Tyrique Stevenson and the learning curve highlight what we learned about UGA this week
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What we learned about Georgia football heading into South Carolina
Quarterback: Even if Jake Fromm’s stats don’t compare to that of the other elite quarterbacks, the junior signal-caller has gotten off to an outstanding start this season. He’s one of only six quarterbacks who has not yet thrown an interception on the season with a minimum of 100 pass attempts.
He’s thrown 8 touchdowns while also completing 77.5 percent of his passes, the second-best mark in the country. And according to teammate Tyler Simmons, the biggest reason for Fromm’s success is because of all the work he puts in prior to stepping onto the field on Saturdays.
“Just his knowledge of the game. Being able to watch film and see what our opponent likes to do,” Simmons on what Fromm does best. “Once we get into game time, he knows their tendencies so he’s able to check-in and out of plays. That’s his biggest thing, he’s just a student of the game who always wants to learn more.”
Running back: Senior Brian Herrien was asked to describe his running style when he met with the media this week. And his answer was very similar to how Kirby Smart wants his Georgia team to play over the course of a four-quarter game.
“I kind of like to bruise, I kind of just want to hit the defense as much as I can so then as the game goes on, the defense is going to want to come back making the same tackles,” Herrien said.”They’ll kind of get to the side, hesitate a little bit and at that point, I can just run by them.”
Herrien had a career-best effort against Tennessee this past week, as he racked up 88 yards and a touchdown. To Herrien’s point about wearing down the opposing team, Georgia has outscored opponents 84-17 in the second half. That’s the type of margin that a team that wants to wear you down over the course of a game should have. Against Power Five opponents, that score is 42-7.
Pass catchers: While Georgia’s wide receiver room is drastically different from what it was a season ago, the group seems to have done a good job of developing chemistry with Fromm. One such example has been on the number of back-shoulder throws Georgia has been able to make. In the last two games alone, wide receiver Lawrence Cager has hauled in a touchdown on these types of throws.
And Smart said that trust, for both the wide receiver and quarterback, is a big reason why these plays have worked so well.
“I think it’s timing, it’s trust, it’s beating a guy off the line so he that has to play catch up,” Smart said. “Because the harder the guy has to run to catch up and get with you, the better chance you’ve got of hitting the back shoulder. If you never threaten him vertically he’s probably not going to be real afraid of a back shoulder.”
Offensive line: Much has been about Georgia’s struggles in short-yardage situations. The Bulldogs were stuffed on a fourth and short situation against Tennessee, and on the season Georgia is only 10 of 21 in short-yardage — two yards or fewer — situations. That’s a 47.6 success rate, well below Georgia’s stated goal of 100 percent.
However, not everyone agrees that the issue falls solely at the feet of Georgia’s offensive line. Ben Cleveland offered a well-reasoned explanation of what he thought of Georgia’s ability in short-yardage situations.
“I don’t think it really has been a problem to get a yard or two,” Cleveland said. “Sometimes the defense just lines up in a way we haven’t prepared for. I feel like we are doing most everything right out front. Coming off low, coming off the ball sometimes the defense lines it up just right.”
In fairness to Cleveland, the offensive line has been juggled around quite a bit due to injuries. Isaiah Wilson was back starting at right tackle for the Tennessee game but it sounds like the Bulldogs will once again start Justin Shaffer at the left guard spot as Solomon Kindley is still recovering from an injury he suffered against Notre Dame.
Defensive line: Georgia’s rush defense has been much improved from a season ago, as the Bulldogs are giving up an average of 59.6 rushing yards per game. That’s good for fifth in the country, and up from 31st where the Bulldogs sat at the end of the 2018 season.
And the veteran and improved defensive line is a big reason for that. The Bulldogs are getting a much better effort out of the likes of Michael Barnett, Tyler Clark, Malik Herring and Jordan Davis. The group recognizes that if Georgia is going to continue to play well against the run, it will fall on the shoulders of the defensive line.
“Really it starts up front with us,” Barnett said. “We just have to hold the points and read blocks and making sure nothing comes in our gaps and making sure we push everything that’s supposed to come on the inside to the outside and let the outside defenders handle what they’ve got to handle. I feel like I did pretty good [this season] but there’s always room for improvement.”
