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Post No changes planned for Jax attendance

Wednesday October 14, 2020

Despite recent clearance from the state of Florida to allow 100% capacity at stadiums, Georgia and Florida will play in front of a limited crowd on November 7th.

Marc Weiszer reports that the game will take place with “approximately 9,000 tickets per school” which is in line with the SEC standard of 20-25% capacity. “We’re proceeding as we originally planned, no change,” according to Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity.

Ancillary events associated with the Georgia-Florida game, including the annual Hall of Fame Luncheon, have already been called off. There will also be no RV City around the stadium. The City of Jacksonville announced that “complete game day safety policies and procedures will be announced at a later date closer to the game.”


Post Georgia 44 – Tennessee 21: Havoc unleashed

Tuesday October 13, 2020

If Georgia wasn’t as hapless as it looked in the first half at Arkansas or as dominant as it appeared against Auburn, what to make of Saturday’s win over Tennessee? The Bulldogs ended Tennessee’s eight-game winning streak – that streak might’ve been built against lesser competition, but it was still a source of confidence and a measure of progress for the Jeremy Pruitt era. But that streak would eventually be tested against a better team, and the Vols showed that they still aren’t to the point of contending for the division. Georgia also handled an offensive line and running game that was starting to get a little positive press. The Dawgs ended up with five sacks and held the Vols to -1 net rushing yards (including sack yardage.)

Despite another dominant performance by the nation’s best defense, Georgia struggled to gain an early advantage thanks to a series of unforced errors. The first half started with a high snap into the endzone and ended with Georgia being stuffed at the goal line. In between was everything from the dumbest personal foul since the Ole Miss leg hiker to a couple of bombs completed over the Georgia secondary.

Georgia controlled the game even while it was trying to give the game away: Georgia outgained Tennessee in the first half, and the offense was a foot away from a 24-point half even with its mistakes. They had scoring opportunities on four of their final five possessions of the first half. Yet they trailed, and that’s the stuff upsets are made of. (See Exhibit A.) The halftime deficit was more annoyance than panic, though we might have felt differently had that lead persisted for another quarter.

What changed in the second half? Yes, there were fewer of the mistakes that led to Tennessee’s points. Georgia didn’t shoot itself in the foot as often. But the biggest difference was the ability of the Georgia pass rush to reach and affect Jarrett Guarantano. Georgia didn’t record a sack in the first half despite winning the line of scrimmage and shutting down the Tennessee running game. As at Arkansas, several Georgia defenders came free with a shot at Guarantano but couldn’t close. In the first half Guarantano was 11-of-13 with two long TD passes. True, several of those were short dump-offs in long yardage situations that killed drives, but on others Guarantano had time to make plays. He had plenty of time on both of the touchdown bombs, and a blitzing Stevenson wasn’t able to get there in time on the second scoring toss.

Those fortunes changed in a big way almost immediately after halftime. The unproductive pass rush recorded five sacks, caused three turnovers, and led directly to 13 Georgia points in the second half. Ojulari led the way again, but effective pressure came from all over the linebacking corps. A Georgia defense that was performing well in the first half turned into a havoc machine. It didn’t just limit Tennessee’s yardage; it created scoring opportunities and allowed Georgia to retake the lead without gaining a single first down. That’s the true potential of this defense and why “havoc” has been an emphasis for two years. Good defenses make it difficult for the opponent to move the ball. Great ones affect all phases of the game: they create field position, aid the offense, and take away how the opponent wants to move the ball. We have no idea if Georgia’s defensive backs would fare better against the deep ball in the second half because those plays never had the time to develop.

That last point is one thing to watch heading into the next game. We know all about Alabama’s weapons at tailback and receiver and their ability to hit long scoring plays. The best defense is to take those deep shots out of the game by getting to the quarterback before those plays have a chance to develop. Easier said than done, but Georgia has the talent to affect what the opposing quarterback is trying to do. Their results have been mixed even in the same game – from the ineffective to the downright scary.

