Georgia’s game Saturday night against Mississippi State was as dominating a performance by the Dawgs against a ranked, quality opponent as I’ve seen in a very long time. What the sportscasters love to call “a complete game.”
There were high points aplenty. For starters, full credit to offensive coordinator Jim Chaney for my favorite opening call in a very long time with that flea-flicker play in which quarterback Jake Fromm handed off to Nick Chubb, who then tossed the ball back to Fromm so that he could lob it downfield to a wide-open Terry Godwin for a touchdown.
And tight end Isaac Nauta dragging a defender over the goal line on another touchdown pass thrilled the Sanford Stadium crowd.
Also, Georgia’s smothering defense, the strength of this team, was really impressive, holding a previously dangerous and high-scoring MSU Bulldogs offense to a mere field goal. The previously low-key secondary broke up a number of passes and finally snagged a couple of interceptions. J.R. Reed seemed to be everywhere, and Roquan Smith and Deandre Baker also had exceptional games. Even the Dawgs’ second-stringers managed to keep State out of the end zone when they threatened late in the game.
On offense, Georgia continues to progress, though it’s still not the dynamo it could be. The Dawgs’ running game looked solid, with Nick Chubb grinding away and breaking tackles (even making the previously ineffective Wild Dawg formation work!), and freshman D’Andre Swift showing slashing speed. Also, there were times when the offensive line really seemed to be coming together, opening some gaping holes for the backs (particularly on the second drive of the game and again on the opening drive of the second half).
Fromm managed the play-action game well, taking snaps behind center instead of in the shotgun, and threw some beautiful passes. The Dawgs aren’t going to be Air Georgia with him behind center, but he has a nice touch on the ball.
Special teams continued to be a strength, with kickers Rod Blankenship and Cameron Nizialek both doing a superlative job. (Now, if only the Dawgs could get their return game going, they’d look like world-beaters in that aspect of the game.)
And, despite the heat and humidity, the capacity Sanford Stadium crowd was loud and involved throughout, with the stands only beginning to thin out deep into the fourth quarter. The “light up Sanford” display to start the fourth was beautiful. (In fact, fans were so anxious to start it that the cellphones started lighting up with nearly a minute remaining in the third quarter!)
All in all, it was the kind of win that gets the attention of the college football nation: A week after the Bizarro Bulldogs from Starkville became one of college football’s media darlings by having their way with a ranked LSU team, the team from Athens showed who really are the SEC’s top Dawgs, winning in surprisingly easy fashion over Mississippi State.
The natural conclusion is that Kirby Smart’s Dawgs are a contender. For real.
And yet, I can’t help it, but a small, paranoid UGA fan voice in the back of my brain, the result from too many seasons of unrealized expectations, still wonders whether perhaps Mississippi State was overrated in the wake of its shocking win over LSU. In other words, is Georgia really that good, or was LSU really that bad?
We’ll know soon, as an SEC road trip, to Knoxville no less, will provide yet another challenge. Even if the Vols haven’t been that impressive so far this season, Georgia teams traditionally have found Neyland Stadium a most unhospitable environment, and a possible letdown after a big win is always a concern. Smart indicated as much after the game, saying he worries about young players reading their media coverage and believing it.
And, let’s face it, as good as Georgia looked Saturday night, there are still things they need to clean up. The running game still is getting stuffed on some short-yardage plays. That’s because the offensive line, while looking much improved in spurts, still is inconsistent. And opposing defenses continue to crowd the box since Georgia hasn’t shown it can move the ball down the field consistently via its passing attack. Speaking of which, there is still the occasional dropped pass.
Generally, the play-calling Saturday night was good, though Chaney ran it up the middle one too many times on that fourth-quarter drive when the Dawgs were seeking to kill the clock.
Conversely, the Dawgs defense gave up a few third- and fourth-down conversions and missed some tackles on a 39-yard run by MSU’s Nick Gibson. Plus, there were unnecessary penalties, and ball security could be improved.
None of those issues were enough to derail Georgia against the Maroon Bulldogs, but they are the sorts of problems that need to be eliminated in order for the Dawgs to make it to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in December.
Finally, to the shortsighted Georgia fan on Lumpkin Street (and others on social media) who declared after this win that Jacob Eason might as well contact Mark Richt about transferring to Miami: Cool your jets.
Yes, Fromm has earned the right to hold on to the starting quarterback’s job for the time being, even once Eason is ready to play. He’s done a fine job of playing within himself, as the well-worn sports bromide goes. In other words, he’s doing a good job of concentrating on what he does well and isn’t trying to do too much, though he still has a lot to learn.
However, it’s a long, bruising season. Injuries happen, as we’ve already seen. Players have off days. Certain situations demand a different approach. I have a feeling that, somewhere along the way in this SEC campaign, Dawgs fans will be awfully glad Georgia has Jacob Eason.