This was the first time in what seemed like ages that the re-watch of the game was to further explain why things went right for Georgia. And on both sides of the ball. It felt weird writing this while not sharpening a knife.
Of course not everything was perfect. A special teams snafu (shocking, I know) that was averted. More shaky passing, though that came with an asterisk as well.
But most everything was positive for the Bulldogs in its 27-3 win over Kentucky. Here’s what more was gleaned after watching the TV copy:
– A big problem for Georgia’s offense this year has been simple: Not getting the ball to its playmakers in space. It has those playmakers – Malcolm Mitchell, Terry Godwin, Sony Michel, Isaiah McKenzie – but the passing game and traditional run plays weren’t accomplishing that on any consistent basis. That’s where the Wildcat comes in. But so do other plays, such as well-designed screens and short passes.
It’s usually unfair to criticize in hindsight by basically saying: Where was this until now? But in this case Georgia’s offense was obviously sputtering from the beginning – think back to Vanderbilt – and the struggles against Alabama could have reawakened the concerns. A criticism of Schottenheimer’s time in the NFL was he was slow to adapt. Georgia finally appears to have hit on something now, but it came too late.
– Georgia ran a total of 47 plays, and only 10 of them were out of the Wildcat. But the ones they ran were almost all effective: They averaged 6.5 yards, and take out Godwin’s 10-yard loss and it was 8.3 yards per attempt. Half of the plays out of the Wildcat formation gained at least 6 yards, and all but the Godwin minus-10 rush gained at least 2 yards.
– As for the revamped offensive line, it looks like the experiment worked on the left side, where Isaiah Wynn took over at left tackle for most of the time, and Kolton Houston was at left guard. The right side, with Dyshon Sims and Greg Pyke splitting time at right guard, was a bit more shaky, but there was also a better push than in recent games.
This was how I charted it in terms of run direction (with some wiggle room between what constitutes up the middle and towards either side, but you get the idea):
– Towards the left: 98 yards on 17 plays, average of 5.8 yards per carry. Note: That includes the 10-yard loss by Godwin, which skews the stats downward, as well as Michel’s 1-yard touchdown run.
– Up the middle: 173 yards on 23 carries, an average of 7.5 yards per carry.
Note: That includes Godwin’s 28-yard touchdown, as well as runs of 45, 11 and 10 yards that were slightly to the left, though not quite enough to put them in that category.
– Towards the right: 29 yards on 12 carries, an average of 2.4 yards per carry.
Someone else might have charted the runs slightly differently, but again, you get the idea.
– Here were examples of high-percentage pass plays that worked: A screen pass to McKenzie who bobbed and weaved for 10 yards. And it happened with McKenzie stacked behind Mitchell, who made his block, and McKenzie was in space. A play-action dump-off to Brendan Douglas on first down that gained 7 yards. (Lambert continues to operate more effectively in play-action.) The screen to Keith Marshall (after looking the defense to the right) that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown.
– There was also more of an effort to get McKenzie touches. Even after his fumble an end-around was called for him, and one pass was targeted for him.
– Some fans have wondered whether Mark Richt was actually calling plays. I don’t think he was – based not only on watching the TV copy closely, but in person on binoculars. And in the screen shot you can see Brian Schottenheimer calling in a play through his headset, covering it with his mouth. Richt also has carried around that play sheet in the past, as I pointed out in my story after Saturday’s game. However, it did seem that Richt was more engaged and active in the playcalling. Their backs are to us during the game while we’re in the press box. But this one time on TV you could clearly see the two talking before Schottenheimer called in the play.
LAMBERT vs. RAMSEY
Greyson Lambert started the game 0-for-4 and 1-for-6, but a few of those came with asterisks. Not the first: Lambert’s pass hit off Sims’ helmet. It shouldn’t have been a short pattern anyway, as it was third-and-15. That was bad. His second pass should have been caught: Jordan Davis just couldn’t hold on to what would have been a long completion. Lambert was also rushed from the right side and did a good job of staying in the pocket. It was probably Lambert’s best play of the game, and it was incomplete. His third pass was deep to McKenzie, overthrown but he wasn’t open anyway. And his fourth was because of pressure. His fifth was a completion, then his sixth was short, but while being decked. Then Lambert hit a wide-open Mitchell for a 24-yard gain.
