At Second Glance: The fault in Georgia’s play-calling, its inability to be in sync, and the larger takeaway
The one time Saturday the SEC Network showed Georgia’s offensive coordinator for an extended period of time, Jim Chaney was laughing, and heartily so. It was in between plays, and unclear why he was laughing.
The cameras didn’t catch Chaney in the final minute, or after the game. This reporter only saw him and a few of his fellow offensive coaches leaving the stadium. They were not laughing.
There was plenty of blame to go around for what happened to Georgia Saturday, and our weekly re-watch of the game revealed some more, while tempering the blame on others. But much of the focus is on that final play call, so let’s begin there:
THE FOURTH-DOWN PLAY
What turned out to be the final play call wasn’t actually the initial choice. But both the call that wasn’t used and the one that was revealed the thinking: A lack of confidence in the traditional run game.
At first, heading into fourth-and-1, Georgia was lining up four-wide with Sony Michel the lone back. It actually looked a bit like the game-winning touchdown at Missouri, with Isaiah McKenie in the slot. But the Bulldogs clearly didn’t feel good about their play call – or their ability to audible into a better one – because they called timeout with 17 seconds still left on the play clock.
In any event, we all know what happened next: Georgia switches to the toss sweep to McKenzie, who motioned from the slot to tailback, with Nick Chubb at fullback. Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason calls timeout with 13 seconds on the play clock. Georgia re-takes the field after 30 seconds, lines up in the same formation, and when McKenzie again motions into the backfield, the Commodores know the same play is coming.
But that doesn’t mean they could automatically stop it. And they wouldn’t have if Zach Cunningham didn’t make a great play. He began the play lined up over the center-right guard gap, then streaking to his left and making the play. If he doesn’t, McKenzie would have run into field goal range, and more.
But why didn’t Georgia get Cunningham? Center Brandon Kublanow, who went to his right after the snap, was on Cunningham’s back but at too awkward an angle, and not fast enough, to get him down.
Chubb, meanwhile, didn’t block anyone on the play. Chubb – not exactly used to being a lead blocker – looked like he had his eye on one specific defender, and when he saw him picked up he looked downfield, rather than to see if anyone else was coming. It looked like Cunningham was out of Chubb’s vision, and by the time he saw him Chubb was ahead of the play.
The verdict: Given Georgia’s run-game troubles (more on that shortly) it’s no surprise Chaney dialed up an outside run. But this play was too cute on both ends: Either give the ball to Chubb or get him off the field. If you need a lead blocker on one play, use fullback Christian Payne or at least someone more used to lead blocking. And while McKenzie gives you speed to the edge, giving the ball to Chubb or Michel would mean somebody better suited to shed the initial tackler and perhaps get the extra yard.
Georgia is in a conundrum: It wants to be a physical, pro-style offense, and it has two great tailbacks. But its just not a physical offense, and its quarterback prefers the shot-gun. This game was another example of the warring philosophies.
Was Chaney too predictable in his play-calling? Yes, it began the game run-run-pass on its first two drives, both resulting in three-and-outs. But as the game went on, Georgia did pass the ball a lot on first down.
It just should’ve done it more.
On first down, Georgia ran it and passed it equally, 15 times each, though four of the passes were on the game’s final drive. First down passes were wildly successful: 12-for-15 for 161 yards and a touchdown.
But the first-down runs were wildly unsuccessful: 15 for 36 yards.
Georgia ended up in second-and-long (longer than 7 yards to go) more times (13) as it was in second-and-short or second-and-medium (nine times combined). Even worse, the Bulldogs only had four third-and-shorts, as defined as three or yards less to go. Yes, only four times the whole game.
That’s a product of running too much on first down, and when doing so, not running it well. On the other hand, Georgia’s lone touchdown was on a first-down pass. The play before it was a 28-yard pass – on first down.
Anyway, if you need me to show my work, here it is (with yardage noted just on the first-down plays, and some notable others):
First downs: Run (4), Run (0), Pass (16 yards), Pass (12), Run (2), Run (2), Pass (speed sweep to McKenzie for 17), Run (-3), Run (0), Run (0), Run (8, a good run by Michel with little room), Pass (incomplete), Run (-1), Run (5), Run (-1), Pass (21, jet sweep to McKenie), Run (2), Pass (28), Pass (17-TD), Run (11), Pass (4, McKenzie jet sweep), Pass (9), Pass (7), Pass (13), Run (6), Run (1), Pass (7), Pass (10), Pass (Inc), Pass (Inc.).
