Georgia’s October 10th game at Tennessee will be at 3:30 on CBS. It will be Georgia’s third appearance in the SEC’s marquee slot. Another scheduled CBS broadcast for the Florida game means that at least half of Georgia’s SEC games will be on CBS. Three remaining SEC games (Missouri, Kentucky, and Auburn) haven’t been picked up by any network yet.
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That was fun. Every so often Sanford Stadium gives us one of these games – Clemson 1991…51-7…the 2007 blackout…2013 LSU – and Saturday’s trouncing of South Carolina belongs up there. Whether or not it was Steve Spurrier’s last visit to Athens, this one will leave a mark, and Georgia fans will remember this game for a long time.
We have to start with Greyson Lambert. Nitpicking Lambert’s game must be what it feels like to criticize dishes on a Top Chef finale. Even the incompletion wasn’t a bad pass – Blazevich was covered, and the throw was high enough so that only the taller tight end would catch it or no one would. We weren’t surprised to see Georgia come out throwing, but the ease of passing the ball quickly turned even the most “run the damn ball” spectator into an Air Raid advocate. We didn’t even bat an eye when Schottenheimer called the slant to Godwin rather than a run on 3rd and 2 on Georgia’s first touchdown drive.
Many of Lambert’s throws were easy enough to be extended handoffs. Georgia ran the same curl to Malcolm Mitchell on consecutive plays early in the second half. And why not? Those were free yards. Still, there were a few throws later in the game that required either a well-placed pass (over the top to Rome), a great catch (Mitchell’s back shoulder reception), or both (Davis along the sideline).
It’s a bit of a relief – these were ideal conditions, and Lambert ate it up. He’s not likely to see a rush that anemic, coverage that soft, and tackling that poor again. Had Lambert seen this defense and struggled, we’d have more to talk about. He’ll face more intense pressure, tighter coverage, and more difficult decisions. Little things that didn’t matter in this game will become more magnified in those situations, but for now it was Lambert’s night. He made the most of a great opportunity, and at least we know that the ceiling might be higher than we thought.
Kudos to Tyler who saw this gameplan coming a week ago. Even if the plan was obvious, sometimes you have to credit coaches for accepting what’s there for the taking rather than overcomplicating things. Georgia’s quick scoring drive to open the second half was a statement against a defense that hadn’t allowed a second half point all season.
It wasn’t even a question of opening up a vanilla offense. Certainly Georgia placed a heavier emphasis on the passing game, but these were largely versions of the same plays we’ve seen all season – power/counter/iso runs and play-action/slants/curls in the passing game. There wasn’t anything exotic; this was a straightforward offense executed well against a poor defense. Schottenheimer did well to identify and go after the weak spots, and he put Lambert in position to get into an early groove.
It was a treat to see attention paid to Georgia’s playmakers lead to tough choices for the SC defense. The defense keyed on Michel releasing into the flat, so Lambert found Jay Rome over the top on a flag route. Later the defense bit on Mitchell coming inside on a slant, and that left Michel open just long enough for a swing pass and a short touchdown.
ALERT THE MESSAGE BOARDS! Georgia was a woeful 25% on third downs. (Fun with stats!) I still can’t get over Georgia going from their opening drive to a 45-13 lead facing a single third down. That efficiency is as impressive as Lambert’s completion percentage. When I questioned the use of tempo last week, I hedged it by saying “they’ll have to become much more effective sustaining drives.” I’d say that was the case on Saturday. As it turned out, both teams ran under 70 plays – totals skewed by Georgia’s clock management for the last quarter and a half. You can run at whatever pace you like if you’re cashing in on nearly every drive.
You’d expect a good defense to have success against an offense with few weapons that was missing its starting quarterback and, eventually, its starting tailback. For the most part, Georgia’s defense did perform well. They allowed 17 points (the end-of-half FG was not on the defense), 7 of which came against the reserves. It wasn’t shutdown defense – South Carolina didn’t go three-and-out until the third quarter – but it didn’t have to be. South Carolina wasn’t going to put up a big number unless the Georgia defense allowed big plays, and the four-man rush kept everything contained to small chunks of yardage. South Carolina had only one play from scrimmage longer than 15 yards.
If there was a dim bright spot for South Carolina, it was the running of young backup quarterback Nunez. It’s possible that Georgia didn’t have much for him in their game plan, but Pruitt didn’t look especially happy after Nunez scored after a fairly easy drive in the fourth quarter. We’ll take the backup QB as South Carolina’s leading rusher any day, but it’s another data point to file away for when Georgia faces other mobile quarterbacks later on the schedule.
One player the Georgia game plan did account for was Pharoh Cooper. As expected, we saw Cooper line up seemingly everywhere. The Dawgs did an outstanding job against a dangerous playmaker: Cooper finished with only 34 yards rushing and one reception. His longest gain was 13 yards on South Carolina’s first possession, and he had a nice reception to move the chains on their first field goal drive. Other than those meager gains, he was a non-factor. With Wilds unfortunately injured in the first half, South Carolina’s biggest playmakers were neutralized.
