STEFFENIE BURNS/UGA
D'Andre Swift had some running room behind Andrew Thomas (71) on this play.

At Second Glance: Where Georgia is now and what it means for Mississippi State

Each week during the season, we re-watch that week’s Georgia football game in order to gain more insight, observations and just plain make sure we didn’t miss anything. This week it’s not so much about what went right and wrong for Georgia in its 42-14 win over Samford – it was almost all right, as it was supposed to be – but what it means going forward. Especially with a suddenly hot Mississippi State coming to town.

GEORGIA’S OFFENSIVE IDENTITY

In case the point hasn’t been rammed home yet, this is now a shotgun oriented offense. During the first three quarters, Georgia went out of the shotgun or pistol 65 percent of the time, and it was around 80 percent, the same ratio as the Notre Dame, prior to the game getting out of hand late in the third quarter.

The most successful plays of the game for the Bulldogs tended to be in the shotgun/pistol: Five of the six touchdowns, plus one of Nick Chubb’s 20-yard runs, and Jake Fromm’s 47-yard pass to Riley Ridley and 32-yard pass to Terry Godwin.

Also: No Wildcat/Wild Dawg/Whatever formations. And no jet sweeps, reverses or handoffs to receivers, period. Georgia clearly went basic with a big game upcoming.

But as far as the shotgun, it seems to be a case of Kirby Smart and Jim Chaney adapting to their personnel, and perhaps against their better wishes. Chaney, in a meeting with the SEC Network broadcast crew on Friday, reiterated that he’d like to be a run-first offense.

“I’d like to be able to just dial up a bunch of run plays and ram it down a defense’s throat,” Chaney was quoted as saying by Morgan.

But Chaney and Smart seem to realize that, perhaps a year later, that’s just not the team they have. They do have Nick Chubb, but the quarterbacks are more comfortable in the shotgun, the best receiver is better in space, and the offensive line isn’t big enough.

In fact, Georgia has the smallest offensive line – an average of 298 pounds – in the SEC, per ESPN’s stats on the broadcast. Interestingly enough, Smart apparently pointed that out to the broadcast crew.

RUNNING GAME

It’s not breaking much new ground here to point out that the interior line continues to be a concern. But the guards stayed the same until the fourth quarter, with Kendall Baker at left guard and Solomon Kindley at right guard.

That may have hurt Chubb in past games as far as trying to run up the middle, but he and the playcalling adjusted in this game.

Chubb was getting pitch-outs and sweeps, the kind of outside runs that Chaney could have called more of last season. And it largely worked: The first time Chubb got a pitch to the outside, to open the second drive, he could rely on his vision and hit the hole for 20 yards.

What stuck out about Chubb was his vision and reaction being back: Twice he initially went up the middle on runs, the hole wasn’t there, so he darted to the outside for a big gain. That was the case on his 32-yard touchdown run, when he cut all the way to the left sideline. And it the case on an earlier run, when he cut right and found an opening, going for 20 yards.

On his second touchdown run, the 14-yarder early in the third quarter, Chubb also went up the middle, and this time there was a push, and when Chubb got past the line he cut to the left and scampered into the end zone.

So in many ways it looked like vintage Nick Chubb. But in one other way we were reminded why the team still needs the lightning to compliment Chubb’s thunder.

The speedier backs – D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien – had more success up the middle than Chubb. (Swift’s 13-yarder was up the middle, as was Herrien’s 10-yarder.) Chubb didn’t burst through those holes in the first half, which indicates he doesn’t hit the hole as quickly.

But that wasn’t necessarily his game anyway.

JAKE FROMM AND THE PASSING GAME

Fromm had another solid game, continuing to manage the offense well and make some good throws, but also make some freshman mistakes: The fumble being the biggest one, as he should have just thrown it away.

Kirby Smart was not-so-delicately making that point as Fromm came off the field. Maybe that’s a lesson best learned against Samford, rather than an SEC game.

On Terry Godwin’s 51-yard TD catch-and-run, Fromm did a really god job waiting for the play to develop. It helped that he had time in the pocket, but Fromm gave Godwin a couple seconds to get to his spot and turn and the pass was really accurate.

What also shouldn’t be underrated on that play by Godwin: His ability to turn immediately after hauling in the pass, giving him a head start on the defense chasing him.

Godwin needs the ball in space, and Jim Chaney, to his credit, is finding ways to do that. It’s especially profitable when you have an accurate quarterback.

Looking ahead, there were multiple plays that probably would’ve looked different against bigger and faster SEC defenses:

  • Fromm should’ve been sacked on the first play but got out of the grasp and scrambled for 5 yards.
  • Fromm’s 6-yard quick pass to Godwin to finish the first quarter would probably have been an incompletion or worse had the cornerback been quicker to the ball. Fromm didn’t have the zip on that pass that he needed. (As a side note, Fromm seems to rely more on touch than zip.)

A couple more bullet points:

  • Godwin isn’t just emerging as a pass threat, his blocking has also improved. He had a good block that helped spring a 10-yard screen pass gain to D’Andre Swift. There were other good downfield blocks, such as Riley Ridley on the long Godwin catch-and-run touchdown.
  • The offensive line is way too inconsistent in pass blocking. Even Andrew Thomas, for as solid as he’s been at right tackle, was beat on a pass rush when Fromm scrambled and eventually fumbled the ball away.
  • Kendall Baker was straight up beat on the first play of the game, and what would’ve been a sack if not for Fromm’s escape.

ISAAC NAUTA CRITICISM

Why hasn’t Nauta been more of a factor in the first few games? That was addressed during the broadcast.

