My toddler son was watching Georgia-North Carolina on Saturday, and in comments recorded by my wife offered up this analysis: “The red ones did a good job, but the blue ones didn’t. The blue ones fell down. But the red ones did a great job.”
The feeling here was that should serve as a good enough breakdown of Georgia’s come-from-behind 33-24 victory. In case you want more, however, it’s time for our weekly season treat: The second glance, in which we rewatch the game and find details we missed from the press box, and offer some further observations about the game and the Bulldogs. Sometimes the rewatch reinforces what we thought we saw the first time. Sometimes it changes our mind on some things.
And so, from the toddler’s father, our second glance of the season opener:
- Nick Chubb and Jacob Eason are getting all the attention, but here’s the change that Jim Chaney has made that already may be the biggest improvement from last year: Isaiah McKenzie’s involvement. Maybe injuries and maturity were an inhibiting factor, but it was always a mystery why the speedy McKenzie wasn’t more involved on offense, especially last year. Not anymore. Chaney was finding every way he could to get touches for McKenzie, and he made them pay off. Chubb was the offensive MVP, obviously, but a close second was McKenzie.
- Part of Chubb’s brilliance is his ability to run within the play, wait for a hole to open up, then hit it. You could see it several times: Chubb biding his time, but not standing still, then seeing an opening and hitting it. And it all happens within a few seconds. That’s amazing vision and quick thinking by Chubb, something every great tailback has to have. And his blockers, when they know Chubb is back there, know to stay on their blocks and push just enough to keep the play going because Chubb’s going to eventually make something happen. Very often these are just for small gains, but it happens on so many plays, and it’s how you end up with 32 carries for 222 yards — and dominating time of possession.
- A key, little-mentioned play, using that example: Georgia was trailing 24-14 and had third-and-2, when Chubb took a toss and faced a clogged right side, but still waited and found the yards. Georgia scored a touchdown on the next play. If Chubb doesn’t convert that first down, what happens?
- Kirby Smart said he’s not a fullback guy. And while Christian Payne played a lot — and pretty well — it’s amazing on the rewatch just how many runs didn’t include a lead blocker. Chubb’s first touchdown, for instance, saw him take it in the single-back formation, and he just went straight ahead, with a little misdirection by a tight end in front of him. Part of that is Chaney’s faith in Chubb. But part is also what you can do when Isaiah Wynn is at left guard. (So, yes, stay tuned on whether Wynn’s leg injury later in the game was serious. Keep in mind, Chubb’s game-sealing touchdown run after Wynn left was on a pitch … to the right).
- In fact, most of Chubb’s runs to the second level were up the middle. So was Brendan Douglas’ 14-yard run that resulted in the fumble. That speaks to Wynn and center Brandon Kublanow. And notice that Brian Herrien — after his career-opening touchdown carry, which was a pitch — then had a few good runs up the middle as well.
- Yes, they used a three-tight end alignment. Fans asked if that was a possibility, given all the talent in that room for Georgia, and I usually laughed it off. And then they actually did it. Picture at left serves as proof.
- Douglas’ three runs were actually pretty good — but all overshadowed by the fumble at the end of the third run. He didn’t get carry after that. It’s too bad for him, though it led to Herrien’s breakout performance. Still, Douglas still has something to offer as a bullheaded relief back. He’s also a good pass protector. You haven’t seen the last of him in Georgia’s offense.
- Yes, the 51-yard completion to McKenzie was perfectly placed. But sometimes it’s the small throws that tell you something, too. On the second drive of the second half, on the first of many third downs, Eason completed a 7-yard throw to Michael Chigbu, and in so doing Eason stood firmly in the pocket and stepped into the throw, with purpose. That gets back to the poise and intangibles that Eason has. It’s not just a big arm.
- Chaney did a good job of building confidence with some high-percentage plays. The first one, to Terry Godwin, was a swing pass that went 23 yards. Eason also got credit for passes on what were essentially forward handoffs: 13 yards to McKenzie and the 17-yard touchdown to McKenzie, credited as Eason’s first career touchdown pass.
