Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Georgia 51 – Kentucky 13: Beck lets loose

Tuesday October 10, 2023

Two big concerns had Georgia fans eyeing the 14-point spread with healthy skepticism:

  • Georgia’s slow starts on both sides of the ball had been slow to shake after five games.
  • Kentucky’s running game, especially Ray Davis, came to life against Florida the same week Georgia gave up over 200 yards on the ground to Auburn.

It turned out that these two birds could be killed with one stone. Georgia’s offense leaned into its strengths in the passing game and scored on each of its first six possessions. That early success forced Kentucky away from Davis and a possession-oriented ground game and put the game on the less-capable arm of Devin Leary. Davis finished with just 15 carries (only six coming in the second half) and 59 yards. Leary completed just 10 of 26 passes and was sacked three times by a Georgia defense who, in possession of a large lead, knew what was coming.

Carson Beck has admitted to starting games too tightly wound, but he came out of the gate on fire in this game. He started 13-of-13 and led Georgia to touchdown drives on their first three possessions. The playcalling helped Beck get into his groove. The first pass was a swing pass out to Edwards. Then he found Rosemy-Jacksaint on an easy short pass against the Kentucky zone along the sideline. Another short pass to Lovett got the ball to midfield. Beck helped himself with a scramble on 3rd-and-3 to move the chains. With the juices flowing, Beck was ready to let loose and perfectly placed a crossing route into the hands of Rosemy-Jacksaint for a 40-yard touchdown.

Beck looked downfield earlier and more often than he has this season, and Georgia’s receiving talent is starting to show itself. Brock Bowers of course remains the standard bearer and had another 100+ yard game. Mike Bobo’s game plan took advantage of two Kentucky defensive traits: aggressive linebackers willing to bite on play fakes and a cover 3 look from the secondary that could be exploited. Georgia used motion frequently to create mismatches and confusion against the Kentucky zone, and Beck was able to hit open receivers. It wasn’t just Bowers: Rosemy-Jacksaint got the scoring going and nearly finished with 100 yards himself. He had a fantastic comeback catch on a free play that Beck heaved down the sideline to set up the third touchdown. Rara Thomas is also becoming a dependable target and had perhaps the highlight catch of the season so far. With the experienced Lovett and McConkey yet to reach the endzone this year, it’s doubtful that the passing game is close to its ceiling yet. Protection remains solid – Beck had lots of time to throw thanks to a good game from the line and a scheme that used play-action to create hesitation. It won’t always be this clean or successful, but this was the Georgia offense leaning into its best identity in 2023.

The defense only gave up a single score in each half, and the second touchdown came after a long interception return. It might seem like coach-speak for Kirby Smart to be less-than-thrilled with the defense at halftime, but he had a point. Kentucky opened the game with two respectable drives that were derailed not by anything the Georgia defense did but by penalties and poor Kentucky passing. Georgia let a Kentucky receiver get behind them on an early 3rd-and-long, and only a Devin Leary overthrow prevented a stunning touchdown that would have answered Georgia’s opening salvo. Georgia held Kentucky to 128 yards through the air and just 55 on the ground. A lot of that had to do with Georgia’s ball control and early lead forcing Kentucky to throw the ball. The Wildcats only ran 50 plays. Smart realized, though, that a handful of breaks that went Georgia’s way ended two early scoring opportunities for the Wildcats.

Flag Day

Penalties are a part of every game, but the flags had a fairly pronounced impact on the early flow of this game. The Wildcats responded to Georgia’s opening score with a quick march into Georgia territory, but a holding penalty stopped the drive cold. A 36-yard completion on Kentucky’s next possession once again had the Wildcats approaching the red zone. A personal foul moved the ball outside of field goal range, and another opportunity to put points on the board was wasted. Georgia’s third possession looked to fizzle out after a third down pass was tipped, but an inexplicable blindside hit after the play gave the Bulldogs an automatic first down. With new life, the Dawgs drove 95 yards for their third touchdown and put the Wildcats in a deep 21-0 hole early in the second quarter.