Georgia’s edge rush wasn’t especially effective thanks to Brandon Shell and company more or less holding their own against Carter and Jenkins. The solution was to bring pressure inside against a freshman center, and we saw those twists and stunts play a big part in Georgia’s third quarter success. Even when the pressure didn’t get to the quarterback – Georgia generally rushed four – it still forced bad throws including the high pass that Sanders picked off.
South Carolina only accounted for 84 passing yards, but two of Georgia’s best defensive plays were pass break-ups that prevented a couple of big downfield receptions. Aaron Davis steered Pharoh Cooper out of bounds before Cooper could get a foot down on a nice catch near the Georgia goal line. Malkom Parrish got his hand in on a pass that was all but caught and separated the ball from the receiver. Georgia’s coverage did a good job all night preventing the big play.
Yeah, kick coverage. It starts of course with there being a return in the first place. South Carolina, based on the first two touchbacks, didn’t seem interested on returning any ball that reached the endzone. Morgan and Barber just couldn’t get it there. Barber kicked off just before halftime, brought in presumably because Morgan’s previous few kicks fell short of the endzone. Barber came up just short too. Not going to go into each coverage breakdown, but one saw freshman Natrez Patrick miss badly. Patrick had an impressive body-slam later in the game, but special teams can humble even the most promising freshman.
Is Georgia the only team that gets called for offsides on kickoffs? That’s twice already this year.
Best special teams moonlighting gig: Marshall Morgan tackling or Brice Ramsey punting?
I was glad to see the targeting penalty reversed. That’s good for the game – hopefully future uses of that penalty can be as equitable. By the way – nice catch, Reggie.
The challenge now is consistency. Any team can put it together for a single emotional game. Georgia has a breather coming up this week but a difficult SEC stretch soon to come. Maintaining that high level of play will be tough to do, but a Georgia team that can execute that well on both sides of the ball should realize what could be possible if they approach each game like this one.
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Georgia’s a double-digit home favorite against a team coming off a home loss to Kentucky and starting a backup former walk-on at quarterback. So naturally, we’re all biting our nails.
Is “redemption” too strong of a word? Jeremy Pruitt is 0-2 as a coach against Steve Spurrier, and his secondaries have been put on the spot in both of those losses. He blamed himself for putting the defense in poor position on “10-15 plays” in last season’s loss. Can he get the better of Spurrier this time? It is at least an opportunity for Pruitt to show his growth against one of the better playcallers.
Expect Spurrier to use everything at his disposal, especially given their quarterback situation. We’ll see some wildcat, and they can and will pass from that look. It won’t be just Wilds and Williams running the ball – seven players had at least one rush in the UNC game, and they’ll involve quarterbacks and receivers. As we know from Lambert’s touchdown in the Vanderbilt game, even a pocket passer can make a big play on the read option if everyone keys on the tailback. The Gamecocks do that too.
A matchup to watch will be SC left tackle Brandon Shell against Georgia’s pass rush. It might or might not be Jordan Jenkins going against Shell – it all depends on Georgia’s defensive alignment on a given play. South Carolina’s new starting quarterback, in his first true road game, can’t be allowed to get comfortable. It will be nice to have Lorenzo Carter back – hope he sticks around for a while.
We saw Spurrier fake a punt inside his own 20 in the opener. The rugby-style punter will have to be watched until he gets the kick off. South Carolina’s fake punt in 2011 was devastating. Special teams, in the form of two missed field goals, played a role in Georgia’s 2014 loss in Columbia.
This is usually an obvious point, but jumping out to a lead seems more urgent in this game. Bernie’s post shows why that might be the case. Do you get a feeling when a team misses its chance to take control of a game? In South Carolina’s opener against UNC, the Tar Heels could have built a big lead early. They got a touchdown but dropped a sure pick-six and had the first of two endzone interceptions. With the early scoring window closed, South Carolina got the big play they needed to win.
A similar thing happened in Columbia last year: after the lightning-quick score on their first possession, Georgia managed just six more first half points on several good scoring opportunities. Lorenzo Carter recovered a fumble on the South Carolina 26 following Georgia’s first score, and the Dawgs had to settle for a field goal. The Dawgs had another drive end with a field goal and yet another end on a missed field goal. They also had a long Gurley touchdown run called back for holding, and that drive ended with a punt. Five chances to put points on the board in the first half led to just 13 points. South Carolina turned that missed field goal into a scoring drive to close the first half, and Georgia was in the position of playing catch-up for the rest of the game.
If Georgia does build a lead, they’ll likely face the same kind of desperate comeback we saw from South Carolina against Kentucky last week. I’m glad we got a little gut check from Vanderbilt last week. Georgia had just enough margin to play with, but the defense still had several occasions to make a late stand. At the same time, I hope the offense (and those calling the plays) don’t pack it in just because there’s some second half breathing room.
