quick-strike offense, and they have the pieces to be just that. Against Georgia though each of Missouri’s four scoring drives took at least nine plays. Two of those drives had to go 75 yards in response to Georgia touchdowns. One of Georgia’s week-to-week objectives is to make the other team give in. Missouri, unlike South Carolina, never did. A Georgia team used to packing it in after three quarters had to fight on into the fourth quarter for the first time this season. Not giving up another late score to make things really interesting was a small accomplishment for the defense.

Then again, why should a team quit when they’re winning many of the physical battles in the game? Missouri matched Georgia’s running attack with 4.6 yards per carry. All four of the Tigers’ touchdowns came on the ground, and all four came right at the Georgia defense. The lack of resistance from the Georgia defense in the red zone was one of the more alarming takeaways from the game, and it was a contrast to Georgia’s own difficulties converting short yardage situations on the ground. The Bulldogs ran on third (or fourth) down six times and converted only once – a Holyfield gain on the first drive.

Jake Fromm had another rough first half. Without Ben Cleveland’s alert play on the goal line against MTSU, we’d be talking about a three-game streak with a first half turnover. Georgia failed to score an offensive touchdown in the first half for the first time this season. Defense and special teams were enough to keep the Dawgs out in front, but it wasn’t a surprise to see both high-powered offenses come to life in the second half. Fromm was up to the job, and more big plays from the passing game extended and then maintained Georgia’s lead, answering each time Missouri made a push. Riley Ridley continues to be a dangerous weapon on the outside. Holloman continues to emerge as a large target capable of filling the void left by Wims. Mecole Hardman…he scores when he wants.

If the first principles for this team are to run and stop the run, you can understand why Smart wasn’t entirely pleased with how the game unfolded. The question now is whether that missing physicality is something that can be coached up and worked on or if this team is going to have to work around some soft spots and youth for the rest of the season. I doubt Smart will accept the latter, but we’re a third of the way into the season with some of the same issues persisting week to week.

Georgia is undefeated after its first four games. They’ve notched two conference road wins against teams with dangerous passing games identified as potential trouble for a young Georgia defense. Though other issues have emerged up the middle of the defense, there are only a handful of offenses left on the schedule that might test the defense as much as South Carolina and Missouri will. If answers can be found to shore up the run defense, they’ll be found. Fortunately the talent and depth on this team means there are other ways to win games, and sometimes that might just have to be good enough.

  • I wrote a bit in the offseason about Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. With Emanuel Hall injured or just neutralized, Okwuegbunam emerged as Drew Lock’s favorite target on Saturday. He led Missouri with 9 catches for 81 yards and was a big factor in sustaining some of their second half scoring drives. It was impressive to see how Missouri’s coaches used such a weapon. He’d line up on the outside to take advantage of a size mismatch against a defensive back. Then they’d move him to the slot (or even tight to the formation) to move him away from Georgia’s better pass defenders. They’d send him on crossing routes to force the Georgia defense to pass him along in zone coverage or end up with a linebacker trailing him in man coverage. Georgia, to their credit, didn’t allow him a ton of yards after catch, but there weren’t many sustained Missouri drives without a couple of Okwuegbunam receptions. “Albert O” is going to be a problem for the rest of the SEC for at least the next season and a half.
  • Okwuegbunam will be a matchup nightmare for many teams, but Georgia did very well to limit Missouri’s other receivers. Hall might’ve been dealing with an injury, but he was on the field and didn’t record a reception. Freshman Jalen Knox, named the SEC’s freshman of the week after five receptions for 110 yards at Purdue, was also shut down.
  • The defense occasionally had trouble getting lined up due to Missouri’s sporadic use of tempo. At times it looked downright Grantham-esque and led to a nice gain. This can’t have caught Georgia by surprise, but it looked like it.
  • Unless I’m mistaken, Hardman’s run late in the game was Georgia’s first use of the Wild Dawg this year. We saw it enough last year – even in the playoffs – to know it’s a fairly standard part of the playbook, and we know it was worked on during even the media viewing portion of preseason camp. You wonder how much more we’ll see it as the season goes on. Georgia’s been fine so far with a conventional running game and the occasional jet sweep, but this play was a reminder that there are still some proven tools left in the workshop.
  • Did the sequence after Crowder’s interception return give anyone flashbacks to the end of the 2014 South Carolina game? Goal-to-go, and a tailback never touches the ball.
  • During the game they mentioned that the last time Georgia scored on defense and special teams was the 2015 game at Tennessee. That one didn’t turn out so well. Scores by Leonard Floyd and Reggie Davis put Georgia up 24-3 late in the second quarter before the Tennessee offense got going late in the second quarter. On Saturday Missouri also tried to get things going before halftime with a drive into Georgia territory after Georgia took a 20-7 lead. D’Andre Walker forced a fumble on a key 3rd-and-3, and Georgia was able to extend its lead after halftime.
  • Georgia had an opportunity for a second Walker-caused fumble with a minute to go in the first half. Keyon Richardson and Richard LeCounte both tried to pick up and run with a loose ball, and neither came up with it. Had either dove on the ball, Georgia would have been on the Mizzou 25 with 45 seconds and three timeouts to work with. As it was, Walker’s second sack/strip ended the possibility of Missouri attempting a quick drive at the end of the half.
  • Keyon Richardson is a name we’ve seen a couple of times this year after three years in relative obscurity. He saw more time on special teams in 2017 and now as a senior has been in on pass rush situations. He had a first half pursuit of Lock that led to a failed third down conversion.
  • D’Andre Walker and Deandre Baker continue to have the seasons you hope for and need from senior defensive leaders. Baker can be counted on to shut down half the field, and Campbell and Stokes look capable of handling the other side. Walker almost single-handedly gave Georgia multiple turnovers in the second quarter, and he even showed his pass coverage chops.
  • Welcome, Eric Stokes. Georgia’s depth continues to produce week after week. That depth might get another test now on the offensive line as Ben Cleveland could be out until Florida (or later) with a fractured fibula.
  • We’ll learn quite a bit about the SEC East in the next two weeks. Georgia’s lopsided win at South Carolina caused a lot of people to underrate the Gamecocks to the point that Vandy was a consensus Gameday pick over South Carolina. The Gamecocks will face Kentucky and Missouri in their next two games. Right now Kentucky is the hot team with wins over Florida and Mississippi State, but they’ll see South Carolina and Texas A&M in the coming weeks. I expect South Carolina and Missouri to do well. Each week there seems to be a different favorite to finish second in the East, but there seems to be no doubt about the top team in the division.


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