A week or so ago on this site, I predicted a 24-20 Georgia win. The 73 total points scored in the game surprised me, but the fact that it was a 60 minute contest that swung on 2 or 3 plays did not. That’s the nature of SEC football, particularly when a home underdog has their proverbial back against wall versus an arch rival. A 60 minute contest is a real possibility anytime a team is strong on offense and vulnerable on defense. To borrow a thought from the opening pages of Brian Billick‘s book “More than a Game: The Glorious Present–and the Uncertain Future–of the NFL“, as I stood in a bar in a north Atlanta watching the 4th quarter play out, I was reminded again of how much I love this game and the razor’s edge on which it is played. And as Hubert Owens awkwardly guessed that South Carolina had achieved a 1st down on Dylan Thompson‘s 4th and inches sneak, I was reminded again, once again, of just how devastating the missed opportunities can be. It was another Georgia game that, unfortunately, I am sure to remember for the rest of my life. But, I have no interest in making this about me. Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of a game nearly 48 hours old, that has to just as fresh and raw as it did live to anyone who watched it.
From the beginning, it was clear that South Carolina’s offensive line was going to control the line of scrimmage. I thought that Georgia’s four man front was the right alignment, but unfortunately, the Dawgs just did not have enough to size and strength to combat the South Carolina offensive line. It’s hard for me to be angry at James DeLoach or Josh Dawson. These players simply are not big enough to be SEC 3 or 5 techniques as against a line like South Carolina’s and they are not fast enough to play linebacker against any SEC opponent. The game Saturday magnified the miss on Montravious Adams two years ago and the loss of Jon Taylor.
The Georgia secondary was clearly confused in the early going. Playing against a far more complex offense than what they saw against Clemson and without the home crowd behind them, it was to be expected. The good news for Georgia fans is that the secondary will get better. That is only to be expected over the course of year 1 of a new scheme. And, at some point, Shattle Fenteng should get healthy and provide a boost to the Bulldog DBs. It was a collaborative effort from the Georgia defense though and the inability to generate any type of meaningful pass rush made Thompson’s job far more easy. There is more good news for Georgia fans. The Dawgs will not see another offensive line of that caliber this regular season.
At this time, I think that we can all agree that Amarlo Herrera is Georgia’s best ILB and should play every meaningful snap (as he did last season). Herrera still struggles against the pass, but he plays the run well and seems to take on blockers better than Ramik Wilson. For his part, I continue to think that Wilson is danger of losing more playing time to Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough.
After the Clemson game, I wrote here that Jeremy Pruitt’s usage of Damian Swann on 3rd down “made sense” to me, playing Swann as a virtual “center fielder” (or, as I am told is the actual name of the position in Pruitt’s scheme, the “Money”). This alignment resulted in Swann’s first interception since the 2012 season and a turnover that was reminiscent of Josh Harvey-Clemons‘ interception against tech last regular season.
The first two offensive plays that Bobo dialed up seemed to be perfect against a defense that was certain to be keyed heavily on Todd Gurley. Unfortunately, American Heritage High School (Isaiah McKenzie and Sony Michel) did not play significant roles after that first offensive possession. You can add this to the list of questions to be asked in the aftermath of this game.
At this point, I am starting to believe that Hutson Mason is embracing too heavily the role of “game manager.” Unlike his predecessor, we can be relatively sure that Mason will never have that catastrophic turnover that flips a game around. Unfortunately, the trade-off seems to be a complete unwillingness by Mason to make any type of medium risk/ medium percentage throw. Regardless of his stat line, I thought that Saturday night was a poor game by Mason. Yes, he completed a high percentage of passes and did not have a turnover. But what we saw was more of the “east/ west” passing game that doesn’t stretch the field and will not loosen the opposing safeties. In light of the passing game, Todd Gurley’s stat line is even more remarkable. As for Mason, he is playing with a 5th year senior WR who is arguably the best in UGA history going over the middle in Michael Bennett, and Bennett has 6 catches through 2 games. I understand that Georgia is not putting a legitimate “deep threat” WR on the field now, and that it is fallacious to conclude now that Mason lacks the arm strength to play a vertical game, but I believe that he can throw the football down field more than he has done, and is simply choosing not to do so.
