The SEC Network broadcast of Georgia’s embarrassing loss at Ole Miss turned into a pity party for the visitors. The analysts belabored the Bulldogs’ lack of depth and size at offensive line, defensive back, etc.
It’s a budding theme around this team, and one you’ll hear more if the struggles continue: There just wasn’t much talent on hand for Kirby Smart and his staff, even if technically there are eight former five-stars on the team, and the past three Georgia recruiting classes all ranked in the top 10. (Yes the 2013 class continues to loom large, in a bad way, but it’s not like there’s still not a lot of talent out there.)
Watching the game in person, on the other hand, the reaction on press row was Georgia was as unprepared as it was out-gunned by Ole Miss, 45-14. After re-watching the TV version, here are some further observations:
One of the more surprising things has to be that the play-calling didn’t show much more creativity than last week, or learn the lessons from that game. It was pointed out in this space last week that Georgia generally did what it showed in its formation: When it was in a run formation it ran, and when it was in shotgun or spread it passed. Did that change?
Only a bit. There were a few more runs out of the shot-gun, but offensive coordinator Jim Chaney still seemed reluctant in the first half to run to the outside – even though it seemed to work.
Georgia only ran the ball outside twice in the first quarter – and they gained 12 and 9 yards, the two longest runs of the first quarter. By my count, 14 of the first 16 rushes were either inside or around the tackles.
By my final tally – and much of this was after the game was out of hand – Georgia’s run plays:
Inside or just around the tackles: 98 yards on 23 carries
Outside: 129 yards on 17 carries.
But again, the vast majority of those 17 outside carries came in the second half, when it was all over but the shouting.
Look, Georgia’s coaches know by now what they’re dealing with on the offensive line. They’re just not doing a good job yet of scheming around it.
The first time Georgia went outside, Chubb gained 12 yards. The much-maligned Tyler Catalina had a good block on the outside, as did Michael Chigbu nearer to the line. Chubb didn’t actually have a ton of room but it was enough. That tells me Chubb is just fine. It also makes me wonder why they didn’t run outside more from the beginning.
Georgia’s first play saw some creativity: The pistol, with a six-man front, three receivers wide. But it was a run. Good idea. Bad execution: Isaiah Wynn’s man broke through to get the first hit, then with the rest of the line not getting a push a few other Rebels jumped on Chubb for no gain.
Chubb’s second run, a few plays later, there was a good push on the left side. But Chubb was swarmed anyway and stopped after two yards. Ole Miss, like Missouri and Nicholls State in past weeks, seemed to anticipate the play all too well.
MORE OFFENSIVE PROBLEMS
Someone who watches the program closely texted Sunday to say that ever since Tony Ball left after the 2014 season, Georgia’s receivers haven’t blocked or caught the ball as well. The first four games this year have clearly borne that out. Ball wasn’t the world’s greatest recruiter, but his receivers were fundamentally sound. Three-star recruits Michael Bennett and Chris Conley blocked well and rarely dropped passes, and he managed to turn walk-ons like Rhett McGowan into good contributors.
The pass protection continues to be fine, most of the time. (Two of the three sacks came in the fourth quarter.) Jacob Eason has time to throw on a lot of his passes, but on Saturday he missed a bunch of short passes. That means that either the receivers aren’t getting separation downfield, or Eason isn’t going through his reads well, or both. It could also mean the play-calling needs to see some more quick, high-percentage passes.
All three appear to have been an issue on Saturday, but the one that really stands out, and is the most worrisome, is the inability of the receivers to get separation. Especially on third down, guys just aren’t getting open. Eason’s ability to make checks will improve. Jim Chaney will surely adjust his gameplan. But if the receivers don’t get open …
JACOB EASON’S DAY
It wasn’t good. But he’s a freshman, and everything still looks fixable, either through coaching or just playing experience.
Yes, there were drops, but they weren’t an epidemic: Commentator Greg McElroy “credited” five drops in the first half, but I only saw the three on that same series – after the fake punt – and the play summary sheet also only listed those three drops. And that series came when the score was 24-0. There were a few other catchable passes in the second half.
What happened on the pick-six? The O-line blocking was okay, it was the linebacker on a delayed blitz who caused Eason to heave it downfield. The replay showed nobody was open. Watching the play, I heard Mike Bobo through the years telling the media what he told his quarterbacks: “Don’t let a bad play turn into a catastrophe.” Well, that was a catastrophe.
