“We’re not panicking.” When UGA offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said that in response to concerns about his starting quarterback’s underwhelming performance against Vandy, you had to figure that, either there wasn’t much Schotty could do about the situation, or he knew something the rest of us didn’t.
Turns out, it was the latter. Shall we chalk up Virginia graduate transfer QB Greyson Lambert’s 0-7 passing start in Nashville to, I don’t know, first-SEC-game jitters or something? And maybe attribute Schottenheimer’s own uninspired, vanilla playcalling against Vandy to, perhaps, wanting to break in his quarterback gradually?
Because, after the pinpoint passing demonstration Lambert gave Saturday night in Athens against Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks, setting an NCAA record for percentage of completions and breaking Mike Bobo’s UGA record for consecutive passes completed, there’s no question Georgia has not only settled on its QB, but has a legitimate passing game.
And, after the varied, more aggressive playbook Schotty showed against USC, there’s also no doubt Georgia does indeed have a balanced attack. You knew something was up right from the start when, instead of calling for tailback runs up the middle, Schottenheimer opened with three straight passes (all completions) before Nick Chubb even got his hands on the ball.
It should be noted that Chubb still got his carries and was, um, reliably Chubby, which is to say steadily amazing: 21 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns in his 11th straight game running for more than 100 yards. This game also saw him surpass 2,000 yards during his time at UGA.
Overall, Schottenheimer called a really nice game, throwing the ball on first down 15 times, occasionally going into the hurry-up, and keeping the Gamecocks’ defense back on its heels (I didn’t hear the word “vanilla” from a fan even once during the game). Georgia wound up with 330 yards through the air on 25 passes and 246 yards on 38 runs.
Now, whether the newly established passing game includes the sort of deep threat that drove defensive coordinators crazy during the Aaron Murray era remains to be seen. Lambert and Schottenheimer didn’t really try to stretch the field against USC, with the longest passes generally resulting from short- to mid-range tosses to a running back or receiver, who then turned it into a long gainer with his feet.
But the other side of that coin is that, unlike during the years when Bobo was calling the plays, Georgia’s offensive line wasn’t required to try and hold the pocket for an inordinate amount of time while the QB stood back there waiting for a long-ball route to develop.
Instead, Schotty had Lambert make a lot of quick, safe throws, leaning heavily on the slant and dump-offs to the backs. Of course, when you’ve got fleet, shifty Sony Michel, who’s become Georgia’s most dangerous receiver, throwing it to a back out in the flat has the tendency to turn into a big gainer, if not 6 points. Watching Michel split two defenders on one of his three touchdowns and knock a defender on his back at the goal line on another was the best kind of Bulldog entertainment.
It’s also worth mentioning that Georgia’s veteran offensive line played a terrific game, allowing no sacks, which will be good news for the ice cream business in Athens as Lambert takes his protectors out for a treat.
But, while many of the passes he threw were of the pitch-and-catch variety, Lambert also showed he can thread the needle with more difficult throws — for example, the pass to Jay Rome at the Carolina 3 on Georgia’s first touchdown drive of the game.
Yes, it was, as Mark Richt noted afterward, just one game, “so we can’t get too crazy,” but it also was, as the head coach put it, “a very sharp performance.”
As for the rest of the Dawgs’ game, the defense had a good night for the most part. The secondary was a bit too loose against South Carolina’s short-passing game in the first half, and the Georgia defenders took a while to get a handle on the sort of triple-option look that freshman backup QB Lorenzo Nunez brought to the Gamecocks’ attack.
But, for much of the game the Dawgs pretty well shut down the visitors’ running game and didn’t get burned too badly through the air, notching another interception. Georgia remains at +3 in turnover ratio for the season and had has scored 24 points off five opponent turnovers while opponents have scored no points off the Dawgs’ two turnovers.
The defense did, however, lose its poise a bit on South Carolina’s last scoring drive, resulting in too many needless penalties that helped the opponents’ cause.
The only area Georgia fans justifiably still are really concerned about is special teams (or “specialty teams,” as Kevin Butler prefers to call them). Marshall Morgan made his only field goal attempt and all his PATs, but Georgia only got three touchbacks on its nine kickoffs and the kick coverage left a great deal to be desired.
The Gamecocks’ Shon Carson got long returns on three consecutive first half kickoffs, including a 51-yard return with only 17 seconds left before halftime that was added onto by an untimely facemask penalty, putting South Carolina in position to kick a field goal to make it 24-13 as time expired. On two of the other returns, Morgan had to make or assist in the tackle, which is never a good sign.
As for the punting game, there wasn’t much of it for Georgia, as the Dawgs only had to punt twice. On one, Collin Barber kicked it a middling 39 yards. The other punt was interesting, however, as backup QB Brice Ramsey remained in the game to handle the kick. Not only did he boot it 42 yards, but the idea of sometimes having a QB back there to take the long snap raises intriguing possibilities for trick plays in the future. At the very least, it’s one more thing for opposing coaches to have to think about.
Kudos to the almost all-red Sanford Stadium crowd, too, which was loud all night. Surprisingly, most fans were still in their seats when the Dawgs scored their 52nd point!
Overall, it’s only fair to concede that this South Carolina team isn’t very good, so the Dawgs hanging 52 on the ole ball coach and winning by 32, handily covering the 17-point spread that many thought was excessively optimistic, isn’t quite as momentous as it would have been when the Gamecocks were in their period of 11-win seasons.
But the Dawgs are 3-0 and 2-0 in the conference, and the tremendous progress on the offensive side of the ball and the steady, incremental improvement on defense would appear to bode well for Georgia as it prepares for one more less-than-imposing nonconference opponent before moving into something of a murderer’s row of conference scheduling.
At the very least, we can say the 2015 Dawgs are “on track” at this point of the season.
Next week, in addition to discussing the game against Southern U., I’ll answer Junkyard Mail. So if there’s something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics, or you have a question for the Junkyard Blawg, email 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.