Each week during the football season, we rewatch 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 the broadcast copy. So what did we see in Georgia’s defensively-challenged 53-28 win over Missouri?
We’ll get to Georgia’s suddenly high-flying offense, and what makes quarterback Jake Fromm so successful. And also all those hurdles. But first, let’s talk about a concern point that emerged:
GEORGIA’S PASS DEFENSE
Was it the secondary, the pass rush, or a combination of both? As is usually the case, it was a combination, though if we had to lean toward one of the two, we’d say the secondary needed to do a better job.
The first 63-yard touchdown pass: Third down, Georgia rushed six, Missouri WR Emanuel Hall lined up on the outside and basically ran straight down the right side of the field. Georgia’s Aaron Davis, playing nickel, didn’t stay with him, while safety J.R. Reed didn’t pick him up, making a mistake by going toward another downfield receiver who already had two red jerseys around him. That left Hall wide open. Reed was probably worried that the other receiver would have the middle of the field.
After the game, Reed mentioned communication being an issue on those long passes, so perhaps he meant that he thought Davis would have Hall the whole way, which obviously he didn’t. Earlier in the game, on Missouri’s second possession, Hall was also behind the defense on a deep pass that could’ve been a touchdown. It was well-thrown, but Hall just slowed down, and he may have lost the ball in the lights. Reed looked like he was supposed to be on the coverage, but Hall sprinted by him. Afterwards, Reed and Davis were looking at each other. They dodged a bullet on that one, but they didn’t two drives later.
The second 63-yard touchdown pass: This time, Hall lined up against cornerback Tyrique McGhee and just ran by him, with safety Dominick Sanders not able to pick him up. So two different corners and safeties were beat on those passes.
Then came Missouri’s next possession – and an interception. On third-and-long, Sanders picked off the pass in the middle of the field. It was a bit of a gift: Drew Lock threw into triple coverage. It appeared to be the same basic play they had run on the previous touchdowns, only those times Lock went to a streaking Hall down the sideline. This time for some reason, he went to the middle. It looked like Hall stopped his route early and Missouri was hoping to lull the defenders to him, leaving the middle of the field open. Well, it didn’t work.
Sanders isn’t a perfect safety, and will get beat on occasion, as the touchdown showed. But when the offense screws up, Sanders makes them pay.
The halftime adjustment for Georgia’s pass defense wasn’t so much schematic as it was a reminder: Keep the receivers in front of you. That’s something I pointed out in Second Glance last week: The Bulldogs do a great job of that. They didn’t on a few plays in the first half. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but when the other team is just trying to out-sprint you downfield, you can jam them at the line — Georgia practices this every day, I’m there to see that drill — and it disrupts the timing of the route and forces the offense to go shorter.
Both of Missouri’s big passes in the second half — coming on the same possession, the second for a touchdown — were over an open middle. For that one drive, at least, Missouri exploited Georgia’s halftime adjustment.
What about the pass rush? It wasn’t great on either of those long touchdown passes, but Lock also got the pass off quickly each time. The plays appeared timed to have the receiver beat his man downfield on a sprint, which is what happened.
That’s not to say Georgia’s pass rush was good: There were a few times Lock was able to sit in the pocket and work through his reads. Georgia is tied for last in the SEC in sacks, and while it is affecting the quarterback in other ways, it didn’t happen on a consistent basis in this game.
Georgia did get pressure on the first play of the second half, but that was just Jonathan Ledbetter and then John Atkins breaking through. It looked like Mel Tucker held back on outside blitzes, making sure they had good pass coverage. Davin Bellamy did have a pass breakup on a blitz. But Lorenzo Carter had a fairly quiet game.
A few other defensive notes:
- Cornerback Deandre Baker had a good game. Missouri WR J’Mon Moore is the guy who racked up yards last year against Georgia, before Baker got a spot in the starting lineup. This time, Moore was held to 1 catch, and Baker appeared to be on him much of the time. Baker knocked away a short third-down pass from Moore in the third quarter.
- Freshman Monty Rice was active from the start, coming on an edge blitz on the first play, though Missouri still got a 7-yard screen out of it. Rice had the tackle a yard behind the line on the game’s first run play, despite being blocked. Rice just pushed by the block.
- Not having Trent Thompson, David Marshall and DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle is not ideal. But freshman Malik Herring and sophomore Michail Carter did a decent job and got better as the game went on. The two teamed up on a nice tackle to stop Lock on a third-down keeper up the middle.
JAKE FROMM (AND LACK OF JACOB EASON)
Fromm doesn’t depend on having tremendous zip on his passes. His ball even flutters a bit sometimes. But he is very accurate and leads receivers well. That tends to mean he needs the receivers to be open, which they were this game. But Fromm is also pretty savvy in reading the defense and making quick decisions, which overcomes any arm strength issues — which aren’t too much of an issue by the way. He can rip it on occasion. Generally, he just puts the ball where it needs to be.
It’s not just Fromm’s accuracy: He reads the defense well from the snap. You don’t see him checking down often — no need to in this game, where the first option was often open — but he seems to have an innate sense at the snap where the ball should go.
The pass blocking was also very good. Fromm hangs there in the pocket, even when the pressure is approaching. His ability not to get happy feet or jittery in the pocket shouldn’t be overlooked.
Regarding the interception: Isaac Nauta was the intended target, making his break to the middle. It looked like Nauta was the second read, after Fromm quickly checked off a screen to D’Andre Swift, who was covered. Fromm was either just too overconfident in his accuracy or just didn’t see the middle linebacker. Riley Ridley, meanwhile, was uncovered across the middle, and while it probably wouldn’t have been a huge gain, perhaps not even a first down, he was open. Take the open play, get off the field and let the defense do its job. Instead, Fromm was looking to move the chains.