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This might be purely selective memory, but one recollection from the Vanderbilt game was that Georgia’s use of tempo didn’t work all that well. Not that it was a failure – it just didn’t move the needle much. Gary Danielson has never been a big proponent of up-tempo offense, but I admit to sharing his puzzlement after Georgia pushed the tempo following Chubb’s longest run of the day. Chubb even had to come out of the game after the subsequent first down play, and Georgia’s first good scoring chance fizzled with a missed field goal.
That in itself isn’t a reason to doubt the effectiveness of changing tempo, but it did make me wonder about its value as it applies to this particular team. Speeding things up has its advantages, but it does have one big disadvantage: failure to sustain drives just gives the ball back to the opponent that much faster. Georgia converted just 4 of 13 third downs, helping Vanderbilt run over 90 plays (who fortunately didn’t do much with them.) If the Dawgs want to continue to push the tempo, they’ll have to become much more effective sustaining drives.
The question: if this is going to be a 2003-like approach to game management, where does the no-huddle and up-tempo offense fit in? Vanderbilt got over half their yardage in the fourth quarter. Certainly Georgia emptying the bench contributed to that yardage, but starters saw playing time up until Sanders’s interception return. If your basic philosophy is to run the ball and lean on the defense, putting that defense in a position to face 90+ plays doesn’t make much sense.
It’s one thing to serve vanilla if you have most of or all 31 flavors ready to go. It’s another if all you’ve got is the freezer-burned carton of vanilla from the back of the freezer. That’s the distinction several of us were discussing after the game. We know there’s more to the playbook, but does it matter if that’s what it looks like when you try to keep things simple?
As we watched a questionable targeting call and then a botched Vanderbilt punt turn into a first down, it didn’t take long for the “here we go again” groans to move through our section. Sure enough, it was going to be another stomach-turning game in Nashville. This time though the Dawgs emerged with a 17-point win. The difference this time? Georgia’s running game and timely defense.
Georgia’s passing game wasn’t much better in 2015 than 2013 (Murray with a depleted receiving corps threw for only 114 yards), but this time Chubb and Michel were more than enough to carry the offense. Chubb on his own nearly passed the team’s 2013 rushing total of 107 yards by halftime. He wasn’t able to maintain his touchdown streak, but his 189 yards on the ground and over 200 yards of total offense gave Georgia the edge they were missing two years ago.
There’s much to say about the Georgia defense, but the biggest is this: in 2013, all three major Georgia special teams breakdowns led to Vanderbilt points. On Saturday there were more special teams adventures but Georgia’s defense held each time. The Dawgs may have been unable to sustain drives or, at times, complete a pass, but at least they weren’t putting points on Vanderbilt’s side of the scoreboard. The responses in particular after the potentially deflating “fake” punt and onside kick recovery saved us from a much closer finish than we would have liked.
Was it really closer than the score indicated? It depends on which part of the fourth quarter you watched. Several minutes into the final quarter, Marshall Morgan lined up for a 43-yard field goal that would have covered the 20.5 point spread, and Georgia’s defense had held Vanderbilt to around 170 yards of total offense. Several minutes later Vanderbilt was eight yards from making it a three-point game. So the final 17-point margin seems about right to me. It reflects that Georgia had fairly good control of most of the game, but it’s also a nod to Vanderbilt making things interesting down the stretch before Georgia made the play that ended the scoring.
Some more thoughts:
The defense, with one exception, continued to improve from the opener. Interior run defense was as good as I’ve seen from a Pruitt defense. Ralph Webb, no schlub at tailback, was kept to 2.7 yards per carry and had no gain longer than 12 yards. Georgia got outstanding play on the inside from Mayes but also on the edge from Jenkins, Bailey, and a host of others. Jenkins spoke during the week about the bad taste left in his mouth from the 2013 loss, and he played with the dominant intensity of someone determined to have a better outcome this time.
Vanderbilt’s biggest plays came when Georgia lost containment – it even happened on the botched punt. McCrary has decent mobility, and he found himself with lots of room if he was able to elude the initial Georgia pressure. Whether it’s an issue of finishing those potential tackles for loss or better downfield awareness when containment breaks, it’s still something to keep an eye on for the mobile quarterbacks we’ll see later in the season.
Vanderbilt gave Georgia’s interior pass defense some work. I think most of us held our breath seeing Floyd isolated on a receiver down the sideline. He kept up, and the pass was incomplete thanks more to a poor throw than anything else. They also tested the seam with Wilkerson an occasional target. I thought Reggie held his own, and there could have been better safety help on a few of those passes. We can expect more opponents to test Georgia’s linebackers and stars in pass coverage.
Sanders sealed the win with his pick six, but there were still some moments where I had to remind myself that he’s relatively new to the safety position. Pruitt was in his ear after a couple of breakdowns.