Georgia’s own miscues contributed to Kentucky’s only scoring drive of the half. A questionable roughing the passer call on Warren Brinson moved the Wildcats inside the Georgia 35. The Bulldogs held and forced a fourth down decision, but Georgia’s presnap action was flagged for “disconcerting signals” and made the distance to go much more reasonable. Kentucky converted the fourth down and scored a few plays later.

Extra Points

  • Ray Davis wasn’t a huge factor due to the flow of the game, but you saw flashes of what he might have done in a closer game. His first two carries went for 19 yards to help Kentucky drive across the 50. Most impressive might have been his burst and movement on his touchdown reception. He knifed through Georgia’s defense on a short screen and made Everette miss badly.
  • Chaz Chambliss had a pair of standout plays. He had an early tackle for loss on Davis that kept Kentucky on their heels after a personal foul penalty and forced a long third down. Later Chambliss showed his coverage skills by sticking with a tight end out towards the sideline and making a clean deflection.
  • We’ve seen some shaky two-minute possessions heading into halftime – on both sides of the ball – but Georgia handled the last five minutes of the first half as well as they could. After a Woodring field goal, Georgia notched a sack and forced a punt that was followed up by a quick five-play touchdown drive. Kentucky couldn’t move the ball in the final minute and punted with 30 seconds left. With the ball at midfield and in control of the game, Beck took a shot downfield and earned a pass interference penalty. After a few identical dump-offs to Edwards gained a quick 23 yards, Georgia was in position for a makeable 42-yard Woodring field goal at the buzzer. It was a smooth 20-second series that moved the ball from the Georgia 38 to the Kentucky 24 in three safe but effective plays.
  • Terrence Edwards posted 1,004 receiving yards in 2002 and is the only Bulldog ever to crack 1,000 yards in a season. Brock Bowers has 545 yards through six games and needs 76.5 yard per game the rest of the way to match Edwards. Bowers has averaged 136 yards over the past three games. At that pace, he’d end up with over 1,300 yards.
  • Did Georgia’s success throwing the ball open things up for the running game? The Bulldogs ran for 173 yards and 5.6 yards per carry. Even accounting for Vandagriff’s 27 yards, it was a solid performance. Edwards was his usual reliable self with some tough yardage. Milton ran as well as he has all season and finally looks to be in top shape. Five different ballcarriers had runs over 10 yards, but the breakaway run still eludes the group. We know that longer runs are more of a team stat with downfield blocking, and turning some of this tough yardage into breakaways is the next step for the running game.
  • As important as Edwards has been running the ball, he was unusually active in the passing game plan. Edwards turned the first pass of the game from a possible loss into a hard-fought moderate gain to get the opening drive going. Edwards also had two receptions to move the ball into field goal range just before halftime. He finished with 6 catches – second on the team only to Bowers. He’s not James Cook or Kenny McIntosh yet, but we’ve seen how valuable a receiving threat out of the backfield can be in this offense.
  • Kentucky threw at Kamari Lassiter more than most teams have. He was in coverage on Kentucky’s longest pass play of the game – 36 yards – but that play was over a quarter of Kentucky’s passing yardage in the game. Lassiter won his share of plays and probably could have had an interception on a well-defended pass down the sideline.
  • Georgia’s tight end depth doubled for this game. Luckie has been itching to get on the field and started mixing it up right from the opening kickoff. Spurlin is back from injury and had a nice 25-yard reception late in the game. The coaches won’t rush either into extended playing time, but it’s nice to have the depth now for some situational substitutions. In particular we’re looking to see if Luckie is as capable of a blocker as the preseason chatter made him out to be.
  • McConkey only had one reception in limited time, but what a nice play to set up a first-and-goal. The pass itself was 7 or 8 yard to the sideline, but McConkey made a smooth turn to get underneath the tackle and turn it into an 11-yard catch. That little effort to get a few extra yards and a first down rather than 3rd-and-short showed the value of having a veteran playmaker like McConkey available down the stretch.
  • It’s been an up-and-down season for Dumas-Johnson, but there’s still nothing like watching him finish off a blitz.
  • Do you think Jalon Walker wants more playing time? Georgia’s reserves have given up a couple of late scores this season, but thanks in large part to guys like Walker Kentucky punted on their final three possessions – including a pair of three-and-outs.
  • It’s a small detail in a blowout like this, but Georgia did well to answer both Kentucky scores. The Cats put together a long drive to cut the lead to 21-7, and an early out by the offense would have put a tired Georgia defense back onto the field. Instead Beck found Bowers right away for a 49-yard gain, and the Bulldogs were right back in the red zone. Even though the drive ended there with a field goal, the three points once again made it a three-possession game, and Georgia recaptured momentum to finish the half with 13 straight points. Kentucky wasn’t likely to mount much of a comeback even after a long interception return and quick score early in the second half, but Georgia made sure of it with a long 7-minute drive to tack on another field goal. Kentucky didn’t cross midfield again.
  • Woodring now has five straight makes in a pair of SEC games. Hopefully he’s shaken off the nerves from earlier in the season and will continue to be dependable as the stakes increase.

