Seven notes and observations from Sanford Stadium as Georgia and Georgia Southern are tied at 7 at halftime:
1. This turned quickly, didn’t it? Georgia had everything going for it – moving the ball on offense, making Georgia Southern’s triple-option ineffective – when Malcolm Mitchell, so perfect all season, fumbled at the end of a long catch-and-run, inside the opposing 10. Everything changed after that, with the visitors’ offense getting a spark, and Georgia’s offense sputtering. The Bulldogs had a chance to take complete control, and instead it’s anybody’s game at halftime.
2. Georgia’s defense played two different quarters. Early on Georgia’s defense was forcing long third downs, which was seemingly the key entering the game. Then Georgia Southern started getting big plays on third downs: A 28-yard pass, a 41-yard run, and a 20-yard run. Then came the nifty 23-yard run by Matt Breida, cutting from the right side down the left sideline to the 1-yard line: It was set up by great downfield blocking, by a team used to staying with the play and making the extra blocks. Georgia’s defense seemed to lose its aggressiveness and was playing on its heels in the second quarter.
3. As for the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs have been moving the ball most of the time, just failing to punch it in. There was Mitchell’s fumble, but also Marshall Morgan’s missed 48-yard field goal, the result of good pressure up by GSU’s kick block unit. Greyson Lambert is throwing the ball pretty well (7-for-12, 104 yards), though he badly missed Isaiah McKenzie on his last throw of the half. Still, there are yards to be had on offense, especially through the air.
3 (b) A stat-geek factoid: Georgia scored a touchdown on its opening possession for the first time all season. In fact it’s only scored on its opening possession twice this season – field goals against Southern and South Carolina. Unlike those two games, the Bulldogs stopped scoring after that.
4. Of course Georgia Southern left some points on the ball too: Davin Bellamy’s sack on third down thwarted not only the touchdown but any points, as kicker Younghoe Koo barely missed the field goal attempt. Georgia Southern is out-gaining Georgia at halftime, 161-151.
5. Georgia’s not getting enough out of its running game yet again. Sony Michel’s longest gain is just six yards. Take out Isaiah McKenzie’s 23-yard jet sweep touchdown, and Georgia’s runners are averaging 3 yards per carry. Some of it may be not enough push on the line. Some of it may be the defense. Some of it may also be not being smart enough with the playcalling after the first couple drives. Mark Richt and Brian Schottenheimer evidently decided to establish the pass, and it worked early on. But they haven’t been able to do follow it up by winning the line of scrimmage and dominating with the run.
6. The pass blocking has also been a problem. Lambert was sacked when a defensive lineman came right up the middle. And Lambert had to throw it away another time when a man came through seemingly untouched.
7. Turnover margin last week: Georgia plus-3. This week: Georgia minus-1. Tells you pretty what you need to know.
Final thought: Every time Georgia Southern has found success there’s been a big cheer in the stadium. There was some boos near the end of the half from the Georgia fans. This is setting up to be very dangerous for the Bulldogs, who needed to get out to a big lead and force the Eagles to play from behind. It looked like they were about to do that, but then things turned. You still feel like Georgia is the better team and should wrest control back, but you also sense that Georgia Southern isn’t going to make it easy.