At second glance: A closer look at Georgia’s win at Vanderbilt

Greyson Lambert's performance at Vanderbilt, while rough at the start, wasn't as bad overall.

There has been a lot of angst and hyperventilating among Georgia fans after last Saturday’s game, which, it needs to be pointed out, their team won. Still, it’s reasonable early in a season to worry about aesthetics and whether it will be good enough in the future. After all, this team was expected to be 2-0 at this point anyway.

So as we do every Monday, let’s take a deep dive into the game, re-watching Georgia’s 31-14 win at Vanderbilt, and start with the areas that have received the most attention:

QUARTERBACK

Two days later, with the benefit of hindsight and closer evaluation, Greyson Lambert’s day isn’t the disaster many have made it out to be.

Not that it was good. Especially those first seven passes, which included some doozies. Only one was a drop – Nick Chubb, reminding everyone he’s occasionally human, on the first pass of the game. There was another not-so-bad incompletion early, a third-down pass to Terry Godwin, when Lambert stood in the pocket and threw just to the left of Godwin, who had a defender draped on him. (Lambert does this a lot, erring on the side of caution and making sure that wherever he throws the ball it’s not an interception.)

The problem on the Godwin throw, however, illustrates a real concern: Lambert stared down Godwin the whole way, which is perhaps why the defender was draped all over him. That gets back to comfort in the pocket. Lambert needs to get to that point.

Lambert’s worst throw, obviously, was the deep ball that should have been picked off. Just a bad job of seeing the field – Lambert must have been staring down Reggie Davis’ route, because it’s not like the safety wasn’t in Lambert’s field of vision. He was, and not seeing him is inexcusable.

Side note: Decision-making is the reason that Brice Ramsey is not the starter. Not just managing the offense before the snap, though that’s another area the coaches are much more comfortable with Lambert. But the other concern is that Ramsey, big arm and all, will throw into coverage or not see the big picture on defense. Lambert is supposed to be better at that. The coaches did not see the mistakes during the preseason that Lambert made while he was at Virginia. But that play there you saw it again.

Now having said all that, here’s some perspective on Lambert’s day:

It may have seemed like more, but only three of his incompletions came with zero pressure on either Lambert or the receiver: His second pass, to Blazevich on crossing pattern, and the first two passes of the second half.

On the other hand, Lambert actually had just as many completed passes into tight windows: Davis on the first drive of second half, Godwin two drives later, Isaiah McKenzie to convert a third down on the next scoring drive.

Side note No. 2: One second-half incompletion, near the goal-line to Davis, would have been complete if it had been a couple inches to Davis’ right, but instead ended up a dangerous play. This didn’t seem like a bad throw, just a questionably designed play, as it required absolutely the perfect throw, and risked a turnover. If that play stays in the playbook they may want to bring it closer to the line of scrimmage.

Bottom line: While Lambert didn’t have a good first half by any means, it’s not as bad on second viewing. By starting 0-for-7, however, it kind of set the narrative. If he had started, say, 3-for-7 and finished with the same stats, the takeaway would be different.

Now as for Ramsey’s one series, a quick breakdown:  Two good completions to start, albeit on high-percentage passes. Getting the ball to Michel on the outside is always a good idea. Ramsey’s second completion, on a play-action roll-out, was also well-executed. The first incompletion, to Davis, was just an overthrow. The second one, the long one that Malcolm Mitchell almost caught, was either great faith in his receiver or a dangerous throw into double coverage. Honestly, after watching it several times, I can’t decide which one it is.

An observation about both quarterbacks: Lambert and Ramsey both tended to have their feet set together in the shotgun before a run play, and one ahead of the other when it was a pass play. (Now if I can notice this …) Lambert did it most of the time, though not before a couple play-action pass plays, and before one run play. Ramsey did it on both of his passes out of the shotgun, but didn’t have a handoff out of the shotgun during his one series.

Side note No. 3: The halftime interview Mark Richt gave entering the second half was kind of comical, because he was asked who the starter would be the second half, and Richt brushed it off. He and Brian Schottenheimer clearly had no idea that the rest of the world thought Lambert had been pulled permanently for Ramsey. No, that was the plan all along, to give him one late series, just as it was the first game. The question going forward is whether it’s a good idea to still do that with Ramsey, if the staff truly is trying to avoid a quarterback controversy. It gives the backup time, but a small sample size, while the starter has the whole game to show his strengths and warts.

THE PLAY-CALLING

From Week 1 to Week 2, the gameplan went from vanilla to still vanilla with an occasional sprinkle.

