At Second Glance: Georgia again in perfect harmony in Jim McElwain swan song

Sony Michel - Georgia football
Georgia's Sony Michel breaks free for a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the game Saturday against Florida. The Bulldogs won 42-7.

Each week during the football season, we re-watch the previous Georgia football game to provide more analysis, blending what we saw from the press box, what players and coaches said afterward, and what we saw on second glance. This week … the world’s largest outdoor kicking-tail party.

(Sorry, Dad jokes. Sorry.) 

It was a bit surreal re-watching this game ― especially every sideline shot of Jim McElwain, knowing he had been dismissed by Florida less than 24 hours later. Otherwise, it was your usual Georgia game this year: dominant defense, huge running game, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm making just enough passes, and a fourth quarter filled with sideline shots of smiling and laughing Georgia players. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ah, but we always strive here to delve deeper. Plus, we have a sinking feeling that many Bulldogs fans don’t at all mind reliving this 42-7 Georgia victory. So … enjoy:

Georgia’s defense

Why was Georgia’s pass rush better? Mel Tucker’s blitz calls weren’t really all that exotic, other than the one that resulted in the sack-strip-touchdown. It was mainly just done the old-fashioned way: The front seven dominating up front and the secondary sticking with their men in the back.

On the first sack of the game, it was as much a coverage sack as anything. The Bulldogs only rushed four, and they pushed the pocket. Lorenzo Carter brought down quarterback Feleipe Franks, but that was with absolutely nowhere to throw the ball. That happened on a second-and-long on the next drive too – rush four, good coverage, pocket closes – resulting in an incompletion.

This is the downfield coverage by Georgia’s secondary on what was the Bulldogs’ first sack of the game. Nowhere to throw the ball.

That’s yet another sign of how talented Georgia’s defense is: They can push the pocket and get a sack with less numbers on the pass rush, thus allowing them to leave more guys back and outnumber the offense in pass coverage. That’s quite a luxury.

The ability of Georgia’s secondary to play the run is also big. There was a first-down run by Florida’s Lamical Perine that would have had the edge, and potentially good yardage, but Aaron Davis pushed off his man and had the initial stop, with Lorenzo Carter helping finish the play for a 1-yard gain. (J.R. Reed ended up being credited with half a tackle, but it should have gone to Davis.)

What happened in the second quarter? The Gators were able to stretch things at the line of scrimmage, and it looked like Georgia wasn’t swarming to the ball as it did before. Part of that was the byproduct of Georgia’s front four not playing sound in the gaps, and the front seven was overly aggressive, rather than remembering the gap control. (Thanks to my anonymous football expert for providing me that opinion.) The big play was the 29-yard run by Perine to the left when there were too many white jerseys up the middle, and then Reed tried too hard to strip the ball.

Also worth noting: Perine’s 11-yard run up the middle came with Roquan Smith and Reggie Carter off the field, getting a breather.

Either way, Georgia firmed up after that, and I’ll just repeat this quite amazing stat: Georgia has given up 3 points in the third quarter all season. Not averaging three points per third quarter. A total of three points. Notre Dame had a field goal, and that’s been it. Whatever Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker are doing at halftime has been stupendous.

Some more defensive notes:

  • John Atkins, the nose tackle, had the tackle basically at the sideline on the game’s opening play. For a nose tackle to first throw off his interior blocker and then get to the side, well that’s pretty decent.
  • Lorenzo Carter played the star a lot, flexing out with the defense in base. And that was after the coaches had a chance to see the offensive personnel and decide on whether to go to nickel. Sometimes they did, but often they just left Carter out there.
  • The Dominick Sanders interception was a result of Georgia’s pass rush not buying the play action at all – and why would they on third and 9? OK, so questionable play calling. Bad play calling. But a great defense takes advantage in the front and back end, just as Georgia did there.
  • Tyrique McGhee deserved credit for the initial hit on the sack-strip-touchdown, with Reed swooping in a moment later to strip Franks just as he was about to go down, pick up the ball and walk 3 yards into the end zone. I have to confess, I forgot until re-watch that the play began on the 23-yard line. Tucker dialed up that double-defensive back blitz and Franks panicked and just kept retreating.
  • Reggie Carter, who returned from a two-game absence to make an impact, including blowing up a tunnel screen for a tackle for loss? Keep in mind that he’s Georgia’s third inside linebacker, only playing because Natrez Patrick is out. That’s depth.
  • Defensive end David Marshall was all over the place.
  • Stat quibble: D’Andre Walker should have had a solo sack. Tackle Julian Rochester came in late and was still credited with a half-sack. Apologies to Julian and anybody who owned him in their fantasy football league, but that should’ve been all Walker.
  • As angry as Smart and the first-team defense was about losing the shutout, it didn’t look like the backups were lollygagging or anything. It seemed they just got beaten by a very energetic Malik Zaire, who came off the bench to scramble and lead the scoring drive basically by himself. That’s not to say Zaire playing all along would have made the game more interesting. But he certainly made that drive interesting. He had a 27-yard run and passed for 36 yards, including an 8-yard conversion on third down when he scrambled from one sideline to the middle of the field.

That said, I understand why Smart was eviscerating the backups for giving that up. They may need those guys later this season or next season.

Georgia’s offense

Remember when the interior of the offensive line was the big concern? Well, maybe eventually Alabama or someone else will eat up the Bulldogs there. But it’s ceased to be a concern.

Running back Sony Michel, of course, went through a gaping hole for his 74-yard touchdown run. Right guard Solomon Kindley was practically saying hello to the outside linebacker on the other side of the field as Michel was running through that chasm.