Post Georgia 27 – Auburn 20: Bowers does everything but stop the run

Tuesday October 3, 2023

I had a flashback to 2014. Fresh off a 29-point loss to Missouri that left them with a 3-3 record, Florida entered the WLOCP as double-digit underdogs to #11 Georgia. The Gators benched struggling quarterback Jeff Driskel in favor of unproven freshman Treon Harris. The Gators entered the game getting a decent 179 yards per game on the ground, occasionally breaking 200 yards here and there. What happened in Jacksonville was unexpected and horrifying. The move to Harris signaled an intent to go all in on the running game, but Georgia could do nothing to stop it. The Gators ran for 418 yards at nearly 7 yards per carry. Harris only passed six times and completed three. Florida ran away with the 38-20 upset. The win got Florida to bowl eligibility, and it ended up costing Georgia the SEC East title.

The enduring memory of that loss was the helplessness. Florida was as one-dimensional as an offense could get (even Tech’s option offense attempted more passes), but it didn’t matter. I had twinges of that same pit in my stomach during Saturday’s game at Auburn. The Tigers had quarterback issues, hadn’t thrown for over 100 yards in an SEC game since last season, and would rely largely on their ground game to move the ball. We knew that. Watching another one-dimensional offense put the Georgia defense off-balance was something unfamiliar and unsettling. Georgia’s first three Division 1 opponents currently all rank in the bottom 25% in rushing yardage, so our perception of the job Georgia was doing in taking away the run was skewed.

Auburn didn’t run for 400 yards on Saturday, but a Kirby Smart defense giving up over 200 yards on the ground felt about the same. It wasn’t just one area of the defense that Auburn exploited. The line didn’t allow many big gains up the middle, but there wasn’t much of a push to disrupt the RPOs that caused enough hesitation that allowed plays to develop. Linebackers were overaggressive and vulnerable to misdirection. The secondary took bad angles and allowed plays to get outside for big gains. Complicating things was the threat of Auburn’s quarterback to run. Robby Ashford was supposed to be the “running quarterback”, and he did run for 8.3 yards per carry in limited action. Payton Thorne’s contributions on the ground were less anticipated. His long rumble down the sideline on Auburn’s second possession was eye-opening, but perhaps more significant was a pair of runs on third and fourth down that led to Auburn’s first touchdown. Having to account for the running quarterbacks – who accounted for over half of Auburn’s rushing yardage – only placed additional stress on Georgia’s befuddled defense.

