No one’s happy in the Bulldog Nation this morning after a 33-28 win over an overmatched Vanderbilt team in Nashville last night. Coach Richt didn’t allow Chuck Dowdle to paint a positive picture after the game last night by letting him know we were fortunate to win but have a long way to go to be an excellent football team. In my opinion, the coaching staff’s reaction to the win was refreshing. I said in my preview that I thought we would win the game, but the margin would depend on our interest in being there. I think we can safely say the team wasn’t interested in being in Music City last night. Let’s get to the rundown.
What Went Well
The Georgia passing offense was really good last night. Aaron Murray really only made one bad throw all night, the underthrown ball late that essentially was the same as a pooch punt to the Vandy 2-yard line. Without a consistent running game, Murray really had to put the offense on his shoulders and make plays with his arm and legs. All three touchdown passes were absolutely beautiful throws to Marlon Brown and Tavarres King.
Wide Receiver Play – As discussed above, the receivers did it all last night. King made a good grab on his touchdown and made some good catches to keep the chains moving. Marlon Brown had a breakout game with his two touchdowns especially on the 75-yard play. He also made the tackle on the interception that hemmed Vandy in on their 2-yard line at the end of the game. Michael “White Lightning” Bennett is becoming Kris Durham before our eyes with consistent catches over the middle in traffic. Over 300 yards passing without Malcolm Mitchell was outstanding.
Secondary Play – With the exception of the halfback pass, the secondary controlled any threat of a passing game. Early in the game, Vandy tried to use wide screens as extended running plays with zero success. When your pass efficiency defense rating is 30, you have to say that the secondary did its job.
Jarvis Jones/Ray Drew – The outside linebacker duo put a lot of pressure on the quarterback from the edges. Jones was consistently being held without any calls, and the Pastor of Disaster got the first sacks of his young career.
While this team has continued to improve for the first six games of the season, last night the team regressed in its performance. I’m glad we’re talking about these things after a win rather than a devastating loss.
Late Game Play-Calling – I understand that Crowell was limited last night, but the two sweeps from the spread on the last possession with Richard Samuel were absolutely horrible play calls. If we were trying to run clock and force Vandy to use their time-outs, three or four runs between the tackles with a fullback probably would have ended the game.
Interior Run Defense – Last night’s interior run defense in the 2nd half looked like the Colorado game last year. A quarterbacks breaking containment and poor tackling of a undersized running back were the result of disinterest from the front 7. Florida, Auburn & Tech will try to exploit this if given the chance.
Special Teams – The only way Vandy was able to stay in the game was due to special teams’ breakdowns. The failure to sniff out the fake punt was absolutely ridiculous. Our three outside guys just stood there as the snapper slipped behind them. Boykin flew up to make the play to prevent a score. The missed field goals in the 1st half allowed Vandy to stay within striking distance. We had problems kicking the ball deep and covering all night, and it eventually caught up to us with the kick-off return. The blocked punt at the end of the game was absolutely terrible. We got caught with our pants down in the kicking game all night, and those breakdowns almost cost us the game.
Offense – C+. A lot of yards but too many field goals gave Vandy a chance to win. While the passing game was outstanding last night especially in the 2nd half, the running game was practically non-existent for most of the game. This team is going to go only as far as Isaiah Crowell’s durability is going to let them.
Defense – C-. Poor execution in the running game all night led to Vandy’s ability to put up points. We made Vandy one-dimensional for the run but couldn’t stop the basics. That sounds a lot like 2010. Demps, Rainey, Dyer, and Tech’s running game would go crazy on us if we play like that the rest of the year.
Coaching – C-. We looked unprepared especially on defense this week. The play-calling at the end of the game when we had a chance to salt the game away was really poor. The special teams breakdowns were the result of coaching. We lose that game against a better team last night and would have lost that game to Vandy last year.
Overall – A road win in the SEC is a win nonetheless. We are still tied for the top of the East with South Carolina. We won a game where our performance was not at our best. I said on Friday that this game had the classic profile of a trap game, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Hopefully, a poor performance in Nashville will lead to a similar result in two weeks on the banks of the St. Johns River:
With a bye week this weekend, I thought a mid-season review would be appropriate instead of a Cocktail Party preview at this point. I think the consensus of the Bulldog Nation before the season was that we would be either 6-1 or 5-2 right now, and that’s exactly where we find ourselves. Here are some of my mid-season awards:
MVP – Aaron Murray (1,653 yards passing, 61% completion percentage, 16 TDs, 7 INTs)
Many have been critical of Murray’s performance this season, and he had a rocky start especially with the critical turnovers in the South Carolina game. I wouldn’t want to know where we would be without him. He’s tough and has become the leader of this football team.
