Each week during the football season we re-watch the previous Georgia football game, in order to provide more analysis, blending what we saw from the press box, what players and coaches said afterwards, and what we saw on second glance. This week we review the 42-13 win over Kentucky and ask ourselves the big question:
What does it mean for the Bulldogs going forward? Were strides really made after the Auburn debacle, and did Georgia improve its chances of beating Auburn or Alabama — or do we have to wait and see?
Actually, I won’t make you wait for the answer to that one: Wait and see.
But there was still plenty to glean from this game. Starting with the offense and its philosophy.
Jim Chaney said something interesting to the broadcast crew in their standard Friday production meeting, which the crew helpfully passed along.
“What got them here was 70 percent run. But do they tweak it as they move forward?” Gary Danielson first mentioned, basically accurately citing the pass-run split. (Georgia has now run it 71 percent of the time, though the game has been out of reach for most of its games, padding the run totals.
Either way, however, Chaney appears to agree that’s too high a percentage.
“Jim Chaney the offensive coordinator told us yesterday, You can’t win a championship doing that,” Nessler said.
Danielson jumped in again.
“He doesn’t believe, if you’re Jim Chaney or Kirby Smart, that 70 percent run is going to beat Auburn or Alabama,” Danielson said. “Now it might beat some teams. … But I think they realize now they have to be different to win the SEC championship.”
That may be right. But Georgia wasn’t different against Kentucky, mainly because it didn’t need to be.
Georgia ran the ball 76 percent of the time in this game. Take out the three kneel-downs and the final drive of the game and it’s still 72 percent. And it was well-catalogued during the game that Georgia ran the ball on first down the first eight times, and when Chaney finally started dialing up first-down passes the offense exploded.
So the question was whether it was all a set-up by Chaney, or the strategy of increasing the passes will come later, or whether he says one thing in production meetings and does another in games … we could tie ourselves in knots overanalyzing this. All we know is it sufficed for this game. This game.
Nessler also asked Chaney why Georgia doesn’t throw to the tight ends more. He apparently didn’t get a firm answer.
“Jim Chaney just looked at me and said, Don’t call plays, all right?” Nessler said, as he and Danielson laughed, and Danielson said something about Chaney’s next-door neighbors asking him that too.
And a good laugh was had by all! And the tight ends again didn’t have any catches in this game.
Now, on to the change that definitely did happen in this game:
A week after the dam broke against Auburn, the Bulldogs made a change in the starting lineup, which Kirby Smart claimed wasn’t about reacting to the Auburn game, but to competition in practice. Well OK, whatever, how did it work out?
Ben Cleveland played right guard in six drives, which accounted for 21 points, and Solomon Kindley was in on three drives, each of which resulted in a touchdown. (This isn’t counting the final drive of the first half, which was a kneel-down situation, and the final drive of the game with subs.) Digging deeper:
Cleveland at right guard: 26 runs for 209 yards (8.0 ypa), passes: 5-for-8 for 47 yards.
Kindley at right guard: 8 runs for 75 yards (9.4 ypa), passes: 4-for-5 for 74 yards.
Both had very good moments: Cleveland had a great block on Chubb’s first touchdown run, the 8-yard on the second drive. Kindley had a good block to help spring Michel’s 37-yard run.
In the second half, Cleveland was about seven yards downfield and had a pancake block on a Chubb 9-yard run that way.
Bottom line: Cleveland and Kindley both looked pretty good.
After the game, Smart kept up the “practice competition” mantra, mentioning that left guard Kendall Baker and right tackle Andrew Thomas would face competition. And maybe Smart was thinking ahead, because those guys had some bad moments.
When Chubb was stuffed on an inside run on the first play, it appeared Baker’s man made the stop. Andrew Thomas had a false start.
Two more offensive line notes:
- The one sack came when Kentucky stunted a linebacker, who then ran around Jeb Blazevich and forced Fromm to scramble, where he was brought down for a 3-yard loss.
- Lamont Gaillard had a good blitz pick-up that resulted, via more time for Fromm, in a 20-yard completion in the second quarter.
The greatness of Nick Chubb
It’s hard to add much to what we already saw, so we’ll keep it short.
Chubb’s best run of the night may have been a 2-yard gain. Chubb was hit in the backfield and could have gone down for an 8-yard loss, then had another man go for a leg tackle on what would have been a 10-yard loss. But Chubb was churning the whole time and had such great vision that he saw the left side open, so he bounced that way and created a manageable third-and-3. This was the second drive, which eventually resulted in Georgia’s first touchdown.
Oh, and on that 8-yard touchdown run Chubb also showed great vision, cutting to the right when he saw a hole there – the play looked designed to go to the middle or left – and then Chubb quickly cut out and up to get in the end zone. The ability to churn those legs quickly while still looking up and finding space is amazing.
Is there any doubt, watching Chubb kick it into second gear on that 55-yard touchdown run in the second half, that he’s fully healed from the knee injury, now more than two years from the injury? That was what made Chubb so great before that: He got better as the game went on and the defense began to wore down. That was precisely what was happening on Saturday night.
