Georgia vs. Tennessee: Was that the Dawgs’ Carolina Game?
Please tell me that Saturday was Georgia’s “Carolina Game” for the year. The Dawgs are squaring off against the Gamecocks this Saturday but the mistake-plagued game two days ago was the type of showing Georgia usually reserves for its rival from the Palmetto State. Obviously, I would be remiss to not point out the effort of Tennessee and as I feared on Friday the Vols did in fact come into Athens with tenacity, and as often happens in rivals the final score didn’t quite match the talent levels on the field. It did, however, – as it always does – reflect the play on the field.
The Tennessee-hater in me wants to say that Georgia played a bad game. But at the same time, good teams will make opponents play bad games. If you want my executive summary of the game it is this: Georgia made costly mistakes that won’t be easily overcome against South Carolina or Florida, and Tennessee played much better than I anticipated and were largely able to capitalize on those mistakes. In the end, a more talented Georgia team made enough plays to beat a Tennessee team that (as I hypothesized last week) doesn’t quite know how to win a big game.
But, anytime a Georgia game features 95 points and over 1,000 yards of offense I’m inclined to write a little more than a two sentence summary, and I hope you want to read more than that as well. Here are some more in-depth thoughts on Georgia’s performance with tidbits on the efforts of the Tennessee Vols spliced in when relevant.
To date the only team I’ve seen stop Georgia’s offense is Georgia. That sounds completely cliché, but humor me. Georgia’s first drive was a 13 play, 84 yard march that ate up over six minutes of clock. Aaron Murray went 5/6 passing for 54 yards while Todd Gurley contributed five carries for 32 yards and the score. Georgia’s lone play for a loss was a busted reverse in which Malcolm Mitchell (who touched the ball four times on the opening drive!!!) lost ten yards. It seemed like Georgia could move the ball at will.
Georgia was set on getting the ball in Mitchell’s hands, even to the detriment of the Bulldogs’ special teams.
Georgia’s second drive opened with a penalty for false start on the newly-engaged Chris Burnette. Murray then threw an ill-advised pass to Todd Gurley out on the flats, the pass was tipped, picked and sixed. I used the term “ill-advised” for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Gurley is a power runner with tremendous athletic gifts, but he is not a premier pass catcher or route runner; Keith Marshal who has better hands and was in Athens all summer learning routes has a better understanding of the passing game. Secondly, Gurley was pretty well covered with an outside backer. A number of things went wrong here: a penalty, a bad play call, a poor decision by Murray, a poor pass by Murray (again, it was tipped). A UT defensive back made a hell of a break on the ball, timed it, got it and ran it in. I am not trying to take anything away from his play or the Vols whatsoever on this play. They capitalized on mistakes and that’s how you win games in this conference. But, to think that this one play (the end result was not replicated again) in some way implies Tennessee “figuring out” Georgia’s offense is a bit premature.
Why? Because Georgia’s next possession was a one play 75-yard run by Keith Marshall that swept to the very same side of the field and torched the same defensive back and linebacker combo. And, Georgia’s fourth possession was an 8 play, 75 yard march that featured 15 yards rushing by Marshall, a TD by Gurley and Murray going 3/4 for 59 yards along the way. Tennessee made a great play on an opportunity that was created by Georgia’s mistakes, but through the first quarter the Vols hadn’t figured out how to stop the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs’ opened the second quarter with a two play 56 yard drive capped by a 51 yard run by Gurley.
Listen to the Gurley Man.
Georgia’s second possession of the 2nd quarter was handicapped – if not altogether doomed – by a special teams disaster from Malcolm Mitchell. (Side note: what did Damian Swann do that lost him the job returning punts? Mitchell lost one against Mizzou and almost lost another later that same game, he consistently bobbles the catch, he is loose when handling the ball in traffic, and he makes terrible decisions.) Mitchell back pedaled away from a ball that bounced at either the 17 or 18 yard line when he had plenty of space to catch it, he watched the ball bounce again on the 10 before it finally got picked up by a Vol about 15 inches from the goal line. When you’re on the one yard line with a young offensive line that struggles in pass protection at times, you really cannot throw the football. Mike Bobo knew this and Tennessee knew this. They Stacked the box and Marshall failed to find daylight. Thanks to Mitchell’s poor play Georgia’s offense couldn’t get started. Did Tennessee contain Marshall on this series? They did. But did they really figure out how to stop him? As you’ll see later, no they didn’t.