Brice Ramsey’s first pass sailed high to McKenzie and was a dangerous throw. But his very next one, to Mitchell on the sideline, was well-timed and placed. So was his next pass (over the middle to Jay Rome) but his fourth was another pass that sailed, riskily so, on a screen.
Basically, if the first half was the competition you could see if the coaches had awarded Ramsey the start to the second half, but it wouldn’t have been outlandish to call it a draw considering how their passes actually played out. Plus, Lambert’s drives resulted in 10 points and a missed field goal. As it was, the coaches gave Lambert the first drive of the second half because it was still his turn, going on the “two series at a time” approach. Then, when the result was a touchdown on that drive they decided not to make a change. Lambert, counting the final drive of the first half, was 4-for-7 as Georgia pulled away in the second half. And on the whole most of Lambert’s incompletions (and one of Ramsey’s) resulted from pressure.
The guess here: Lambert is the guy when Georgia has a lead it wants to sit on, as he manages the offense better and (at least in practice) makes less risky throws. Ramsey would be more likely to play when Georgia falls behind.
– Georgia’s run defense, particularly up the middle, is underrated because the stats don’t bear it out. (The Bulldogs rank eighth in the SEC in run defense.) An overlooked moment came on Kentucky’s first drive of the second half, when on fourth-and-2 near midfield Chris Mayes and company stopped Kentucky’s Jojo Kemp on a Wildcat run up the middle.
– The pass pressure was good, but while it’s hard to tell on TV, it looked like good pass coverage also deserves some credit. Patrick Towles did a lot of pumping and moving around in the pocket, obviously not seeing what he needed to throw the ball. There was one third-down play when Towles was rushed from the left by Floyd and threw it away – but it was in the direction of a receiver who was well-covered by Malkom Parrish. So that was an instance of the defense doing everything right.
– James DeLoach had a very good game. On Kentucky’s first play, Deloach just blew over his blocker and made the tackle for a 4-yard loss. He also had a stop for a 1-yard gain up the middle while basically falling to the ground.
– Leonard Floyd’s stats don’t bear it out yet but he’s played much better the last few weeks. He’s around the ball a lot in all situations – blitzes, normal pass rush, runs up the middle, even pass coverage.
– Parrish makes at least one textbook open-field tackle every game. And this time he also had a sack.
– There was one drive where Kentucky actually moved the ball – after Dominick Sanders’ interception and fumble – and it was one Auburn will be studying. Kentucky ran it six times for 36 yards on the drive, which was derailed by a 15-yard offensive facemask penalty. On that drive the Wildcats kept the defense off-balance by running and passing out of some funky formations – mainly the pistol (modified wishbone) – which spread out the Georgia defense then running it up the middle. Besides the penalty, Kentucky only completed one pass out of four attempts on the drive, using pure pocket pass calls. Auburn could mix it up more.
(Kentucky tried it again on the next drive, but Deloach sniffed it out, although that came after a dropped pass on first down that could have gone for good yardage.)
– The major bullet dodged: The pooch kickoff recovered by Kentucky, which would have given it the ball at Georgia’s 33. The offsides penalty that negated it was by a player nowhere near the play – the second player from the left, while the ball was recovered on the right side. The Bulldogs got lucky there. On television you could see Richt talked with co-special teams coordinator John Lilly after the play – and Jeremy Pruitt came by to say something too. For the record, Lilly nodded back to Pruitt, not appearing angry.
– Patrick Towles may be an NFL quarterback, as Richt said, but he sure didn’t look like one on Saturday. Georgia’s defense may have had a lot to do with it, but Towles just missed on some passes, including the second Sanders interception, which was thrown well behind the receiver and tipped to Sanders.
– It was obvious that it wasn’t Godwin’s first time playing under center, as he looked comfortable making handoffs. And he played quarterback in high school, so don’t be shocked if there are some plays in there at Auburn where he has the option to pass.
By no means is all this to say that a different gameplan would have made a difference in the month of October. It would have helped, but a lot went wrong in all three losses. Still, considering the final three opponents and their defenses, what Georgia did against Kentucky offers some hope that it is trending upward, though too late to win anything of consequence.