At second glance: More observations from Georgia’s opener

Greg Pyke
Greg Pyke gives Nick Chubb kudos after his first touchdown of the season.

You see a lot from the press box, and the stands, but sometimes you miss things the first time around. So every week I’ll be re-watching the television copy of Georgia’s previous game in order to dive deeper into the game. Sometimes it reinforces the first impressions from the game. But sometimes it clarifies some points, and offers a different narrative. So here are more observations – a lot more – after re-watching Georgia’s 51-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe:

QUARTERBACKS

Greyson Lambert only had 12 pass attempts, but that was enough to analyze, so let’s get to it. First the good, because there was more of it.

The first touchdown pass, to Jeb Blazevich, was placed perfectly to the tight end’s left side, away from the defender. It was good play-action by Lambert as well. It was also a great set-up by Brian Schottenheimer, as the Bulldogs had been using so much double-tight end for run plays, so it was easy to suck the defense in with that call, and leave an open passing lane between Lambert and Blazevich.

(After Lambert’s second incompletion, also a throwaway, Lambert and Schottenheimer looked at each other and both pointed upfield to the left. Maybe they were agreeing that someone had been open downfield, but the TV copy didn’t show that part of the field.)

The touchdown pass to Malcolm Mitchell was also off play-action, and while Mitchell made a stupendous grab, upon re-watching Lambert’s pass was perfect as well. It had to be placed right in that corner, and timed just for that moment, and it was. An underthrow could easily be an interception. There was great touch on that pass, Aaron Murray-esque.

Lambert’s worst drive was obviously the first one of the second half. First he fumbled the handoff to Chubb. That was all Lambert not having a good grip after the shotgun snap. Then came the two straight batted balls, something that should be unusual for a 6-foot-5 quarterback. So let’s look at the two plays.

The first one: Lambert almost had a clear lane to Blazevich, the intended receiver streaking towards the right, but ULM senior defensive lineman Lorenzo Jackson (who’s 6-2) got his left hand up at the last second. It looked like Lambert may have short-armed it, not taking a very full motion. The pass was there but Lambert just didn’t take Jackson into enough account. The second one: Lambert was just rushed and tried to get rid of it, but the oncoming rusher, linebacker Braxton Moore (who’s 5-foot-10), batted it away. There wasn’t really anybody open – Lambert was looking in Chubb’s direction, but Chubb hadn’t turned around yet, so Lambert may have just been trying to throw it away.

The second batted ball was more a bad decision to throw it, rather than tuck it in or try to avoid the sack. The first batted ball is more worrisome, and bears watching whether Lambert has this problem going forward.

Still, don’t take Lambert’s other passes for granted. They hit the receivers in the hands, allowing them to make plays. Take the quick slant to Sony Michel, which was in stride, and it ended up a 45-yard catch-and-run.

Isaiah McKenzie also wasn’t targeted on any plays – they were taking it easy on the speedy sophomore because of the hamstring injury. When Lambert has McKenzie to throw to that may open up the passing game too.

There were also a couple plays where Lambert had to throw it away because of good pass coverage. Yes, Lambert didn’t have the ability to create anything with his feet. But two things about that: Ramsey isn’t known for his feet either, and the fact Lambert threw it away instead of trying to make something happen, as Matt Stinchcomb pointed out on the broadcast, may be a big reason the coaches are going with him, rather than Brice Ramsey. Speaking of which …

 – Ramsey’s first completion, the 20-yarder down the middle to Godwin, showed the zip he can put on the ball. It helped that Terry Godwin did a good job getting open too. His second pass, the dump-off to Michel, also showed great poise, keeping his eye on Michel rather than the oncoming defender. So overall it was a good showing by Ramsey, though don’t go too crazy with it. It was just one series.

THAT VANILLA OFFENSE

– It wasn’t just the passing game that was self-contained. It was the running game too. There were 35 total rush attempts, and 16 of them were up the middle, and eight more I categorized as slightly to the left or right. These plays averaged 6.6 yards per carry, though the biggest chunks of yardage (runs of 14, 14, 23 and 18) came from Nick Chubb taking an inside handoff and cutting through the open hole.

There were 11 runs that were off-tackle, and they averaged 8.8 yards per carry.