Second and short (1-3 yards to go): Run, Run, Run, Run, Pass.
Second and middle (4-7 yards to go): Run, Run, Run, Run.
Second and long (8 or more yards to go): Run, Pass, Run, Pass, Pass, Run, Run, Pass, Pass, Run, Pass, Pass, Pass,
Third and short: Run (-1), Pass (6), Pass (13), Pass (Inc, drop).
Third and middle: Pass deep, Pass, Pass (Eason sacked for 11 yard loss), Run,
Third and long: Pass (Inc., bad snap), Pass (Eason scrambled), Pass, Pass, Pass, Pass, Pass
Another observation: Jacob Eason continues to be much better in the shot-gun. That said, the lone touchdown pass – the 18-yarder to Isaac Nauta – was from under center, using play-action. So was a 13-yard pass to Nauta on third-and-1.
But overall, the predictability of the offense remains. I didn’t chart formations, but having done so in previous weeks, it once again seems that most of the time the look of the formation gives away the play call. When it was mixed up – like on the play-action touchdown pass, or some runs out of the shot-gun – the results were good. Otherwise, it was too predictable.
Georgia’s run blocking was much better the previous two weeks, but look at where Tennessee and South Carolina rank as run defenses: 13th and 14th in the SEC. The two worst. Vanderbilt is eighth, and on Saturday the running lanes just weren’t there. The line wasn’t getting a push, and the guards and center weren’t getting outside to set the edge. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the run-game success those two weeks may have been an aberration. Florida, incidentally, ranks fourth in that category.
Let’s go to bullet-points:
- On the opening kickoff, Darrius Sims wasn’t touched until Reggie Davis leg-tackled him at the end of the run, at the 4. What went wrong? Georgia appeared over-extended and over-excited. It had too many men to that side of the field – eight were either on the far left hash or to the left of it – and Sims made the cut to the left side at just the right time, to a side of the field where only a couple men were, and he was able to easily run by them. So either the kickoff wasn’t in the right spot, or Georgia over-extended its coverage to that side, or too many guys didn’t stay in their lanes.
- The coverage on the next kickoff, late in the first quarter, was much more – shall we say – restrained, with the Bulldogs appearing to hang back more, then encircling him around the 20, eventually bringing him down at the 29.
- Reggie Davis didn’t actually field the second-half kickoff while out of bounds. He was in bounds, but once he caught it he took a small step to the right, landing out of bounds. That doesn’t change that the ball was either going out of bounds or just by the pylon for a touchback.
- Ah, the excitable D’Andre Walker: He was the player offsides on the opening kickoff, and that was with him realizing it at the last second and trying to stop himself, to no avail. Has Walker been penalized in every game so far? Maybe not, but it sure seems like it.
- Davis obviously cost the team big time with the second-half opening kickoff, but he otherwise had a good game. He made a tough catch on third down to set up the second field goal, and did a good job hauling in a 32-yard catch on the sideline near the end of the first half. He also deserves credit for the first-half opening kickoff, staying with the play and making the tackle at the 4. Georgia’s defense didn’t make the goal-line stand, but if it had, like last year against Missouri, it would’ve been the difference and Davis would be remembered the way Kenneth Towns was for his goal-line tackle in the Missouri game.
- McKenzie muffed one punt, then recovered it, then bobbled a second one. Remember, the previous staff didn’t put him back there for every punt because they worried about his dependability. It’s still probably a risk worth taking, considering McKenzie’s abilities. But some drama comes with the territory.
- Regarding punt returns, Kirby Smart told the SEC Network sideline announcer that they were having trouble against Vanderbilt’s Rugby-style punter. Thing is, that’s something they should have been prepared for, right?
- Regarding the 37-yard catch-and-run by Ralph Webb, which set up Vanderbilt’s go-ahead touchdown: Kirby Smart mentioned after the game that the staff thought it was coming, and warned the team, but that the man assigned to stop the tailback screen didn’t do it. It’s hard to tell from the replay who that was. Chuks Amaechi was closest but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was him. Either way, Webb had a lot of room, and it sure didn’t look like the Bulldogs knew it was coming.
- Jonathan Ledbetter played very well. Really well. On one of his first plays, a third-and-long, Ledbetter swallowed up two blockers – with a third briefly coming to help. The play ended up a Lorenzo Carter sack, with Carter on a delayed blitz going through an area opened up by the blockers who were on Ledbetter. In fact, Carter’s second sack was also on a delayed blitz, and Ledbetter was on the field for that one too. Later in the second quarter, Ledbetter pushed through his man and got to Ralph Webb two yards behind the line of scrimmage, forcing the loss. Natrez Patrick came on and was given a split TFL with Ledbetter, but really it was all Ledbetter.