Fits and starts

Georgia’s running game wasn’t nearly as effective as it was against Auburn. Tennessee is a sound team, Jeremy Pruitt is much more at home with good, fundamental defense than he is wearing a mask, and players like Henry To’o To’o are tackling machines. There’s still a drought of explosive plays in the running game, and that means more is being asked of Bennett to sustain drives. Georgia managed a respectable 193 yards on the ground, but it took 50 attempts to get there. The end-around to Burton was a beautiful bit of misdirection from Monken that even had the CBS cameras fooled for a second, and it came at a great time as Georgia had just taken a gut punch following the fourth down turnover and quick Tennessee score. Even with Burton’s reverse, Georgia averaged just 3.9 yards per carry.

That trouble on the ground caused some problems for the offense. After managing nearly 7 yards on first down against Auburn, Georgia didn’t face a third down shorter than four yards to go until the final drive of the first half. The Dawgs were a fairly respectable 8-16 on third down, but a lot of the early offense relied on Tennessee personal fouls. Bennett has been above-average on third downs, but

Stetson Bennett had another fine day under center, but we saw some limitations that will have to be schemed around. With the run game ineffective and not much of a downfield passing game, Bennett took more risks both with his arm and his legs. Often it paid off, but he did flirt with a turnover or two. I wrote last week that the offense doesn’t have to be scaled back for Bennett, but I also think there’s a limit to how much the offense can be put on him. Whether or not he’s a “game manager,” whatever that means, Georgia’s offense is not at its best when he’s constantly put in a position to have to escape and improvise. The point of bringing in Todd Monken was to make better use of the talent at the skill positions. Bennett – or any quarterback – has to be a big part of that of course, but we’re hearing a lot more about Bennett than we are White, Pickens, or really anyone other than Kearis Jackson or maybe Kenny McIntosh.

All of that makes it sound as if Georgia was lucky to break double-digits. The offense managed 37 points against a respectable defense and staff. Bennett *did* make plays. He worked the middle of the field for big gains to McIntosh, McKitty, and Jackson. He did convert his share of third downs, though, again, those situations aren’t ideal. Milton and McIntosh did gain around 50 yards each behind White. That’s a good rotation that should only improve with the return of Cook. The scheme is in place to be productive with the personnel at hand. In two games we’ve seen that the offense is as capable of stopping itself as it is putting up points. Can it get out of its own way in time for the biggest games of the regular season?

Go for it?

Kirby Smart’s two fourth down decisions were cut from the same cloth: they were a challenge to a physical football team to move the ball a couple of feet. But they were very different situations and should be evaluated differently. The call on the goal line was fine – the jumbo package had two cracks to score from the one and couldn’t. White perhaps had a chance to bounce outside and walk in, but the play is simply meant to gain a yard behind the line’s push. The poorly executed play(s) didn’t make the decision a bad one – the payoff for gaining that yard was obvious. The other fourth down call is a lot tougher to defend. Tennessee’s offense hadn’t moved the ball beyond the 50, and Georgia has a pretty good defense. Georgia also had the lead. Perhaps Smart saw a chance for an early knockout blow if that drive could be sustained, but the result was to set up a struggling Tennessee offense in a position where it could tie the game on a routine pass play. Even if you give Smart the benefit of the doubt, the 5’11”, 190 lb. Bennett isn’t going to get much of a push or even a second effort through the pile. Georgia took an ill-advised risk to run a slow-developing play with suboptimal personnel.

