Yes, most of you know the gist of what went wrong in Georgia’s latest debacle of a loss. Don’t worry, this isn’t aimed at re-hashing every little thing. A re-watching of Alabama’s 38-10 win does reinforce some of what we already knew, but it also offers some clarity and insight, alters some perceptions, and provides a better handle on the big picture.
So as we do every week, here’s an in-depth analysis of the game based on watching the game a second time:
CRITICAL TURNING POINTS/MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
This was a 3-3 game early in the second quarter. If emotion and preparation were a problem it wasn’t apparent early on. No, there were key moments that took Georgia out of this game. Here they are in chronological order:
– Greyson Lambert’s opening throw to Malcolm Mitchell was a bad omen, but it may be getting too much attention in the grand scheme of things. Alabama’s safety was veering in on Mitchell so it wasn’t an automatic completion and would’ve taken a perfect throw – the kind Lambert did make to Mitchell two drives later to gain 36 yards. Lambert didn’t actually come out struggling. He started 6-of-9. But within that start I do think Lambert’s bigger miss came on the second drive:
– Georgia failed to capitalize on Derrick Henry’s fumble, which gave Georgia the ball at Alabama’s 42 minutes. On second down, Lambert overthrew fullback Glenn Welch on a play-action dump-off. It wouldn’t have been a first down, but Welch probably would have gotten close enough to the marker to give the ball to Nick Chubb on third down. Instead it was third-and-long, and we know how those turned out for the Bulldogs. Then came a punt. A chance to take an early lead was missed.
– Now here came Alabama. Jake Coker’s 50-yard completion to Calvin Ridley began Alabama’s third offensive drive. First and 10 from the 20, and Ridley got open right away, as cornerback Malkom Parrish came up to defend a possible receiver screen, biting on the play-action. Parrish should have stayed with Ridley, as Jake Ganus was right there to defend the screen or the outside run. Ridley caught the pass about 25 yards downfield, Dominick Sanders missed a tackle on the sideline, and Ridley wasn’t caught until he was in field goal range.
– Georgia did answer with a tying field goal – but should have done more. It had first-and-goal from Alabama’s 8 after the penalty on a field goal. The face mask penalty on John Theus then made it first-and-goal from the 23, and that down-and-distance never had a prayer. The Bulldogs were then lucky to get three points out of it after the next two plays took them 17 more yards backwards. Lambert’s scramble and Terry Godwin’s sideline catch salvaged a makeable field goal, and is another reminder that Lambert was playing OK for awhile.
At this point, it was still 3-3. I address the ensuring offensive and defensive drives later.
– As for the blocked punt, which may have sealed Georgia’s fate, Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick just came clean from Collin Barber’s right side. Alabama was stacked on the right side, so it’s no surprise Fitzpatrick broke through, but the problem is that of Georgia’s three up-men two of them blocked one guy while Kirkpatrick ran right by. There’s got to be better communication there, or better awareness.
– From there, it was Georgia behind amajor eight-ball, especially because of the way it’s built. Here is a heavier look at what went wrong before, during and after these turning points.
GEORGIA’S RUNNING GAME
– A big aim for Georgia is to use its run game to wear down opposing teams. But when you fall behind by three touchdowns and have to pass your way back into the game, so much for that.
– Georgia’s run blocking was decent early on, given that it was playing one of the best front sevens in college football. It’s not like there were a bunch of tackles in the backfield. The problem was Chubb and Sony Michel couldn’t get to the second level, as Reggie Ragland and company were always there. That was the case on inside and outside runs, of which there seemed an even distribution. Brian Schottenheimer was trying to keep Alabama’s defense off-balance. But Kirby Smart and company seemed to know what was coming anyway.
– There was very little use of the fullback. Maybe Christian Payne’s absence shouldn’t be glossed over. Georgia compensated by going three-wide a lot with a six-man front, aiming to spread the defense to the sideline. But Smart countered with bringing safeties into the box.
– The first run call of the game was an outside run, a shotgun handoff to Chubb in the shotgun. Alabama just had too much speed to snuff it out, and Georgia’s blocking offered no push to give Chubb room. It was also a bad indication for the rest of the game: Alabama’s front seven was just going to be too much.
And without an effective running game, Georgia, well …
GEORGIA’S PASSING GAME
Alabama hardly blitzed. That was the impression the first time seeing the game. It was reinforced watching it. But the pocket got squeezed anyway. What else went wrong? Almost everything.
The real struggles for Lambert began after Alabama took the 10-3 lead. On the first play of the ensuing drive Schottenheimer called for a pass, which points to continued confidence in the passing game, or lack of confidence on the run game, or just flailing around, who knows. Alabama only rushed four, and you can’t tell on screen if receivers just couldn’t get open. Lambert scrambled for 4 yards either way. Next play, another pass, another incompletion, this time after Jonathan Allen burst through a double-team and rushed Lambert. Third down another pass, in and out of Mitchell’s arms, but it looked like it wouldn’t have been a first down anyway.
Next drive, when it was still a 10-3 game, a first-down run went nowhere, and on second down the Bulldogs spread four receivers out. Once again Lambert didn’t fire quickly and ended up dumping off to Mitchell, who was decked by Ragland. And on third down Lambert saw nothing there and dumped down to Michel for a zero-yard gain. Then came the blocked punt.
