How different did Georgia’s romp over South Carolina look watching a second time, this time on television rather than the press box? Spoiler alert: It was still a romp in which the Bulldogs were exceedingly impressive, especially in the passing game. But as we do every Monday, let’s delve deeper and see what else can be gleaned upon re-watching the game:
GREYSON LAMBERT’S DAY
– Yeah, Lambert was bitingly accurate. There was only one pass where it looked like the receiver saved him: Michael Chigbu’s catch in the fourth quarter. (It was behind him.) Otherwise every pass was on the money, slants hitting the receiver in stride, short passes and downfield passes hitting the receiver right in the hands.
– I counted twice, just twice, that Lambert was even hit, at least on screen. The quick-passing strategy was part of it, as was great blocking. Lambert also clearly has confidence in his line now, and in the play calls. There were several downfield passes where Lambert stood and waited for the play to develop, and it paid off.
– How many times did Lambert check down? More as the game went on. For instance, on a 15-yard downfield pass to Malcolm Mitchell in the second quarter, Lambert either looked off from a shorter receiver or checked off him before seeing Mitchell streaking open. Later he rolled right and looked up to see Jackson Harris open, and hit him for a 15-yard gain. And as Lambert got comfortable there were a lot more instances of looking away from his intended receiver until the last second: For instance, the first two plays of the second half, passes to Mitchell.
But don’t obsess about checking down; sometimes the play is designed well enough not to do that. On the 17-yard pass to Terry Godwin to finish the first quarter, Godwin actually stutter-stepped upon the snap while four other receivers spread across the field. It was an intentional hesitation by Godwin, who then was wide open in the middle of the field for Lambert to nail him in stride.
The pass to Jay Rome was similar to that: Sony Michel looked to be the obvious check-down guy, but Lambert kept his eyes downfield, waiting for Rome to get open, which he did, and the ball got there when he did.
It’s almost like, yes, Lambert was staring down his mark, but to the defense there wasn’t anything there. It turns out there was.
– Yes, a lot of high-percentage passes at the start to establish confidence. But as the game went on there were a lot of tougher throws, including a couple where the timing was remarkable considering the little time Lambert has had with his receivers: The 19-yard sideline pass to Reggie Davis in the first quarter, splitting two defenders, and the 25-yarder to Mitchell in the fourth quarter, when Mitchell turned around for the ball at the last moment.
The drive near the end of the first half to score – 78 yards in an efficient eight plays and 2:03 – was reminiscent of the machine that was Georgia’s offense during the Aaron Murray–Mike Bobo yaers. Murray, in the house watching his replacement as the No. 11 quarterback, probably recognized it.
– By now the only incompletion of the game, ending the first drive with 7:18 left in the first quarter, has already been analyzed ad nauseum. Mitchell was indeed running open in the middle of the field, and Lambert should have checked down to him, in which case it almost certainly would have been a touchdown. Certainly a first down. But Lambert was locked in on Jeb Blazevich in the end zone, and at least saw there was too much coverage and threw it away. We’d seen a lot of that from him the first two weeks, reading the coverage well and placing it where only his receiver could make a great catch. (With the exception of the dropped interception at Vanderbilt.)
– Remember last week when it seemed Lambert (and Brice Ramsey) had their feet even before every shotgun play that was a run, and offset when it was a pass? That wasn’t as evident this time.
THE OFFENSIVE PLAYBOOK
– Georgia’s formations were very telling – and for a defense, confusing. They passed a lot out of sets that could be either a run or a pass. There was a lot of three-wide in shotgun but with six linemen. And when the single guy in the backfield is Nick Chubb or Sony Michel, then as a defense you have to keep the box stacked. That’s what happened at the start of the game: Georgia’s first three plays were passes out of three-wide, but the defense kept seven in the box, eight if you count the near corner. And it went on like that for much of the game.
For a defense, those are pretty daunting formations to do guesswork on.