- Smart mentioned after the game that Eason still had trouble getting them in the right plays, and apparently that was the case on his first drive. Georgia burned a timeout before a first-down play in order to avoid a delay-of-game penalty.
- Eason also had a couple of overthrows, including a couple into double coverage he probably shouldn’t have thrown — but then again, at least he overthrew.
Let’s delve into the three sacks, all in the first quarter:
- Third play of the game: It came off play-action, a linebacker came on a slightly delayed blitz. Lambert had just looked up, and at first he tried to duck under it, but he ended up taking a 2-yard loss. Hard to tell if there was anything Lambert could have done.
- Fifth play of the game (third down): North Carolina brought edge pressure, and Georgia never formed a pocket. Again, it’s easy to say Lambert should have gotten rid of it, but the play happened quickly.
- Final play of the first quarter: Lambert looked on TV like he held the ball too long. Watching in real time, you could see all three downfield receivers were covered. What Lambert should have done is check down quickly to Douglas, who appeared open on the left sideline. It wouldn’t have gained much, but would have been the difference between second-and-8 and second-and-12. (The next play was Nauta’s drop, so that should have been a first-down pass to make up for the sack.)
Now, aside from those …
- Every now and then, Lambert makes a pass that reminds you why two different staffs have chosen him as a starter. Lambert’s first completion was a dart over the middle to McKenzie, converting a third-and-10. McKenzie went for 25 yards. Lambert had a shorter completion to Chigbu later on the drive, which eventually resulted in Chubb’s 2-yard touchdown run.
- In the third quarter, Lambert zipped a third-down pass to McKenzie over the middle, then hit Chigbu on a good sideline completion. The drive could have resulted in points, but William Ham missed the 42-yard field-goal attempt.
- Overall, Lambert remains a lightning rod for Georgia fans, having never been accepted by them. But he also didn’t really do anything to cost himself the job. He wasn’t picked off or close to it. He had some good throws. By all accounts, he ran the offense well. So whether he keeps his job is just going to come down to whether Eason was so much better — in the estimation of the coaches — that they’re ready to hand him the keys.
- Underrated: how Georgia was prepared for the hurry-up no-huddle. At the outset, Georgia forced a three-and-out, swarming the ball all three times. The second and third plays were high-percentage short passes — a receiver screen and a delayed screen — and Georgia had defensive backs around them both times.
- Thus, you could see why North Carolina was trying so hard to complete a deep ball. It was trying to stretch Georgia’s defense because the Bulldogs were bunching the line — not blitzing much, just kind of hanging and waiting. The Georgia coaches also depended on their defensive backs not to give up the deep ball by getting back on plays and being observant. Maurice Smith and company came through. It was a good game plan, perhaps risky, but it worked.
- Actually, Georgia got lucky when it came to the deep ball. There was a dropped pass by a North Carolina receiver in the second quarter that could have been an 88-yarder. (Juwuan Briscoe was a few steps behind on the play.) Another Mitch Trubisky pass, to an open Bug Howard, was a bit too far. (Safety Aaron Davis was a step behind on the play.)
- Smart was upset his secondary was depending on making plays, rather than being in better position. He said as much after the game, when I gave him a chance to compliment Smith’s play. And on the first long pass breakup, when Smith nearly had an interception near the goal line, you could see Smart shaking his head and then yelling something at the secondary.
- Smith had a great knockaway in the fourth quarter when Ryan Switzer got free down the middle. But, again, doubtless that Smart’s take on the play was UNC getting too much separation and his team having to rely on big defensive plays deep down the field.
- No sacks for Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, but good signs are there. Remember the play that overturned Aaron Davis’ runback of a Trubisky fumble, which was (correctly) ruled an incompletion? Trubisky had been flushed out by Carter and Bellamy. One of them has the sack if they’re not rushing a mobile quarterback. Against more traditional pocket quarterbacks, those two are going to get their sacks. On Saturday they were good enough to help stop Trubisky from having a Deshaun Watson-type game in which he scrambled for a lot of first downs. You know Smart was terrified of that.
