In some ways, this is getting harder: Each week during the football season we re-watch Georgia’s previous game in order to provide more analysis. Well, when the Bulldogs are beating teams by an average of 25 points, how many different ways can you write: Uh, things look great!
Ah, but that’s where our journalistic training comes in handy. Journalistic training being a euphemism for nitpicking. Or rat poison, as Nick Saban might say.
So while we must not ignore the continued great things about Georgia after its latest dominance, a 45-14 road rout at Vanderbilt, we should also look ahead. Let us praise what needs to be praise, but also provide some notes of wariness, and examine how that might come into play as the presumed tougher stretch of the season comes.
The cautionary note: Georgia can’t expect to run like this every week. Vanderbilt’s run defense is porous, ranking 12th in the SEC and having given up 496 rushing yards to Alabama and 218 to Florida.
But given the run struggles of the past year-and-a-half, this was still a very encouraging performance, no matter the opponent.
The best part for Georgia was the push by the interior of the line, the perceived weak point (deservedly) earlier this season. This game, the amount of times the running back got to the second level was incredible. And it was able to run up the middle with impunity.
The edition this week of “Seth Charts the Georgia Offense” is inside vs. outside runs. Hey, remember how early in the season Georgia only seemed to run up the middle to keep the defense honest? Well look at the breakdown this time:
*Inside runs: 36 times for 331 yards, an average of 9.2 yards per carry, including 4 touchdown runs (from 50, 33, 15 and 14).
*Outside runs: 6 times for 62 yards.
*-This did not include the final drive of the game. The outside runs included a few Jake Fromm run/pass options. A few of those inside runs were right at the tackles, but the vast majority of those successful runs were right up the middle.
Center Lamont Gaillard just had a great game, especially when Sony Michel was carrying the ball. On Michel’s 50-yard touchdown run, Gaillard at first threw his man off and then picked up a linebacker, giving Michel the second level. Gaillard also blocked a linebacker to spring a Michel 20-yard run in the third quarter. On another long Michel run, Gaillard was so far ahead of the play he was blocking a man near the sideline. And on yet another Michel long run, Gaillard got such a push that right guard Solomon Kindley found himself alone ahead of the line of scrimmage with no one to block.
And of course there was the Michel run in the first half when Gaillard carried Michel for about 7 extra yards.
Kirby Smart, ever the coach, said after the game that he was still worried about perimeter running and pass blocking, that those needed to do better. Well, the team hardly ran it outside or passed.
A few other offensive notes:
- The one sack on Fromm came on what appeared to be a miscommunication between Kendall Baker and Gaillard, as Gaillard picked up a linebacker on a run blitz, but Baker let defensive lineman Jay Woods go, and Woods had a free shot at Fromm.
- Fromm’s management of the offense remains really skillful, especially when the team goes up-tempo. On the first drive Georgia got a snap off before the sideline crew could even move the first-down markers. On the fourth drive, after the 23-yard third-down completion to Terry Godwin, Georgia wisely went for the quick snap, and Fromm was ready to do so but the officials weren’t and had to tell him to wait a second. Georgia still got a downhill 6-yard run from Swift on the play.
- Godwin just used his speed to out-run the cornerback on his 47-yard touchdown catch. The pass was going to him the whole time, at least it appeared on second glance. Georgia must have seen something on tape or in the first half to say that one-on-one match-up was ripe for the picking.
- Isaac Nauta may not be having as good a year as last year, but he did a nice job of selling the route on Fromm’s 5-yard touchdown pass to D’Andre Swift. Two Vanderbilt defenders followed Nauta into the end zone, leaving Swift wide open. And it was a great play design by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.
- I noticed this during the game: Georgia kept lining up with receivers Jayson Stanley, Ahkil Crumpton and Trey Blount, none of whom had caught a pass all season, and yes every one of those plays ended up being a run play. Crumpton did finally catch a pass later in the game.
The seemingly-now backup quarterback gets his own section. We start, of course, with his first play on the field, which did not go well.
Why didn’t Eason see it coming? It was a cornerback blitz, untouched. Eason was distracted, first looking upfield, and then to Swift on the right for a possible screen, and then had just turned back to look upfield when he was decked.
Eason’s second drive was aimed at building confidence, and he did go 3-for-3: He fired a third-down pass into a small window to J.J. Holloman, and hit Crumpton for two more passes. Eason also hustled to recover Elijah Holyfield’s fumble in the final minute, drawing an ovation from Georgia fans.
But that final drive won’t instantly fix things for Eason. It was obvious watching him leave the field, helmet still on while teammates celebrated, this is new territory for him.
Teams still can’t run on Georgia. So let’s dispense with that and move on.
The question going forward for Georgia will be whether the secondary will be susceptible to a good pocket quarterback, and Kyle Shurur was the first pure one it’s seen this year. The results were encouraging for Georgia, though not conclusive.
