Georgia football report card: Progress despite subpar execution and coaching
ATHENS — How many times have you heard that football is a game of matchups?
If anyone needed any evidence of such, all they would need to do is turn on the tape of Georgia’s 31-24 win over Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs got the most efficient passing performance of Kirby Smart’s tenure as head coach and still needed to go deep into the fourth quarter before preserving the win against an out-manned group of Maroon Bulldogs.
Coach Mike Leach and his staff surely earned a measure of respect for their schemes and preparation against a UGA team loaded with 5 stars and a staff that ranks among the best paid in the nation.
Here’s a look at how the positions graded out:
JT Daniels was amazing in his debut, 28-of-38 passing for 401 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions in the highest-rated passing outing in the nation. It was Daniels’ first game action since getting injured in the second quarter of the Aug. 31, 2019 season-opener, and only his second week in season working with the UGA starting receivers.
Running backs (B)
The “B” is for blitz pick-up, which Zamir White, Kenny McIntosh and James Cook adequately did, a thankless chore required at this special position. The run game overall was inadequate, however, as much because of how well Mississippi State prepared and out-schemed the UGA coaches in this facet. It would have taken great talent — not good — to find rushing yards Saturday.
Wide Receivers (C+)
Daniels has breathed life into this unit, so now the receivers and tight ends need to do their part and not drop touchdown passes and commit holding and illegal block penalties. Jermaine Burton was fantastic with 8 catches for 197 yards, but George Pickens and Kearis Jackson both dropped touchdown passes. Tre’ McKitty had two blocking penalties on one drive, and Darnell Washington was flagged for an illegal block.
Offensive Line (C-)
Poorest performance of the year from this unit, which was physically beat and lacked aggression in the fourth quarter. A Warren McClendon hold wiped out a first down throw, and Justin Shaffer could be seen standing still more than once at the end of plays not looking for anyone to hit. Shaffer also whiffed on a block that led to Daniels taking a hard hit and sack.
Defensive Line (B)
It was a tough task for this unit, which often played with three down against Leach’s pass-happy Air Raid. Still, Adam Anderson came up with a big third down PBU in the fourth quarter and is making the case for more and more playing time. Azeez Ojulari continued his All-American campaign with a game-clinching sack. Jermaine Johnson also had a sack. Malik Herring’s personal foul in the fourth quarter negated a fourth-quarter TFL, but the State guy took a dive and it was actually a bad call.
This unit looked completely lost and incompetent playing in zone coverage. It’s as much on the coaching for not having these elite athletes prepared with proper zone drop depth and an understanding of what Mississippi State was trying to do. Monty Rice looks a step slow, likely on account of his foot injury. Quay Walker has not made an impact. Nakobe Dean appears to be the only playmaker at linebacker.
It’s been a rough two games for senior Mark Webb, who dropped a Pick-6 in Florida and got beat on 51-yard touchdown pass against State. It was Lewis Cine’s turn to drop an interception in this game. Christopher Smith looked tentative in run support near the goal line. Tyrique Stevenson appeared to arrive a step late on plays.
Special Teams (B)
Kearis Jackson had a 30-yard kick return and Jack Podlesny drilled a 40-yard field goal. Jake Camarda had a 25-yard punt in third quarter, the second straight game he has lost his focus and shanked a punt.
It’s true that Mississippi State QB Will Rogers was making all the throws and the Maroon Bulldogs were executing well, but it’s also true that Georgia got beat at the line of scrimmage, even with the supposedly emotion-inducing black jerseys on. The zone defense looked woefully inadequate in the first half, and the play calling looked like a tug-of-war, with a incessant need to run into a stacked box on first down and put the new QB in third-and-long several times.
Out of all that, dropped touchdown passes, poor tight end blocking, subpar linebacker player and an ill-fitting zone scheme, the game still represented a step in the right direction because Georgia finally found its quarterback of the future. At least, as far as 2021 goes. That means a transition to an elite pass game is possible. The window closed on UGA’s defense leading the 2020 team to a title, and next year there will be enough reloading that Daniels and the offense will be relied upon.
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