Georgia’s next possession was cut short by an Aaron Murray fumble on a sack that gave the Vols the ball on the 8 yard line. The play was close and was reviewed but the correct call on the field stood. The hit was not vicious or directly on the ball, Murray just lost it. Again, all the credit in the world to the Tennessee Volunteers for making a play and capitalizing on it, but that play should have been a sack for 8 yards. A third year starter was just trying to do a little too much and wrestling a bit too hard (or at least trying to duck to fast) when he lost the ball. Again, Georgia stopped Georgia.
Georgia’s next to last possession of the half again started on the one-yard line thanks to a freshman mistake by Todd Gurley on a kick return. Georgia did manage to get some space on a nice catch and run by Keith Marshall, but Marshall then fumbled the ball at the end of a one yard run. Georgia stopped Georgia.
Georgia’s last drive of the half was stopped only by the clock but still resulted in three points on a 50-yard field goal after Murray hit three quick passes for 33 yards.
Georgia opened the second half with two solid drives, the first being a six play 69 yard march ending with a TD pass to Michael Bennett and the second being a four play 46 yard drive ending with a TD pass to Michael Bennett.
Georgia then, yet again, asserted its will on offense driving 81 yards on just three plays thanks to a 72-yard run by Keith Marshall (so no, Tennessee hadn’t figured out how to stop him).
Georgia’s opening fourth quarter drive started with a run for no gain by Gurley and then a two yard rush by the same man. Murray then hit Michael Bennett on a 7 yard route that brought out the measuring sticks before bringing out a punting unit. This was not a recurring problem for Georgia, it was a matter of inches, you can’t score or turn the ball over every possession.
At this juncture fatigue took grip in a major way. Keith Marshall got banged up (although he should be good to go for next week) on a run at the 8:30 mark and didn’t see the field again. This left only Todd Gurley left to run in “clock-milking” situations, because for some reason yet undefined (Suspension? Injury?) Ken “Boo” Malcome didn’t get a single snap for the Georgia Bulldogs. On the next possession Gurley ran for one yard, then for three more on second down. Aaron Murray then delivered a bullet while getting hit on third down, but the ball slipped right through Rontavious Wooten’s hands. The drop killed Georgia’s drive.
Gurley got three more carries with time ticking but was clearly gassed and picked up a sum of -2 yards as the tock ticked down from 1:22 to 0:15.
So, the drives that didn’t end in Georgia points included the following mistakes:
- A pick six
- Possession on the 1 thanks to Mitchell not fielding a punt at the 18
- A fumble on the 8 yard line
- A fumble on the 20
- A dropped pass on third down
- A gassed Gurley trying to eat clock
On two occasions – the stop of Michael Bennett short of the first down and the series in which Marshall got banged up, Tennessee stopped the Dawgs without help from Georgia.
Georgia’s TD Drives covered 84, 75, 75, 51, 69, 46 and 81 yards. On average Georgia traveled 69 yards per scoring drive and gathered 86% of their total offense on those seven drives.
Again, I’m not going to be quite as upset as some folks might want me to be regarding Georgia’s defense. The Dawgs gave up 478 yards of offense, but Tennessee held the ball for over 6 minutes longer than Georgia did and the game was clearly going to be a shootout.
Scoring wise, Georgia’s offense directly surrendered 7 points on a pick-six, so I’m not counting that against Grantham’s boys. In the second quarter (when Georgia’s offense and kick return game fell apart) Georgia’s defense gave up 20 points over the course of three consecutive drives (an extra point was missed by the Vols). But, those 20 points were scored on only 76 yards of offense by the Volunteers as Tennessee started those drives at the 50, the 8 and the 18 yard line. That’s a tall order for any defense. The cause wasn’t aided by the fact that Georgia’s defense got only 39 seconds of rest while the offense was on the field before Murray fumbled on the eight and a mere 1:09 of rest before Marshall’s fumble on the 18.
