24-20. It wasn’t pretty, but it was beautiful. The Georgia Bulldogs make the Florida Gators 0 for October. Except for two plays, the defense played lights out by holding the Gators to -19 yards rushing on the night and fewer than 250 yards of total offense. The offense did just enough to win the game and was bailed out by the defense after its one big mistake in the game. The special teams were once again special in the not-so-special way. Leaving the Georgia Dome on September 3, I didn’t think we would be 6-2 at this point of the season, but this team (and its leaders) have turned this season around. Let’s get to the rundown.
What Went Well
After falling behind 17-3, the Dawgs never quit and kept playing hard. As the game wore on, the defense took over like Brian Van Gorder defenses early in Richt’s tenure. Individuals on offense made plays when they presented themselves. Without the special teams’ gaffes, this game would have been a laugher.
Richard Samuel – After Samuel entered the game in place of an injured Isaiah Crowell (who came back with a big run on the final drive), he ran hard between the tackles especially on the winning touchdown drive and the final drive when we killed the clock. When he has a head of steam and runs downhill, he can be tackled, but the defensive player knows he has been hit. Samuel has been the ultimate team player in his four years at Georgia so far and really deserves to be one of the heroes of Saturday’s win.
The Front 7 – The defensive front put on a clinic on Saturday. Florida never was able to initiate any running game either between the tackles or to the outside. Pressure on Brantley was constant and eventually broke down the Gator passing game in the 2nd half. Alec Ogletree returned and appeared to play well. Mike Gilliard, Amarlo Herrera, and Christian Robinson continue to make plays from the inside linebacker position. Jarvis Jones and Cornelius Washington played well in run support on the edges.
Wide Receivers – In a second game without Malcolm Mitchell, the wide receivers made big catches over undersized Gator corners. Michael Bennett’s touchdown catch late in the 1st half completely changed the complexion of the game entering halftime. Tavarres King’s touchdown tied the game on another 4th down conversion. Marlon Brown made some big catches as well to keep the chains moving. Chris Conley’s catch iced the game on the final drive. While Aaron Murray wasn’t at his best, these guys made plays and got us in the position to win.
Most of the naysayers are saying today that we should have beaten the Gators worse than we did. We did have some breakdowns that enabled the Gators to stay in the game until the final Georgia drive.
Special Teams – The mention of poor special teams play is becoming a broken record. Three long kick-off returns (including the opening kick-off called back by penalty) by Demps, Debose, and Rainey bring back the memories of Jon Fabris and his kick-off coverage philosophy that it be a challenge. The field goal misses are continuing to pile up. I don’t know if Coach Richt is going to give Bogatay a chance to take the job from Walsh this week, but our performance on field goals has become laughable. Drew Butler even picked up the poor special teams bug in the 2nd half Saturday night. The only positives were that we played “punt safe” the entire game to negate another fake punt attempt and Walsh made the three extra points after the touchdowns. I think this is the main coaching situation McGarity may ask Richt to address in the off-season.
2nd Half Quarterback Play – I’m not sure what we were doing in the passing game for most of the 2nd half, but that was probably Murray’s worst half of football since the Memphis debacle. He ran the ball well even after having his leg take a direct helmet hit, but the play where he missed Orson Charles wide open after a beautiful play fake was the worst throw of the day.
Middle of the Field Pass Defense – We had problems matching up with Rainey and Jordan Reed in the middle of the field most of the night. Brantley’s touchdown pass to Reed on 4th and 19 should have never happened if a safety had been in the middle of the field. Rainey had a couple of opportunities for big plays in space with passes that bounced off his hands. Gus Malzahn may try to exploit this in a couple of weeks in Sanford with Onterrio McCaleb.
Offense – C+. We scored enough points to win but didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage the way Alabama and LSU did against the Gator front 7. We gained 3.8 yards per carry and only averaged 4.3 yards per play overall. While I would agree stats are for losers, this team is going to have to improve its offensive output against Auburn and Georgia Tech for this season to finish the way we want it to.
Defense – A. I officially chalk up the Vanderbilt game to not being ready and not to fundamental problems that could be exploited. While the Gators never really tried to run the ball with any consistency, Demps and Rainey never gained any significant yardage totalling 38 yards between them with 17 of that coming on Rainey’s run leading to the late 1st half fumble. After Brantley’s first half, the pass defense just suffocated the Gators as the game wore on.
Coaching – B+. I wasn’t convinced the 4th down attempts were the right call at the time, but they proved if Richt was going to go down, he was going to down swinging. The fact they turned into touchdowns completely changed the face of the game. Coach Grantham made great 2nd half adjustments to stop the Gator offense in its tracks. Coach Bobo’s call to throw late to ice the game was a great call followed up by great execution by Murray and Conley.
Overall – In a few years, will the Bulldog Nation look back to yesterday as the game where the Cocktail Party turned back in Georgia’s favor? This team took some early knockout shots from Florida (Demps’ 72-yard catch and run, Demps’ kick-off return, the early interception), kept fighting back, and eventually took over the game. Congratulations to the seniors who get to taste a victory over the hated Gators and to the Dream Team recruiting class who now has a chance to be the first senior class in a long time to go 4-for-Florida. After any win in Jacksonville, I think we can all say, “It’s great to be a Bulldog on a Saturday night!”
Look Ahead to Next Week
Georgia returns to the friendly confines between the hedges at Sanford Stadium for Homecoming against New Mexico State with a win over Florida and the Tennessee state championship in hand. The Dawgs should handle NMSU with ease if their heads are in the game from the opening kick-off. I know it’s going to be tempting for the fans (and, more importantly, the students) not to show up from their tailgates on time for a 12:30 start, but this team deserves a full house with full-throated support on Saturday. Right now, I think we’ll probably be a little lethargic out of the gate, still win by about 28, and get everyone healthy for the conference stretch run and the Tech game at Historic Vince Dooley Stadium at Mark Richt Field in Atlanta.
Those are my thoughts, and I would like to read yours in the comments.