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Post Georgia 55 – Arkansas State 0: Ruthless

Monday September 16, 2019

We’ll keep this brief with much bigger things to talk about this week, but if you were concerned about Georgia’s focus for a noon kickoff against a decent mid-major opponent ahead of the Notre Dame game, you should be very pleased with Saturday’s result. Even if you didn’t expect Georgia to sleepwalk through this game, it was still an impressive showing. It’s easy to forget after a result like that that Arkansas State came in to the game as Georgia’s toughest opponent of the season, but this is a fairly successful Sun Belt program with eight straight bowl appearances. Coming into the game both ESPN metrics (SP+ and FPI) had them higher than Vanderbilt. The Dawgs were focused and prepared and, perhaps for the first time this season, kept their edge throughout most of the game.

I’m not sure whether the offense or defense had the better day, but posting a shutout gives the honor to the defense by a hair. Blake Anderson’s teams had put up at least 300 yards of offense in 27 straight games. They had reached 400 yards in eight straight games. Those streaks came to a crashing halt in Athens. Georgia held the Red Wolves to 220 yards of total offense, allowed a single play over 20 yards, and forced five three-and-outs. With their leading rusher out, Arkansas State could do little on the ground – there was no running play longer than 10 yards, and no ASU back had more than 24 yards of rushing.

Without a credible rushing attack to worry about, the Georgia defense could pin its ears back against a potent passing game. Georgia’s secondary had perhaps its best performance of the season, and they were aided by a pass rush that recorded four sacks and many more pressures. ASU was held to a paltry 4.4 yards per attempt through the air while completing 57.5% of their passes. Georgia’s defense did very well limiting yards after the catch and had very few missed tackles. That’s a must if Georgia is going to take more chances up front in the service of havoc.

Some minor drama occurred late when Arkansas State attempted a fourth down conversion deep in Georgia territory. (Credit to Anderson for not taking the cheap field goal just to avoid the shutout.) Lewis Cine ended the threat with an interception in the endzone, but it was the sideline’s reaction that stood out. Cine was greeted by an enthusiastic bunch of starters. They were happy for the freshman of course, but you could also tell that preserving the shutout mattered to the defense. It reminded me of the reaction after a Monty Rice tackle kept Mississippi State out of the endzone in 2017. There was a pride in the defense’s performance from the starters through the reserves, and the reserves aspired to the standard set for the starters. Of course it helps when even the reserve units are packed with 3*, 4*, and occasionally young 5* players.

Meanwhile the offense had one of the program’s top 10 games in terms of production. Georgia spread the ball around on the ground and in the air – no player had more than 9 carries or five receptions, but there were still enough balls to go around for 268 yards of rushing and 388 yards passing. Explosive plays were the order of the day – four backs had a carry of at least 19 yards, and even Stetson “Mayfield” Bennett got in on the act with a 14-yard scamper on a bootleg. Nine players had a reception longer than 10 yards, and three had a catch go for longer than 30 yards. Thanks to outstanding blocking downfield, Georgia’s ballcarriers and receivers found a lot of room once they got into open space. Lawrence Cager’s enthusiasm after blocking a defender into the endzone on Cook’s long scoring run shows how even relative newcomers are taking their roles seriously, and the offense is clicking because of it.

Georgia hasn’t faced much of a challenge over its first three games, but the team has taken care of business. There were no slip-ups, close calls, or glaring weaknesses exposed. Whether it was the penalties at Vanderbilt, the missed tackles against Murray State, or the turnovers in each game, Georgia has tightened up at the margins and built towards the result we saw on Saturday. The Dawgs look very much like the top five team they were expected to be, and that’s about all that could be asked after these three games. Georgia has a deep and well-balanced team and is the only squad in the nation after three weeks with all three units (offense, defense, and special teams) in the top 10 of the SP+ rankings. Now it’s time to see whether the team can sustain this level of play against much better competition.