Georgia had a +3 turnover margin to improve to +4 for the year, 6th-best in the nation after two games. Of course the margin could have gone much differently in this game. Vanderbilt dropped a sure interception on a horrifying Lambert pass. Lambert fumbled when hit from his blind side, but Georgia recovered. Georgia had opportunities for even more interceptions. When Georgia did create a turnover, it counted. The first interception set up a field goal that made it a two-possession game and got Georgia rolling in the third quarter. Ganus’s pick ended a serious threat, and Sanders took one all the way back to remove all doubt.
Jake Ganus has had two solid games and made a quick-thinking catch in the endzone to defuse a very tense moment in the game. I was afraid that we were going to have a mini-Auburn situation there: two other defenders going for the ball tipped it up before Ganus hauled it in.
Vanderbilt’s Steven Scheu had a rough game. The senior is one of the best weapons in the Vanderbilt passing game, but he had more drops than receptions. A string of Scheu drops right before halftime ended a big scoring opportunity. Then his day ended after getting knocked silly by Mauger’s knee.
It seems as if the team relaxed on both sides of the ball after Lambert’s keeper made it 24-6. Following Georgia’s drive and missed field goal early in the 4th, Vanderbilt posted over 230 of their 400 total yards in less than a quarter. True, backups played heavily, especially on the final drive, but there were plenty of starters in too. Georgia’s ultra-conservative playcalling inside their own five with under seven minutes left almost came back to bite them.
Other than McKenzie’s contribution, it felt as if special teams took a step backwards. Morgan had one of his worst games (has Bauta always been the holder?). Morgan also handled kickoffs; there were a couple of touchbacks but also a couple of returns beyond the 25. Barber cleanly got each punt away, but several lacked much hang time. After the punt snafus that occurred at the end of the 2011 and 2013 games, just executing the punt operation was an improvement.
There’s something about this game in Nashville that causes an existential crisis for the rest of the year. The 2-0 halftime deficit in 2003, the comeback and last-second win in 2007, and of course the gut-wrenching games of 2011 and 2013 should have made this 17-point win feel like a cakewalk. Usually we’ve had enough context in mid-October to process it, but this is all we’ve seen. Is there really a problem at quarterback? (Maybe so.) Is that all Georgia has on offense? (Likely not.) For now all it means is an SEC road win. We’ll quickly find out the difference between what this team chooses to show and what it’s capable of showing.
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The Banner-Herald highlights an issue I’ve been stewing over for a month or so. I’ve been a season ticket holder for women’s basketball for a little more than ten years. This summer, we received a letter alerting us to a ticketing change:
Season ticket holders will be located in six sections…with general admission seating offered in those sections on a first-come, first-served basis. Seats in those six sections will be reserved for season ticket holders until the five-minute mark of the first quarter.
No more reserved seating. A “season ticket” (at the same price as before) will now only buy you access into certain restricted sections before the game with no guarantee of a specific seat or section. Shortly after tipoff, all sections will become general admission.
The rationale is this: between unsold reserved tickets and no-shows, fans are scattered throughout the seating area. Making tickets general admission should lead to a crowd that is more compact and closer to the court. That should increase crowd involvement and noise and help the homecourt advantage. A “season ticket” that allows access to specific sections prior to tipoff is offered as a premium.
This plan is similar to something Georgia tried during the 2014 NIT. Tickets were sold as general admission, but Basketball Enhancement Fund contributors received priority on seating in Sections D, E, and F. I’ll admit – it worked. Crowds were small but close the court and involved in the games. Still, it was an ad-hoc ticketing plan for a postseason event for which Georgia only had a couple of days to come up with a way to distribute tickets. Men’s basketball went right back to reserved seating for the 2014-2015 regular season.
The difficulties come from how people actually attend games. It’s the difference between fans and administrators who perceive a problem (“we need a better homecourt advantage”) but who attend games with credentials rather than tickets. These are just a few examples of some practical concerns you’d hear from season ticket holders:
The most loyal boosters are offered a “chalk talk” before the game where coaches discuss the matchups and state of the team. It’s a fantastic perq. With the new plan, these fans must either claim seats and leave personal items behind or risk losing their seat while away at the chalk talk. These are also the fans most likely to have season tickets, and this booster club was not consulted on the change.
Fans coming from the Atlanta metro struggle to make it much before the 7 p.m. weeknight tips. They’re left to take what seats are available.
At $40, a season ticket is steep but not out of reach for fans of teams with large followings (think UT or South Carolina) who want to take over premium sections.
Fans have built up relationships with those sitting around them year after year. Areas of different sections have even developed their own personalities as groups of friends and families congregate in their familiar locations. Now they must deal with the inconvenience and stress of saving seats, hoping they arrive on time to sit with friends, and accepting that they might have to watch this game from another section.
