ATHENS — From the press box, this was a crazy game, seemingly decided by big Georgia mistakes. But a re-watch of the game reveals that there was more to it than that. Here are some observations after watching the TV copy of Georgia’s 38-31 loss at Tennessee:
– From a purely football perspective, you can’t over-state the importance of Nick Chubb’s loss, but the run blocking didn’t help either. It was similar to the Alabama game, in that the line wasn’t so much pushed around as it didn’t get a push, and didn’t consistently create holes for Sony Michel. But other defenses continues to stack the box on Georgia, which may point to a bigger systematic issue. More on that shortly.
Something I think looms large that is starting to show: The blocking on the edges also isn’t there, and this is where Georgia misses Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. Yes, Malcolm Mitchell and other receivers will throw a good block, but Conley and Bennett were bigger receivers who did it consistently. Right now Georgia is depending on smaller guys – Mitchell is 6-1, Terry Godwin is 5-10 and Reggie Davis is a skinny 6-foot – to block on the outside.
Another reason for the run struggles: The lead blocking just isn’t quite what it could be. You see several plays where if a defender was blocked at the point of attack the running back could have a few extra yards and potentially get into the secondary. Instead, most of the time it’s Michel going into a mass of bodies, no surprise since the blocking inn the box is basically five-on-nine.
– Greyson Lambert obviously had some very nice throws downfield. The first touchdown pass, which Mitchell grabbed over the cornerback, looks better on second viewing, as the ball was placed in just the right spot. So why doesn’t Georgia throw more downfield? Well that’s the thing: Lambert was also great on the slants and intermediate passes against South Carolina. Why wasn’t that done more the past two weeks? Lambert is putting together a great collection of different types of throws. They’re just at very different times. There’s isn’t that great intermediate throw followed by the great slant pass followed by the great deep pass. That might be a comfort thing by Lambert, or it might be a play-calling issue.
The one thing Lambert is consistently good at? Play-action, whether it leads to a deep throw or to a dump-off in the flat, such as one to Jay Rome that resulted in 16 yards. Yes, you can’t over-do play-action, as it will mitigate the effect. Still, you have to wonder why Brian Schottenheimer doesn’t utilize it a bit more given Lambert’s comfort with it.
– Similarly, you could argue that Mitchell should be targeted a whole lot more, especially as long as defenses keep single-covering him. Lambert hit Mitchell with a slant in the third quarter that gained15 yards, making you wonder why those types of plays aren’t called more. Lambert and Mitchell have also developed a great rapport – exemplified by the final play of the third quarter, on third down, when Lambert waited for Mitchell to get outside the cornerback then hit him for a 17-yard gain.
Schottenheimer should have a graduate assistant reminding him every time he’s gone three plays without Mitchell touching the ball.
– Reggie Davis’ drop shouldn’t overshadow that he emerged as a viable downfield threat in this game. He and Lambert nearly hooked up on another one on the first drive of the second half – the throw was almost there, Davis was just tightly defended and couldn’t get separation.
– Lambert was lucky not to be picked off five different times, by my count He only has one interception this year, and that one was irrelevant – it came with 58 seconds left against Alabama. But Lambert could have a lot more (most notably the dropped one at Vanderbilt), which is strange considering how careful he is most of the time, throwing it away and placing the ball where only the receiver can catch it.
Still, Lambert overall had a solid game, especially as the game went on. He wasn’t the problem.
– You watch the issues with pass defense, looking for more technical explanations, but I keep coming back to a relatively simple one: The zone coverage just isn’t working. Whether that means making everybody go man, or personnel switches, Jeremy Pruitt will have to get it fixed.
That brings us to a sequence of two plays that, arguably, were more critical to Tennessee’s comeback than Michel’s kickoff fumble.
Tennessee trailed 24-3 late in the half when it was able to convert two fourth down, the second for a touchdown. First, Georgia safety-nickel back Quincy Mauger left his man open just beyond the first down marker; for some reason Mauger backed up on the play, as if it were fourth-and-long, not fourth-and-4. Joshua Dobbs hit the open receiver, who caught it with his butt on the ground.
Next came a fourth-and-9 from the 39. Georgia safety Johnathan Abram was knocked down and the ball was passed over him. But Dobbs also just mad e a very nice pass over about four defenders, and when Josh Smith caught it there was nowhere near him in the middle of the field.
If Georgia makes a stop on either of these fourth downs, it probably wins the game. Instead it became a two-touchdown game and you know what happened after that.
