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 we review Georgia’s 24-10 win over South Carolina:
Hey, we had to watch the whole game this time! For the first time in two months, dating back to Notre Dame, the Bulldogs didn’t have their second-teamers in for basically the entire fourth quarter. Clearly the panic button must be pushed, and we must earnestly break down everything that went wrong.
Or … it might just have been a case of Georgia with a solid though not blowout win over what is the second-best team in the SEC East this year.
Why Georgia offense is better, Part 1
The underrated factor in Georgia’s success this season is third-down offense: Georgia is the only SEC team to convert more than half the time, and it’s not close: 51.2 percent, versus Auburn with the second-best percentage at 46.7. The temptation among outsiders is to say great running backs mean easier short-yardage conversion. Those watching the team know there’s another reason: Jake Fromm.
The freshman quarterback has been clutch all season. Here’s a breakdown of his third-down pass plays vs. South Carolina:
- Third-and-6: Pass complete to Javon Wims on a comeback pattern right at the marker.
- Third-and-7: Pass complete to Wims on a comeback pattern for 6 yards, short of the marker.
- Third-and-10: Pass incomplete deep but holding results in first down.
- Third-and-5: Pass complete to Riley Ridley for 7 yards on a short hitch.
- Third-and-6: Sacked. (Gamecocks stunted over Isaiah Wynn and Kendall Baker and then the dam broke up the middle.)
- Third-and-4: Pass complete to Sony Michel for 16 yards. It looked like it was set up to go to Michel as the first option, sort of a delayed screen. Michel took it and went most of the way himself, but Fromm did a good job waiting for the play to develop.
- Third-and-4: Touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman in left side of the end zone.
- Third-and-9: Fromm scrambles for no gain.
- Third-and-goal: Pass incomplete.
Note: There were a few short-yardage third downs that looked to be run-pass options, and an RPO on third-and-7 to Michel that resulted in a 10-yard run.
Why Georgia offense is better, Part 2
It’s taken a bit for granted now, which is a positive step, but Georgia’s offensive line continues to get a good push in the running game. It’s not all about the tailbacks. Unlike the Florida game, when Georgia was uncorking long run after long run, the longest against South Carolina was just 27 yards, by Nick Chubb – who also had a 26-yarder, on a very similar play. Take those two runs out, as well as the one sack, and Georgia still averaged 3.9 yards per rushing attempt. That’s really good consistency.
Isaiah Wynn had the run-block of the day: Chubb’s 26-yard run in the first quarter, Georgia’s longest run of the day, came when Wynn pushed his man way upfield and opened a massive hole for Chubb to run through and head to an open left side of the field. Jeb Blazevich also had a great block on the other side of that hole.
Georgia liked the play so much they ran it to that side again, this time in between Wynn and left guard Baker, and Wynn had his man beat so badly that Chubb had a hole that netted a 27-yard gain to the left sideline.
Michel’s touchdown run on the Wildcat run may have looked like it was all him, adjusting after there was no room up the middle and outrunning the defense to the right. But it also helped that Georgia’s blockers held their blocks long enough for Michel to make his move.
More offensive observations
- Fromm is confident, and that’s great, but sometimes he can be too confident, especially in the RPO. There was a first down when he pulled the ball back from Michel in order to throw a short out pass to Ridley, but it was in tight coverage. It was incomplete, and could’ve been worse.
- Sometimes you need to get lucky: Georgia’s first touchdown came after South Carolina extended the drive with an unnecessary penalty: Cornerback Chris Lammons held Mecole Hardman on a ball that Fromm would throw well out of bounds. Lammons was the player who said earlier in the week “they can’t pass” but evidently he had changed his mind enough on that point that he felt it necessary to hold.
- Ah, the old unbalanced line: Jeb Blazevich at left tackle, Isaiah Wynn as a tight end on the right side, with Ben Cleveland next to him, and Isaac Nauta next to him. The result: A pitch to Michel to the left side for 7 yards. A long way to go for just 7 yards, you say? Sure, but also something to make Auburn to think about.
- South Carolina defenders seemed to be trying extra hard to strip the ball, sometimes to their own detriment. There were a few instances they could have made a tackle about 5-10 yards before they did if they hadn’t been trying to knock the ball out. South Carolina entered the game plus-8 in turnover margin. That must be why. Of course, it worked on the Terry Godwin catch, when the defender just punched at the ball and it went loose.
- Hardman and his athletic shiftiness turned what should’ve been a negligible gain on a receiver screen into an 11-yard play.
- On the Wims touchdown catch that was initially ruled incomplete, it looks like the official closest to it is looking up at Wims, seeing if he makes the catch, so it’s easy to see where he’d miss the toe catching the grass. That’s why they have replay.
- Jim Chaney and Jay Johnson do seem to get along well. That could be an awkward situation, but the TV replay shows Chaney getting a smile out of the normally stoic Johnson as they await a replay review. Chaney is renowned for being easygoing and not having an ego, so that may be why this works.
Georgia defense: About the pass rush
Georgia not only is second in the SEC in least passing yards allowed (165.1 per game) but is first in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.3, just ahead of Alabama and then Auburn.) So why do people keep harping on this?
