As we head into this season of thanksgiving, Georgia is very thankful this weekend that it has Nick Chubb and Isaiah McKenzie. They accounted for four of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns en route to a fairly thankless 35-21 win over Louisiana-LaFayette.
In a game that was neither a blowout nor ever really a cause for concern, the Bulldogs (7-4, 4-4 SEC) simply did what they needed to get the victory and get on to this week’s much more meaningful matchup against Georgia Tech. But Kirby Smart and his staff left Sanford Stadium with a long list of to-dos that they’ll need to address in a truncated holiday week.
Here’s how Georgia graded against the Ragin’ Cajuns:
Had the Bulldogs been facing an SEC opponent or one from another Power 5 conference, they could have felt pretty good about their production Saturday. Georgia managed 400 overall yards, Chubb went over 100 rushing again with 108 on 16 carries (6.8 ypc), and quarterback Jacob Eason threw two touchdown passes. But the Bulldogs had to punt four times and turned the ball over once, so they had too many empty possessions against what should have been an over-matched opponent. Eason threw his first interception since the South Carolina game in Week 6 when he tried to force a pass into Isaac Nauta. But hitting Chubb on a check-down that ended up as a 49-yard touchdown was another sign of growth.
Granted, 14 of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 21 points came against Georgia’s backups in last half of the fourth quarter. But the backups are part of the team, too, and their ability to carry out the plan also matters. On that front, Smart was not a happy camper after Saturday’s game. As it was, ULL was getting a lot done against the Bulldogs’ starters, too. All told they ran 70 plays, converted 7-of-13 third downs and piled up 465 total yards. Running back Elijah McGuire averaged nearly 7 yards a carry (124 yards on 19 attempts). That quarterback Anthony Jennings scored three times does not bode well with another running quarterback coming to Athens next week. Georgia managed to thwart the Cajuns’ offense with takeaways, logging three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Otherwise, ULL punted only twice all day, somewhat disconcerting just a week removed from the domination displayed against Auburn.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
McKenzie finally took a punt to the house. The junior return specialist fielded his first punt of the day and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown. It was his first this season but the fifth punt-return TD of McKenzie’s career, his longest to date and the longest for Georgia since Brandon Boykin’s 92-yarder against Michigan State in the 2012 Outback Bowl. The Bulldogs did not attempt a field goal for the first time in five games. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship recorded just one touchback on six kickoffs and punter Brice Ramsey averaged just 34.8 yards on four punts, so that left something to be desired. Kick coverage was good though.
Sandwiched between games against two of Georgia’s biggest rivals, Smart deserves credit for steering the Bulldogs through unscathed. Georgia is also having to negotiate some fairly significant injury issues with starters such as OG Isaiah Wynn, WR Michael Chigbu, LB Natrez Patrick and DT DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle. Saturday’s game plan seemed decidedly stale, understandable where the game fell. Nevertheless, the move of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to the coaches’ box continues to pay dividends and appears as though it will stick.
At the end of the day, Georgia did what it needed to do to dispatch Louisiana-Lafayette and get about its business. But very few people could have left Sanford Stadium feeling great about the way things went. It was a very average performance against a non-conference opponent. Nevertheless, there remains much to play for with Tech coming to town. An 8-4 regular season and New Year’s Day bowl game would like mighty good at the end of a transition year.