Davis did pick up an ankle injury in the Tennessee game, but the indications from Smart are that he will be able to play against the Gamecocks. To date, South Carolina is the best rushing offense Georgia will have faced as the Gamecocks come in averaging over 200 rushing yards per game.
Outside linebacker: Georgia’s most inexperienced position group is its outside linebackers, as junior Walter Grant is the only player that had any significant experience coming into the season. But with redshirt freshman Azeez Ojulari returning from injury and the production from newcomers Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson, Georgia’s pass rush has taken a step forward this season.
“Them young wolves we got in that room, they’ll get after you,” Georgia defensive back Richard LeCounte said. “I’m so proud of them, third down, first down, I know they’re gonna get after the quarterback.”
Through the first five games, the Bulldogs have registered 15 sacks. Through the first five games of the 2018 season, Georgia had only 5.0 sacks. Ojulari has been a big reason for the improvement, as he’s racked up 3.5 sacks already this season. Of the 15 sacks, 8.5 have come from the outside linebackers. Last year, Georgia’s outside linebackers had just 10 sacks for the entire season, with D’Andre Walker registering 7.5 of those.
Inside linebacker: Tae Crowder is one of the few remaining Mark Richt signees. He’s changed positions multiple times, moving from wide receiver to running back and now to linebacker.
And when he found his way into the endzone on Saturday against Tennessee, it really made Smart smile, given all the senior has been through to get to this point.
It’s awesome,” Smart said. “He’s come so far, and he’s such a great story in college football for perseverance and sticking it out and staying and looking to see what he’s done, it’s pretty awesome when you think about that.”
Crowder, slowly but surely, has become a key starter for the Bulldogs at the inside linebacker position. On the season, Crowder has 18 total tackles, including 2.5 for loss. Only Ojulari has more on the Georgia team.
Smart recalled that when he first got to Georgia, he knew Crowder wasn’t going to stick at running back. And when he first moved to the linebacker spot, Crowder wasn’t super into the contact elements of the position. But after how he played against the Volunteers, Smart figured that the best Georgia linebacker of all-time would be proud of the way he’s played.
“I know his best buddy Roquan (Smith), his roommate, was probably watching him tonight, proud of him,” Smart said.
Defensive backs: When Smart was asked about his cornerbacks in August, he always made it a point to include freshman Tyrique Stevenson among the discussion. The freshman from Miami would always be mentioned in conjunction with D.J. Daniel and starters Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes.
But Stevenson hasn’t been playing as much defensively as those other three players. With Campbell missing time due to a foot injury, Daniel has taken over most of his reps. But even when Stokes missed a large chunk of the Notre Dame game with a knee injury, it was senior safety Tyrique McGhee who filled in.
This week, Smart gave an update on Stevenson and pointed that he’s still only a freshman in his first season in Athens.
“Tyrique Stevenson is growing up, he’s working hard, he’s starting on a couple of special teams and he’s making some spectacular plays at times,” Smart said. “Others, he’s still learning our defense and understand what he’s got to do for leverage. But he’s just as talented as when he came out of high school, but sometimes I don’t believe you guys actually believe there’s curve, a learning curve that he has to go through.”
Stevenson was the No. 37 overall player in the 2019 recruiting cycle. However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s not yet playing at a Deandre Baker level. One just has to look to last year when Campbell struggled early on. But prior to the sophomore’s foot injury, he showed great improvement in 2019. The expectation here is that Campbell won’t be ready to go against South Carolina, meaning we’ll see Daniel starting once again.
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- LOOK: UGA fans will get a laugh out of Notre Dame band’s new ‘initiative’
- What the national media is saying about Georgia football going into the South Carolina game
- WATCH: Georgia defense braces for South Carolina ‘Pin and Pull’ rush attack
- The 6 best Georgia football players to this point in the 2019 season
- WATCH: Georgia OL ‘Big’ Ben Cleveland not a fan of Jake Fromm’s singing
- WATCH: How 2019 sets up as Georgia football championship season
- Georgia football short-yardage struggles ‘unacceptable’
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