So, in less extenuating circumstances could Georgia have stopped the Vols? I think so. Tennessee’s game-opening drive lasted three plays, covered two yards and resulted in a punt. Their next drive went 10 plays for 58 yards and an FG. Their third drive was 6 plays for 29 yards and ended in an interception. The Vols opened the second quarter with a four play, 21 yard drive that ended in a punt. Then they got the three short TD drives that were just discussed. So Tennessee’s first four drives combined for 110 yards and three points. I’d say there was a precedent for Georgia’s defense stopping the Vols.
Furthermore, although the game seemed back and forth Georgia’s defense only surrendered two scoring drives (both were TDs) to the Vols in eight possessions following half-time. And, I’d like to point out (and tomorrow’s first ever DudeYouCrazy Film Study will look further into this) sure did seem to be helped by an illegal block in the back that was flagged and then un-flagged.
Tennessee’s five offensive touchdowns covered drives of 50, 8, 18, 78 and 60 yards for an average of 42.8 yards. That’s a fault of field position as much as Grantham’s defense – if not more so.
And, Georgia made play after play to seemingly end the game, but the Dawgs’ offense struggled to eat clock. It’s hard to be too upset with any defense that forces three turnovers in the final six minutes of a game to seal the deal.
Now, lest I sound hypocritical let me explain the difference between Georgia’s turnovers and Tennessee’s turnovers. As you recall, I labeled UGA’s turnovers as “mistakes” but Tennessee’s as “forced by the defense.” The short explanation is that Georgia deserves the benefit of the doubt because the Dawgs have a history winning recently and because those turnovers are not recurring problems, while the Vols don’t really know how to win a game clearly don’t know how to capitalize when given the chance on offense. Am I biased in how I see the turnovers? Probably. But, when you have a team ranked 5th in the nation who has won 15-straight regular season football games you can give that team the benefit of the doubt. And, when you have a team that gets three possessions in the last six minutes of the game and turns the ball over three times, you really can’t.
I’ve never seen Murray throw an interception on a pass to the flats, and I’ve never seen Gurley be targeted in that position. Murray hasn’t had a bone-headed fumble in the pocket like that all season, and this was Keith Marshall’s first career fumble. So, I credit the defense for capitalizing on these mistakes, but I don’t think those would happen again if the game was played today.
Why so serious, Mr. Bray?
Tyler Bray – who gave away four balls – however, played exactly the way I expected him to. I mentioned on Friday that over his last five SEC starts Bray had a QB rating of 106. And, I questioned whether he was on the same level as Aaron Murray. He proved me right on Saturday. Care to guess his QB rating? It was 107. (For what it’s worth in his 20 SEC Starts Murray has only had three games with a QB Rating below 108, Bray has done so in each of his last four starts.) I can’t really label those turnovers as “mistakes” then, because that’s exactly who Tyler Bray seems to be. And, I don’t want to dogpile the kid for poor play, so I’m sticking to the notion that Georgia forced turnovers with consistently tipped balls and some occasional pressure. Is it really far-fetched to assume that in Sanders Commings’ first game back at his natural position he would have a big game? These are the type of plays that a guy who starts 9 games as a sophomore, 14 as a junior and comes back his senior year after suspension and finally gets back to his native position at CB makes.
Georgia’s Special Teams
When was the last time a team (in one game)
- Made a 50-yard Field Goal
- Missed an Extra Point
- Received a punt that was downed inside the one
- Received a kickoff that was downed inside the one
- Had an attempted kick blocked by the opposition
- Blocked the opposition’s punt
- Kicked a ball out of bounds
Inconsistent special teams play doesn’t win championships. Inconsistent special teams play barely beats an outmanned Tennessee at home.
Again, this game was eerily similar to last season’s shootout in Athens with South Carolina. The only difference was the notch in the win column when it was all said and done.
I really hope Georgia got that out of its system. I don’t want to say that was the worst the Dawgs have looked this season (but I probably could), but I will say it was the most inconsistent they’ve looked. Tennessee was the best opponent the Dawgs have seen and the Vols made the pups play all 60 minutes for the first time this season, but the Vols aren’t as good as South Carolina and clearly aren’t as good as Florida.
Georgia is talented enough to beat the Gamecocks and the Gators, and the Richt’s boys have played well enough to do so at times this season. But this past Saturday was not one of those times. This upcoming Saturday needs to be.