Like Jim Chaney, this beat writer watched Georgia’s win over Kentucky from the press box. Unlike Jim Chaney, I don’t have a sleek and expensive film system to re-watch the game. But my 32-inch screen will do just fine, thank you.
The main storyline that emerged was Georgia’s resurgent offense, with Chaney and the tailbacks in new spots: Chaney in the booth, and the tailbacks in the other team’s secondary. Thus the most prescient man ended up being Brent Musburger, who was calling the game for the SEC Network. Musburger said on-air that he called a lot of games when Chaney was calling plays for Joe Tiller at Purdue.
“He always called them up in the booth,” Musburger said. “I‘m of the opinion that he’ll be more comfortable up there tonight. But we shall see what the end result tells us.”
It worked, but real credit should go to other things, as my re-watch deduced Sunday night. Here’s the analysis:
Before he even stepped foot in Kentucky’s booth, Chaney had his offense better prepared to succeed. The gameplan was better.
First, there was the commitment to use the tailbacks. Nick Chubb told Chaney he’s better the more carries he gets, which sounds self-serving but it’s also correct. Chubb’s calling card isn’t his explosiveness, it’s his ability to pound throughout the game, wear a defense down, and then spring the long run when the defense is weak. Ask North Carolina.
There are moments now where you watch a play and say: Chubb doesn’t look himself, he didn’t take that corner, he didn’t spring open, etc. Maybe that’s true. But maybe it’s also missing the point: Speed and agility was never his calling card. He’s a power runner who gets better as the game goes on, and this year he’s been running into blobs of defenders early in the game, and not getting a chance to get momentum to wear down the defense.
Part of it was just a better push, the result of Georgia’s line facing a run defense it can handle, as we’ve seen in some other games.
But part of it is also play-calling. One play exemplified both: On Georgia’s second drive it was pinned at its own 3 after a punt. Kentucky stacked the line as usual, knowing Georgia would have to run it out.
The Bulldogs did indeed run, sending Chubb to the left side, a) the line got a push, though there were still a lot of blue bodies around the left side and b) because the play was off-tackle, Chubb had room to navigate and time to find the seam. He did, and the result was a 7-yard gain.
When you go up the middle you have less time and are usually prisoner to whether the hole’s there right away.
Not a huge play, but an illustration of why the run game was better.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there was the use of the shot-gun.
Jacob Eason is more comfortable in it, but it was actually Chaney calling run plays out of the shot-gun that stood out. Especially as the game went on, the Bulldogs spread out and handed off in the shot-gun, creating space near the line that hasn’t been there in past games.
Sony Michel was the main beneficiary. He had runs of 9, 11, 13 and 8 out of the shot-gun. On one such play, Georgia lined three receivers wide and in the shot-gun, with Jeb Blazevich at H-back, Michel next to Eason. Eason took the snap and Blazevich acted as the main blocker for Michel, who gained 9 yards through an open line. One play later they used the same formation, and this time Michel went left for 11 yards.
Michel also later gained 13 yards up the middle – yes I said up the middle – on a first-down run out of the shot-gun.
Twice in the first half, Georgia faced third-and-short and lined up in the pistol: Both produced first downs, Chubb going to the sideline for three yards and Michel going to the left side of the line for 7 yards. (On the latter play, it looked like a quick snap and handoff helped catch the Wildcats off balance.)
In fact, Georgia’s balance carried the day: As good as it ran the ball, its go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter was six passes and then a Michel run.
Eason, meanwhile, is still much more comfortable in the shotgun and spread. The first touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie, which was also Eason’s first completion of the game, was out of a four-wide shot-gun spread, and on third-and-long when Kentucky knew the pass was coming.
Who knows if all of this was because of Chaney having a good visual from up in the press box. It also helped that Kentucky is not Florida’s defense, or even Vanderbilt’s. But given the success, it’ll be hard to imagine Chaney returning to the sideline this Saturday against Auburn.
GEORGIA’S RUN DEFENSE
Kentucky’s strategy, as elucidated by OC Eddie Gran to the SEC Network staff, was to show the Wildcat formation early and see what Georgia did: Blitzing, zero coverage, etc. Then Kentucky would respond accordingly with some other wrinkles.
Except, Kentucky didn’t really go Wildcat-heavy until the second half. Then we know what happened.
On Kentucky’s final drive – the long Benny Snell Jr. Slog that ended in a field goal – what did Georgia do wrong and then do right? As the Wildcats drove downfield, just running Snell out of the Wildcat, the Bulldogs tried a few things – it lined up with four down-linemen and then four more in the box, then six down-linemen spread out and a couple linebackers behind, and also tried run blitzes from the outside. Finally, Kirby Smart called timeout as Kentucky was preparing for first-and-goal from the 9.
