In the run-up to the game against Mississippi State, Kirby Smart linked the Bulldogs’ offense to that of the triple-option offense that Georgia Tech used to run under Paul Johnson.
While the latter ran the ball as often as Mike Leach’s team threw it on Saturday, they both have the same end goal. Bit by bit, pick up yardage to put the offense in better down and distance situations.
When the defense gets frustrated by the constant gains, it changes up its coverage, and then you hit them for a big play.
That’s exactly what Mississippi State did for much of the first three quarters on Saturday night.
“It’s tough being patient because we told ourselves and every team we talked to said the same thing, you’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to be patient,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
You could at times see when patience ran thin for the Georgia defense, as defenders were shouting at each other. Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean said afterward this was the first time he had played an Air Raid offense like this one. Lewis Cine noted that Georgia’s traditionally man-to-man defense was forced into dropping eight defenders into zone coverage for much of the first half.
Georgia tried to switch things up and play their aggressive man-to-man style at times. Then just before halftime, Mississippi State hit on a 51-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Walley to take a 17-10 lead.
“We played man a couple of snaps but one of the snaps we played was a big touchdown,” Smart said. “It’s like, ‘Golly, any time you go to change it, bam they hit you.’ It’s just not worth it.”
The Bulldogs then scored again on their first drive of the second half. To that point, Mississippi State had scored 24 points on six drives, with one of those drives being a kneel down at the end of the first half.
The overall stats don’t paint a pretty picture for the Georgia defense. Mississippi State freshman quarterback Will Rogers completed 41 of his 52 passes for 336 yards. It’s the third time in the last four games an opposing quarterback has topped the 300-yard number.
What’s most notable about Rogers’ performance was that he didn’t turn the ball over. Coming into the game Mississippi State’s quarterbacks had thrown 14 interceptions. But Georgia’s secondary wasn’t able to come up with an interception, with the best chance of the night bouncing off of Cine’s hands.
Cine reiterated that the goal was to keep Mississippi State in front of them all night. For the most part that worked, as Mississippi State had to grind out drives to get into scoring position. But it went 7-of-13 on third-down, keeping them in the game and keeping Georgia’s offense with JT Daniels off the field.
That paired with Rogers’ clean game left Georgia’s defense in a spot where they executed the game plan to a win, but still not well enough to impress.
“We know we have to execute better,” Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean said. “I do sort of put that on the shoulders of the linebackers and the leaders of the defense. We know we have to execute better and play better.”
Georgia won’t face an offense like Mississippi State for the rest of the season. That’s likely a good thing given how Georgia played on Saturday. Because while the defense ultimately figured out what Mississippi State was doing, it still did enough damage to keep Mississippi State in the game longer than its talent and man-power indicated.
Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean lays out issues with Georgia defense