Yes, these are largely minor inconveniences. But why intentionally inconvenience your best fans? The experience of going to the game is now diminished by the uncertainty of where you’re going to sit and with whom. My friend Red put it well: “What’s the point of having season tickets?” If the concern is filling up the lower bowl, I have much less of a problem with allowing fans to claim unused seats after five minutes.
Decisions like this usually come down to money, but I can’t see how this move will result in more revenue. Fans can now just buy tickets to the subset of games they plan to attend. The timing is odd, too. The program is on shaky ground, there’s a new and unproven head coach, and the last time we saw the team on the Stegeman court they scored a whopping 26 points. At a time when the athletic department should be building excitement for the renewed energy in the program, they unnecessarily piss off the people most likely to buy in.
All that said, I renewed my tickets. I’m willing to still support the program, and I guess we’ll see how this turns out. I expect that a lot of us will gravitate towards the seats we’re used to. I’ve been a fan long enough to know what loyalty will get you, but with more and more games on the SEC Network, I expect I’ll have a tougher decision in a year.
My wife and I love the trip to Nashville. Our last two visits to Vanderbilt Stadium have been less than pleasant as Georgia twice blew double-digit leads leading to some tense finishes and a loss in 2013. It seems as if some of the players who remember that game are also ready to get the bad taste out of their mouths. This time all I ask is two things that should make for a much more relaxing road trip.
Clean special teams: The last two games in Nashville were much closer than necessary thanks to a truckload of special teams breakdowns. There was the center-eligible fake punt in 2011 followed by a kickoff returned for a touchdown and then a blocked punt that brought Vandy within 20 yards of stealing a win.
The fun continued in 2013: Vanderbilt executed a fake field goal to grab a brief first half lead. The game turned late in the third quarter when Damian Swann fumbled a punt return. In what looked like a replay of the 2011 game, another late botched punt operation gave Vanderbilt the ball deep in Georgia territory, and this time the defense yielded the score that sealed Georgia’s loss.
Georgia showed some progress on special teams in the opener – kickoffs were usually boomed into the endzone, coverage was effective, and punt returns were uneventful. Georgia got to one punt and affected another. The day was a win for special teams. If we get more of that in Nashville, Georgia should win comfortably. After the special teams disasters of the past two games in Nashville, it’ll be a positive development if special teams are just a non-factor.
Deliver the knockout blow: Aaron Murray’s 2013 keeper just before halftime gave the Dawgs a decent 24-14 lead going into the locker room. They had several opportunities in the third quarter to extend that lead to at least 17 points but could only manage a field goal during the entire second half.
Georgia got good field position at their own 44 on their first drive of the second half. They moved the ball to set up a first-and-goal at the Vandy 7 but gained only two yards on the next three plays. The field goal gave Georgia a 27-14 lead – a nice margin but still a two-score game that left room for a Vanderbilt comeback.
Vanderbilt’s next series ended on an interception just inside Georgia territory, but the Dawgs couldn’t cash in and went three-and-out. The Georgia defense held again and forced a punt, but Swann muffed the return and set up the Commodores on Georgia’s 36. A few plays and a couple of fourth down conversions later (including the infamous Ramik Wilson penalty), and the Commodores scored to move within six points. With momentum on their side, Vanderbilt chipped away at the lead and pounced on the opportunity presented when a high snap went through Barber’s hands.
It was a different Vanderbilt team last season, but it was still important that Georgia responded with a touchdown just before halftime after Vanderbilt closed to within 21-7. Besides, it gives us a chance to watch Todd Gurley throw the ball again.
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Georgia’s adventures with special teams has been a topic of questioning and criticism (and sometimes just bewilderment) as long as Mark Richt has been here. It probably surprised some readers to learn that Georgia’s kicking specialists were sometimes left to work on their own.
CBS’s Jon Solomon has an interesting piece demonstrating how that’s the norm across college football. Even dedicated special teams coaches rarely have experience with kicking – Solomon found that only two special teams coaches at Power Five schools have a kicking background. The article goes deeper into how many top programs approach their special teams coaching and why there are so few kicking coaches in the college game. We usually associate special teams coaches with coverage or returns, but who coaches the kickers? Often it’s themselves.
It explains why we sometimes hear about specialists going back to work with private instructors. They’re just not getting that attention from their college teams. And with so little kicking experience on most staffs, kickers seem to prefer no attention to the wrong kind of attention.
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For the first decade-plus of the SEC Championship game, there weren’t many other alternatives to Atlanta. The only other SEC town with a dome was New Orleans, and playing on an outdoor field in Nashville or even Jacksonville wasn’t much of an option.
That changed with the SEC’s addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. Three more cities – St. Louis, Houston, and of course Dallas – within the SEC footprint had domed stadiums with experience hosting major sporting events. You’d expect a little more competition for the conference’s best event.
