We’re still waiting for the unbeaten Georgia Bulldogs to learn to get out of their own way.
Saturday’s 41-13 Homecoming win over Vanderbilt in Athens once again saw the Dawgs’ offense sputter at times early in the game, before finally getting on track to rack up 560 total yards, 5 touchdowns and two field goals.
Meanwhile, the Dawgs’ defense also got off to a slow start, and, to use head coach Kirby Smart’s own word, continued to look “soft” against the run at times, particularly in the first quarter and a half.
What really had Smart grousing after the game were the 13 “undisciplined” penalties for 115 yards the Dawgs accrued (on a night when the SEC officiating crew seemed inclined to throw those yellow hankies at the slightest provocation).
Smart called the Dawgs “sloppy,” and said he was “disappointed in the way we played.”
OK, some of that can be chalked up to Smart’s Saban-esque pursuit of perfection, but let’s also remember that this was Vandy. Those kinds of mistakes might sink the Dawgs against a tougher foe.
Let’s be clear: We’re talking about a very talented group of Bulldogs who spent much of Saturday night’s game showing off that talent as they routed the Commodores, with five different Dawgs scoring touchdowns.
Still, there is room for improvement, especially with the most challenging segment of the schedule awaiting. If the Dawgs are going to have another elite season, like last year’s, they’re going to have to be more consistent, and more focused.
All that aside, I think we did see progress on the offensive side of the ball Saturday night.
With starting quarterback Jake Fromm playing his best game of the season (completing 17 of 23 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns), Georgia’s air attack looked a bit more potent than the rushing game Saturday, much to the consternation of social media commenters who’d rather see the Dawgs looking like last year’s run-first team.
The ground game certainly wasn’t lacking, though, with Elijah Holyfield running for 64 yards on 6 carries, freshman James Cook having 56 yards on 7 carries (he had a long touchdown called back when it was determined he’d stepped out of bounds) and D’andre Swift running for 50 yards on 7 carries.
Not bad, considering Vandy was focused on stopping the run, and the very young Georgia offensive line got even younger after left guard Solomon Kindley went down in the first quarter with a right knee injury.
Swift also had four catches for 49 yards, including a terrific 35-yard pass from Fromm on which he made a nice cut and turned on the jets to score. Among the leading receivers, Riley Ridley finished with a team-high 5 catches for 57 yards while Terry Godwin had 2 catches for 95 yards.
Fromm, who completed 73 percent of his passes, was ruthlessly efficient, especially running the 2-minute offense late in the first half as he passed the Dawgs downfield, including a 28-yard completion to tight end Isaac Nauta and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ridley.
Freshman QB Justin Fields also got some valuable playing time, mostly in the third quarter, going 3-for-6 for 53 yards passing and rushing for 18 yards on 4 carries. He’s always a threat to take off running (even when he shouldn’t), which has its benefits. A prime example was the play where he faked keeping it and the defense largely followed him, while Holyfield took the ball to the house.
Overall, Fields continued to improve, but overthrew an open receiver on a long ball, and showed a freshman moment when he took a sack on a third-and-10, failing to get rid of the ball to an open receiver. (Georgia still scored on that drive, thanks to the strong leg of Rod Blankenship, who boomed a 53-yard field goal.) Walk-on QB Matthew Downing also got into the game, finishing it out.
The explosive Dawgs amassed 341 yards through the air to 219 on the ground against Vandy, and they didn’t spend a lot of time grinding it out. Georgia had touchdown drives lasting 15 seconds (one play, 75 yards), 2:46 (eight plays, 86 yards), 1:04 (six plays, 75 yards), 3:15 (eight plays, 75 yards) and 1:30 (three plays, 56 yards).
Three of Georgia’s TDs were impressive enough to be in contention for my list of the best plays of the season: Godwin breaking a tackle and juking another guy on the final 10 yards of his 75-yard reception of a perfectly thrown ball from Fromm; Holyfield’s Superman dive for the pylon on his 24-yard touchdown run; and Ridley’s acrobatic juggling catch while falling backward on a second quarter scoring pass from Fromm.
The defense took a while to get going, with Vandy actually outgaining the Dawgs early on, but the Georgia D had its moments, such as when they stopped a Commodores fourth-and-1 play on the Georgia 14-yard line. In the second half, Georgia basically shut down Vandy, with the last score coming with 2 seconds left in the game against third- and fourth-stringers.
Overall, the game never was in doubt (despite Vandy taking a 3-0 lead for 15 seconds, the only time the Dawgs have trailed this season), but Georgia continued to look sloppy, and made too many unforced errors. A rarely satisfied Smart couched it in these terms: “Are they stopping us, or are we stopping us?”
That’s a valid concern as the Dawgs prepare to enter the toughest part of their regular-season schedule, with the next three games away from Athens, against LSU, Florida and Kentucky.
Georgia has started out its season with a 6-0 mark (the first time ever that the Dawgs have won their first six games in back-to-back seasons), but there’s no escaping the fact that they haven’t yet put together a “complete” game on either offense or defense.
Smart succinctly summed up where Georgia stands midway through the 2018 season: “We’ve just got to continue to get better.”