- Georgia’s defensive front did a solid job of not letting North Carolina get any push. And I say front because on some plays you saw linebackers in there on the play, including Chuks Amaechi, Carter and Bellamy.
- Quiet games on the stat sheet for defensive linemen not named David Marshall, but Trent Thompson came close on a few tackles. Linemen were part of a lot of swarms up the middle. North Carolina’s surprising use of Elijah Hood — as in not using him much — contributed to the defensive linemen not racking up tackles.
- North Carolina’s first touchdown drive came by running to the edge a lot. Future opponents will watch that drive and wonder if they can try to repeat that. They’ll also see what mismatches in the secondary they can find that UNC came close to exploiting but couldn’t.
- There was a lot of subbing at inside linebacker, with Reggie Carter coming off the bench, usually for Natrez Patrick. But Roquan Smith clearly was the main guy in the group — and not just on the safety. He’s quickly become a leader back there. There also was subbing at the other outside linebacker spot, with Amaechi coming off the bench.
- Malkom Parrish just makes plays. He makes tackles when the ball comes near him, and he knocks passes away when they come near him, such as a third-down pass in the second quarter. The diminutive cornerback did the same thing last year, and he’s showing the new staff the same thing.
- D’Andre Walker not only had the booming tackle on the kickoff in the fourth quarter, he also was around the ball a lot on kickoffs, making a tackle at the 21 in the second quarter. It may be hard to find snaps for Walker on defense, given the outside linebacker depth, but he’s putting himself in position if any time opens.
- Another special-teams boo-boo that was overshadowed by bigger ones later: Parrish nailing punt returner Ryan Switzer, who had called for a fair catch, drawing a 15-yard penalty. The Tar Heels got good field position and eventually kicked a field goal.
- Oh, and a near special teams mistake that turned out to be a plus: Ham’s first kickoff, late in the third quarter, should have gone out of bounds, but North Carolina’s return man fielded it at the 12 and immediately went out of bounds.
THIS AND THAT
- Yeah, that wasn’t illegal man downfield against North Carolina, but it was called anyway, negating a first-down completion, then leading to an unsportsmanlike penalty on a ticked-off Larry Fedora. The call was on the right tackle, who is allowed to go 3 yards. Replay clearly showed he was a yard short of the 15 when the ball was thrown. Fedora was right to be angry, though a head coach has to be poised. (I’m assuming what he said deserved the penalty.) That backed up the Tar Heels, and one play later you had the safety. So the Tar Heels have a right to cry foul with the Big Ten crew, which absolutely blew the call. That said, calling that screen pass from their 4 was a highly questionable decision. Roquan Smith snuffed it out, but basically so did Georgia’s entire defense.
- The announcers didn’t get the memo that when Eason entered in the second quarter it wasn’t because Lambert had been pulled. They were pretty all-in on this being a firm switch, when everyone at Georgia knew it wasn’t the case. In fact, color analyst Brock Huard was so sure a permanent switch had occurred that he buried Lambert, offering some overly critical comments, then looked silly when Lambert re-entered. Whether Eason should have remained the guy was worth a debate. But it’s incumbent on analysts to do their research, and this crew’s handling of the quarterback switching was rather amateurish.
- Not enough attention to Smart deciding not to be a visor guy. Steve Spurrier must be disappointed.
This rewatch didn’t move the needle much in the overall view of how good Georgia is or can be. The defense can be stout but has some concerns. The offense should be great running the ball, especially when Sony Michel is added to the mix. The passing game may be a bit better than expected, but questions linger at receiver and, yes, quarterback. (Unlike fans, Smart and Chaney probably don’t consider this a slam-dunk decision, as evidenced by Lambert finishing the game.) And special teams is a huge question mark.
The next two weeks will be critical for Smart and the Bulldogs. They play two winnable games, especially next week, but need to set themselves up for the season-defining two-game stretch against Ole Miss and Tennessee. (And don’t sleep on the trip to Missouri, either.)
Georgia looked like a good team Saturday and a resilient one. Can it be great? This performance didn’t say yes. But it definitely didn’t say no.