Vanderbilt only managed one real scoring drive, and that was in the two-minute offense, all with passes. And Georgia will see more of that type of attack this week when Missouri comes to town.
Perhaps the best thing Georgia’s defensive backs do is limit yards-after-catch. They’re doing a great job of keeping the receiver ahead of them and, when a completion is made, ending the play right there.
The edition this week of “Seth Charts the Georgia Defense” was yards-after-catch: Vanderbilt, by my count, had 143 passing yards in the air, and just 29 more after the ball was caught.
Consider that’s less all game than Vanderbilt had on a single play in last year’s game: Ralph Webb’s 37-yard catch-and-run on the screen to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
The question going forward is what will happen when Georgia faces some really fast receivers who are able to get the ball in space. Auburn in particular springs to mind.
Three more pass defense bullet points:
- Deandre Baker continues to be really good at defending the deep ball, not just breaking up the pass but being there to break it up. The question is whether Georgia’s secondary is just that good or whether it hasn’t faced speedy receivers yet.
- The guy you never feel like is close to giving up a big play is Aaron Davis. Every time the ball comes his way it seems the play has no chance.
- Malkom Parrish is still working his way back. He was only on the field in the dime formation during the first three quarters, but still gave up 3 passes for 58 yards. Parrish should’ve had an interception in the first quarter. The ball was right to him, maybe that was another sign of not being 100 percent.
The defensive difference between first half and second half
In a word, or two words: Pass rush.
In the first half, Mel Tucker wasn’t as risky with his blitzes.The one scoring drive against Georgia’s first-team defense, the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, came with little pass rush, and heavily against one-on-one pass coverage. But it wasn’t just that drive.
On a second-and-10 and third-and-10 in the first quarter, Georgia only rushed four each time. A few plays later on third-and-14 they only rushed three, with two hanging close to the line. (Jonathan Ledbetter still broke through and pressured the quarterback into an incompletion.) And on a third-and-8 in the second quarter, Georgia only rushed three, leaving Lorenzo Carter in the middle of the field to spy and clean up.
On a third-and-8 in the second quarter, Georgia rushed six but each man was picked up – Vanderbilt kept a blocking back to help – leading to a 12-yard completion for the first down. That was an exception in an otherwise conservative first half for the defense.
Maybe the absence of Natrez Patrick had something to do with it, not wanting to leave Juwan Taylor or Monty Rice on an island. But that wasn’t the reason on a lot of those third-and-longs, when Georgia was in dime coverage and the second ILB isn’t on the field.
So Shurmur had more time to pass and had a bit more success, especially in the two-minute offense. Then in the locker room Tucker and Smart evidently decided to dial it back up.
On Vanderbilt’s first possession of the second half, pressure from JR Reed forced an incompletion on third down. And on the second possession a blitz up the middle forced another hasty incompletion. On the next play the front seven blew up a screen play, with basically the entire defensive line recognizing it and Davin Bellamy hanging back to prevent an open passing lane.
- Even when Rodrigo Blankenship doesn’t kick a touchback, he’s getting hang time, and the kickoff unit has great coverage, or both. The opening kickoff was fielded at the 1 and stopped at the 19. That’s better than a touchback.
- Tommy Tuberville is a bit more refined now, after some perhaps opening-game jitters when he called Georgia’s game against Appalachian State. Tuberville also isn’t afraid to criticize the coaches, which he did in the first quarter: After Vanderbilt got 28 yards on a run play to open the second drive, it spread out and threw an incompletion, leading Tuberville to say that the coaches needed to get out of the way, and it seemed Vanderbilt was sticking to a 10-play script to open the game rather than going right back to a play that had worked.
- Apologies to the person who I saw post this on Twitter, but they’re absolutely right:Fromm highlights from the 2011 Little League World Series are the new David Pollack-David Greene played on the same Pee Wee team.
- The targeting call by a Vanderbilt player on Blankenship, which was overturned, still probably could have been a 15-yard penalty, as it was far away from the play, which was basically over. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s an all-or-nothing deal now, where a targeting call is either completely upheld or overturned, with no possibility of a non-ejecting penalty.
- ESPN sideline reporter Paul Carcaterra quoted Derek Mason as telling him this at halftime: “We don’t fear Georgia, we’re built to play Georgia.” Well, OK.
As great as Georgia is playing, and it’s undeniably great, the potential weak points are there: A good passer and good athletes in space could move the ball on this defense, the offensive line shouldn’t do any victory laps yet, and if the run game does get stopped, can the passing game take over?
Still, when you’re halfway through the regular season and only nitpicking, you’re in great shape. There’s still a long way to go. But “potential weak points” sounds a lot more promising than “definite weak points,” wouldn’t you say?