– South Carolina did have two safeties back early in the game. It was as if Jon Hoke, South Carolina’s defensive coordinator, knew the Bulldogs were going to try to pass it, but not with that quite an effective short attack.
– Remember how the first two weeks even the run game was vanilla, with very few outside runs? This time the first run of the game was a toss sweep. A message was sent there too.
– This game was a great example of making use of Michel’s talents. On his two touchdown catches he got the ball in space and then did what he does. On his touchdown run they ran him up the gut but opened a huge hole. Chubb and Michel are a fantastic combination this way: Chubb as the workhorse mainstay, mostly between the tackles but some outside, Michel vice versa. And when they’re both on the field – as they were about a dozen times in this game – it’s yet another head-on-a-swivel situation for the defenders.
– Georgia’s offensive line deserves a lot of credit. It gets a great push, but the interior linemen also are athletic; I saw each of the interior linemen pulling on at least one run play. Fullback Christian Payne also had a good block on Michel’s first touchdown run. That’s worth noting now that Payne is hurt again.
– South Carolina’s defense just wore down in the third quarter, which is why Chubb had more running room. But that’s a compliment to Georgia. That’s what it’s trying to do every game.
– It’ll be hard to replicate this gameplan execution against every team left on the schedule – including the one arriving in two weeks – and I’m not sure that’s the idea. Georgia won’t use the pass to set up the run in most games. But now it hopes the message has been sent that it can air it out, and at minimum Lambert and his team have that confidence.
– Pharoah Cooper, arguably South Carolina’s only offensive weapon, had just one catch. How did that happen?
Cooper lined up in the slot a lot, which seemed the way to go, as Georgia’s defense was susceptible to that the first two weeks. But this time they had a plan. When Cooper went to the slot on second-and-long on the first drive, the coverage was there and Perry Orth was forced to tuck it and run. He didn’t get anything. That seemed to set the tone for the game.
But Georgia didn’t try a lock-down man-to-man or double-team approach on Cooper.
On South Carolina’s second drive you can see Quincy Mauger line up on Cooper, then let Cooper zoom past him, presumably for a safety to pick him up. (The pass went to the other side of the field to the tight end.)
It seemed like the Gamecock quarterbacks didn’t look for Cooper enough. His one catch, a 6-yarder that converted a first down, was on a roll-out where he was the guy all the way. But otherwise there weren’t many throws his way at all, and a lot of other times he wasn’t even being looked at. Cooper was in single coverage a lot too. Mauger had good coverage a lot of the time.
In fact, it appeared a big part of Spurrier’s gameplan was to get the ball to his tight ends, and exploit that middle-of-the-field weakness. But Georgia stopped it, with Dominick Sanders and the linebackers doing a good job. On one play Sanders was draped (legally, it appeared) all over a tight end seemingly twice his size.
– Georgia didn’t blitz all that much. It depended on basically a four-man line, with the middle of the defense jumping to the ball on run plays then going into a zone on pass plays. It worked. One play sticks out: Near midfield in the second quarter South Carolina had third-and-6. Georgia only rushed four, so Orth had time and threw into single coverage, but Malkom Parrish was there for the knockaway. Jeremy Pruitt was trusting his coverage.
Orth had a really good start, going 3-for-3 to put South Carolina into field goal range. But it was a bit of fool’s gold – even on the best completion, down the field in coverage, you could see the ball fluttering a bit. It wasn’t sustainable. The biggest confirmation of that came later, when Georgia took a 38-13 lead, and South Carolina’s ensuing drive began with six straight rushes. Spurrier just didn’t have the weapons to stage a comeback.
– South Carolina’s first touchdown drive featured three Cooper runs, one Lorenzo Nunez run, and a Brandon Wilds 13-yard run out of the shotgun when Georgia left the middle open. It finished on an Orth four-yard run. I’m not quite going to say it was smoke and mirrors, but it felt like a drive that was the best Spurrier could do under the circumstances.