There was pretty much a lack of stretch plays. No sweeps. The closest the Bulldogs came to one was Keith Marshall’s 20-yard run when he cut towards the right sideline. The most successful runs up the middle – other than Chubb being Chubb – were by Brendan Douglas and Keith Marshall early in the fourth quarter, when ULM had injuries and appeared to be worn out. That’s not to diminish Georgia’s rushing attack, as that will be part of the plan this year, as it was at times last year, to wear out the opposing team and be stronger as the game goes on.

– The offensive line had a decent day. Not great. Sometimes there just wasn’t a lot of push, no obvious breakdown by a single guy. Even on the first Marshall touchdown run, Matt Stinchcomb had a good observation: Wynn and Theus seemed to do two different things, allowing a defensive tackle in the backfield, and Marshall had to go around him to score. (But when the TV immediately snapped back to the sideline Wynn and Theus were sitting next to each other, smiling and bopping their heads to the stadium music, so they seemed on the same page there.)

– Clearly Brian Schottenheimer has more creative plays to use down the line. Maybe this week. Maybe later. But eventually the Bulldogs will need to open up the passing game, or else the run game will be in danger of being contained. Early in the game Louisiana-Monroe was playing close to the box and had some early success with it. Georgia’s line wasn’t just blowing over people until later in the game.

Georgia only threw the ball four times on first down, but when it did there was some success. When Georgia did throw it on first down it did well: On the first drive of the second quarter Lambert went play-action and hit Mitchell for a 13-yard gain. Three plays later the pair hooked up again on a first-down receiver screen, and Mitchell got 11 yards.

It was a hint, one suspects, of things to come on offense, at least in games where it’s needed.

THE DEFENSE’S TWO BAD DRIVES

Let’s be clear: Georgia’s defense had a very good day, pitching a shutout for seven drives. Then things got rough, as Louisiana-Monroe passed its way to consecutive touchdowns. What went wrong?

– The first ULM scoring drive was a two-minute drill, and the defense just didn’t respond. Personnel-wise, Georgia had two inside linebackers in the entire time, rather than a dime package. Leonard Floyd was in the entire drive, then Tim Kimbrough replaced Jake Ganus at the other ILB spot just before the 22-yard touchdown pass to Rashon Ceasar.

There wasn’t enough focus on Ceasar. The ULM receiver had caught seven passes, including three that drive, when he was left wide open in the middle of the field before his 22-yard touchdown play. Only one guy was on Ceasar before the play, freshman Rico McGraw, and he backed into a safety position after the snap, leaving only Kimbrough near him. ULM was five-wide on the play and sent everyone deep, and everyone in the secondary just followed them back, leaving ULM’s best receiver wide open in the middle. So it’s not clear whether that was McGraw’s fault, or whether someone else was supposed to come up on Ceasar. Either way somebody other than an inside linebacker should have been near the other team’s top threat.

– The second drive began with an 18-yard Ceasar catch-and-run, in which McGraw missed the tackle near the line when he took a bad angle. The next big play was an 11-yard pass that came after Aaron Davis missed a tackle. Then came the 29-yard touchdown pass, in which McGraw was on Ceasar but didn’t get any help. Dominick Sanders originally lined up on Ceasar then gave way when he went downfield, at which point McGraw picked him up, but not well enough. Again, the strange thing here was Georgia not locking down Ceasar, either by man-covering him with safety help, or straight-up double coverage, since it should’ve been clear at this point he was the focus of the offense. On the touchdown play, if Sanders was going to let Ceasar go upfield, then he should have been defended on both sides, rather than just McGraw on the right.

– What adjustments did Georgia make? Well, Ceasar didn’t take the field on ULM’s next drive, so that helped. Then the lightning delay happened, and the first play afterwards was indeed a pass to Ceasar, who this time was trailed closely by McGraw and another defensive back. Ceasar still almost hauled in the pass but was out of bounds. (Ceasar caught one more pass, on the next drive, when he was lined up in the slot against Reggie Wilkerson.)

– In the broader sense, Georgia’s defense was caught off-guard by those two fast-paced drives. It’s no big deal against Louisiana-Monroe when the game was already in hand, but it also showed what can happen with a younger group, as Jeremy Pruitt has warned.