Georgia ran the ball 26 times on first down at Vanderbilt, versus just five passes on first down. In Week 1, it was 22 runs on first down and four passes.

On Saturday, the other 21 passes broke down into 11 on second-and-long and nine on third-and-long. It was about the same ratio in Week 1.

Where some daring occurred, if it can be called that, was on run plays. In week one there were zero runs outside the tackles. Zero. This week that at least opened up a bit. But not very much. Here was the breakdown:

Up middle: 16* Off-tackle: 9 Slightly left or right: 8 Outside: 6

*-One fourth-quarter play saw Chubb hit a wall up the middle then cut upfield and gain 29 yards.

It was almost all up the middle in the first half. The first real outside run, a toss that Chubb cut outside, went for 17 yards. On the very next play he went 21 yards up the middle, which goes to show what can happen when you mix up the runs. (Later in the drive Sony Michel went 31 yards for a touchdown by going up the middle out of the shotgun. Yup, get the defense looking more than one direction and things open up.)

One of the outside runs was the reverse to McKenzie that gained 24 yards. I get the feeling that was a play Schottenheimer and Richt didn’t want to use until next week, but felt like they had to call. In fact the number of off-tackle and outside runs increased in the third quarter, culminating with the Lambert keeper for a touchdown. That also may have been one the coaches didn’t want to use – unless they wanted to make Jon Hoke and South Carolina account for it, thus helping the inside runs this week.

– So what about Malcolm Mitchell’s frustration? It may well have been warranted, but there was one drive that summed up both the frustration and the solution. It was the first of the fourth quarter: First Lambert threw a pass to Mitchell that, while complete, was underthrown. Mitchell caught it low for a 6-yard gain, but a higher throw would have put him in position for a bigger gain. Later in the drive Lambert atoned for it, hitting Mitchell in the numbers on a stop route, and Mitchell got a few more yards for an 11-yard third-down conversion. A couple plays later the two hooked up on a receiver screen and it gained 6 yards.

Side note No. 4: Getting the ball in space to Georgia’s speedy guys – Mitchell, Michel, McKenzie, Godwin and Davis – is a good idea generally. For all the complaints about not enough deep balls, those are low percentage, while Georgia has the dynamic playmakers that can turn a well-designed short pass into a long play anytime.

DEFENSE

Vanderbilt passed for 295 yards, but 91 of those came on the final two drives. Prior to that the Commodores averaged just 4.8 yards per pass play, counting the incompletions and sacks. They completed less than half (24) of their 50 pass attempts.

So is there really anything to be worried about with Georgia’s secondary? Is it too reliant on pass pressure? In one area of the field, so far the answer is yes.

The first two weeks, the Bulldogs have been hit by a lot of intermediate throws up the middle. It happens on obvious passing downs, so the cornerbacks (Malkom Parrish and Aaron Davis) tend to be doing a good job, but the middle of the defense gets burned on some drives. Early in the fourth quarter Vanderbilt moved downfield by hitting the middle, before failing near the goal-line. Then when Georgia appeared to try to compensate – Dominick Sanders came inside and played the middle of the field – Vanderbilt went outside for a couple passes, scoring its only touchdown.

Vanderbilt was only 1 for its first 8 third-down conversions. Vanderbilt’s second third down conversion, on a 24-yard pass up the middle, came when Reggie Wilkerson allowed tight end Steven Scheu past him for a split-second, and the pass was there right then. It’s not clear whether the safeties were supposed to come up to help on the play. Two series later came another conversion, this one when the quarterback was flushed out and found an open receiver.

The common denominator here tends to be defensive players not sticking with a man. Whether that’s because they’re in a zone and not helping enough, or whether it’s just brain farts, it’s not clear.

– Not to take away from Wilkerson’s interception – he was in the right place and made the play – but his interception came after Floyd’s pressure forced a bad throw. That shows how things can work symbiotically on this defense.

– Georgia also played a too-loose zone at the end of the first half, when Vanderbilt got downfield for what should have been a field goal, but was doinked from 41 yards out. The key play came on a third-down conversion for 18 yards, when Wilkerson was beat in coverage and Sanders appeared to go for the interception instead of just batting it down.

– Now having said all this, Georgia’s run-stuffing ability has been beyond question the first two weeks. That probably has a lot to do with the opponent. But still, when you go on the road in the SEC and hold an opponent to 2.7 yards per rush, that’s pretty good.