Well, for one thing you need something to criticize sometimes. But for another there is the eye test: It just seems Georgia has been vulnerable against good pocket passers, and bears noting that the Bulldogs haven’t faced many great passing offense: Missouri ranks seventh nationally in yards per pass attempt, but no other Georgia opponent ranks in the top 40.
Auburn is 10th in that YPA, for what it’s worth. But unlike Missouri these Tigers also have a good defense, so there figures to be less margin for error for Georgia’s pass defense this week.
Against South Carolina, which had a good young pocket passer in Jake Bentley, Georgia’s defensive plan was very similar to the week before against Florida’s Felipe Franks: Don’t blitz that much, depend on a four-man rush to get pressure and get a numbers advantage in the secondary. But while that worked great against Florida in both facets, it had less success this time.
Here’s a breakdown of Georgia’s pass rush strategies and the results of those plays, with occasional notes:
- No blitz, four-man rush: 16-yard pass, Incomplete (third down), Incomplete, 4-yard pass (quick pass), Incomplete, Incomplete (Trenton Thompson batted down), 16-yard pass (third down), Incomplete, 15-yard pass, 12-yard TD pass (second down and 3, UGA appeared to be playing the run), 5-yard pass, 10-yard pass (dump-off in one-minute offense), Interception (near end of half), Bentley scrambled for 2-yard gain, 22-yard pass, Incomplete, Pass for 1-yard loss (screen snuffed out), Incomplete (Davin Bellamy knocked it away on third down), 23-yard pass (Julian Rochester almost had the sack), 6-yard pass, 2-yard pass, Incomplete, 5-yard pass, 13-yard pass, Interception by Malkom Parrish.
- No blitz, three-man rush: 35-yard pass.
- Four-man rush including a blitz: Incomplete on rushed pass (Lorenzo Carter blitzed from up the middle after Roquan Smith feigned a blitz.), Incomplete.
- Three-man rush: Incomplete.
- Four-man rush, two blitz, two linemen drop: 4-yard pass.
- Five-man rush: 20-yard pass (three down-lineman, Carter and Smith rushed), 5-yard pass on third down (Tyrique McGhee and Carter tried to blitz but were picked up.), Incomplete (JR Reed knocked away a third-down pass near the goal-line.), 8-yard pass.
- Six-man rush: 7-yard pass (first down, UGA appeared to be playing the run), Pass for loss of 1 yard.
- Blitz: Roquan Smith sack on delayed blitz up the middle, Bentley scrambles and loses one yard (sack shared by Smith and Reggie Carter).
Note: Most of these our-man rushes feature the nickel package, usually with three down linemen and an edge rusher.
There was a third-and-10 where Georgia feigned a blitz, lining five on the line and having two more approach the line. But three men pulled back upon the snap – and Bentley completed the pass for 16 yards. And on a third-and-15 Georgia showed six men at the line then pulled three back, and Bentley hit Hurst downfield for a 35-yard gain.
More defensive notes
- Deandre Baker quietly may be the most consistent member of Georgia’s secondary. Reed has made more big plays but Baker always seems to be there when a big pass is broken up or falling incomplete.
- Aaron Davis was on the wrong side of a big pass play or two. On one, a 20-yard pass to Hurst, Davis was caught watching Hurst rather than the ball, which sometimes works, but you’re left guessing, and Davis was a couple of steps behind the play.
- Smith and the anatomy of a one-man tackle: He had 7 solo, while the rest of the team combined for 18. Smith’s first one came on a run play when he came up and hauled the runner down on second down, forcing a thid-and-long.
- You can’t over-estimate Smith. He’s the team’s most important player and makes plays that affect drives. They’re usually not spectacular plays, so they don’t get enough notice, but there’s a reason that Georgia coaches, who watch the film, praise him so much.
- The onside kick was an alert play by the South Carolina player, Caleb Kinlaw, who turned back and made a clean grab before McGhee got there.
- The late hit call against Reed was warranted, though not the worst late hit you’ll ever see. Reed said after the game he just didn’t hear the whistle.
- CBS play-by-play man Carter Blackburn was doing his best Gus Johnson right from the opening kickoff, literally, taking his voice up about 100 decibels of excitement to describe the onsides kick.
- Rick Neuheisel used the term “whippersnappers” to describe the quarterbacks. I haven’t heard that expression in more than a decade.
- A bit surprised that when CBS did the brief video highlight of Willie McClendon, the most successful Georgia senior running back, that they didn’t point out that his son Bryan was on South Carolina’s sideline, the Gamecocks receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator.
- CBS analyst Aaron Taylor mentioned that in the standard Friday production meeting that Smart seemed “tense.” Taylor was laughing as he said it, and added that Smart was confident he would deal with the added attention but worried about his team. Smart has seemed a bit more serious lately, a few less wisecracks in his news conferences.
The feeling right after the game, as I told someone on the field during postgame, was that this was completely expected: Georgia was the better team but South Carolina hung tough, and the 24-point spread set by Las Vegas was too high. The sense is this game doesn’t indicate Georgia beginning to trend in the wrong direction. There was never any real sense of danger for the Bulldogs.
Now we move to a gargantuan game. Auburn will be the best and most well-rounded team that Georgia has faced since Notre Dame, and that was a barn-burner. It would be a surprise if this one isn’t too.