  • Strong special teams play doesn’t seem to be a fluke. Camarda was again superlative. His 64-yard third quarter punt from the Georgia 12 got the Dawgs out of a big hole while protecting a thin 23-21 lead. Podlesney was perfect, and his 51-yarder to give Georgia the lead for good was what I’d consider his first big kick under pressure. Georgia looked to have taken control of the game, but a miss there would have erased a Tennessee turnover and given the Vols decent field position and the lead. McIntosh had another big kick return that set up the drive that should have scored before halftime. Jackson didn’t have many punt return yards, but he was aggressive fielding punts that would have rolled a good ways.
  • The offensive line that held Auburn at bay wasn’t as effective against Tennessee. Yet another shuffling of the lineup was required when Warren McClendon was injured at the end of the first half. Jamaree Salyer shifted to right tackle while Xavier Truss stepped in at left tackle. McClendon might be out for an extended time, so we’ll have to watch whether the adjusted lineup is the plan going forward.
  • Stokes’s interception was the result of a poor throw under pressure, but how telling was it that Tennessee ran a shotgun pass play on 3rd and 1? By that point in the game, any confidence in gaining just one yard was long gone on the Tennessee sideline.
  • Kendall Milton looked great running the ball, but he plays for a coach obsessed with turnovers. Milton won’t earn more playing time if the coaches don’t trust his ball security. Hopefully that will come soon because we can see the potential.>
  • Trey Hill giveth and taketh away. Hill has had issues with snaps before, and two straight high snaps to start the game was unnerving. To his credit, he was solid for the rest of the game. His presence of mind to get downfield and swiftly recover a fumble in the air before Tennessee could react led to a scoring drive that opened up a two-score lead. A turnover there near midfield with a scant two-point lead would have been a big moment.
  • Does the availability of McKitty mean less playing time for Darnell Washington? We’ve seen Washington’s contributions as a pass-catching option and a physical blocker. He’s also a true freshman, and FitzPatrick still seems to be ahead on the depth chart. I’m a little giddy even mentioning a tight end depth chart.
  • Of course the touchdown pass to Jalen Carter was a highlight. Even mere bloggers could see the potential for play-action out of the jumbo formation, and Carter played some TE in high school. It was a more impressive feat of athleticism than your typical big guy touchdown. Carter got knocked back at the line of scrimmage, had to recover and catch the pass cleanly, and then keep his balance while fighting off a would-be tackler.
  • Not too much talk or online shaming about the crowd this week, so we’ll conclude that compliance was better and the adjustments made by the school to the student seating were effective. Georgia won’t host another home game until November 21st, and the pandemic landscape both nationally and in Clarke County could look very different by then as we approach the end of the fall semester.

Post Georgia 27 – Auburn 6: Different month, familiar result

Tuesday October 6, 2020

I guess it’s time to revisit the old coaching axiom that things are never as bad or as good as they seem. Georgia had the SEC’s largest margin of victory in week one, but they spent the week hearing about a disappointing first half and a crisis at quarterback. Now with a dominant win over a top 10 rival, do we need to pump the brakes on Georgia’s inevitable return to the playoffs? Maybe, but we’ll let the coaches worry about that. For fans another win over Auburn – no matter the month, no matter how many fans could be there, and no matter who played quarterback – is worth savoring.

Georgia has now won 13 of the last 16 meetings against Auburn. That’s comparable to the series records against Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt. A summary of the series since Tra Battle helped to turn the series with an upset win at Auburn in 2006:

  • Georgia has won 13 out of 16 and four in a row
  • Georgia is 7-0 in Athens (undefeated since 2007)
  • No Auburn touchdowns in Athens after the first quarter since 2009 (six games)

I admit that last one gets me. Wins are one thing, but it’s stunning that the last time Auburn scored a touchdown in Athens after the first quarter was the Blackout game in 2007.

Offense

Even after his steadying performance at Arkansas, most of us expected it to be a matter of time before Stetson Bennett gave way to JT Daniels. Even the ESPN game promo used Daniels’s photo alongside Auburn’s Bo Nix. After a confident and effective showing against a good Auburn defense, the perception of Stetson Bennett as placeholder is fading away. That’s good news on several fronts. Daniels doesn’t have to be rushed back – “cleared” and “ready” are two very different states. We’ve seen that the offense doesn’t have to be scaled back for Bennett, and a bit of an identity is emerging. It’s doubtful that Todd Monken spent nine months drawing up plays for Stetson Bennett. Likely for the first time in his career Bennett got first-team reps all week in practice and was involved in the game plan. He was prepared, poised, and the moment wasn’t too big for him. Where does he go now that he’s QB1?