Maybe because of Georgia’s overall talent level and defensive pedigree or maybe because Auburn truly was one-dimensional, the Bulldog defense avoided complete collapse and made enough plays to keep the score manageable. Auburn’s two touchdown drives both began in Georgia territory after turnovers. If Georgia could get Auburn to third down, the Tigers were only 2-for-12. That wasn’t all long-yardage passing situations; the Georgia defense made some key stops on running plays in short yardage. They recovered after Thorne’s long run to get a red zone stop that forced a field goal. Consecutive stops on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 at the Georgia 12 helped preserve a tie game headed into halftime. Red zone defense had been a weakness for Georgia, but three of Auburn’s five scoring opportunities ended without touchdowns.

Auburn’s ability to run the ball might have been a bit of a shock, but it wasn’t surprising to see them play physical, hard-hitting defense. Georgia seemed to approach their offense with caution – perhaps too much caution. Yes, Carson Beck was making his first road start. The Bulldogs only had one downfield pass on their first possession – a third-down conversion to McConkey. Three straight runs at midfield which failed to move the chains might have looked like a team trying to be more physical, but it wasn’t the sign of a confident team on the attack. The second possession might have seemed to vindicate a cautious approach with Beck – he missed an open Delp streaking down the middle for a likely touchdown and then threw an interception.

But Beck responded on the next drive to answer Auburn’s touchdown with Georgia’s first score of the game. Georgia mixed some short completions with steady gains on the ground, and Edwards was able to punch it in. The passing game opened up after forcing an Auburn 3-and-out. Beck found Lovett for 13 yards and then Rosemy-Jacksaint for 26 to get into the red zone. A pair of incompletions intended for Brock Bowers forced a field goal, but Georgia was looking downfield more – and targeting Bowers – towards halftime.

Beck and the passing game took on a larger role in the second half as Georgia fought back from behind. The Bulldogs scored on three straight possessions to turn a 7-point deficit into a 7-point lead. Key third down conversions to Thomas and McConkey moved the ball to midfield, and a pass across the middle to Bowers set up another Edwards touchdown. Two more long gains by Bowers resulted in a field goal that gave Georgia their first lead. The final scoring drive started with moderate gains by Rosemy-Jacksaint and Bowers to move into Auburn territory, and Bowers finished off the drive with the kind of run after catch that’s become his trademark.

The Beck-to-Bowers connection has taken off in the past two weeks. The question, and it’s a serious one, is how to get that going earlier in games. Georgia’s slow starts have been a curiosity of the first month of the season – and it’s across the board, not just Beck. We’re seeing though in conference games how risky a slow start can be. It’s not just a question of winning more impressively. If the defense is going to be merely really good instead of elite, the offense has to have more of a role in taking control of games. Additionally, a slow start gives opponents more time to stick to their game plans and probe Georgia for weaknesses. If Georgia jumped out 14-0, would Auburn have been as patient with the running game, or would they have to begin taking chances throwing the ball? Teams that get out in front are able to make opponents predictable and uncomfortable. It’s to Georgia’s credit that they’ve maintained composure through those early deficits. Not many teams can do that, but Georgia hasn’t asked that of many opponents yet.

It’s excellent that Carson Beck and the Bulldogs have shown that they can take a punch and respond, especially in a tough road environment like that. It would be nice now to throw some punches of our own.

