As satisfying as the Dawgs’ dominating win over an outmanned Georgia Tech team was Saturday, it ultimately means little in terms of Georgia’s postseason goals.
Don’t get me wrong. Beating Georgia Tech is always a big deal, and that was the case Saturday, as you could tell from the way the normally dour Kirby Smart sounded almost giddy afterward.
But, as Smart noted when he talked with Chuck Dowdle of the Georgia Bulldog Sports Network, because of the unique challenge presented by Georgia Tech’s rarely-seen offense, the Dawgs’ preparations for the game were basically a lost week in terms of their regular practice and progress.
Georgia defender Roquan Smith seemed to be everywhere in shutting down the Jackets. (Curtis Compton/AJC)
OK, you could spin that positively by saying that the emphasis on discipline and playing the type of assignment football needed to face Paul Johnson’s triple-option also is applicable to facing the Auburn Tigers’ up-tempo offense again in the SEC Championship Game.
There’s no getting around the fact it was impressive the way the Dawgs basically shut down the Yellow Jackets offensively in the second half, limiting them to just to 65 yards rushing (and nothing in the air) after halftime.
Also, Georgia’s offense achieved the sort of balance Saturday that was sorely lacking in its loss to Auburn, with 224 passing yards and 247 rushing yards. The Dawgs actually took over Tech’s own game plan by outrushing the Yellow Jackets and possessing the ball for more time than Johnson’s notoriously ball-hogging, clock-killing offense.
And, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm presented a threat keeping the ball, as well as showing a nice touch as he went 12 for 16 through the air for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns.
But, let’s face it, the Jackets defense is a far cry from the smothering bunch that plays for Auburn.
Still, before we turn to the Dawgs’ prospects in their Revenge Tour Part II rematch with the Tigers, let’s savor the beatdown given to the in-state rival just a tad longer.
Highlights for me included Fromm’s great job reading the defense on Georgia’s second scoring drive (culminating with a perfect play-action pass to Javon Wims); the elusive
Sony Michel dancing around defenders to turn what should have been a loss into a third-quarter touchdown (on a drive where Fromm again hit two big passes); D’Andre Swift leaping over the line, Herschel-style, on Georgia’s next-to-last score; and finally getting to see JUCO transfer Ahkil Crumpton get a starring role on the end of a beautiful 78-yard TD pass from Fromm.
On defense, the play of one-man wrecking crew Roquan Smith (who ended the day with 9 tackles, including 3 for loss, plus a sack) was a key factor in keeping the Jackets’ dangerous perimeter game from getting established.
Off the field, Georgia’s red-and-black-clad fans took over another opponent’s stadium, too.
Dominick Sanders (24) and the Dawgs defense shut down Georgia Tech in the second half. (Steffenie Burns/UGA)
It wasn’t a perfect outing, certainly. Offensively, the first series of the second half was a disappointing bust, in part because of poor blocking; and, on the other side of the ball, there were missed tackles and blown assignments that resulted in Tech converting some third-and-longs in the first half.
Smart and his staff also still need to work on their late-half clock management. (Georgia wound up racing downfield to get a late field goal after a Tech score as the first half wound down, but with better use of timeouts, the Dawgs could have had time for a few shots at the end zone.)
Now, as Smart told Dowdle, it’s “on to bigger and better things.”
Georgia gets another shot at Auburn, though whether that’s a better outcome than facing a less-than-invincible Bama squad remains to be seen.
The Dawgs know what to expect from the Tigers. The question is: Are they capable of achieving a different outcome this time around?
Line play looks to be the deciding factor, and that still should be an advantage for Auburn.
Can Mel Tucker and Smart figure out a way for Georgia’s defensive front to handle Auburn’s impressive offensive line and somehow get pressure on QB Jarrett Stidham?
Can offensive coordinator Jim Chaney call a more successful game plan against an imposing defensive front that completely stonewalled the Dawgs’ rushing attack in the first game?
Jake Fromm has become a threat with his quarterback keepers. (Steffenie Burns/UGA)
And, the absolute must: Can the Dawgs execute sharply and play with the sort of discipline that was sorely lacking in the game at Auburn? In that first game, Georgia shot itself in the foot with numerous unnecessary mistakes, penalties and turnovers.
(Speaking of penalties, it was interesting to hear from CBS’ Gary Danielson that Smart submitted seven uncalled infractions by the Tigers in the first Auburn game to league officials. Maybe they’ll watch Gus Malzahn’s team a bit more closely this time.)
The fact that Tigers tailback Kerryon Johnson might be absent or limited (and Kamryn Pettway presumably still will be out) should help Georgia’s defense. And the crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium undoubtedly will be more Dawg-friendly than was Jordan-Hare Stadium.
But, judging from the Iron Bowl on Saturday, Auburn’s defense isn’t likely to be any less tough up front, so Chaney needs to mix up his offense a lot more, perhaps calling more short passes and slants to keep Fromm from the Tigers’ imposing pass rush, and maybe opening up the running game with more jet sweeps using the aptly-named Swift, rather than futilely continuing to call runs up the middle.
You don’t often get a mulligan with this sort of quick rematch in college football. Here’s hoping Smart and Co. can make the most of it.