Seven thoughts, and two bonus thoughts, as No. 18 Georgia leads Tennessee 24-17 at halftime at Neyland Stadium.
1. Obviously the Nick Chubb injury overshadows everything and threatened to suck the energy out of the game right way. It happened on the first offensive play of the game, no less. The fact it happened here, the same place that saw all those injuries two years ago, just adds to it. The rest of the half was filled with big moments and several big turns of events. But it opened with a huge gut-punch to the Bulldogs.
2. Still, what a wild half ensued after that, and in a 30 minutes that saw so many turns of momentum, the first is still the biggest: Leonard Floyd’s 96-yard touchdown return. Floyd gets the credit – and deservedly so because he did the running, and looked like he was wheezing the final 25 yards. That’s why he didn’t celebrate. But Floyd’s athleticism was the reason that was a touchdown, as any other linebacker or linemen near the play might not have even made it to midfield before being tackled. And given the state of the Chubb-less offense, punching it into the end zone was huge. But Georgia’s run defense on the play forced the issue, creating a chance to knock the ball out – which Davin Bellamy did. Obviously a lot happened after this, but if Georgia finds itself down 7-0, its offense struggling, what happens then?
3. Sony Michel came to the rescue of what had been an anemic offense. Georgia didn’t have a first down late in the first quarter when Michel, in two straight plays, took his team from its own 20 to Tennessee’s 28. Then came the 66-yard run midway through the second quarter, when he shed five tackles – according to one count on press row. Before Michel’s first screen catch-and-run, the yardage total in the game was Tennessee 139, Georgia 15. After that, over the next 11 minutes of game action it was Georgia 220, Tennessee 47. As bad as Chubb’s injury is, from an emotional and pure football standpoint, Michel’s presence means Georgia still has something to its running game. Something really good.
4. But Michel’s still not perfect, and his fumble on the kickoff late in the half helped Tennessee get right back into it. A game that had been 24-3, seemingly headed for a blowout, was instead a one-possession game with the Volunteers getting the ball to start the second half. That’s not all Michel’s fault. It’s just one of those moments that can turn a game.
5. So what to make of Georgia’s defense? Well, the tackling has been pretty terrible. It’s not worth elaborating on that, or describing the key plays where multitudes of white jerseys bounced off the ball-carrier. It’s just been … terrible. This game is probably only 24-13 if a tackle is made near the sideline in the final minute. The secondary has also given up a few big plays, again in the middle of the field. That hasn’t been fixed. The good news? Georgia is shutting down the run again, with Jalen Hurd held to 22 yards on 11 carries. But the pass defense needs to be fixed: Joshua Dobbs had 187 passing yards and two touchdowns, and he’s bailed out the Bulldogs on some other plays with bad throws.
6. Occasionally Georgia won’t miss Isaiah McKenzie on special teams. Reggie Davis made it look hard at the start – dropping the punt, then going backwards about 10 yards – but the end result was a 70-yard touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a commanding lead. And when the flag was picked up because officials decided it was a block in the side, not in the back, I think Mark Richt leapt a couple feet in the air. Just seconds earlier Richt and his coaches had been reaming out someone. It wasn’t clear whether it was a player or an official, but the guess here is it was the latter. Hey, sometimes going all Bobby Cox works.
7. Greyson Lambert was awful to start the game, and was lucky not to have two interceptions. Tennessee’s case of dropsies affected its defense as well as the offense. But the Michel catch-and-run may have infused some confidence, leading to a good throw – but a whale of a better catch by Malcolm Mitchell for the touchdown. It was a good call by Brian Schottenheimer: First down at the 28, I-formation and play-cation, line Mitchell up wide as the only receiver on the field, then have Lambert put the ball there for him. Lambert (5-for-11 for 99 yards) played the entire half. No Brice Ramsey yet. And as the game stays close you have to wonder if we’ll see Ramsey at all. I know Schottenheimer vowed that’s the plan, but unless and until Lambert forces the issue with more bad throws, it would seem unwise to risk the backup at this point … unless the coaches feel really confident about the plays they’ve scripted for Ramsey.
Bonus (short-term) thought: This is playing out like all the recent games in this series. Georgia gets an early lead, then … does Tennessee rally again?
Bonus (long-term) thought: Two years ago Georgia left this stadium with a win but its chances for the rest of the season essentially ruined because of injury. Eerie, isn’t it. And Missouri was next on the schedule two years ago too.