The 2nd half showed a Georgia team that was actually a bit too reliant on Todd Gurley. Brent Blackwell made an excellent observation on another forum that Gurley’s last 7 runs on 1st down picked up a grand total of 11 yards. South Carolina was, again, obviously keyed on Gurley with the intent of keeping us in 2nd and long, they were successful in doing that. As the 2nd half played out, one began to feel that Gurley was Georgia’s only legitimate weapon offensively. Of course, this isn’t true, but he seemed to be over-used in the 2nd half. I would suggest that Gurley would have been more effective if South Carolina felt the need to seriously account for other offensive players. As the 1st down results show, however, they did not.
This brings me to “the series”. Let me say first that we still should have given to Gurley all three times. But with that in mind, and in light of how things had played out on 1st down in the 2nd half, the bootleg off of play action was an absolutely reasonable call for Mike Bobo to make. This was not an example of Bobo being “too cute”. This was not an example of Mark Richt being “an idiot.” The call was made based on the way South Carolina was attacking the Georgia offense in 1st down. It was made knowing that Mason completed a touchdown pass from the same spot on the field earlier in the half.
The problem was the intentional grounding penalty, the loss of down, and the 10 yard loss. It probably was not intentional grounding and was probably a poor call by Hubert Owens’ crew. It should be pointed out that Mason did the same in each of his two starts last season, awkwardly tossing the football into the ground in the face of heavy pressure. Both times he was rightfully flagged for grounding. Owens’ crew had to know Mason had that tendency. Hutson bought that penalty on Saturday night, last season. To be quite honest, that is the type of mistake that a “game manager” absolutely cannot make for a third time.
The 2nd down run to Gurley from the 14 was a poor call. I am far more irritated by this one than the 1st down call. It reminded me of the overtime period against Florida in 2010, when Aaron Murray “took a shot” to the endzone on first down (which appeared be the same play that won the Alabama game in 2007) which was incomplete and this was followed by a shotgun counter tray to Caleb King on 2nd and 10 which picked up only 2 yards. Interestingly enough, the 3rd down pass over the middle in both instances was deflected and should have been intercepted. Mike Bobo has been the best offensive coordinator and play caller in UGA history, but his choice to call that final series Saturday night in the same manner as he did the final series against Florida in 2010 resulted in the same outcome: zero points at a pivotal spot in the game. Nobody bats 1.000, though, and I am personally glad to have Mike Bobo on the UGA staff and fear the day when he is no longer there.
Then there is Hubert Owens and his crew. While UGA benefited from the personal foul against South Carolina on 3rd down, I really thought that it should have been off-setting given that Gurley that head butted a South Carolina defensive player in front of the official. Then there was the Gurley 54 yard touchdown run which was negated by a holding call on Brandon Kublanow, even though the flag came out when Gurley was 10 yards past Kublanow and the sophomore did not appear to have his hands outside of the South Carolina defender.
There was the intentional grounding call, even though Quavon Hicks was certainly in the “vicinity” of the pass, awkward as the throw may have been.
Finally, there was Hubert Owens and his crew, in front of tens of thousands of people and a few million more watching on television, not knowing how to measure a 1st down. As the screen shot here from SaturdaysDownSouth shows, there is clearly some “space” between the tip of the football and the end of the post. If Owens did not want to lie down on his belly to get a level view, he should have at least tried to slide a piece of paper between the football and the post. Instead, he stared at it for a while, conferred with the other officials, and ultimately guessed that it was a 1st down.
In some ways, I feel sorry for Owens and his crew. Nobody wants to be found out as incompetent on national television, on that type of stage. Still, this crew was clearly in over their heads on Saturday and this level of football deserves better. Gary Danielson did not the public no favors on the CBS broadcast with this “last link of the chain” non-sense, but it is not too much to ask to Owens to properly measure a 1st down.
All those factors. A defensive line that isn’t quite big enough. A secondary that isn’t quite experienced enough. A quarterback who isn’t quite confident enough. An offense that wasn’t quite diverse enough. And finally, a crew of officials who isn’t nearly competent enough. It’s a razor’s edge.
I am going on the record now to predict that Georgia will not lose again this regular season.