Let’s get the big stuff out of the way: the Georgia debuts of Brian Schottenheimer and Greyson Lambert went about as well as could be expected. The tailbacks and outside linebackers are everything we thought they were. Special teams has improved. Georgia got out in front and put away a weaker opponent, survived some lapses around both ends of halftime, and responded to put the game away before Mother Nature ended things.
Schottenheimer’s playcalling wasn’t put to the test, but the execution of the plays that were called was solid, and that’s as much on the coordinator as the playcalling is. It’s a low bar to set, but seeing some of the problems other teams around the nation had just running their offense, we’ll take a fairly clean performance. It’s the downside of a runaway win like this that Georgia didn’t have to open it up much. Mitchell’s outstanding touchdown catch was the lone pass attempt downfield, and only two wide receivers caught passes. We knew though that Georgia isn’t going to air it out when they have a tailback roster this deep, and Schottenheimer was able to manage exactly the kind of game he wanted.
Lambert also wasn’t asked to do much, but he looked competent running the offense. The two touchdown passes were well-placed throws. He adjusted the formation to set up Chubb’s second touchdown run. Perhaps most important for this type of offense, he didn’t make mistakes that cost the team field position. There were no turnovers or sacks, and even unproductive drives ended in long punts that put ULM deep in their own end. That was enough for the defense and special teams to set up some short early scoring drives and ensure that Georgia would have the lead that would put them in complete control of the game.
Lambert didn’t face much pressure – a positive for him getting comfortable running this offense but a negative if you wanted to see how he’d respond. There were a few plays where he might’ve held on to the ball too long or not pulled the trigger against tight coverage. We’d rather he do that than force bad throws, but hesitation won’t be a virtue when the game is moving much faster against better opponents. The batted passes were a concern for a 6’5″ quarterback. Given a clean pocket though, Lambert showed he could make accurate throws up to 30 yards down the field. The performance was good enough that no one batted an eye when Mark Richt announced postgame that Lambert would remain the starter. No controversy.
That’s a good thing because Brice Ramsey gave us enough in his one series to start a controversy had Lambert opened the door. The sack on second down wasn’t Ramsey’s fault (ULM sent three defenders at two offensive linemen, and neither Hicks nor Chubb picked up the additional rusher), but Ramsey rebounded to throw one of the nicer passes of the day – a laser across the middle to hit Godwin in stride. Ramsey’s touchdown screen pass to Michel was another impressive throw. Ramsey had to be patient against another ULM blitz while the screen set up, and he executed a delicate pass. Georgia fans will be pleased that the screen game is alive and well.
The defense didn’t have as much to prove, but they gave us plenty to talk about. As dominant as they were for much of the first half, they had difficulties against the pass and one specific area of the run. ULM had some success using play action out of a read option to make it a fairly efficient 23-for-29 day for the quarterback. Georgia held ULM to around 7 yards per attempt, so they usually did well to keep these passes short. It was when ULM could string together a few longer passes that they scored. There wasn’t a specific weakness. Sometimes it was a rookie corner like Rico McGraw taking his licks. Other times it was an interior linebacker out of position. These are all areas we should expect to improve with experience and coaching, and the defense more often than not made enough plays to get off the field.
ULM’s offense isn’t going to run the ball much, and Georgia did well to make sure they didn’t get many cheap yards on the ground. The most successful running plays were quarterback keeps on the read option. That’s something we’re likely to see again soon from teams like South Carolina and Tennessee, particularly on third and short.
We saw a healthy Marshall and Mitchell. It’s great for the offense but you’re also happy for them personally. The cheer Marshall got from the fans was one of the best moments of the day. Mitchell’s touchdown was a highlight, but his ability to shake the first defender on his other receptions will be a valuable skill.
You can’t mention Marshall without Michel. We had seen Sony in the passing game at South Carolina last year, but putting him in the slot with Chubb in the backfield is almost cruel. He beat a cornerback on that long gain, but often he’ll be matched up with a linebacker. As bland as the offense was, Michel was a nice reminder of the possibilities. He looks to be a more physical runner too – both he and Marshall were impressive finishing runs.
Again we talked a lot in the preseason about the depth at tight end. We saw plenty of them – at least three touchdowns in the first half came on two-TE sets. Their role in the passing game was more limited – only Blazevich caught a pass.
The weather saved us from Georgia killing the clock, but the final delay came at a time when we were just starting to see significant numbers of newcomers take the field. Georgia ended up playing 19 true freshmen, but many of them only got a series or two before the game was called. We might’ve also seen another series for Ramsey (or even Bauta), but it was the young talent on defense that I was most interested to see.
That said, freshmen still had a big impact on the game. Godwin was the headliner (just hold onto the ball!) D’Andre Walker had the big special teams play. McGraw took his lumps, but that’s what happens when you’re thrown into the fire as a true freshman starting at cornerback.