It’s tough to pick Bennett’s best throw of the night. The early third down conversion under pressure was probably the most important. Markaviest ‘Big Kat’ Bryant is one of the better defensive ends in the SEC, and Bennett was able to elude and make a good throw with Bryant coming unblocked off the edge. An incompletion there meant a 49-yard FG attempt, and a sack would have killed the drive. As nice as that play was, the touch and placement on the touchdown pass to Pickens though was just *chef’s kiss*.

This wasn’t exactly Kearis Jackson’s coming out party: he led Georgia in receiving last week, too. But even as Pickens remains the dangerous playmaker, Jackson is looking like the guy in the best position to benefit from extra attention on Pickens. Jackson is fast enough to get open deep, tough enough to go across the middle, and, as ESPN pointed out several times, has the football acumen to get open. The passing game wasn’t as diversified against Auburn as it was at Arkansas. Twelve players caught passes last week, but only seven notched a reception on Saturday. Georgia had far fewer pass attempts against Auburn due to better success on the ground but also because of fewer possessions.

That success on the ground was something we’ve been waiting to see. Georgia was ineffective on first and second down at Arkansas, and their low third down conversion rate was a result. Against Auburn Georgia got over 7 yards per play on first down, and a lot of that came from running the ball. Zamir White was pushing 80 yards by halftime. James Cook was getting over 8 yards per carry before he was injured. Milton, McIntosh, and Edwards combined for nearly 90 yards to push Georgia over 200 rushing yards. Much was made about the talent Auburn lost on the defensive front, and that’s true. But this is also an overhauled Georgia offensive line with four new starters. That line found its stride after a shaky start at Arkansas, and both run blocking and pass protection were solid on Saturday.

Of course the offense can still improve. Perimeter blocking has to get better – we’ve seen obvious holding calls on the outside erase nice gains in both games due to lazy blocking. Explosive runs haven’t come yet, though the holes are starting to open and White has shown some good moves. Again downfield blocking is in the spotlight – it can mean the difference between a nice, successful run and a trip to the endzone. Bennett can improve his accuracy – too many of the completions to Jackson ended with a diving catch and left yards-after-catch on the table.

Defense

When we saw Chad Morris’s offense at Clemson in 2013, he had Tajh Boyd running it. That up-tempo offense with a mobile QB wasn’t new, but it was still a handful. Morris’s offense would make him attractive to SMU and later Arkansas. Already after one game his offense had drawn praise for a more sophisticated use of Auburn’s stable of speedy receivers, and even Kirby Smart noted that this wasn’t your typical Malzahn offense. What the 2020 Georgia defense was able to do against Morris that the 2013 unit couldn’t was to make it one-dimensional. Clemson rushed for 197 yards on Georgia in 2013, and Boyd scored twice on the ground. Georgia held Auburn to 39 rushing yards on Saturday. The Auburn running game was limited to true freshman Tank Bigsby, and Georgia made sure that the newcomer wasn’t going to have his breakout game.

I don’t know that any series better demonstrates what this defense has become than the first-and-goal Auburn faced just before halftime. The targeting call on LeCounte could have shellshocked the defense, but they regrouped and forced a field goal. First was preparation: Georgia recognized the tendency to run the quarterback. It was snuffed out on first down. On second down, Auburn shifted the formation and used motion to create better numbers for Nix. Nakobe Dean recognized the situation and quickly tried to realign the defense. It was still a good play for Auburn, but Jordan Davis made an athletic tackle from behind to keep a modest gain from becoming a touchdown. On third down, Tyson Campbell smoothly followed Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz in motion and was right there to stick Schwartz for no gain on a little flare pass that would have scored if Campbell had been a little slower getting into position or missed the tackle. You have intelligent and physical plays at all three levels of the defense working to keep Auburn out of the endzone and limit any momentum they’d have going into halftime.