Briefly, on Jake Fromm
Fromm makes some really hard throws, particularly to the outside. His completion percentage of just over 60 percent is fifth in the SEC, and well above Jacob Eason’s 55 percent last year.
But Fromm also still flubs some easier throws.
The interception came with no pass rush – Kentucky rushed three and had no blitz – and Fromm threw it to a side that was crowded with white jerseys. He stared down Javon Wims for a moment as Wims prepared to cut across, and Josh Allen hardly had to step over. It’s hard to see what Fromm was doing there.
Fromm only has 5 interceptions this season. But that’s also in a relatively small sample size, because of how little Georgia has passed it. Jarrett Stidham, for instance, only has 4 interceptions in 267 attempts, and Jalen Hurts only has 1 in about the same amount of attempts (200) as Fromm. The SEC quarterbacks with the most pass attempts (Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur, Missouri’s Drew Lock and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley) each have 9 interceptions or more.
None of this is to say Fromm would be exposed if Georgia had to air it out more. In fact, with Georgia using so many RPOs the lack of picks may speak to Fromm’s ability to read the defense and make the right call on the play.
Georgia’s defense ended up with a solid night, but it still looks vulnerable. The Wildcats were able to run outside in the first half, and if they would had any sort of consistent passing they probably would have had a lead at halftime. Twice in the first quarter Kentucky reached Georgia’s 20, and twice the Wildcats stalled because they couldn’t pass: 1-for-5 for a measly 3 yards on those two drives. Then late in the half Kentucky reached Georgia’s 31 and threw incompletions on third- and fourth-and-short.
The pass rush and secondary have something to do with that, of course. And it’s not that Kentucky is bad passing – it’s middle tier in the SEC, ranking seventh in yards-per-attempt at 7.6.
But Auburn is second and Alabama is third. And those two teams also have better rushing attacks: Alabama is first in the SEC and Auburn is fourth. Georgia has already seen how good Stidham can be, and Hurts is underappreciated for his passing. Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson is okay, but his receivers aren’t as athletic and sure-handed as Auburn’s and Alabama’s.
Point is, there were multiple situations in this game where Georgia was able to halt Kentucky, but where it’s easier to envision Auburn or Alabama making the play.
OK, let’s not be wholly negative:
- A player who really shines on second glance is defensive tackle Tyler Clark, who by the way started over Trenton Thompson again. Clark had a tackle that wasn’t credited as a TFL but came real close: Clark pushed his man back and tackled Benny Snell for no gain. And when Kentucky sprung a 10-yard run up the middle in the second quarter, Clark wasn’t in the game.
- D’Andre Walker just plain beat his man for the sack and forced fumble. (Though it was recovered by Kentucky.)
- Aaron Davis told me after the game the key was high-pointing the ball, but what also stands out watching the replay is how Davis, as he’s running downfield with his man, is watching the quarterback and then the ball the whole way. That’s the sixth sense you build up by being a four-year starting senior.
- Malik Herring had great pressure on a third down to force Johnson to throw it earlier than he wanted.
A few more observations
- Not that anybody really thought Cam Nizialek was some prissy Ivy Leaguer … but Cam Nizialek is not some prissy Ivy Leaguer. The dude took a legit hit on his first punt, taking one of those painful shots to the shin. But with five guys bearing down on him his punt still went 49 yards in the air. This spring I spoke to the head coach at Columbia, who said he didn’t have any worries about Nizialek making the adjustment to the SEC, where he’d have big and athletic guys bearing down on him. Well, more evidence in favor of that.
- So Kentucky could have been called for leaping on Nizialek’s second punt. The broadcast crew, and Kentucky’s sideline, were pretty sure it was a penalty, but apparently it wasn’t as obvious as when D’Andre Walker did it at Auburn. (Walker went over the shield and landed on the other side, while the Kentucky player came down on his own end, either as not into it or not as good at it.)
- There was never an official injury update on Isaiah Wynn, who left the game for a little bit in the second quarter. But the close-up on TV showd they were looking at his shoulder, so the guess here is a stinger that Wynn got over quickly.
- The ball just went through Malkom Parrish’s fingers on that 45-yard pass to Blake Bone. During the game I called it flukish, but Bone just had great concentration as he hauled the ball in while hitting the ground, and Parrish just didn’t make the play.
- Terry Godwin is so good at making difficult catches, whether it was the one-handed classic at Notre Dame or a diving catch on Saturday as he’s hitting the ground and catching the ball at an awkward angle.
The final score and the total yardage indicates this was a blowout, and it’s true this never seemed like a danger zone for Georgia. But it was also a two-score game going into the fourth quarter, and Georgia needed a third-down conversion to extend that drive and eventually get Chubb’s touchdown. Go back to the roughing the punter penalty, and an ill-advised interception late in the third quarter, and some plays would have made this game more interesting for longer.
Just go on feel. It didn’t feel like Georgia exorcised the demons and fixed the ills of the Auburn game, or answered the questions it arose. It did what it needed to win this game, and do so handily.
And you know what else it did? It sent Georgia’s seniors off on the right note, celebrating and basking in one final moment at Sanford, with even the reserved Chubb hamming it up for the cameras. All those guys, especially Chubb, deserved that moment.