Eason threw off his back foot so much, sometimes wisely to get rid of it, but other times it was panicky. He didn’t face much pocket pressure in high school, so Georgia can safely hope this is just a product of needing more experience.
Eason also missed some open receivers: When he tried to force a pass into Jeb Blazevich – it was knocked away – Jackson Harris was about six yards behind, waving his arm that he was wide open.
AS FOR THE DEFENSE …
Chad Kelly made some really good throws, but Georgia’s secondary also seemed out of position much of the time. Juwuan Briscoe acknowledged after the game that they were in different coverages sometimes, and when I asked Dominick Sanders how communication was, he at first said it was good, then added “it could be better.” The body language was also bad, both from what I saw in person and on the TV copy. There wasn’t much energy or shouting, and it generally looked like a defeated group as the first half went on.
The height mismatches were also clearly an issue. But Georgia knew that going in and didn’t really have an answer for it. Georgia did try some two-deep coverages, with a safety helping over the top, but the corners playing under didn’t do a great job. They also still aren’t jamming enough at the line or playing physical before the ball gets in the air. The receivers were able to run their route and essentially play catch with Kelly.
Last week, re-watching the Missouri game, I concluded that Georgia’s secondary didn’t do that much different in the second half, the Tigers just got away from what they did well in the first half. Ole Miss’ performance validated that. The only good news for Georgia is it may have faced the two best offenses it will face this year – though Tennessee is still good enough to look at the tape and see that going up-tempo flummoxes Georgia.
Another major problem: Yes, Kelly is elusive, but Georgia also didn’t get much pressure anyway. Case in point: Third-and-8 on Ole Miss’ second drive, Kelly had all the time in the world to wait for Stringfellow to get open over the middle, and hit him just beyond the marker. Georgia only rushed four, with Lorenzo Carter staying back to apparently guard against the scramble. Seven plays later the Rebels scored to make it 17-0.
Georgia was also manhandled on the defensive line. Ole Miss came in without much of a run game, and yet on the second play of the game, a run on first down, Akeem Judd had a big hole up the middle and gained 8 yards. Georgia’s D-line was pushed back on the play. That was just as bad an omen as Chubb being stopped on Georgia’s first play.
One of the few really good Georgia defensive sequences happened on the first drive: Davin Bellamy blitzed and ended up getting the first hit on Chad Kelly, then Dominick Sanders finished it for the sack. Then Georgia sent two blitzers again on third down and forced a Kelly throwaway. What happened? It seemed that with a short field to defend the Bulldogs were a lot more comfortable being aggressive.
More defensive quick notes:
- Lorenzo Carter missed tackles: Three.
- Juwuan Briscoe was just overwhelmed in single coverage, just as he was in the first half against Missouri. He’s only a sophomore, it’s important to remember, but it’s showing.
- Deandre Baker seemed to play pretty well after going in – he was hustling and around the ball a lot – and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s with the first team at practice on Monday.
- D’Andre Walker did have a nice tackle-for-loss in the second quarter, which resulted in Ole Miss having to wake up its punter from his first-half nap. Walker also later forced an interception with his blitz and near-sack of the quarterback. You wonder if it might be time to give him a longer look. He’s not as experienced as Lorenzo Ccarter and Davin Bellamy, but Walker makes plays, and those other guys aren’t making many right now.
Georgia was supposed to be 3-1. It’s how it got there that’s discouraging: Barely surviving two weaker opponents, then non-competitive and unprepared at Ole Miss.
You can say that glaring weaknesses, problems of talent, have been revealed. That may be true. You can say that Kirby Smart and his staff will need some time to recruit to fill those holes. That may also be true.
But it’s also fair to wonder: What’s better than expected so far? What has improved? Quarterback play, yes, but not in this game. The running game is worse, the offensive line is worse, the defense has taken a step back, and we haven’t even mentioned the kicking game.
Smart hired a strong staff when it came to recruiting. But coaching up players is part of it too. Maybe that’s not the problem right now; maybe it’s a case of new coaches not knowing these players quite as well yet, or not being able to reach them. But either way, this can’t all be pinned on a lack of talent. When you get beat that badly, there’s more at work.
And Georgia has plenty of work to do.