Barrett Jones, the color analyst and former Alabama center – he was there when Smart was defensive coordinator – relayed this on air:

“I think Nauta’s a guy who’s very talented. We asked Kirby Smart, why haven’t we seen more of Isaac Nauta. And he was very frank with us. He said: ‘I need to see Isaac Nauta practice better. I need him to bring a champion approach to practice every day. He didn’t like the way that he was approaching practice. He told Isaac, you practice better you’ll start to have more balls your way. That’s the way it happens in games.”

Nauta was once again held without a catch, and only had one last week at Notre Dame.

On a third down early in the second quarter, Nauta was streaking down the middle with one man on him, and a play was there downfield. But Fromm was locked in on Godwin down the right sideline, even though Godwin had double coverage, and it went incomplete.

Hardman also would’ve been wide open in the flat on that play, incidentally. But Fromm was under pressure and went with his first read.

DEFENSE

Georgia’s strategy was to go with a three-man line, maybe rush one or two more guys, and rely on its speed and smarts in the back to sniff out and catch up to the play quickly.

Mel Tucker also dialed up blitzes at just the right times, as he did at Notre Dame. For instance on Samford’s third drive, facing third-and-5, there was an open quick pass, but J.R. Reed and a linebacker were both coming on a blitz, and it was incomplete.

After Samford’s first scoring drive, Georgia’s defense put six players in the passing lane.

An example: There was a play to open one drive when Samford, backed up at its own 10, lined up four wide, and Georgia went with a three-man lie, left one inside receiver basically uncovered, and kept two safeties way back. The end result: The quarterback was forced to scramble for a 4-yard gain.

After Samford’s scoring drive – more on that later – exposed the short passes – Tucker adjusted. Samford took over at Georgia’s 25, following the Fromm fumble, and Georgia only rushed three, and had six players sitting where the short slants would go. The result: Incomplete pass to the outside. But when Georgia lined up the same way on second down, Devlin Hodges fit in a pretty 14-yard pass. Sometimes you just can’t defend it.

In the third quarter, Georgia again blitzed, but this time from the right and Hodges burned the defense with a 14-yard completion on a quick slant to the left.

It does help to have Lorenzo Carter: His two pass rushes, one of them a sack, pushed Samford back into a longer field goal try, which obviously was blocked.

Oh by the way While J.R. Reed blocked the field goal, Deandre Baker also deserves credit because he broke through, causing a Samford blocker to lean his way and leave a crease for Reed.

Finally: There were three near-interceptions in the first half alone: Aaron Davis had one go off his fingers, Tyrique McGhee had one tracked but was about a foot short with his leap, and Natrez Patrick deflected a pass up. (Davis could have had another pick in the third quarter.)

LOOKING AHEAD

This was one of those games where analyzing every play deeply probably wasn’t worth it. Which it may seem I already have. But let’s just say that I didn’t exactly break down the fourth quarter. (Break down = watch it at all.)

So I also spent a bit of time watching Mississippi State’s rout of LSU – and I also watched the Twitter feed of LSU beat writer Ross Dellenger of The Advocate, who began breaking down the game in his weekly film room segment.

An interesting point from Dellenger, who said “Mississippi State ran wild on LSU outside of the tackles”: 20 rushes for 177 yards, an average of 8.85 yards.

Excluding Mississippi State’s final two drives – when the dogs had been called off – MSU ran inside 18 times for 62 yards, and ran outside 20 times for 177 yards.

Considering Georgia’s strength up the middle – John Atkins, Trent Thompson and Roquan Smith behind them – Mississippi State figures to do the same thing. But Georgia’s perimeter defense might be better positioned to stop it.

On its face, it seems Mississippi State exploited a defensive strategy that Mel Tucker already avoided at Notre Dame: Tucker spread the field and pushed a fast quarterback into a pocket.

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald is a true dual threat. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

When Samford finally got going, on its fifth drive, a big play came on a third-down 12-yard completion, when Georgia uncharacteristically rushed five up the middle, leaving the outside open. On the next play, Georgia only rushed three but Samford went with a quick pass and it gained 9.

But what about those quick passes by Samford, the same kind that Mississippi State likes to try?

On Samford’s only scoring drive of the first half, Devlin Hodges hit Kelvin McKnight on a 6-yard strike to the middle of the field, beating Aaron Davis, but the middle of the field was wide open – Georgia crunched the middle with six men basically on top of the ball, and a seventh close to it. Davis was left exposed in coverage to the quick slant.

On the other side of the ball, Dellenger outlined how Mississippi State pressured LSU quarterback Danny Etling on 8 of his first 22 drop-backs, and each time LSU blockers out-numbered MSU rushers.

Judging by that, and Georgia’s pass-blocking inconsistency, that’s worth watching too.

FINAL THOUGHT

During the third quarter, the broadcast showed clips of the 2012 SEC championship game, with Barrett Jones as Alabama’s center. Jones said on air what many have said since then: Who knows how Georgia’s program would look now if it had made one ore play and won that game. That’s a whole other column. The defensive coordinators in that game were Kirby Smart and Todd Grantham. Their teams will be meeting Saturday for the first time since that game.

Maybe this falls short of the program-changing type game, but it sets up to be a big swing game for the picture in both divisions: Mississippi State wining would set it up as a real threat to Alabama, and leave the SEC East wide open. But a Georgia win would put Smart’s team in great position – albeit with seven conference games still to go.

The initial thought of this reporter, whose hunch about Georgia has been correct the first three games, is to once again expect UGA to win. But it sure looks like Georgia is about to face an opponent tougher than the one it faced in Week 2.