Extra points

  • Bowers’ touchdown is deservedly the highlight, but another play deserves mention. After Everette’s crucial pass breakup forced a punt, Georgia was pinned at their 2 yard line. The next play turned out to be Georgia’s longest run of the game. Georgia lined up with Delp tight to the left side of the line and Bowers next to him. The left side of the line held their own with a linebacker blitzing over left guard. Bowers picked up pressure from the outside. Delp was able to get the second level, and Edwards found a nice hole between Delp and Bowers. The 16-yard run earned the offense some breathing room and started them on an important 98-yard drive to tie the game.
  • Another important play? Facing 3rd and 7 in the second quarter, Auburn sent pressure. Edwards didn’t pick up the blitzing linebacker, and Beck barely got off a pass before he took a hit. Rara Thomas had to make a juggling catch coming across the field to get the first down and keep the scoring drive alive. Edwards scored two plays later.
  • Welcome back Ladd McConkey. Georgia’s most dependable receiver didn’t just have four receptions that often sustained drives; he also was frequently paired alongside Bowers. Georgia’s top two receiving threats on the same side forced Auburn to make some tough choices, and it led to some important receptions.
  • Three of McConkey’s four catches moved the chains on third down. Georgia was an impressive 8-13 overall on third down in a tight road game. Even more impressive, they were 5-7 in a tense second half. Beck converted 4 of Georgia’s final 5 third downs.
  • Ten of Georgia’s 13 third downs were 3rd and 5 or longer. Auburn had no sacks but eight tackles for loss in the game.
  • Beck’s best incompletion? On a 2nd and 2 on Georgia’s first scoring drive, Auburn didn’t flinch on a play-action bootleg. Beck, with his back to the oncoming defender, somehow sensed the pressure before he was hit at full speed and managed to throw the ball away. Instead of a 10-yard loss (or a turnover), Georgia lived to convert a short third down and sustain the drive.
  • Bowers’ touchdown makes the question moot, but I was beginning to wonder how Kirby Smart would have approached the situation had that drive stalled somewhere between the Auburn 40 and 30. It was still a tie game with around 3 minutes left.
  • This was the first time all season Georgia has forced a three-and-out on an opponent’s opening drive. Unfortunately this wasn’t an omen of the Bulldog defense getting off to a better start.
  • Edwards ran tough and had some of Georgia’s longer runs. Again, there’s no one I’d rather have the ball in the red zone. Bell though had some quick bursts for good yardage and ended up with over 6 yards per carry. Georgia ran out of some backfield formations we hadn’t seen, and even Bowers was shifted into an offset fullback for one short-yardage conversion. There’s clearly some thought going into how to use players like Bell and Bowers from the backfield. It just hasn’t yielded much fruit yet.
  • Each team had an interception in the game on similar plays. Safeties made good reads on contested balls across the middle. Neither pick was really the receiver’s fault, but you’d also like to see MRJ fight for a 50/50 ball.
  • Not that we care, but did Auburn err by not playing Ashford more in the second half? He carved up the Georgia defense after Edwards’ fumble. If Auburn saw that they could do what they wanted on the ground, why not lean into the running quarterback?
  • Special teams was better this week but still not flawless. We take Thorson for granted. His first punt gave the defense every chance to have an early impact on the game. Any miss by Woodring would have been deflating in a game this close, and it has to have been a good shot of confidence that he converted both of his attempts in his first road game. Mews wasn’t able to do much with five Auburn punts and had a near-disaster trying to field a long punt over his shoulder. But he had three decent kick returns including a 41-yard return that gave the offense a short field for its first touchdown drive. Auburn, too, was able to return a couple of kicks. Keep the touchbacks coming.
  • I wasn’t thrilled with Georgia’s playcalling just before halftime. They got the ball back on their own 12 with 1:18 left and three timeouts in hand. I understand not risking a turnover given that field position, but a short run on first down should have been the end of any ambition for a quick scoring drive. An incomplete pass on second down allowed Auburn to use its timeouts and force a punt deep in the Georgia end. Thorson got another good punt away, and nothing came of the return or the subsequent Auburn possession. Still, if Georgia isn’t going to come out attacking in that situation (and why would they?), just run three plays and take it to the half.
  • The stop-gap SEC schedule released for 2024 has Auburn slated to come to Athens. Beyond 2024 though is still up in the air, and there’s only room for one permanent rival under the eight-game schedule. This might be the last time Georgia visits Jordan-Hare for several years.