Best Offensive Player – Orson Charles (22 receptions, 299 yards, 4 TDs)
One of the main reasons that we have been able to hurt teams down the field has been the attention that Orson Charles demands in the middle of the field. His blocking in the running game has gotten much better this year as he has developed the full game for a tight end. His TD catch on the fade in Oxford has to be one of the highlights of the year.
Best Defensive Player – Jarvis Jones (39 total tackles, 4.0 sacks, 10.0 TFL, 13 hurries)
Jarvis has been a baller since the Boise game. He is an every down player and has thrived in Grantham’s system as a pass rusher and a defender in space. He has been consistently good in every game and just makes plays.
Best Special Teams Player – Brandon Boykin (94.0 all-purpose yards per game, 10.8 yds per punt return, 23.0 yds per kick-off return)
While Boykin hasn’t had a TD on a return yet this season, he has been a field position weapon on returns even if it’s due to teams kicking away from him.
Best Newcomer – Malcolm Mitchell (25 receptions, 438 yards, 3 TD’s)
Mitchell has fulfilled the pre-season hype as the big play threat on this offense. As the team’s leading receiver even after missing the Vanderbilt game, he was sorely missed last night and needs to be back full speed for the Cocktail Party.
Biggest Surprise – Offense: Michael Bennett (18 receptions, 190 yds., 1 TD) and Defense: Mike Gilliard (44 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFLs)
Bennett has become the slot receiver willing to make possession plays in the middle of the field similar to Kris Durham and Mike Moore. He and Charles appear to be combining to be Aaron Murray’s security blanket.
Gilliard has been the answer for the loss of Alec Ogletree in the Boise game. As the team’s leading tackler, he has been all over the field and played extremely well.
Best Lineman – Abry Jones (23 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL, 3 passes defensed)
Jones has been the primary beneficiary of the development of Kwame Geathers and the arrival of “Motel 6” Jenkins. He is extremely mobile and just appears to be making plays along the line of scrimmage.
Here are some mid-season grades for each unit:
QB’s: B. The quarterbacks have played well, but Murray’s mistakes early in the season keep this grade from being higher.
RB’s: B. Isaiah Crowell has been every bit as advertised except he needs to build some durability and endurance. The fullbacks have not been part of the running game but have made some plays in the passing game. Carlton Thomas has been a pleasant surprise.
Offensive Line: C. While the nation’s biggest offensive line, they have not opened the holes in the running game where we are averaging less than 4 yards per rush. I still have visions of Murray’s brains being beaten in by Boise’s well-coached, undersized defensive front.
Defensive Line: A-. The nose tackles have played well until last night and controlled the inside running game all season. Jones and Tyson have played pretty well at the ends. The job the defense did with Mississippi State’s running game and Marcus Lattimore between the tackles has been good to this point.
Linebackers: A. Jarvis Jones, Mike Gilliard, and Christian Robinson have been outstanding across the board. Cornelius Washington was becoming the answer for Justin Houston until his decision to drive home from Jefferson after having a few too many. This group is only going to get better with the return of Ogletree from injury and Washington from suspension. Ray Drew is beginning to emerge as another pass rusher as well.
Secondary: A. After years of watching receivers run free for the last few years in Third-and-Willie’s scheme, these guys are playing well across the board. No one is attempting to attack our corners down the field, and the safeties are playing at an extremely high level.
Special Teams: D+. With the specialists we have across the board, I don’t think this grade is harsh. In both losses and the near-miss last night, special teams’ breakdowns have hurt significantly. The failure to defend 2 fake punts led to difference making points in the South Carolina and Vandy games. An offsides call on a beautiful onside kick allowed USC to execute its fake punt in the ensuing drive. Missed field goals have wasted offensive output and made some games closer than they should have been. 2 returns for touchdowns on kicks enabled Ole Miss and Vandy to stay in games longer than they should have. Finally, last night’s blocked punt almost led to a loss that could have been the death knell of the coaching staff.
Overall: C+. Many may think this grade is harsh for a team that opened the season with 2 ranked opponents and was coming off its first losing season in 15 years. I think this team is where we thought it would be at this point in the season but for different reasons than expected (primarily, special teams).
Can this team finish the season strong, win 9 or 10 games, and play somewhere in Florida on New Year’s Day? I believe so. Can this team lose another 3 games, finish 7-5, and end the Richt era in Athens? Yes, that could happen as well. I think we’re going to lose 1 more (probably against Auburn) and spend New Year’s Day in Tampa beating up on a B1G opponent.
Those are my thoughts, and I would like to read yours in the comments.