Floyd had a very good game, but I’m still not sold on him at the star spot (or even ILB.) He’s terrifying coming off the edge and can be very quick in pursuit, but I don’t know about the pass coverage or taking on a big back running downhill. I get moving him around just to get him (and Carter, etc.) on the field, but in certain roles he’s just good rather than exceptional. For this defense and its personnel, “good” might be the best option though.
The team should get credit for using the first weather delay to refocus, and they looked sharper once play resumed. But the play before the delay was significant – Parrish fought off a block on a receiver screen and made a tackle for loss that set up a longer third down coming out of the delay. Parrish quietly had a solid day.
The up-tempo offense is also alive and well. Georgia sped it up several times during the game.
Barber was impressive on kickoffs (except when he wasn’t.) His first punt – after a high snap – was rough, but the rest looked good. Field position mattered throught the game, and Barber was a big part of that. Coverage was exceptional even on the kickoffs that didn’t make it to the endzone. Seeing guys like Lorenzo Carter, Natrez Patrick, and several touted freshmen on special teams is encouraging.
Que sure looks the part, doesn’t he?
It was a game settled long before the second lightning delay made it official. There were no significant injuries, no turnovers, and no real controversies going forward about the lineup. Without much else on the line, that outcome is just how Georgia wanted to head into SEC play.
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In a bit of good news, the attrition that hit the secondary a year ago seems to have slowed (or even stopped!). But those departures took their toll. Jeremy Pruitt had to piece together a thin secondary in 2014 that included a walk-on and true freshmen, and the results were mixed. Teams like South Carolina were able to pick apart the pass coverage, but there was gradual improvement.
That improvement might have been due in part to the offenses Georgia was facing. After Clemson and South Carolina, every other regular season opponent ended up in the bottom half of D-1 for passing offense. Six of Georgia’s final nine regular season opponents were 90th or worse (out of 125 teams) in passing offense. You’d hope to look a little better against the pass facing those offenses. (As for the run…)
Still, there were positive developments. New faces like Aaron Davis, Malkom Parrish, and especially Dominick Sanders emerged. Quincy Mauger took a big step forward from a shaky 2013. Though the unit will miss the versatility of Damian Swann, those four returning players will have big roles in 2015.
The depth chart released earlier this week bears that out. All four figure to start with true freshman Rico McGraw pushing for playing time at cornerback or star. Sanders is athletic enough to slide into a safety role this year. Davis, who recently earned a scholarship, will work at corner with Parrish. None of that was a big surprise.
The rest of the depth chart raised some eyebrows. All four of the remaining spots are occupied by true freshmen. McGraw and Juwuan Briscoe might be the highlights of the incoming defensive back class, and they’ll see plenty of action right away. Jonathan Abram and Jarvis Wilson are listed as the depth at safety.
Yes, so many freshmen on the depth chart is a byproduct of necessity as Georgia restocks its roster after the attrition. But there’s also a group of older players with playing experience who, for the time being, were passed over in favor of the newcomers.
Reggie Wilkerson: Wilkerson was a likely starter in 2013 before a season-ending injury. He saw action in only one game during his comeback in 2014. He has a hunger to get back out there and has been working at safety and star, but he’ll have some players ahead of him.
Tramel Terry: Terry was a big recruiting coup where he was expected to shine at receiver. Depth issues in the secondary led to a position change. New to defense, he struggled to find playing time last season and remains locked in competition for a spot on the second team.
Devin Bowman: Bowman, a senior, might be the most experienced defensive back. He’s slipped in and out of favor and started eight games in 2014 (with a nice pick six against Vandy.) Will he be called on again as a senior?
Shattle Fenteng: Fenteng was a top JUCO cornerback prospect who was expected to help stop the bleeding after all of the defensive back attrition. He injured his shoulder during preseason and never got back into the rotation, appearing in only one game in 2014. It didn’t help that he missed spring practice with a rib injury. The shoulder problems of 2014 led to a medical redshirt, so he still has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Fenteng’s 6’2″ size would make him an interesting matchup against larger receivers, but he’s at risk of falling behind the newcomers.
There’s the usual caveat about paying too much attention to the depth chart (especially a Pruitt depth chart), but this is what we have to go on now. There are no medical or disciplinary issues that we know of keeping any of them off the field, and it’s likely we see some if not all on special teams or if the game gets out of hand. The question though is whether any of these players can hold off the freshmen before the defense moves on to the next generation of defensive backs.
UPDATE: To show how fluid things can be, this practice report was filed just a few hours after I put up the original post. This is good news – players competing for spots on the field is much better than the lineup-by-default Pruitt had to use a year ago. The overall talent level in the secondary might not be what we want yet, but this is nice progress.
“I’ll tell you what, in the last week Shattle has really improved,” Pruitt said after practice. “… I actually told him yesterday, he’s done some really nice things. Hopefully he’s getting back to his old self.”
