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Post Georgia 21 – Kentucky 0: A soggy shutout

Monday October 21, 2019

It took a while for the South Carolina loss to sink in. Many of us stood there in shocked silence more than a week ago trying to process that *this* team got beat by *that* team, and it just wasn’t clicking. We looked to the Kentucky game for some kind of catharsis and reassurance. A scoreless first half was probably the one thing for which none of us had prepared. With some time to consider what had happened against the Gamecocks, already in a surly mood after a grim and soggy walk to the stadium, and after watching their team fail to cross the 50 in a scoreless first half, frustration boiled over in an audible cascade of boos muffled by raindrops.

I’m not going to get into the debate of whether or not it was appropriate to boo – the rationalization that “we’re booing the playcalling and not the players” is silly, and the tsk-tsking condemnation of the booing comes with just a bit too much “Georgia Way” condescension for me. It should be alarming enough that we’re midway through a season that hangs in the balance, and the big question heading into the bye week is one’s stance on booing anything other than the refs.

In other circumstances it might’ve been easier to take Saturday’s gameplan. A risk-averse staff especially wary of turnovers after last week’s outcome had the excuse it needed in the weather to take as few chances as possible. It didn’t sit well with an impatient crowd wanting to see more of a response to last week’s loss and wanting some signs that the anemic yards-per-play against South Carolina was just a bad day. Depending how you see things, the conditions were either an explanation or an excuse.

Playing it safe came with its own risks. Kentucky nearly drew first blood on the opening drive of the second half, but a holding penalty took them out of field goal range. If Georgia was waiting to see which team would make the critical mistake first, it could have just as well been a botched Georgia snap or exchange that turned the game. We’re only a few weeks away from Georgia’s punter giving up costly field position. Fortunately Kentucky blinked first and Georgia was able to cash in on its two drives that began in Kentucky territory.

Georgia was able to survive this game in large part because they have a legitimate superstar on offense. D’Andre Swift has had a wonderful season. He leads the SEC in rushing and is second in yards per attempt and rushing touchdowns. What we hadn’t seen yet though is a dominant game from Georgia’s feature back. Swift hadn’t had more than 113 yards in a game since the season opener – it hadn’t really been necessary. But if there was a game in which to lean on a star tailback, this was it. Kentucky’s run defense isn’t stout; South Carolina had a pair of 100-yard rushers against the Wildcats. Without much of a passing game, Swift showed the ability to get yardage from his first carry. Once Kentucky opened the door with its shanked punt, Swift was there to make them pay for it. He finished with a season-high 179 yards and two TD on 8.5 yards per carry.

The “Plan B” that everyone talked about after South Carolina wasn’t necessary in this game. Georgia played turnover-free ball, played the field position game well (until one certain kickoff), and leaned on its defense to contain Lynn Bowden Jr. Kentucky got even less than Georgia did from the passing game, and even a dangerous ballcarrier like Bowden can be defended if the offense is one-dimensional.

It was an active day for Georgia’s inside defenders. Six of Georgia’s top seven tacklers were middle linebackers or safeties, and in this kind of game safeties (Reed in particular) were used to spy Bowden. Reed’s awareness to take on Bowden on a third down run caused the fumble that led to Georgia’s second score. Quay Walker had one of his best games as a Bulldog, and Malik Herring was active getting into the backfield and forcing Bowden to scramble.

While Swift was the individual star, a shutout in an SEC game shouldn’t take a backseat. It took some breaks as many shutouts do. Kentucky’s dropped pass in the endzone at the end of the third quarter came after a running back released unnoticed into open space. Penalties ended other Kentucky drives. (Is that defensive line shift Georgia’s most effective havoc play?) Tackling in open space was shaky and allowed Kentucky to sustain drives that might have otherwise helped to flip field position earlier in the game.

But when there’s a zero on the scoreboard, a lot went right. Coverage helped ensure that Kentucky didn’t complete a pass until the fourth quarter. Stokes in particular broke up a likely reception on a deep pass that would have given Kentucky a first half scoring opportunity. Stevenson was targeted on some late pass attempts and covered well to preserve the shutout.

  • They’ll never say so, but in hindsight you wonder how much Georgia’s coaches relished the shutout considering the whole Eddie Gran business during the offseason.
  • Gran has done some interesting things at UK and has had to be creative with the personnel he has, but no offensive coach ever wants to be collared with the goose egg.

  • Once again we saw Cade Mays used as a blocking tight end. It’s laudable to make use of the talent you have. Woerner and Wolf have made some key blocks on the outside, but there’s still a weakness in tight formations. Mays can help if injuries don’t require him to fill in on the line.
  • Kentucky’s inability to get points out of their long kick return at the end of the third quarter removed whatever will they had remaining. Points there, especially on second down where Georgia failed to cover a back releasing into the endzone, would have made it a one-score game with an entire quarter left. Once Georgia took over on downs, it was clear that Kentucky’s defense wanted no part of the Georgia running game on that final scoring drive.
  • As impressive as Swift was, the running game really took off when Solomon Kindley came into the game. The unsung hero of Georgia’s line has seen limited duty since his injury against Notre Dame. His return to health will be a big dose of stability for an offensive line that’s had to shuffle players around especially with Justin Shaffer, Kindley’s top backup, unavailable for the foreseeable future.
  • George Pickens had an important fourth down catch to sustain Georgia’s final scoring drive that put the game away. It was also encouraging to see Pickens crash in on some of Swift’s longer gains – we know that willingness to block will lead to more playing time in this offense. He seems to be emerging as Fromm’s favorite target now that Cager is out.
  • Georgia’s defense earned the shutout, but tackling still wasn’t at the level Kirby Smart expects. Bowden is a difficult player to bring down, and there were a few missed opportunities to stop him for losses or shorter gains. It was enough in this game to contain Bowden and prevent many big plays.
  • It was Swift’s game, but Herrien had some punishing runs to move the chains on Georgia’s second and third scoring drives. His burst around the end and dive into the endzone hearkened back to his first college touchdown against North Carolina.
  • Blankenship can keep the touchbacks coming, please.
  • Fromm has “rushed” (or scrambled) 11 times in the past two games. He had only done so six times in the first five games of the season. Injuries have scrambled the offensive line a bit, and that might account for some of the protection breakdown, but you also hope Fromm isn’t losing patience and confidence in the ability of his receivers to get open. You also hope that the rash of turnovers against South Carolina didn’t make him a little gunshy.

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