– After going with a lot of two-down linemen fronts the first week, Georgia had three players with their hands on the ground on the first play, and it continued from there. It was a reaction to who they were playing: The first week was Louisiana-Monroe’s pass-happy offense, this week it was a more balanced Vanderbilt offense. (Balanced, and severe doubts in the ability to pass the ball, which were confirmed most of the game.)

SPECIAL TEAMS

– Regarding the pooch kickoff, Chip Towers broke that down, so check that out.

– Marshall Morgan’s first field goal miss, the shank from 37 yards, looked like a case of poor footwork; he just took a couple steps and almost hit it off the side of his foot. The second miss, from 43 yards, just tailed left in the air.

– Don’t forget Vanderbilt being able to convert a fourth-and-10 when the punter ran for it after a low snap. I can’t tell whether that was a breakdown on Georgia’s part or just a freak play. The punter scrambled because he was being rushed, then the left side was wide open. Trying to account for that by having a man hang on that side of the field would require a lot of foresight. Probably too much foresight.

– Something good: Remember last year when Mike Ekeler – then recently hired as a co-special teams coordinator – said he told Richt that they must have led the nation in punt fair catches? There’s a definite change in approach now, with Davis and McKenzie both taking more risks, at least earlier in the game. (There were no risks in the second half at Vanderbilt, as Georgia sat on a lead.) So far the more daring returns have paid off, with some good returns, including McKenzie’s touchdown against Vanderbilt. And there have been no turnovers, or even big hits. So many times in re-watching these games I’ve been conditioned to expect a fair catch or let the ball go, and it’s still surprising to see the Bulldog player try a return, even when it’s immediately stuffed.

– Gary Danielson spent awhile trying to deduce whether McKenzie’s touchdown should have been called back because of a block in the back on Jonathan Abram, right after McKenzie caught it. But it was barely a nudge by Abram, and even Danielson came around to deciding it wasn’t the world’s biggest injustice.

QUICK HITTERS

– The personal foul called on Floyd – 15 yards for hands to the face – is one of those the SEC will today or already has told Georgia they got wrong. It was illegal hands to the face, but by the Vanderbilt left tackle; Floyd’s arms were outstretched. Did the official just get confused on whose hands it was – as Danielson guessed – or did they throw the flag initially on the right guy then just miscommunicate? Who knows, because the SEC keeps such discussions private. It’s not a big deal in the context of the game, so it’s quickly forgotten. But if it had happened in a key part of the game there would deservedly be a lot more hub-bub over it.

– Lorenzo Carter’s targeting call could have gone either way. He didn’t launch at the quarterback, and it wasn’t a late hit, but his head did tilt down at the last second. It was a call that seemed wrong by the spirit of the rule, but justifiable by the wording. (Floyd, coming from the right, was held on the play, by the way. But the official missed it because he had his eye on Carter.)

– A stat-geek point: Floyd was only credited for a half sack in the first quarter, but Chuks Amaechi came in at the end when the quarterback was already basically down. But hey, Floyd will probably make up for it.

– Chris Mayes continues to impress, with some solo tackles up the middle – rather than just a nose tackle clogging up the middle. Sterling Bailey continues to have some good solo tackles. And Trent Thompson continues to spend most of the game on the sideline.

– Not much more you can say about Jordan Jenkins’ game. He was just seeing the play right and then bowling over blockers. A good formula.

– Malkom Parrish remains a good tackler in the secondary. There was a play on Vanderbilt’s second drive when he was one-on-one on the right with Ralph Webb, and turned what could have been a big play into a 5-yard run, setting up a third-and-10.

– If Jake Ganus and Tim Kimbrough are in a competition for the second inside linebacker spot (when Floyd is also inside) then through two weeks it’s close to a draw. Both have been around the ball a lot. Ganus had the interception late in the game and almost had another earlier, so he’s been more noticeable.

– Georgia’s offensive line had a good day, I thought. The blocking on Michel’s touchdown run was an example, as Brandon Kublanow pushed his man inside, Greg Pyke pulled to the left and Isaiah Wynn pushed left to seal the hole.

CONCLUSION

Two games, in which the offense averaged 428.2 yards and the team won by an average of 27 points, seems a bit rash to jump to any negative conclusions. And just ask Arkansas and Auburn about the quality of its opponents.

The feeling here is we still don’t know very much about this Georgia team. The offense may very well be better than it’s shown. The defense and special teams have both had mostly good moments, but also some low ones. Consistency is an issue in those two phases of the game. As for the offense, well, it’s not good enough yet.

But “yet” is the key word. Whether or not the coaches have been holding stuff back, a closer reading of Georgia’s offensive performance shows that the book is still very much out.

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