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Post Georgia 26 – Missouri 22: A substandard escape

Tuesday October 4, 2022

“A win is a win.”

If there’s one overarching element of the culture Kirby Smart has build around the Georgia program it’s the emphasis of process over results. If “process” sounds a little too Alabama-y, we know where Smart cut his teeth and how much of that successful model he brought with him while putting his own touches on it. Smart built a program to be sustained (as he put it over the summer) by drilling his principles of physicality, toughness, composure, and discipline. Even after a decisive win the same standards drive expectations in practice.

If all of that is true and not coach-speak, then “a win is a win” is meaningless and counterproductive. It says something about how you performed relative to the day’s opponent, but it says nothing about the performance against the standards by which you measure yourself. Fans have the luxury of just enjoying the wins, and I hope we do – especially after the catharsis of the national title. After all, what do we have to do with setting and enforcing the program’s standards? It’s dangerous though within a program if outcomes begin to overshadow standards. To be blunt, it’s more in line with late Richt-era thinking. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that a change in thinking is occurring within the program or that Smart would allow that to happen. But if we are to take the coach and players at their word when it comes to how they approach building a championship program, it’s OK to recognize when the standards they’ve set and taken ownership of aren’t being met regardless of outcome.

It’s to the team’s credit that they were able to overcome the slow start, double-digit deficit, and the road environment to get the win. Composure is one of Smart’s core concepts for a reason, and if Georgia had a mild test of their composure last week, it got a serious stress test at Missouri. Bennett deserves credit for leading the offense back, but we didn’t see many players on either side of the ball making the kinds of mistakes you expect when players get tight and begin to try to force things. The defense held Missouri to just six second half points, the offense made adjustments to blocking schemes, and the coaches got the ball to the offense’s best players. When the opportunity came to turn the game around, the players stepped up.

Georgia might not have been in trouble against Kent State, but I thought that “it’s probably more useful to look at it as a profile of a game that might get Georgia in trouble later this season.” Turnovers, sloppy tackling, dropped passes, and an offense that struggled to create explosive plays made that game closer than it should have been, and we saw at Missouri that those weren’t one-off problems. Throw in some early turnovers and a lopsided field position disadvantage, and another huge underdog began to believe.

The defense didn’t play a poor game with the exception of a handful of broken plays. If you’re frustrated about Georgia’s red zone issues, imagine Missouri having to settle for five field goals. It seemed all night as if Georgia’s defense would do its job, Missouri would string together just enough plays to barely get into field goal range, and then convert the kick. Four of Missouri’s five field goals were 40+ yards, and three of them were from 49+. Credit Harrison Mevis for recovering from his nightmare at Auburn, but holding Missouri to field goal attempts kept the score close enough for Georgia to hang around. A second Missouri touchdown (especially from goal-to-go) would have put tremendous pressure on a struggling Georgia offense.

We can’t ignore the mistakes and broken plays that got Missouri most of their yardage. We saw the defense start well against Kent State, but it only took one misplay along the sideline for them to get into the endzone. Against Missouri we saw the combination of Smith not finishing a sack and Lassiter letting a man get behind him result in a long pass play. We saw a couple of dropped interceptions by safeties that could have ended Missouri drives. We saw over-pursuit that opened up big running lanes. Georgia tackled well in the first three games, but they’ve regressed in the last two games. These are things that can be worked on, yes, but we’re running out of opportunities to see improvements within games before the important stretch that ends the season.

Kent State began to challenge Georgia’s receivers, and the Bulldogs weren’t able to establish much of a vertical passing game. Stetson Bennett had been averaging well over 10 yards per attempt through the first three games, but he was a much more ordinary 7.5 yards per attempt against Kent State. Missouri likewise didn’t show much respect for Georgia downfield and was more aggressive with blitzes and tight coverage at the line of scrimmage. Bennett’s yards-per-attempt fell to 7.25 in this game, and he completed just 56% with the offense relying more on dropback passes than the screens and short passes that were an extension of the running game earlier in the season.