Another big breakdown in Georgia’s pass defense occurred on Tennessee’s game-winning drive. Second-down and 10 from its own 22, Tennessee put two receivers to the left, then motioned another to the left. Problem: A third Georgia player didn’t come over to defend. Making matters worse, upon the snap both Georgia defenders came up too the line to defend a receiver screen, while two receivers darted uncovered down the sideline. The result was a 34-yard pass into Georgia territory.
Even then, three plays later Tennessee had third-and-8 from the 42. A stop and the Vols have to punt. Instead the tight end got wide open down the left flat for a 24-yard gain. Hey guess what, it was a zone coverage. Georgia’s linebackers lined up on the line trying to disguise its pass coverage, but ended up being caught way out of position, especially the linebackers.
– The missed tackles are bad, not much to add to that, but here’s the other thing: Very often there was no other Georgia player near the play to follow-up. For instance on a 23-yard catch-and-run by Tennessee’s Josh Malone late in the first half, Quincy Mauger missed the tackle at the 20, but there was nobody else within 15 yards of the play. Look, there’s obviously vast improvement that needs to happen with Georgia’s passing technique, but credit does go to Tennessee’s players – Dobbs and Jalen Hurd are big and athletic. The bigger problem is Georgia players not being in position to make plays.
– Tennessee’s offensive line was thin entering the game, then took a couple hits early. So why wasn’t Georgia able to exploit that? For one, the defense was on the field so long it probably just wore out. For another, the Volunteers accounted for it well with outside runs, screens and quick passes. Maybe it also hurt Georgia that it lost John Atkins early in the game. And maybe Georgia’s front seven just didn’t play well enough.
– You could see Jordan Jenkins not quite himself from the start. His injury basically made him a non-factor, and that really hurt Georgia.
– Dobbs had a lot of room to run on the edges. The secondary appeared to be playing back a lot – as it has all season. Then as the game went on the Volunteers called more inside runs, taking advantage of a Georgia defense that had been on the field a lot and was undoubtedly getting tired.
– Leonard Floyd was put back in a pass-rushing role – wise, it seems, given the emergence of Ganus and Kimbrough at inside linebacker. But he couldn’t get close to the quarterback when he’s only one of four guys rushing against five blockers, sometimes more. Georgia did blitz a lot in the second quarter.
– Tim Kimbrough and Jake Ganus are the bright spots, and their tackle numbers aren’t a mirage. Ganus is the team’s best pure tackler right now – not that it’s saying much, and even he missed a few in this game. He’s always around the ball, at least. Kimbrough forced the fumble that led to Floyd’s touchdown by bursting up the middle.
– Tennessee was moving the ball too well early in the game, getting to the goal-line twice. That was a bad sign for the Bulldogs, and in retrospect it’s not a surprise the Volunteers were able to push their way back into the game.
– It’s surreal watching the first play of the game and the immediate aftermath, given what we know. At the end of the run you see Chubb, from the back, grabbing at his knee but not quite in panic about it. CBS immediately cuts to showing the starting lineup. It’s only after about 15 seconds that everyone realizes it’s a serious injury.
– Thanks to CBS for not showing Chubb’s injury over and over. I wish some people on my timeline had showed the same restraint. Allie LaForce reported later that Chubb briefly lost consciousness when they were transporting him to the cart, and the cameras – through no fault of their own – did seem to capture the moment.
– Midway through the second quarter the camera caught Pruitt talking excitedly to Richt … after a play by the offense. A false start that pushed a third-and-3 into a third-and-8. I’m not a good lip reader, so I couldn’t tell why the defensive coordinator was talking that way to the head coach after an offensive play. But it was interesting.
– On Davis’ punt return touchdown, and the flag that was picked up, it looked like it was actually a block in the back, or at least very close to it. So Georgia got a break there.
– Kenneth Towns was THIS close to being on top of Michel’s fumble. The ball squirted out and over top of him.
– Gary Danielson argued that Georgia should have had four seconds added to the clock prior to the final play, which would have given it 10 seconds, and potentially time for two plays. He appeared to be right. But it’s hard to have sympathy for the Buldogs when they put 12 men on the field and get pushed back five yards anyway.
Disregard the meme that the reason Georgia is struggling is the quarterback. Lambert isn’t perfect, but he’s good enough. No, the concern now is a defense that is showing its youth, a running game that just lost its star, and an offensive line that isn’t as dominant as it was most of last season. The coordinators of both units also both need to ask themselves whether they’re putting their players in the best position to succeed. Georgia didn’t just lose this game because of a couple critical mistakes. It was outplayed.