– The supposed rough days for McGraw and Sanders are being a bit overstated. In Sanders’ case it wasn’t a great day, but he had some good moments, including knocking away a downfield pass that was about to be completed. In McGraw’s case, early in the game he was overtaken on some blocks, and had some tackling problems on other plays. So he’ll have to work on that. His name was mentioned a lot in the previous couple paragraphs, but in many cases a defensive back can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

OTHER STANDOUT PLAYERS

– Michel: The sophomore’s performance is being overlooked too much. He had two catches for 79 yards, and his yards-after-catch was about 60. He also had two strong 11-yard runs in the third quarter, shaking off tacklers along the way. He’s not just a speed guy.

– Godwin: We knew about his speed. On his first catch, he shook three tacklers as he cut upfield. He eventually went down because, essentially, he was surrounded.

Terry Godwin. (Brant Sanderlin.)

– Floyd: There’s so much athleticism here, but also instinct. Lining up at inside linebacker, on the first play he saw it was a screen and darted towards the sideline, pushing the receiver out of bounds. On the next play he burst up the middle for the TFL.

– Malkom Parrish: The sophomore quietly had a very good day at cornerback, especially with his tackling. He had a big TFL on a receiver screen, the final play before the lightning delay. He also had some good tackles on run plays in the first half.

– Collin Barber: The punter had a very strong start to his senior season, a good sign considering his inconsistency the past couple seasons. He had one punt, ruled a touchback, that very nearly went out of bounds at the 1. Barber’s kickoffs were very good, and the coaches may need to keep him in that role.

ANOTHER SPECIAL TEAMS NOTE

Georgia is making use of lot of the athletic defensive talents who can’t get on the field that much on defense. Freshman D’Andre Walker blocked the punt for the safety. Lorenzo Carter was credited for another block in the first quarter. Chuks Amaechi was also out there. Those are all outside linebackers. Even offensive players: Sony Michel and Reggie Davis are acting as gunners. Roquan Smith was on almost every special team. Natrez Patrick was next to Collin Barber on kickoffs.

When Walker broke through for the blocked punt safety it almost seemed like the three ULM up-men were instructed not to block anybody.  Or they forgot that it was a short field so the punter didn’t have as much room. Either way, a good play by Walker – and Amaechi was almost right there too with a chance for the block.

QUICK HITTERS

– The Georgia defensive line had a very good day, spurred by the veterans, which may be why the ballyhooed Trent Thompson didn’t see the field until the second half. Senior Sterling Bailey had a key TFL in the first quarter to stuff a third-and-inches run. Chris Mayes and John Atkins were trading snaps at nose tackle. Davin Bellamy was also getting some snaps at defensive end.

– When Thompson finally saw the field in the second half he didn’t do much, but he was also double-blocked on several plays. On his third play he did blow up his blocker but the tailback was going past him. All in all it seemed a frustrating first possession of Thompson’s career, but nothing to be upset about.

– Jordan Jenkins played a hybrid OLB-DE role. For most of the snaps he seemed on the line in a crouch, not quite with his hands on the ground, but basically the fourth down lineman. That was where he was before he got his sack, when he burst into the backfield untouched.

– Regarding the Aaron Davis interception: It was a heady and athletic play by Davis, who may have been helped by the play being next to Georgia’s sideline – Jeremy Pruitt was right there. It looked like he was alerted that the ball was headed that way. It was also a rather silly play call by Louisiana-Monroe, without much chance for success.

– Lorenzo Carter could have been credited with a sack on a second-quarter play that was instead ruled a rush for no gain. Davin Bellamy forced quarterback Garret Smith to dart to the left of the pocket, where Carter nailed him as he was going forward, evidently landing at the line of scrimmage.

– When Ramsey was sacked on a blitz up the middle it appeared to be the fault of the backfield, as Quayvon Hicks didn’t see the blitz quick enough to come over and pick it up. Chubb tried to but it was too late.

– I’m guessing that Reggie Davis will be told by the coaches to be a bit more cautious in the future on punt returns. He did well getting 21 yards out of a rolling punt and 7 yards out of another that he chose to return near midfield. But in each case he had defenders around him, and those big South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee special-teamers might have made Davis pay.

AND IN CONCLUSION …

Yes, it ultimately was a glorified preseason game, mainly because Georgia played well enough to make it one. Lambert had a good day, though not so good it ended the debate. We didn’t learn very much about Schottenheimer’s offense. Nobody at any position did so badly that they need to be benched this week. Georgia’s opening game didn’t do much to move the story much. And that’s not really a bad thing.

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