What’s wrong with Georgia’s offense? As happy (or, more accurately, relieved) as fans were Saturday night, the continuing decline of production when the Dawgs have the ball was the main question the Bulldog Nation was debating in the aftermath of a nail-biter victory eked out over Mizzou.
With a stout Florida defense awaiting, the first Dawgs win without the benefit of scoring a touchdown in 20 years wasn’t very comforting — that old coach-player bromide “A win is a win” to the contrary.
The two culprits drawing most of the fan fire were the two most obvious differences from last year, when UGA was still a point-scoring machine: quarterback Greyson Lambert and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Since the QB is a magnet for just about all criticism of a college football offense, many pointed to Lambert, with a few deluded souls calling in to the postgame “Dawg Talk” even wondering why Brice Ramsey isn’t given another shot. (These folks apparently have memory retention problems or didn’t see Ramsey’s cataclysmic entry into the Alabama game.)
For better or worse, Lambert is and is likely to remain the QB, but that’s more a statement about the underwhelming talent Georgia has at hand at that position than an endorsement. He still tends to lock in and stare down his primary receiver, not adequately surveying the field or taking note of who’s breaking open and where the linebackers are.
And, while he showed again Saturday that he’s capable of making a difficult throw, he also tends to hurry and underthrow his check-down passes. Much of the time, Lambert’s fundamentals are lacking, as he panics under pressure and whips the ball out there off his back foot.
On the other hand, he’s been lucky in at least one respect: interceptions. While Lambert threw a pick on the first offensive play of the game Saturday night, he could have had at least four other passes intercepted (which also could be said in several other games, too).
The other whipping boy in this week’s postgame discussions was Schottenheimer, who made some puzzling (or downright poor) play calls against the Tigers. While it might have been Lambert’s decision to check out of a running play during one of the brief times the Georgia ground game was working, and instead take another shot at that receiver bubble screen that Missouri had been stuffing all night, it was Schotty who allowed him that run-pass option. The play required a true freshman receiver to hold a block for too long; thus, it never worked, no matter how many times Georgia tried it.
As Mark Richt put it after the game: “There’s times we’ve just got to call the run and run the run.”
And then there were those ultra conservative calls that led one to conclude the Dawgs were playing for field goals in a defensive struggle that might have made ole Erk smile. Of course, part of that appeared to be the offensive coordinator not trusting Lambert’s ability to make the needed throw. How else do you explain running the ball on third-and13?
But Schotty’s insistence on trying to run up the middle when every opponent is stacking the box to prevent that seems more stubborn than persistent. And it’s become very predictable: You know on either first or second down that the Dawgs are going to run it up the middle — and the opposing defenders know it, too.
Georgia did improve its third-down conversion rate considerably from the week before, and dominated time of possession, but the Dawgs couldn’t punch it in, even when they had first-and-goal at the 5.
Back when Schottenheimer was hired, I tried to take a positive view of his abilities, despite several folks who watch the NFL a lot more than I do telling me that he was an extremely unimaginative playcaller. Unfortunately, as this season progresses, their evaluation of him looks more and more on the money.
At least the defense looked a lot better against Missouri, I heard quite a few fans say. And that’s true. The Georgia D opened the game denying a touchdown to the Tigers, who had first-and-goal inside the 1-yard line.
And, with the exception of one drive when Mizzou’s QB found receivers wide open in the middle of the UGA zone defense, the Bulldogs pretty much shut down the Missouri offense all night. Leonard Floyd also looked like his old self and had a couple of key tackles for loss. And Jake Ganus had another strong game.
However, before we get too excited about that, it should be noted that Mizzou has the third-worst offense in the country. The Dawgs’ defense looking good against them might be as reflective of future performances as Georgia’s offense looking great against South Carolina.
As for the rest of the team, the offensive line had a fairly poor night, failing to get much push or open holes on running plays. Mizzou has one of the SEC’s better defenses and they made senior OL John Theus look like a freshman much of the night.
Special teams play was better, thanks to Malcolm Mitchell forcing a Tigers fumble on a punt and Terry Godwin getting a couple of really nice returns (in addition to joining Mitchell in catching some key passes). But while Marshall Morgan scored all of Georgia’s points on field goals, he missed a chip shot and muffed an onside kick by not getting the ball to travel 10 yards.
Back on the positive side, kudos are due to the homecoming crowd, which stayed till the end and stayed very loud in the fourth quarter.
All in all, though, it wasn’t exactly an encouraging night for Dawgs fans, despite the W. This late in the season, and with Nick Chubb out, you have to wonder just how likely it is that things are suddenly going to start to click for Lambert and company, even with an off week. Especially when the Gators await with another of the conference’s toughest defenses.
Still, Florida’s loss to LSU does mean that a Georgia win in Jacksonville would put the Dawgs in the SEC East driver’s seat. The annual grudge match is shaping up to be the defining game of the season for the Bulldogs.
TIME FOR SOME DAWG FAN TALK!
Next week, since there’s no game, I’ll devote the entire Blawg to answering Junkyard Mail. So, if there’s a point about the team or the season you’d like to make, or a question you’d like to ask, email me at email@example.com.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.