ATHENS — Georgia passed another test on Saturday against Texas A&M, but you can bet there will be plenty of red marks when they grade the film.
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (10-1, 7-1 SEC) beat the No. 24 Aggies (7-4, 4-3) by a 19-13 count, holding on at Sanford Stadium to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Kirby Smart opened his press conference talking abut the fans at Sanford Stadium, who came through with strategic noise once again. They contributed to four Texas A&M false starts and two delay of game penalties.
But when it came to his team, Smart had mixed reviews.
The Georgia head coach was proud of the resilience and some individual efforts from his seniors, Rodrigo Blankenship and Tyler Clark, in particular.
But Smart made it clear there’s work to be done, one step at a time.
“The message this week was the next step is the most important step,” Smart said. “We showed the guys some clips of a guy that broke his leg on a mountain in 1989, who was 29,000 feet in the air, and all he talked about was the next step, until he got down.
“So for us, the next step is the most important step, and that was tonight. And now we’ll move on to the next.”
And we’ll move on to one viewpoint on position grades.
Jake Fromm managed the game effectively, even though he had some misses on passes he normally completes 99 times out of 100. Fromm’s inability to throw in the rain is puzzling at this stage of his career. The UGA quarterback finished 11-of-23 passing for 163 yards and a touchdown, and hopefully with a burning desire to run out the next time it rains and practice.
Running backs (A-)
D’Andre Swift put the team on his shoulders and carried the Bulldogs home to victory, 19 carries for 103 yards against a stacked box all night long. Swift also plucked a somewhat errant Fromm pass out of the air on a late-game drive, finishing with a team-high 4 catches for 29 yards. Brian Herrien came up with a clutch short-yardage, third-down conversion. Zamir White was the minus, running the wrong way on a handoff, something that shouldn’t happen the 10th game of the season.
George Pickens is coming into his own, making two catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. Pickens got away with a facemark on his release on the 16-yard TD catch. His other catch was a 41-yarder on a fly route. Kearis Jackson had a 22-yard catch on a back shoulder pass, but he also dropped what would have been a first down catch on a slant. Tyler Simmons made a tumbling 27-yard third down conversion catch on UGA’s only TD drive.
Offensive line (B)
It wasn’t the most dominant performance, but this looks like a beat up group and it played like it at times. Fromm was sacked twice, and the holes weren’t always there. Solomon Kindley gave up a sack on what appeared to be a routine twist. There was an snap that Fromm wasn’t ready for, but it’s hard to determine where the fault was at. It appeared a Texas A&M linebacker clapped to trigger the snap.
Defensive line (A)
The most under-appreciated position group on the team came up with the biggest and best performance on Senior Day. Tyler Clark knifed through for a 10-yard sack to help stop a late Texas A&M drive. Jordan Davis had a QB sack, and Devonte Wyatt and Azeez Ojulari had two tackles. Gap control was outstanding, the Aggies finishing with minus-1 yard rushing.
Another strong performance from Monty Rice, who made five stops including a tackle-for-loss. Senior Tae Crowder had a pass break-up and four tackles in his final appearance in Sanford Stadium, including a TD-saving tackle.
Richard LeCounte forced and recovered a fumble on Texas A&M’s first possession of the second half. It was the only turnover the Bulldogs forced on the Aggies. Tyson Campbell stepped in and played well in place of injured Eric Stokes, and DJ Daniel has proven more than a stop-gap player, laying big hits and making key pass break-ups. Tyrique Stevenson made a huge pass break-up, but Smart said he had broken assignments on other plays.
Special Teams (A)
Rodrigo Blankenship was outstanding and truly part of the winning formula, making four field goals including a 49-yarder in the rain to help lift Georgia to the win. Jake Camarda was outstanding under pressure again, his 54-yard boot in the first quarter flipping the field. Brian Herrien supplied a 41-yard kick return.
A win is a win, and this was another game of survival for the Bulldogs, who were able to get by despite not playing go-to receiver Lawrence Cager (shoulder) and keeping Cade Mays off the line. Smart knows his offense must improve, but also, so must his defense. Georgia’s version of zone defense is among the most forgiving in recent memory, yielding yardage in huge chunks and enabling opponents’ comebacks. Smart said this season’s team would be a work in progress, and he was right.