– Georgia stacked the box a lot, and the Gamecocks ran it anyway, and predictably it didn’t gain much. That was a good sign for the Bulldogs in this game, and further shows that the run defense is strong enough that other teams, probably even Alabama, won’t be able to just stuff it down their throat when they know the run is coming. But I also think Georgia’s defense hasn’t been tested very much by an offense that can stretch the field with its rushes. That test comes in two weeks.
– Freshman Johnathan Abram, a first-time starter at safety, wasn’t on the screen much. That’s good in that he wasn’t thrown at or beat on anything, arguably bad because he didn’t do more to get involved. But things were going pretty well without him so you can’t really fault him.
– Pruitt loves to talk about “eye control” and Sanders had it on his interception. He started trailing his man while simultaneously watching Orth, which was why the ball came right to him. If he had his eyes off the QB for a split second it’s probably not an interception.
– There were six true freshmen on defense when South Carolina scored its final touchdown, a minute into the fourth quarter: Abram, Juwuan Briscoe, Roquan Smith, Jonathan Ledbetter, Deandre Baker and Trent Thompson. There were also several other subs, including Devin Bowman, who was called for a 15-yard penalty that helped the drive.
– What was the deal on kickoff coverage? Marshall Morgan’s first two kickoffs were great, not only touchbacks but plenty of hang time, so if they had been returned they wouldn’t have gone far. But for some reason his next few were low – the third one was a grounder, for some reason. The coverage was even worse, and it almost seemed a case of the coverage team being lulled after the first two kicks to think it would be an easy day. When your kicker makes the tackle – one of them open-field – on two kickoffs, the other 10 guys have some answering to do. And that’s probably what happened at halftime, because the kickoff coverage in the second half was much better.
– TV briefly showed Marty Schottenheimer and Brad Johnson sitting next to each other in the stands, with Schottenheimer wearing a Georgia shirt. It just goes to show what a small world this is: Marty Schottenheimer was fired as Washington Redskins’ coach after the 2001 season to make room for Spurrier. Brian Schottenheimer was the quarterbacks coach on that fired staff, and Johnson was the quarterback. Now Johnson lives in Athens – he’s married to Richt’s sister – and Marty spends a lot of time in town because of his son. But there’s not any visible animosity between the Schottenheimers and Spurrier – any of it is directed at Daniel Snyder. As it should be.
– Jake Ganus had the big night – leading the team in tackles and then getting engaged – but Tim Kimbrough reminded why he’s still playing, with a one-on-one hit to stop South Carolina on fourth-and-2.
– Late in the game Shaquery Wilson came in at receiver. That means all four freshmen receivers – Wilson, Godwin, Chigbu and Jayson Stanley – have played this year and burned their redshirt.
– Chubb fumbled the ball on the first drive, his first carry of the game, and was pretty lucky the ball bounced off unknowing defenders and quickly out of bounds. Looking back, that was a near-miss that could have been an early momentum-derailer.
– Almost every time Quayvon Hicks gets a pass in the flat he does something impressive. It’s too bad his blocking hasn’t been consistent enough for him to be on the field more.
– A missed penalty call on South Carolina’s second drive: False start on left tackle Brandon Shell should have been called, but the refs went with offsides on Kimbrough. Shell started to lurch back just before Kimbrough came across.
– Georgia’s offensive line, left to right, late in the game: Aulden Bynum, Dyshon Sims, Hunter Long, Lamont Galliard, Kendall Baker. That is a mini-preview of things to come, as Georgia has two senior tackles and guard Greg Pyke will be a candidate to go pro. Isaiah Wynn, the current starter at left guard, will be a prime candidate to play left tackle next year, and five-star recruit Ben Cleveland should be in the mix as well.
Georgia’s passing game isn’t as great as it showed in this game, nor is it as mediocre as it seemed at Vanderbilt. If it’s at least in between from here on out, and the running game remains what it is, the offense overall will be in great shape. As for the overall lesson from this game, one is that South Carolina isn’t good at all. But Georgia did exactly what it should’ve done against a below-average team. So while no one should go booking playoff tickets yet, this game shows Georgia has the piecese to get there.