Notes, observations and a final thought from Jordan-Hare Stadium as Auburn leads Georgia, 10-3, at halftime.
1. The story of the first half has to be the points that Georgia couldn’t score and how much the play-calling had to do with it. Two red zone trips for the Bulldogs, and just three points. The key sequence, obviously (as Brian Schottenheimer would say) came at the goal-line, when Georgia had it second-and-short and looked don the verge of tying the game. Instead it got no points: Second-and-short, a toss inside to Sony Michel, who fumbled it but fell on it. Third down, an inside handoff that’s stopped. And the topper: Fourth down, Greyson Lambert in shotgun – giving away that it’s probably a pass, and a closely-covered Malcolm Mitchell is thrown behind by Lambert. Big fullback Quayvon Hicks didn’t take the field for any of those plays. To not call a sneak or a fullback dive up the gut at any point is just strange. Former Georgia player Amarlo Herrera, watching this from wherever he is, tweeted: “We don’t wanna win.”
1 (b). On that fourth down play Mark Richt was running down the sideline and I thought he was about to call a timeout. But he didn’t, and I’m sure he wishes he had. Either Richt was very excited and wanted to watch the play closely (probably not) or he was very unsure about the play and thought seriously about calling the timeout but didn’t (more likely).
2. Then there was the third-and-1 call that resulted in Lambert being sacked. Once again, a very questionable play call, especially after Hicks had just converted a third-and-short on the previous series. Lambert should have thrown the ball away, and Marshall Morgan bailed him out by making the 40-yard field goal. But Lambert arguably shouldn’t have been throwing anyway.
3. Keith Marshall has yet to play, as far as I can tell. Brendan Douglas was in the backfield on a few plays and Hicks even got a pitch-out on a play that usually would go to Michel or Marshall. I’m not sure if that means Marshall isn’t 100 percent, but all indications had been that Marshall would continue to be more involved in the offense, so it’s surprising.
4. Any scenario with a Georgia victory included a good performance from the defense. The opening drive was therefore a bad omen. Auburn moved downfield easily, averaging nearly 7 yards per play, Georgia’s front seven being bowled over and the backside not getting to the ball quickly. Auburn just had Jeremy Pruitt’s unit out-schemed. But either Gus Malzahn used up everything on that drive or Pruitt and the Bulldogs made some good adjustments. Auburn averaged There’s been good pressure, plus Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson has quite a mercurial streak that can cost his team.
5. Leonard Floyd’s second down doomed Auburn’s second drive. Floyd has looked lately like the guy everyone expected, and it’s probably no accident it came after the inside linebacker experiment ended.
5 (b). While Jake Ganus has been the most productive player on Georgia’s defense this year, Malkom Parrish is becoming a close second. His acrobatic interception was important from a morale standpoint as well as field position; Auburn would’ve had to punt anyway.
6. OK, now done with that defensive praise interlude we return to dissecting the offense: Lambert seems to pass it a lot better in play-action – and if it seems like I make that point incessantly, it’s because I do. Well at least I have a few times this year. Lambert hit a wide open Christian Payne – there was an audible groan from the Auburn crowd as the ball was in the air – and Payne scampered 20 yards down to the 11 on the final play of the first quarter.
6 (b). Twice Georgia tried deep balls to Malcolm Mitchell on first down after having had moved the ball already on the drive. Both times they were incomplete. It’s good to go deep to keep the defense honest, but sometimes you can’t get greedy with a struggling offense.
7. There actually has been more creative play design this game, and guys who had been missing (Jeb Blazevich) or under-used (Isaiah McKenzie, Hicks) are getting touches. So give Richt and Schottenheimer credit there. But while the gameplan is working, the most critical play calls have not.
Final thought: This is still a one-possession game, and Georgia gets the ball to start the second half. The Bulldogs’ defense is holding up its end, after a rough start, and the offense is actually moving the ball. But something has to change for the offense in the moments that matter most.