ATHENS – Perhaps the Georgia Bulldogs should just run their 2-minute offense from the jump. Why wait until there’s actually only that much time left in a half?
The Bulldogs seem to be at their best when racing the clock. That was the case again Saturday night as Georgia had scoring drives of 15 seconds, 1:04, 1:30, 2:46 and 3:15 in dispatching a pesky Vanderbilt team 41-13 at Sanford Stadium.
The key drive of the game came on Georgia’s final possession of the first half when quarterback Jake Fromm drove the Bulldogs 75 yards in just more than a minute with no timeouts remaining. Georgia got the ball to start the second half and then mounted a relatively time-consuming drive of 3:15 to effectively put the game away early in the third quarter.
Tight end Isaac Nauta, for one, thinks that’s the way the Bulldogs should go.
“Yeah, absolutely. We need to do that the whole game,” said Nauta, who had two catches for 40 yards on the night, including a 28-yarder to set up the final touchdown of the first half. “We need to come out hot and stay hot and put teams away early. We can’t keep them hanging and around and keep giving them hope.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart scoffed at such a notion. But he was complimentary of the work Fromm did there and what it did to jumpstart what started as another bland offensive night.
“I thought it created some momentum,” Smart said of Fromm’s work in the hurry-up offense. “I thought Jake did a great job of managing the clock. You think about [how] we didn’t have any timeouts because we’d burned all those. So he did a good job of managing that and functioning in it.”
“Everybody says, ‘Why don’t you do that all the time?” Smart said. “Well, they don’t play the same defense all the time as two-minute drives. If it was that easy I think we’d do that all the time. … But I think Jake operates well from pace of play and being able to get the ball out. I think it also helps when the defense is a little worn down and we’ve been chopping wood for two quarters.”
It was a big night for Georgia’s offense – the biggest of the season, in fact. The Bulldogs rolled up 560 total yards, most of which were logged and accounted for before they lifted their foot off Vanderbilt’s neck when the third quarter expired.
Fromm did not play after coming in for two plays on Georgia’s second possession of the third quarter. He finished with a season-best 276 yards on 17-of-23 passing with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Freshman Justin Fields took over the rest of the third and also sat after playing Georgia’s first five plays of the fourth quarter. He was 3-of-6 passing for 53 yards and added 18 yards on four rushes.
Georgia had a season-high 341 yards passing in the game.
“Gosh, honestly, if you had told me that we’d come in here throwing that much I’d have been a little surprised,” Fromm said. “But, you know, they called it, so let’s go out execute on offense. Just trying to put the ball in our playmakers’ hands and let those guys make the plays.”
That was a good strategy, for sure. Fromm hit Terry Godwin for a 75-yard touchdown just 4:45 into the game. Godwin hauled in the pass at about the 35-yard line, then shook two would-be tacklers in the final 10 yards.
“I mean, Fromm, he’s been doing that all year,” Godwin said. “He’s been out there doing that in practice every day and we’ve been making catches. It just showed tonight. We just relied on it a little more than the running game this week.”
Said Fromm: “It was what we needed and got the place pumping.”
The amazing part is Georgia was able to operate at such a level on offense while more linemen went down with injuries. Starting left guard Solomon Kindley left the game with what appeared to be serious knee injury early in the first half. On the same play, Lamont Gaillard had to left the game with a hand injury that required X-rays.
Gaillard returned, and sophomore Justin Shaffer played most of the game at left guard. Freshman Trey Hill played center while Gaillard was getting his hand examined.
“They definitely did good,” Gaillard said. “We preach to them, if somebody goes down, y’all have to be ready to play. They did and did a good job and went out and played just like we wanted to.”
It wasn’t all lollipops and balloons for Georgia’s offense either. Twice they were whistled for push-after-whistle personal fouls that impacted drives and the Bulldogs were whistled a season-high 13 times for a season-high 115 yards in penalties.
“Obviously, waaaaay too many penalties,” Smart said. “… There’s always a disruption in flow when you have penalties. I mean, you get 20 and you give up 15. You get 10 and give up five. It’s like a constant war with ourselves to overcome things. Good football teams don’t beat themselves. We were obviously doing all we could to beat ourselves tonight with some really stupid, undisciplined penalties, which we’ve got to grow out of.”
Yet when they weren’t self-destructing, “our guys as continue to grow and get better, and I’m excited about where this team can go if they continue to get better from here,” Smart said.
That’s what Nauta was thinking about. What if the Bulldogs could start fast and then keep it going a while?
Just as long they continue to kick it into gear at some point. Georgia has out-scored opponents 89-13 in the second quarter and 72-21 in the third this season.
“The one thing that is great about this team is we come out in the second half and we’ve been able to close everything out so far,” Nauta said. “I don’t know how many times we’ve come out in the second half and scored on the opening drive, but it’s huge to get the ball rolling in the second half. But we need to start faster and stay hot earlier.”
The Bulldogs sense they’re getting very close to putting it all together.
“We’re starting to kind of hit that stride on offense and getting faster and faster,” Fromm said. “So, it’s exciting to see and it’s some momentum we need to grow off of.”
Next Saturday in Baton Rouge would be a wonderful time to start.