As a warm-up for the coming showdown Between the Hedges with the Crimson Tide, Saturday’s game against Southern University from the SWAC was both perfect and problematic.
On the one hand, Mark Richt’s Bulldogs were able to work on aspects of their game without really breaking a major sweat while defeating the Football Championship Subdivision team from Baton Rouge by a comfortable 48-6 margin. Georgia apparently came out of the game without any major injuries, too.
However, whether the game against the outmanned Jaguars was as valuable as the competition the Dawgs would have gotten in an intrasquad scrimmage during an open week is open to debate.
And there’s one thing we can be sure of: Bama will present a considerably tougher challenge than Georgia has faced so far in racking up a 4-0 record.
As rainy day games against cupcake opponents go, Saturday’s was mostly satisfying once you got past a first half in which some elements of the Georgia team looked a bit somnambulant. While quarterback Greyson Lambert and stars Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Malcolm Mitchell appeared to have shown up ready to play, the Dawgs’ vaunted veteran offensive line got off to a slow start opening up holes for the running game and Jeremy Pruitt’s defense had trouble getting off the field on third and fourth down, allowing the Jags to keep a couple of drives alive, including eating up more than half of the second quarter with their lone scoring drive.
Add in the fact that, in the first half, Brian Schottenheimer had reverted to pretty conservative playcalling (after opening things up the previous week against South Carolina) and you have the not-very-overwhelming 20-6 halftime score that Southern’s legendary Human Jukebox band impressively spelled out at halftime.
Getting dominated on both lines, even for just a half, by an FCS program would be a major red flag with the Tide looming if it weren’t for the fact that the Dawgs pretty obviously weren’t completely focused, and won’t lack for inspiration in getting more fired up for Alabama than they did for Southern.
Fortunately, whatever was said to the Georgia players at halftime apparently got their attention, as both the offense and defense came out after intermission looking like a Top 10 team. On Chubb’s first three carries of the second half, he exceeded his first-half total. The Dawgs piled on the points in the third quarter before the starters gave way to the heavily freshman reserves, and the Georgia D almost completely shut down the Jaguars in the second half.
What has worked well offensively for Georgia up to now continued to work well, as Chubb and Michel made a strong case for being the best running back tandem in the country, and Mitchell showed great moves and hands in firmly establishing himself as Lambert’s top target (with the Dawgs proving again that stacking the box to stop Chubb and Michel has a price if it means allowing No. 26 to go up against single coverage).
Speaking of Lambert, the Dawgs’ starting QB continued to be remarkably on-point with his passing, throwing darts over the middle on those bread-and-butter slant routes but also showing a hint of what he can do deep. A 39-yard third-quarter TD pass to Mitchell may have been negated by a procedural penalty, but it no doubt served notice to Nick Saban and Kirby Smart that Lambert is capable of more than those safe, short throws that have padded his stat sheet over the past couple of games.
And, of course, if Bama decides to clamp down on Georgia’s receivers, that’s going to open things up for Chubb and Michel. It will be interesting to see how the Tide approaches that conundrum.
Still, the win over Southern showed there are things Georgia’s coaching staff and players need to work on before going up against Alabama. In addition to tightening up that relatively soft pass coverage in the middle of the field, particularly on third down, the Dawgs continued to be inconsistent in special teams play, including fumbling one punt reception away. And Collin Barber’s only punt (which came after Lambert was sacked as a result of a missed block) traveled just 24 yards in the second quarter before going out of bounds. They won’t be able to get away with that against Bama.
A few other observations from the Southern game: Michel’s 58-yard TD run in the third quarter was a thing of beauty, especially the way he shrugged off a would-be tackler. … Georgia hasn’t quite mastered the hurry-up under Schotty, with a couple of those plays getting stuffed at the line. … The Dawgs’ stellar linebacking corps still has a tendency to bite on play fakes that open up the middle for key completions. … Michel’s “jazz hands” touchdown celebration appears to be catching on with the teammates who escort him into the end zone. … Have some pity for those tired Southern defenders who found themselves with no relief when Georgia put in its fourth-string tailback and he turned out to be a human battering ram called Brendan Douglas (who probably would have tacked on a late score had not the decision been made to let the clock run even after first downs). … Southern brought a pretty good fan following to the game in Athens, and its band lived up to its reputation, proving a favorite of even the fans in red and black. I’m pretty sure it’s the only time I’ve seen a Sanford Stadium crowd give a visiting band a standing ovation.
Let’s dip into my in box for a couple of timely reader letters. …
Randy P. writes: Bill, I expected to see Brice Ramsey and even Faton Bauta in the game against Southern once Greyson Lambert had retired to the sideline, but what’s with this business of still giving Ramsey a second-quarter series when Lambert isn’t yet done for the day? Is the quarterback competition still ongoing, and, if so, why?
The competition is over; Lambert is the starting QB. I was mildly surprised that Ramsey got a first-half series, rather than just taking over midway through the third quarter, but you’ll notice that didn’t happen the previous week against the Gamecocks. And I’m willing to bet it doesn’t happen against Alabama. I think who the opponent was had something to do with it. Ramsey didn’t do a bad job, though a couple of his drives petered out, but Lambert is clearly the sharper QB of late, and if you question that, seek out a replay of the game and watch the two passes Ramsey threw that should have been interceptions (one high, another underthrown) — and would have been against a better defense.
North Georgia Dawg writes: Bill, I’m pleased as punch to have them Dawgs exit September undefeated, and, from what I’ve seen so far this season, I think Bama is no longer on a higher level than everyone else in the conference. So I’m somewhat hopeful. However, I do think it’s going to take more from Georgia than we’ve seen so far this season to beat the Tide. Bill, what do you expect to (or hope to) see that we haven’t already seen?
Well, first I’d like to see one thing that we already have seen, and that’s the sense of urgency in Georgia’s play against South Carolina. Kick that up a couple of notches, and that’s what’ll be needed against Bama. I also expect we’ll find out that, even against the Gamecocks, we didn’t see Brian Schottenheimer’s complete playbook. Might it be time for us to see Michel taking a direct snap in the Wild Dawg with Chubb alongside him? Or something besides an end-around or pass that puts the ball in Isaiah McKenzie’s hands? And I think it’s a pretty safe bet Jeremy Pruitt has a few disguised blitzes up his sleeve. Can’t wait to find out this Saturday. …
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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.