Report Card: Defense gets excellent marks in an otherwise average game

Mark Richt, Jeremy Pruitt and the Bulldogs put together a flawed but winning effort against Kentucky on Saturday.

ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday reacted like a serious student would after bombing a midterm exam. Following a total and complete failure in losing to Florida 27-3 the last time out, they buckled down, studied and fixed some things. And while the next test was considerably easier, they aced it against Kentucky this time by a winning score of 27-3.

With the victory, the Bulldogs improve to 6-3 overall and 4-3 in the SEC. That, as quarterback Greyson Lambert pointed out, qualifies them for a bowl bid for a 19th consecutive season. This apparently is a big deal to Lambert, who never got to partake in a bowl in three seasons at Virginia.

But a bigger test awaits Georgia this week. The Bulldogs venture back out on the road to face an Auburn team that suddenly figured out some things on offense itself. The Tigers (5-4, 2-4) gave Jeremy Johnson his first start at quarterback in two months and they responded with a season-high 443 yards in defeating Texas A&M on the road 26-10.

But that’s next week’s problem. Let’s first decide how well the Bulldogs did against Kentucky. …

OFFENSE: C

It still left a lot to be desired, especially in comparison to the offensive juggernaut Georgia usually is. But the Bulldogs made relative strides compared to their abysmal performance against the Gators. UGA went back to its bread-and-butter of running the football almost exclusively and really just ignored the whole quarterback quandary by utilizing the “Wild Dog” formation nearly half the time. It worked well as tailback Sony Michel registered a career-high 165 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown and receiver Terry Godwin had a 28-yard TD run out of the formation. In all the Bulldogs collected a season-best 300 rushing yards while quarterbacks Lambert and Brice Ramsey attempted only 19 passes between them. Georgia put the ball on the ground two times, losing one deep in its own territory, and will have to be more balanced against better teams. But overall a great improvement.

DEFENSE: A

Jeremy Pruitt’s unit pitched a shutout for all practical purposes. Kentucky’s only score came on a 32-yard field goal after the Wildcats recovered a fumble at the UGA 20 and managed only five yards. The Bulldogs completely overwhelmed respected quarterback Patrick Towles, holding him to 96 yards on 8-of-21 passing and getting two interceptions from safety Dominick Sanders. After allowing the Wildcats only three points and 180 total yards, Georgia is starting put up some extremely impressive numbers regionally and nationally. Despite an extremely young secondary, the Bulldogs lead the SEC and are 11th in passing defense at 173.9 yards per game, are 7th in the nation in red-zone defense (70%, 12 TDs, 5 FGs), are 11th in third-down conversions (30.15%) and 14th in total D (305.3 ypg). Say what you want about Pruitt’s management style, but his charges are getting it done on the field

SPECIAL TEAMS:  C

It was another up-and-down day for Georgia’s specialists. The Bulldogs did not record any “catastrophic” plays on special teams, which is a victory in and of itself for those beleaguered units. The most stellar performance was turned in by the quarterback Ramsey, who was the primary punter for the second consecutive week and averaged 47.7 yards on three punts. Marshall Morgan made a 27-yard field goal but missed another medium-length kick when a 37-yarder went wide right to end the first half. Kentucky pulled off another bloop onsides kick but the Bulldogs were bailed out when the Wildcats were flagged for being offsides. Overall, very average.

COACHING: B

The biggest job for Georgia’s staff was in getting the players to ignore the outside noise about Mark Richt and others’ job statuses and they did a good job of that. Give the Bulldogs’ offensive coaches credit for coming up with a better solution this week for their quarterback dilemma. This time they utilized the Wild Dog formation to lessen the dependency on quarterbacks. Lambert returned to his starting role and Ramsey got two series in a rotation that was meant to go with the hot hand eventually. But Georgia called the game very conservatively and didn’t give the signal-callers much of a chance to help or hurt them. And there remained some maddening offensive calls, especially in short-yardage situations. The Bulldogs were running the ball effectively and faced third-and-two at the Kentucky 43 — two-down territory — but inexplicably lined up with Godwin in the shotgun and ended up with a 10-yard loss. A fullback-lead run with the quarterback under center or a QB sneak — or two — would seem the much wiser choice in that situation.

OVERALL: C

This is an extremely high “C” and an argument could be made for a “B,” or “pretty good” mark considering all the external factors affecting not just the game but the entire week of preparation. But Georgia has to be judged and/or graded on where it ought to be as a program every year and struggling for a half against an over-matched Kentucky and fumbling three times and missing field goals and getting flagged for a half-dozen penalties still falls short of the standard Richt has established. The Bulldogs must do better and will have to to beat an always-dangerous Auburn squad at Jordan-Hare.

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