That pressure disrupted Georgia’s offense. Missouri had two sacks, nine tackles for loss, and seven QB hurries. Several of those unproductive Georgia plays came on first down – especially in the red zone. On Georgia’s four drives that ended with field goals, there were three incompletions and a lost yardage running play on the first downs of the series that ended those drives. Georgia found themselves on third-and-long eight times and had a decent (given the situation) 37.5% success rate thanks to Bennett’s ability to make plays. You’d like to see better success on early downs to avoid so many long third downs. Georgia’s overall success rate was about 47% – still slightly above average, but it’s a far cry from what we saw in the first few games.

While Bennett wasn’t able to take the top off of the Missouri defense, he was able to find some success with more intermediate routes. Six players had receptions of at least ten yards. Even those successful passes were often tightly covered as Georgia’s receivers struggled to gain separation. The longest pass plays of the game came to Georgia’s tight ends. That’s great – Bowers and Washington are unique talents that need to be used, but there were no explosive pass plays (20+ yards) to receivers. It’s a little funny (or karmic) for a Georgia fan to single out two injured receivers, but players matter. Arian Smith and AD Mitchell have special skills that can help this offense, and I think we’ve seen how much Georgia needs them back in the lineup. Opponents will continue to try to constrict Georgia’s offense until they’re made to pay for it.

  • Lots of talk this week about zone vs. gap running plays given Georgia’s struggles with the former and more success with gap plays in the second half. It’s not an all-or-nothing question, and good lines should be able to block for either if the situation calls for it. It will be worth watching if this change sticks around and brings the running game to life in the next stretch of the season.
  • Is Daijun Edwards your closer? It sure felt like it.
  • One bright spot among the receivers was Dominick Blaylock. Blaylock continues to work himself back into the offense after two knee injuries, and he had three catches on three targets in this game. He is a former 5* prospect and showed some special skills as a freshman in 2019. Each of the receivers brings some valuable skills – Rosemy-Jacksaint is a fantastic blocker, McConkey can be a dangerous playmaker if he can get over the drops, and Blaylock is a reliable ball-catcher. It’s a lot to ask these guys to take over the lead in the absence of Mitchell.
  • Georgia forced a rare three-and-out after taking the lead. It was perhaps a little early for Missouri to abandon the runs that had some success, but we’ll take three passes into coverage. Tykee Smith’s well-timed breakup on third down reminded me of the big play William Poole had against Alabama in the title game.
  • Georgia has a young defense, but some of its more experienced players didn’t have a great game. Kelee Ringo was beaten for a deep completion and had an unnecessary pass interference penalty. Robert Beal was nearly invisible. Christopher Smith dropped an interception and bit on Missouri’s touchdown play. These are the guys you want to lean on as the younger players get up to speed, and they have work of their own to do.
  • Can’t imagine a more terrifying thing than Darnell Washington flying though the air at you mid-hurdle.
  • Stackhouse had a fantastic play to blow up a reverse and force a 10-yard loss following Bennett’s fumble. Missouri still ended up with a field goal, but that lost-yardage play kept Missouri from turning the fumble into anything more costly.
  • Malaki Starks got off to a fantastic start and had one of the most important tackles in this game. Teams are beginning to spread the field to isolate him in coverage and force him to defend one-on-one.
  • Georgia’s only SEC loss to Missouri came in 2013, and it featured a fumble returned for a touchdown. I had a flashback when Bennett and Edwards fumbled on a read play, and it was a tremendous response by Bennett to recover and tackle a larger defender. Bennett and Starks saved two touchdowns by chasing down Missouri players with nothing but the end zone in front of them.
  • Starks’s tackle showed why you never concede a yard or give up on a play. The subsequent false start and goal-to-go stand by Georgia averted big trouble before halftime.
  • Bennett’s toughness, experience, and leadership couldn’t have been bigger. He was clearly favoring his shoulder in the face of relentless pressure. He overcame the pain to make some precision throws and lead six straight scoring drives after his fumble.
  • If there’s one intangible to be concerned about and turn around right away, it’s the fear factor. Kirby Smart said earlier in the season that “our goal is to strike fear in every part of the game in our opponent.” Will future opponents fear Georgia, or do they see what Kent State and Missouri were able to do and see opportunity?

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