This story made a splash on Monday before the quarterback news sucked all of the oxygen from the room, but it is a more important long-term story for the program. The athletic board approved a $30.2 million plan for a multi-use indoor facility adjacent to the Butts-Mehre building. “The facility will be 80 yards wide, 140 yards long, 65 feet high inside and 75 feet high outside.” It won’t be just a football facility; there will be areas for batting cages and track.
The cost of the facility is expected to be split between private donations (fundraising) and athletic department funds. Construction could begin as soon as the 2015 football season ends, but an anticipated 100 days of site preparation work makes it unlikely for the facility to be ready before January 2017.
The large event room / 20-yard turf walkthrough area that was part of the recent $40 million Butts-Mehre expansion will be replaced by the new facility.
The facility will be constructed on the grass practice fields on the southeast corner of the football complex.
Replacing the multi-purpose room of the Butts-Mehre building allows the facility to slide to the south which will preserve the two lower artificial turf practice fields along Smith Street across from Stegeman Coliseum. This is important since construction will likely continue through the 2016 regular season. Practice field space will be at a premium during construction.
It’s tough to tell, but it seems as if there might be room for a grass practice field between the new facility and the track complex. Since most of Georgia’s games will be played on grass and outdoors, having at least one outdoor grass practice field would be nice, no?
No one knew how the quarterback competition would turn out; even Mark Richt admitted “I can’t tell you how many times we went back and forth on the thing.” But I was wrong in my impression that Georgia was shopping the graduate transfer market last spring primarily for depth. And as much as we’re told to discount Lambert’s past, that’s the narrative hanging over this quarterback decision since Lambert arrived: could a guy who lost his starting job elsewhere come in for little less than a month and compete against two upperclassmen who had the benefit of a complete offseason with the new offensive coordinator?
To his credit, Lambert did. He overcame a shaky start and improved enough to just edge out the rest of the field. Coach Richt has been clear that they’ll continue to evaluate the position, and we should expect to see multiple quarterbacks play in the opener even if there isn’t an official rotation.
Relief? Yeah, I get it. Actually, I was surprised how much of a relief it was just to have the announcement done and over with. It’s not the end of the story, but the team can now approach things like a typical game week.
Disappointment? I’m not especially disappointed with Lambert as the starter. That might be because I had no particular expectations for the next Aaron Murray to emerge from the group. Is there a twinge of disappointment that a different quarterback couldn’t stand out after several seasons with the program? Quite possibly. I’d feel the same way if it were Everett Golson who transferred in.
Nonchalance? It’s all moot since the only job of Georgia’s quarterback will be to hand the ball to Chubb, right? I’m glad Schottenheimer touched on this last week. “There’s going to come a time where somebody’s going to slow down the run or certainly say we’re not going to let Nick Chubb beat us or even just to play in a game, whether it’s a third down or a redzone play where the quarterback’s going to have to make a big-time throw.” You only need to go back to the Florida disaster last season. Chubb still got his 150 yards, but Georgia’s difficulty moving the ball (until the outcome was in hand) was as big of a story as the defense’s meltdown. Georgia will face a compact field until they prove they can extend it with deep passes. They’ll have to convert third downs in order to sustain drives. They’ll probably have to play from behind at some point. All of that had to factor into the decision.
Pass blocking becomes more of a concern. I have some confidence in the experienced line when it comes to clearing lanes for the backs, and Georgia’s tailbacks are good enough to create on their own even if run blocking breaks down. Lambert is the least mobile of the three quarterbacks, and a stationary guy with a penchant for turnovers needs as clean of a pocket as possible. I do want to see more consistency from the tackles, and a new center is an unknown.
When you read Schottenheimer’s portrait of Lambert, he mentions or references intelligence at least three times. This stuff matters to the decision makers. The ability to know the playbook well enough to get the offense in a good play has been a hallmark of Mark Richt’s quarterbacks. Seeing Schottenheimer gush about those attributes in Lambert tells us quite a bit about why they chose someone who might not have the best arm or mobility. Now about execution…
Though Richt is responsible for the decision and ultimately for the offense, I agree with the analysis that we wouldn’t have had much of a competition without a new coordinator. (That’s not necessarily a good thing – there’s something to be said for a fresh look.) Schottenheimer has his quarterback now.
Georgia’s offense isn’t expected to change much despite the new coordinator. Mark Richt will still influence both scheme and playcalling. That said, Brian Schottenheimer will be running the show. We saw a limited preview of the offense at G-Day. Here’s a video highlighting some of his passing plays while with the Rams.
If you want an area to key on, watch the tight ends. As much as we’ve heard about Georgia’s depth at the position, it’s encouraging to see some ideas in action here. Tight ends feature in everything from tight formations to the four-wide look. We see them in motion, in multiple TE sets, flexed out, offset in an h-back look…nothing too revolutionary but just what you’d expect from a pro scheme and a coordinator who recognizes the usefulness of the tight end position.
As a bonus, watch some of the Tavon Austin plays and imagine someone like Sony Michel (or, if you’re a recruiting nut, Terry Godwin) in that role.
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