The most amazing thing about Georgia’s 41-0 blitzing of Tennessee on Saturday is that, as great as the Dawgs looked, there’s still room for improvement.
It’s tantalizing to imagine how awesome this team could be if the offense were to catch up with the defense.
Against the Vols, the UGA defense continued to play the sort of lights-out football that ranks among the nation’s best. But, the offense, while improved, still hasn’t come near to matching its full potential.
Yes, the Dawgs hung 41 points on the Vols, but both Jake From and the offense in general got off to a pretty slow start in the first quarter, especially in the running game.
The exciting part is contemplating how, if the defense continues to play like it has so far, special teams play continues to be a Bulldogs strength (who would have thought that possible??!!), and the offense continues to progress, Kirby Smart’s second team could be a real dynamo a few games from now (hopefully, say, about the time it takes the field in Jacksonville).
In the meantime, the Dawgs need to take care of Vanderbilt and Missouri — and not let their newfound status as one of the teams mentioned in playoff speculation on ESPN and elsewhere go to their heads.
As Sony Michel said in Knoxville after the game, that lofty status this early in the season “can be a negative. It’s almost like a distraction. You want to keep the guys on the team poised. Every week is a challenge for us. Now we have something that everybody wants and they want to take it from you. That’s the hard part.”
Indeed. Georgia teams haven’t always dealt well with such prosperity in recent years, though admittedly that was under a different coaching regime.
Hopefully, they can handle it now. So far, the signs are good: The win Saturday over the Vols came just a week after a similarly impressive and dominating performance against Mississippi State.
Still, you expect a team to get up for a big rival like Tennessee, especially one that ripped out the Bulldogs’ hearts a year ago with a Hail Mary last-second win. What marks truly championship-caliber teams is that they avoid “trap” games and take care of business against the Vandys and Mizzous on their schedule.
For now, let’s savor just how awesome this performance was, the kind of game that’s so much fun to watch that you’re sorry when the final whistle blows (as opposed to one of those down-to-the-wire contests that leave fans of the winning team mainly feeling relieved).
Whether you consider Georgia’s defense to be Smart’s or, as he insists, Mel Tucker’s, it’s been a marvel so far this season. We knew the front seven would be strong, but the mix-and-match secondary also has been a wonder, and the most exciting aspect of the Tennessee game was seeing how much depth the Dawgs have developed on defense, as Tucker constantly shuttled players in and out of the game, keeping them fresh. (That’s the sort of approach that helps prevent your defensive starters wearing down in big games, which has happened to some Georgia teams in the past.)
The Dawgs are playing smothering run defense and have become very opportunistic, as we saw in the 4 takeaways against Tennessee. Even when they had a rare hiccup, giving up a 44-yard pass to the Vols, they personified bend-but-don’t-break by stripping the ball and recovering the fumble at the end of the play. And J.R. Reed obviously has paid attention in trip drills.
As for the offense, once they got past an unimpressive first quarter, they were, if not brilliant, at the very least efficient. The running game looked really good at times, and, while Jake Fromm doesn’t sport gaudy passing numbers, he was mostly on target, though he did throw 1 bad interception and almost suffered another. Thankfully, though, the Vols couldn’t make anything of that turnover.
The hard-to-please Smart complained after the game about some of the freshman’s decisions, saying he needed to be more consistent.
“There’s some throws in there where I don’t know what he’s thinking or what he’s doing; he shouldn’t do that. He knows that. And he knows he can correct those,” the coach said.
Still, they were the type of mistakes that are pretty typical of a first-year freshman. Last season, Georgia fans complained about then-freshman Jacob Eason locking in on intended receivers while not seeing others who were wide open, and Fromm did the same Saturday. (Of course, the sophomore Eason, returning to the lineup in relief after giving up his starting spot to Fromm due to injury, repeated that same mistake on a third-and-goal incompletion in the fourth quarter.)
The offensive line generally had a good day, considering it was playing on the road in a deafening environment, but suffered a few lapses that stymied the running game early on and allowed the Vols to sack Fromm a couple of times.
On the plus side, though, Fromm gave defensive coaches of upcoming opponents one more thing to worry about by showing he’s more of a threat to run than Eason. The result was 2 rushing touchdowns for the young QB and another nice run that kept a drive alive.
Special teams play also continued to be impressive, with Mecole Hardman finally starting to add a return threat to Georgia’s arsenal. Only a couple of short punts by the normally reliable Cameron Nizialek marred an otherwise nearly perfect performance.
All in all, it was a great day for those in red and black, as the Georgia program tallied its 800th victory in its 124th season. As was the case earlier this season at Notre Dame, the Dawgs and their fans again neutralized a home-crowd advantage.
This was one of those games where Vols fans dressed in orange or white, depending on where their seats were, in order to duplicate the Neyland end zones’ checkerboard pattern. But, by the fourth quarter, what orange and white remained was dominated by red and black, just like on the field.
(Unfortunately, Tennessee reacted with a bit of petulance, wiping the stadium scoreboard before the clock had even run out on the game and blaring recorded music afterward to try and drown out the celebrating Redcoat Band.)
Looking ahead, senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter said that he thinks the Dawgs are “on the path to domination,” but he cautioned his younger teammates: “We’ve got to keep working. Because it’s easy to listen to everybody in the media, and everybody in Athens, because they see what’s going on, and they love it. But it’s not easy for us to keep focus. So, it’s the job of the leaders and the coaches to keep us focused and make sure everyone’s working hard and keeping on the same path we’ve been on.”
It’s not going to be easy as that path climbs higher and higher, but Georgia has shown the past two weeks that it’s an attainable goal.