But even the defense has things to work on. Bo Nix can be evasive and tough to bring down, but several of Auburn’s more successful plays came when Nix was able to elude the initial pressure. It’s thrilling to see someone like Adam Anderson come free on a passing down, but the pass rush has to get home. Ending drives also became an issue in the Auburn game. Auburn’s final four drives lasted 11, 15, 15, and 8 plays. It’s to the defense’s credit that those four drives netted a total of six points, but there were several missed opportunities to make third down stops. If people wonder why an effective Georgia offense only scored three points in the second half, it’s because they rarely had the ball. Auburn’s long drives meant that Georgia only had three posessions in the second half – including the final possession on which they ran out the clock. Georgia’s other two second half possessions yielded two field goal attempts.

No-name No Longer

Despite returning eight starters from the nation’s top defense, the Bulldog defense didn’t get many nods during preseason selections. That relative anonymity might be changing as a couple of players are beginning to break out. Auburn’s biggest offensive threat is a deep and fast receiver corps. Georgia’s defensive backs generally did well, especially against deeper passes, but Tyson Campbell shone while drawing one of the tougher assignments. Seth Williams is a 6’2″ receiver with great leaping and ballcatching skills who torched Kentucky for 6 catches, 112 yards, and 2 TD in the opener. Last year against Georgia Williams posted 13 receptions for 121 yards. Campbell is one of the few defensive backs with both the size and speed to match up against someone like Williams. Williams still had three catches for a modest 34 yards on Saturday, but Campbell was a big reason why Williams wasn’t able to do more damage especially as Auburn began to take more shots downfield in the second half. Williams was visibly frustrated and eventually left the game with what looked to be a leg injury.

Azeez Ojulari and Adam Anderson also stood out. Anderson has become a third down pass rush specialist, and coaches have had fun moving him all over the formation to disguise pressure. He’s also able to drop into coverage. We saw Anderson come free on several obvious passing situations and flush Bo Nix from the pocket. I’m sure coaches would like to see him turn those plays into sacks, but sometimes it’s enough to make the quarterback uncomfortable and get him on the move. Most quarterbacks aren’t as effective on the move as Nix. Ojulari did record a sack, but he was most impressive setting the edge and preventing a speedy Auburn team from having much success in their option plays. It’s telling that Georgia’s top five tacklers were all interior linemen or inside linebackers – most running plays and reads were funneled back inside. Ojulari’s awareness stood out on the last play of the first half when Auburn tried to run out of the victory formation. He sniffed out the trick play and made the tackle for loss – one of three TFL he had in the game.

  • Loved the goalline package with defensive linemen Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter. Will love it even more when one of them releases on a play-action pass.
  • Davis and Carter weren’t just in there to take up space. They made purposeful blocks with good technique.
  • What was more impressive – those defensive linemen on the goalline offense or Travon Walker staying with a tailback down the sideline in coverage?
  • I was surprised that Auburn didn’t attack Georgia’s safeties more, especially once LeCounte was ejected. Lewis Cine is a good, physical player, but he’s still relatively new to the position. LeCounte was replaced by Christopher Smith, a junior who has seen mostly reserve and special teams duty. It’s no knock against Cine or Smith to say that the strength of Georgia’s secondary in pass coverage was at the cornerback position. Most of Auburn’s deep shots went outside against that strength, and Tyson Campbell is one of the few players in the SEC who can match the speed of Auburn’s receivers.
  • Auburn wasn’t without its chances in the passing game. Daniel isn’t as quick as Campbell or Stokes, and receivers were able to get behind him. It’s great to see Campbell emerge, but Georgia does need some reliable depth at cornerback. Has anyone checked on Kelee Ringo’s status?
  • James Cook took almost as much heat as D’Wan Mathis after the opener. He responded with one of his better games as a Bulldog, and we began to see some of the potential realized. It was a shame he was knocked out of the game just as he was getting going, and it’s good news that the injury doesn’t seem to be serious.
  • Stuck between the 5-star starting tailbacks and the 5-star freshman, Kenny McIntosh has carved out a nice role for himself. His kick returns have provided some valuable field position. He’s been active in the passing game and a tough runner between the tackles. It’s a very Herrien-like role with perhaps a bit more talent.