Regarding Eason: No, Kirby Smart was not asked after the game about not putting Eason in late with the other subs. For what it’s worth, during the customary Friday meeting between the coaches and the broadcast crew, they discussed Eason, and this is how announcer Tom Hart paraphrased it: “Listen, we’ve got no problem going to Jacob Eason if the situation calls for it.” They added: “It was almost as if they were saying, If we get in a real passing situation, if we trail and we need to throw the football, we’ll go to Eason.”
After at least one Georgia scoring drive, you could see Eason on the phone with the press box, so it’s not like he was disengaged.
Jim Chaney wasn’t too exotic with his play calls. He didn’t really need to be. He did try some jet sweeps, and the reverse to Mecole Hardman. But when you have such an advantage in skill position players, the best thing to do is just figure out the best and easies ways to get them the ball, and Chaney did that.
Georgia’s run offense early was stymied by a combination of Missouri keying on the run and UGA not being very imaginative with the calls. For example, a first-down run: Missouri had eight in the box (four on the line, four linebackers a couple yards behind them), and once Nick Chubb had the ball in his belly, those eight converged. But what that did was open up the pass to the outside on first and second down, leaving Georgia in a great numbers advantage.
An underrated important play was the 28-yard completion to Terry Godwin on Georgia’s first possession: Third down, backed up near the goal line, and if Georgia doesn’t convert, then Missouri has good field position. Godwin was left in 1-on-1 coverage in the slot, and Fromm looked his way basically the entire time. Godwin ran a perfect route and Fromm put the ball right where it should have been.
Georgia did have some 1-on-1 run-blocking issues early too. Chubb was dropped for a 4-yard loss in the first quarter when the right side of the line was blown up.
Missouri’s pass defense was just porous. On passing downs, Georgia’s receivers were wide open, and Fromm was accurate. On another third down, Javon Wims was somehow wide open near the sideline against what appeared to be a zone or a cover-2. Fromm hit him easily for a 21-yard gain. One play later came Mecole Hardman’s 35-yard touchdown run.
What’s more, Missouri’s pass rush was fairly minimal, a big change for the school that in recent years produced Shane Ray, Michael Sam, Charles Harris and others. This year Missouri’s sack leader only has 2.
When three Georgia players are hurdling defensive backs, you know you’re not dealing with the most athletic secondary. Chubb leapt safety Thomas Wilson, who’s from Suwanee, and Charlie Woerner leapt over freshman Adam Sparks, who’s from Baton Rouge.
A few more offensive bullet points:
- How about Christian Payne’s downfield block to spring Hardman’s 35-yard touchdown run?
- Hardman showed why they’ll keep him on offense and deal with the pass-catching issues. Once he has possession he’s not only fast but has good vision, reading the field ahead and making good cuts.
- If Godwin has to miss any time that will hurt, but this game should build confidence in the other receivers; Wims was already leading the team in catches anyway and continues to be good at getting open, without any issues with drops. Ridley had his breakout game, and is also showing good route-running and ball-catching skills. Hardman also had zero drops this game, so if Godwin is out, maybe you just slide Hardman into his role.
- One issue for the line, and offense in general: 3 false starts, 1 each by Isaiah Wynn, Solomon Kindley and Nauta, plus an illegal motion penalty that wiped out a long Swift run, and an illegal substitution penalty.
- Georgia seems to be using more RPOs with each game.
- Georgia only passed the ball 6 times in the second half. Part of that was having a big lead, but the first three possessions of the half, when the game was still close, the Bulldogs ran it 10 out of 14 times.
- Sony Michel decking a poor Missouri defender near midfield got a lot of attention, with the clip tweeted out by Deadspin, but Michel also trucked another guy early in the third quarter — and this time it was more impressive because Michel kept going. The first hit was a 6-yard stop. The second time Michel decked a different Tiger, safety Thomas Wilson, then went another 15 yards.
- Here’s what Sam Pittman — not allowed to meet the UGA beat media since he arrived, but no such rules for broadcasting partners — told SEC Network sideline reporter Cole Cubelic before the game of his line: “These guys just put in the work. Not a lot of different bodies, not a lot of different schemes, they just wanted to be better. They did some soul-searching in the offseason. This group just seems more energized.” (At least that’s the way Cubelic paraphrased Pittman’s comments.
- The opening kickoff was Blankenship’s shortest of the year, fielded at the 10, and when he caught it the closest red jersey was 20 yards away, with all 11 white jerseys in front of them forming a wall. In retrospect, Georgia might’ve been lucky it was only returned to midfield, rather than all the way. Anyway, just an isolated miscue in what has been an outstanding season for Blankenship and that unit?
- Missouri, meanwhile, muffed a punt when the snap hit off one of the three up-men. It looked like the timing was messed up, as the up-men probably were supposed to wait until the snap was past them. It’s kind of surprising that doesn’t happen more often.
- Swift’s 71-yard run was impressive. But perhaps not as impressive as his parents hardly breaking into a smile afterwards, nodding their approvals but acting like they’d seen this plenty of times before. His father can be seen eyeing the big screen, as if trying to pinpoint why his son didn’t get the touchdown. Yeah, the parents made sure to show off their T-shirts and “Swift’s Mom” and “Swift’s Dad” shirt. Otherwise, they were locked in.
This game showed that Georgia’s defense still can be vulnerable to a good all-around offense, especially one that can throw it. But the offense continues to get better and build confidence that if Georgia needs to pass the ball to win, it’s possible. Through six games, the formula for this team was to ride a dominant defense and do just enough on offense, especially in the running game. The formula still could be revised: The offense, though it will face much tougher defenses than it did on Saturday, is showing signs it can pick up the slack if the defense doesn’t have its best day.