It was actually called after the teams had lined up, so it wasn’t really to rest the defense or make a schematic adjustment. And in fact Smart said so after the game, that two freshmen were lined up wrong, and he could be seen yelling at David Marshall and Michail Carter.
After the timeout, Georgia came out with a four-man front, three with their hands on the ground, four more in the box and a safety on top of the play. But just before the snap Reggie Carter showed blitz, and it seemed to clog the line when the snap came. But the next play everyone hung back and just made a play. In reality, the timeout probably did pay off to give the defense a chance to rest and stop feeling like it was on its heels.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s third-down call – the fade pass to the right side of the end zone – was so low-percentage (considering their passing game) I think the Wildcats may have been trying to draw a pass interference call on Malkom Parrish. And the Georgia cornerback did have his arms out against his man but wisely didn’t make enough contact, or any at all.
A few more points about Georgia’s defense:
- One reason Georgia has been so stout against the run: Its defensive backs. Maurice Smith and Malkom Parrish in particular are very good tacklers, and have a nose for the ball, so when other teams break the edge Georgia still has a good line of defense.
- While Georgia’s run defense was good, it’s still not great because it has moments of leakiness. Kentucky rammed the ball through on two of three drives in the first half, and poor tackling was to blame on the outside.
- Still, Georgia is just so loaded on the defensive line for the next few years. Julian Rochester and David Marshall had great games, and they’re mismatches for different reasons: Rochester with his size and Marshall with his athleticism. That’s how Georgia survived without Trent Thompson and DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle – though they need them back this weekend.
- Kentucky apparently wanted to get the ball to Jeff Badet, an athletic receiver in the mold of McKenzie. But Badet only ended up with two touches. Part of the reason may have been that his first touch – on a jet sweep to the right – was stoned by Natrez Patrick for a 2-yard loss. As much as Georgia ran the jet sweep to McKenzie earlier in the year, maybe Georgia’s defense was as ready as anyone to snuff it out.
- The lack of a consistent passing game allowed Georgia to sell out pretty well on the run. Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson had some good passes, but he also missed some open guys. He needed guys to be wide open in space to hit them. There were also some drops; the Wildcats aren’t quite stacked at receiver. Johnson’s best pass, to Jeff Badet, was dropped and intercepted downfield. If Badet hauls that in then the tone of this story may be a lot different. Auburn’s Sean White and his receivers will be in better position to burn Georgia’s passing game.
THIS AND THAT
- This was a good game for Georgia’s special teams, and not just because of Rodrigo Blankenship and Marshall Long – and despite McKenzie’s muffed punt, which obviously was big. Malkom Parrish very nearly blocked a field goal, and instead drew a holding call that waved off a made 44-yarder in the third quarter. Kentucky opted to punt instead, and those three points obviously loomed large.
- Riley Ridley, who had been petty sure-handed this year, had a rough day, dropping two passes, including one wide-open. Maybe he was still bothered by the ankle he hurt last week.
- A first-half face-mask penalty was charged in the scorebook to Julian Rochester, but it was actually on Maurice Smith.
- Did Musburger refer to Deandre Baker as “one of the best defensive backs in the country”? Yes, he did, in a bit of over-excitement after Baker’s downfield interception. I believe Musburger thought he was talking about Dominick Sanders. Unless Musburger has already been that impressed by Baker.
- Musburger sure did spend some time in the first half providing LSU-Alabama updates. He also provided an update on a Breeder’s Cup race, almost real time it seemed. But he wasn’t alone on that: A Kentucky media member behind me in the press box was also very excited about it. Perhaps not surprising in that part of the world.
- Receivers coach James Coley, incidentally, went down to the field. Coley had been in the booth this season.
Chaney’s move to the press box may not have been a big deal in terms of tangible offensive performance. But it was an acknowledgment that something that needed to change. That made it a big deal, and an encouraging one for Smart’s tenure, acknowledging an issue and addressing it midseason.
The feeling here is the strength of the opponent has to be taken into effect. It made Georgia’s offense and Chaney’s gameplan look better. But Chaney’s gameplan was better suited to the strengths of his personnel, especially the outside runs and runs out of pass formations. It’s something he could have done a long time ago, so it’s fair to wonder why it hasn’t been employed more this season.
In any case, if Georgia is just as creative offensively next week, it has a chance to upset Auburn. Defensively, Georgia’s performance against Kentucky is encouraging when it comes to the run, but passing-wise Auburn is a completely different animal.
Georgia did what it needed to do to beat Kentucky and get back off the mat. It’ll still need to play a lot better in order to upset Auburn.