The dump-down pass to Michel was one of the few plays where TV gave us a shot of the receivers downfield, and whether Lambert had anything to throw at. No he didn’t, was the answer on that play. Reggie Davis was the closest, about 25 yards downfield in the middle, a defender close. Maybe Lambert could have thrown a leading pass to that side of the field, but a completion still would have been no sure thing.
On most other passes it’s hard to tell whether receivers couldn’t get open downfield or Lambert was just afraid to throw. Either way, when Brice Ramsey went in the game and let it rip, well, we saw the result.
Lambert’s final series in the first half, after Georgia fell behind 24-3, actually saw the running game finally get going, as Chubb rushed it three times up to near midfield. But on second down Lambert just grounded a pass to Mitchell, and on third down threw into double coverage, too early, when Chubb was open in the flat.
At this point Lambert was panicking, and you can understand the coaches deciding to go to Ramsey. But the other option was to go to Lambert and tell him to calm down and get his head back right. Hindsight indicates that was the better call, but that’s why they call it hindsight.
– On Ramsey’s pick-six, Terry Godwin isn’t even looking at the ball as it’s in the air towards him. That could be what Richt was talking about when he mentioned a “miscommunication” on the play. It’s hard to see how that excuses Ramsey, however, as even if Godwin was supposed to come back for it the quarterback still has to see the safety.
– The next two drives Schottenheimer went heavy on the run, despite being down 28 and then 35 points. The only pass play resulted in a sack, on a play Ramsey never had a chance.
– Ramsey’s second interception came on a play that never had a chance. The call was Jeb Blazevich down the right sideline, he was covered, but Ramsey threw it anyway. It was also raining heavily at this point, by the way, so it was a bit surprising that Schottenheimer was calling deep passes. (Assuming he was.) It’s not surprise that Ramsey’s passes were fluttering on the drive.
ALABAMA OFFENSE VS. GEORGIA DEFENSE
– Georgia’s run defense was successful early on, but there were also bad signs. Alabama was getting a decent push up front. Georgia was just doing a good job of snuffing it out a few yards past the line of scrimmage. Also, Henry’s fumble on the first drive came after he had gotten past the marker on third down.
Still, overall I came away with a better respect for Georgia’s front seven, at least in the rushing game. It did a very good job in the first half other than the Henry touchdown, and considering this is Alabama that’s not bad. Georgia forced a three-and-out the possession after Henry’s touchdown, by the way, and another three-and-out to start the second half. The offense just couldn’t help.
– The dam began breaking for Georgia with Henry’s touchdown run, but two key passes set it up. First, Ridley got wide open in the flat for a 14-yard pass to midfield. That was a coverage breakdown somewhere, as the closest guys to Ridley were a safety (Mauger) and Floyd, who began the play at the star then moved deep downfield after the snap. Then Coker hit Richard Mullaney down the left sideline for an 18-yard gain. This was a rare case of good Georgia pressure – he was leveled by Sterling Bailey – but Coker stood firm before the pass. Mullaney was wide open, as no one even lined up on him at the line of scrimmage. Dominick Sanders was in the vicinity of the pass and jumped at it but missed.
– Henry was literally (I use that word rarely) untouched on his 30-yard run. And it was up the middle. Alabama had seven blockers on the play, Georgia had seven in the box and an eighth on the outskirts. No one made a play and Henry was gone.
– Lane Kiffin’s playcalling was good, especially the decision to throw on first downs. It didn’t happen much, but Kiffin did it at the right times.
– Sometimes Coker just made great throws, such as his first-quarter throw to Richard Mullaney, a 24-yarder down to Georgia’s 10-yard line. But Georgia’s Leonard Floyd, in coverage on Mullaney, was a step behind him after being unsure just after the snap whether to stay with Mullaney. And safety Quincy Mauger arrived too late to do anything about it.
– Coker’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Ridley came when Ridley just ran past cornerback Aaron Davis, the first time either of Georgia’s starting cornerbacks was just plain beat on a deep ball. Or many passes at all. Mauger tried to get in on the play but turned the wrong direction as the ball was in the air.
– There was one final big Coker pass, when the game was pretty much over anyway. On first down ArDarius Stewart ran from the right side of the field to the left side and got wide open for a 23-yard gain. Aaron Davis didn’t stay with Stewart as he ran across the field, and no one picked up Stewart.
When a game is a blowout it can sometimes offer a distorted view of how the entire game went. It’s incorrect to say Georgia didn’t show up. Yes, there were bad signs early, especially Georgia’s inability to run and Alabama’s ability to throw. But the game turned in the second quarter because when the Crimson Tide made plays, as inevitably would happen, the Bulldogs never had a counter-punch.
Mark Richt, Georgia’s staff, players and fans shouldn’t leave this game feeling they can’t compete at Alabama’s level. They can. They should leave this game wondering why, when the initial problems hit, they couldn’t compete. There were signs early this was going to be Alabama’s day, but Georgia lost any chance to keep it close during a decisive second quarter, when the Bulldogs just folded. It happened last year against Florida too. Two games that didn’t need to be blowouts but were because the Bulldogs didn’t respond. They need to figure out why.