  • Fromm only had five incomplete passes. At least three of those were downfield shots just off the fingertips of the receivers. On a couple to Pickens, Fromm could have put a little more distance on the pass as Pickens had to slow down and allow a defender to make a play. Fromm’s poise earned a touchdown before halftime as a play broke down and Fromm bought time until Cager became open.
  • The Pickens Catch of the Year of the Week is a thing now. Certainly his game can use plenty of refinement, but there’s no mistaking the raw talent. The emergence of a playmaker on the outside will only make the job easier for Georgia’s running game.
  • Interior pass blocking had been an issue over the first two games, but it was solid on Saturday. Hill had his best game so far. The line didn’t give up a sack, but there was a close call on a play on which Thomas was beaten. Fromm had to rush the pass, and it was underthrown. Pickens made a nice play to come back to the ball, and a near-disaster turned into a moderate gain.
  • As at Vanderbilt, Georgia’s third down conversion rate was under 50%. The four third down conversions were huge: two went for explosive scoring plays, another kept a scoring drive alive, and the final conversion helped Georgia escape its own goal line and set up Kenny McIntosh’s long touchdown run.
  • Only three of Georgia’s third down opportunities were short yardage (3 yards to go or less). Georgia converted two of those.
  • Georgia only ran the ball on three of its third downs, and one of those runs was a draw on 3rd-and-14. Even on its three short-yardage third downs, Georgia passed twice. Georgia was similarly unpredictable on third-and-short last week, and Coley has moved the ball around well in those situations. It’s still nice to know Fromm can burrow his way forward for two yards if necessary.
  • After two weeks of seeing the tight ends a little more involved in the passing game, a 6-yard reception by Eli Wolf right before halftime was the only catch for a tight end on Saturday. Woerner was targeted on another pass. It’s not that Georgia changed much with play selection; other options were open. The tight ends didn’t take the afternoon off – they were again outstanding in run blocking.
  • Tyson Campbell had one of his better games and is settling into the cornerback spot opposite Stokes. Stokes-Campbell-Webb seem to have solidified as the top unit in nickel coverage, but Wilson and Daniel are providing some nice depth. There were still some shaky moments, and Arkansas State’s best chance to hit a big play was fortunately dropped. In all the secondary held its own against a couple of quality receivers.
  • Lewis Cine saw a lot of action in garbage time, and he made the most of it. As the only player without a name on the back of his jersey (because his usual #8 was shared with Blaylock), a lot of people wanted to know who #28 was.
  • Can’t let Pickens’s theatrics overshadow another good game for Blaylock. Not only is he a threat for big plays as a receiver, it was important to have him available as a steady option when Simmons couldn’t field punts.
  • Both Simmons and Blaylock got coached up by Smart after letting punts hit the field. Otherwise special teams had another productive game. Early drives ending in field goals wasn’t ideal, but Blankenship still made sure Georgia got points out of those drives and increased that early lead ever so slightly.
  • Stetson Bennett made better decisions in his second game. He could have forced a pass on the bootleg, but the room was there for a big gain on the ground. He managed the situation well when Georgia was backed up on its own goal line and made a key third down pass to move the chains.
  • Cager’s difficult come-back touchdown catch at the goal line was a just reward for Cager’s outstanding blocking work on the outside. Cager’s blocks were involved in two and maybe three other touchdowns. Good downfield blocking = explosive plays.
  • On the flip side, I hated to see Trey Blount have his first career touchdown taken away from him. It was the right call, but Blount has done a lot of grunt work (and was on the field to block for Sony Michel’s Rose Bowl gamewinner.) Hopefully he gets in the endzone soon.

Finally, credit to the fans and program for the show of support towards Blake Anderson and the Red Wolves program. The idea, promotion, and execution of the impromptu pink-out was tremendous, and it was heartwarming to drive down Milledge before the game to see how the students responded. The team didn’t allow the moment to distract from the business at hand on the field, and the outreach to Anderson and ASU stayed on the right side of uncomfortable and patronizing. It was a wonderfully decent and human gesture, but it was also simply the right thing to do.

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