Post Returning to a very different Athens

Saturday October 3, 2020

Just a few things have changed since the rainy November afternoon when Georgia last hosted a football game. The 2019 home season featured two marquee opponents and a new light display that was the talk of the nation and, to be honest, more compelling than most of the action on the field last year. In 2020, we’re just glad to have four home games with capacity limited to 20-25%. The homefield advantage that carried Georgia over Notre Dame won’t be nearly the same despite the addition of artificial noise and the best efforts of the 20,000 present. Typically a visit from ESPN’s College Gameday would have fans fighting for spaces before dawn. This year Gameday will be set up outside the recruiting lounge in Sanford Stadium with no live audience.

As I watched the first few weeks of high school and college games, it’s evident that any plan is only as good as compliance and enforcement. Both seem to be in short supply (on the sidelines as well as the stands.) Many fans feel free to flaunt or test the guidelines (especially after a few drinks), and officials don’t want to be confrontational. We’ll see how the compliance and enforcement go around Athens on Saturday, but if other games tell us anything, we should expect our share of tiresome screenshots shaming noncompliant fans.

Tailgating

We know that on-campus tailgating is limited. Tailgaters must have a ticket to the game and essentially follow the old-school definition of tailgating: a bucket of chicken at the car just before the game. It was confusing to read those rules while learning that Georgia has “banned tailgating” for the season. Deputy AD Josh Brooks provided some clarity:

“No tents, no tables, those big setups, anything that promotes a big gathering, we’re asking everyone to be responsible and stay in their (smaller) groups,” Brooks said. “We are trying to give people a little relief, because we know they don’t want to go straight to the stadium. It was our best attempt to offer a solution or compromise without promoting large social gatherings.”

So a few beers and some snacks at the car with your travel party – fine. Setting up Tent City with grills, TVs, and a DJ might draw some attention. The ban also serves to limit on-campus tailgating away from parking lots at places like Myers Quad.

It stands to reason that the campus tailgating ban will push most tailgating off-campus. That includes downtown bars, off-campus lots, and private residences and businesses. UGA fraternities have agreed to ban tailgating at their houses. That’s good (if enforced), but again it adds to the crowd downtown and at apartment complexes.

The likelihood of off-campus gatherings hasn’t escaped Athens officials. Current state guidelines limit gatherings to 50 people. In September the mayor of Athens asked the governor to amend the state’s order to allow for local exceptions including a 10-person gathering limit to aid in crowd control. There doesn’t seem to have been any movement on that front.

At the game

We know the basics: limited crowd, masks required, distanced seating, cashless concessions, and plentiful sanitizers. Attendance will be constrained to around 20-25% of capacity or around 20,000 fans. No tickets were sold to visiting fans, but tickets are plentiful on the secondary market.

Live mascots aren’t allowed this year. Charles Seiler has it exactly right: the issue with Uga is that he attracts a crowd. He’s a magnet for people, and that’s a situation schools are trying to avoid.

The Redcoat Band and Georgia cheerleaders will be present, but they’ll have reduced squads and will be confined to the stands.

Brooks indicated that there will be artificial noise to augment the Redcoats and fans. An ambient noise level of 70 decibels is allowed, and they can pump it up to 90 decibels after big plays. Again, it’s not likely that someone will be standing on the sideline with a decibel meter, so we’ll see how fast and loose schools are with those limits.

Enjoy!

Hopefully enough people will be mindful so that everyone is able to have a safe time before, during, and after the game. Everyone should know the drill by now, and everyone has agency to know in which situations they’ll be comfortable and to decide where they do and don’t go. Several Athens bars have posted notices that they do not consent to enforcement of local mask ordinances. That’s fine and within the law – they’re giving you the information you need to make informed decisions about your gameday activities. With campus all but shut down, expect downtown to be the epicenter of gatherings and a test of the local ability (and will) to control those gatherings.

I admit – it’s going to be tough to miss my first home game since 1990. I’m genuinely curious to see how both fans and the school pull it off and what impact 20,000 fans can have on a big game. More than anything, I hope those who do attend have a great time, cheer on the Dawgs to a win, and return home without contributing to the spread of a still-active pandemic.