Running back Nick Chubb went up the middle for his 6-yard touchdown run. He also went up the middle for runs of 2 and 6 yards. And Michel went 18 yards up the middle on Georgia’s biggest gain of the second quarter.

This is the hole Sony Michel had to run through for an 18-yard run in the second quarter.

Some of that was just good one-on-one blocking but there was also plenty of zone action. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and offensive line coach Sam Pittman also got creative, putting two reserve tackles in tight end jerseys to form a seven-man line. It was Dyshon Sims on the left side in a different jersey (45) and Aulden Bynum on the right side (42) and it worked, with Chubb getting carries of 11 and 22. On Chubb’s 22-yard run, Sims picked up his man to set the edge, and Isaiah Wynn and Kendall Baker combo-blocked their man to spring the second level.

That, in fact, was another key for the blocking this game: getting the tailbacks to the second level. Georgia didn’t have a great push on every play, and given Florida’s talent there, perhaps Chaney and Pittman expected that, so they designed more creative runs and blocking schemes – and the results were quite good.

On Michel’s 45-yard touchdown run, the left side of the line formed a wall for Michel to run around. That came against an eight-man box and was helped by Florida defenders not following the play well, but the offense also executed perfectly.

The left side of Georgia’s line gives Sony Michel a wall to run around on his third-quarter touchdown run.

On the sidelines after the play, Michel and Pittman could be seen smiling and embracing, as if Michel were telling him: “Thank you.”

Jim Chaney told CBS analyst Gary Danielson during the week that his goal was to run the ball at least 20 times in the first half as he didn’t think Florida’s defense was as deep as last year and it would begin to tire out. Georgia ended up four short of that goal, but only because it amassed so many yards early on.

Fromm’s 37-yard completion to D’Andre Swift: Florida brought the house and Fromm, smooth and calm, either knew all along Swift would be in single coverage and would be throwing to him, or quickly checked off a receiver to the same side of the field. Swift had a linebacker on him, which isn’t a fair match-up for someone that fast, especially when Swift had the edge, and that’s the danger of a sell-out blitz by the defense: Hardly anyone was back to prevent Swift from collecting big yardage.

It works if you panic the freshman quarterback. People keep trying it, but so far no one’s been able to panic this freshman quarterback.

Something else you notice watching the Fromm 17-yard touchdown pass to Javon Wims on the second drive: OK, yes a perfect timing throw and catch by Fromm and Wims, who evidently practiced that well enough that Chaney decided to dial it up early in the game.

But before the snap Fromm barely looked over at Wims, only sneaking over a glance a millisecond before the snap, while also scanning the rest of the defense. It apparently only took Fromm that millisecond to recognize the single coverage and know the play was there, rather than stare a moment longer and give a Florida safety any thought that he should sneak over to help.

Wims, one play before his touchdown catch, helped set it up two plays earlier with a good downfield block as Chubb ran for 16 yards.

Fromm did mess up royally in the third quarter when he was picked off. Initially I thought he might have underthrown the ball while attempting to throw it out of bounds, but on re-watch, it looks like Fromm was just throwing it to Michel in single coverage, hoping something good would happen. Bad idea. As good as Fromm has been, it seems once a game he reminds you he’s a freshman.

Otherwise …

  • CBS played some of the rivalry’s chippy moments over the previous decade: Georgia’s team stomp, Urban Meyer’s extra timeouts the next year, Todd Grantham’s choke sign, Todd Gurley’s Gator chomp. The comments by Chauncey Gardner may take their place in that chapter of the rivalry. A refresher as to what he said: “You say they have a great quarterback [Fromm] — I get it. He’s throwing simple passes — I get it. Anybody can throw a slant — I get it,” Gardner said earlier in the week.
  • Gardner, to be fair, wasn’t the defender who was beaten on the slant-pass play that ended up leaving Gardner hurt. He was way back on the play and came up to make the initial hit on Swift, who beat a slot defender. Gardner returned to the game and was available to the media afterward, so apparently he was all right. Physically at least.
  • CBS also addressed the McElwain storyline right before kickoff, including athletic director Scott Stricklin’s denial that there were buyout talks with McElwain’s agent, Jimmy Sexton. But events would show that the denial was probably a matter of semantics. Something was in the works, and the manner in which Florida was embarrassed by Georgia only cemented the decision.
  • When Smart was asked if Jacob Eason going in the game mid-drive was to send a message to Fromm for the consecutive delay of game calls, Smart cracked: “No that was just so y’all wouldn’t ask me why Jacob didn’t play. So I thought I would hurry up and get him in before y’all asked. That’s all that was.”
  • Defensive tackle Julian Rochester got lucky late in the first quarter when he took his helmet off right after a near sack. The officials either didn’t see it or just didn’t call it, but Kirby Smart got in Rochester’s face moments later.
  • When the “Monster Mash” plays, am I the only one who thinks of the Cheers episode when the crew from Gary’s Old Town Tavern gets that song playing over and over at Cheers, and how great an episode and how great a show that was overall? (This was on a CBS promo early in the game. I promise.)

Final thoughts

This is how Lorenzo Carter summed it up after the game: “We’re supposed to win by according to everybody on the outside. Everybody inside this locker room knows it’s going to be a fight. Especially anytime we come down to Jacksonville to play Florida. So we came preparing for a fight and that’s what we got, that’s what we gave, and I can’t complain about the effort we gave.”

And once again, no one could complain about the result. The best season in recent Georgia history just keeps going, and has now even survived Jacksonville.

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