- Kirby Smart continues to be in the middle of the defensive huddle. During one timeout, late in the second half, the defensive staff, including Mel Tucker, was also on the outskirts of the huddle. But Smart was right in the middle of it. Maybe it’s a different story behind closed doors, and in planning meetings, but on gamedays it sure seems like Smart is the defensive coordinator.
- Vanderbilt got 130 of its 185 yards on two drives: The 85-yard scoring drive, and a 45-yard drive at the end of the second quarter, which was a critical drive because it started on the 3, and used up clock. On that first drive, Vanderbilt tried very little downfield, instead relying on outside runs and some short timing passes.
- Juwuan Briscoe always seems just one step behind the receiver. But it’s a critical step. He nearly gave up a deep bomb in the third quarter, but Kyle Shurmur’s throw to Kalija Lipscomb was underthrown. But on Lipscomb’s 27-yard catch in the fourth quarter, Briscoe played way too loose, letting Limpscomb get wide open in the middle.
- Credit to Vanderbilt for something very important: It never turned it over. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur only came close to one interception, and that was on a third-down deep pass. The Commodores did just barely enough.
THIS AND THAT
OK, so about the weird sequence at the end of the first half, when Georgia twice lined up for field goals – changing holders because Jacob Eason temporarily had an injured hand, to Brice Ramsey, who also has an injured hand – and then trying for the Hail Mary after all. This isn’t so much from re-watching the game, but Kirby Smart said afterwards that the reason he went to the Hail Mary was because Vanderbilt sent a man back to return a 54-yard field goal try.
“From my history, that’s a no-no,” Smart said, alluding to the Kick-Six that allowed Auburn to beat Alabama in 2013.
But apparently it was such a hastily-called Hail Mary that two of the three receivers near the ball were 5-7 Isaiah McKenie and 5-10 Terry Godwin. The other one was the 6-1 Riley Ridley. No Javon Wims. Predictably, the play went nowhere.
- The riddle of Jayson Stanley: He has now started four games, including the Vanderbilt game, but has zero catches this year, and hardly ever gets targeted. When he’s in there it’s usually a run play. Maybe opponents have figured this out too?(Stanley should have had a touchdown in the third quarter, but Eason didn’t see him streaking open down the left sideline and instead hit his first option, Nauta, for a 9-yard gain. If Eason sees him and Stanley catches it, the score is 20-10 at that point, and the tone around Athens these days might be much different.)
- Having praised Matt Stinchcomb in this space before, I’d also like to compliment Dave Neal for his play-by-play. There’s something to be said for someone who just gets the job done, does his research, hardly ever mispronounces a name, and by the way has a good voice. Full disclosure: I’ve always gotten along well with Neal personally, as well as Stinchcomb. But I get along with a lot of people I don’t publicly compliment.
- I’ll admit, I rewound to watch the Steve Spurrier Dr. Pepper commercial. Not surprisingly, the Head Ball Coach has some acting chops.
- Georgia’s second field goal, early in the second quarter, was set up by the third-down pass that caromed off Isaac Nauta and went right to Riley Ridley, for a 26-yard gain. On closer inspection, it was a slightly high throw by Eason, but Nauta should have caught it. Luckily for the Bulldogs he didn’t. Anyway, that was one of those early key plays that gets overshadowed by later events.
- Along those lines, one more: The muffed punt snap – muffed by the punter, Sam Loy, that Loy somehow still managed to get the punt off. Lorenzo Carter couldn’t bring him down, and Brendan Douglas was a fingertip away from deflecting Loy’s panicked punt. If either Carter gets him or Douglas blocks it, Georgia takes over in great field position, and who knows what happens with the complexion of the rest of the game.
Georgia just can’t get its run and pass game going at the same time. Nor can it sync up its offense and defense in the same game. And on special teams, just when the field goals finally start being made, everything else falls apart.
That’s what kind of season it’s turning out to be. But that’s not bad luck. It’s a sign of a mediocre team.
Consider this: Georgia is doing all this – a 4-3 record, a close win to Nicholls State, no convincing victories, and now a loss to Vanderbilt – despite having a plus-5 turnover margin for the season, and being relatively lucky on the injury front. So it’s actually had two major things go its way, and it’s still struggling.
Not good. Not good at all.