ATHENS, Ga. — Kirby Smart started laughing, derisively, when he got a question Monday about whether Carson Beck looked nervous in Georgia’s season opener.
“I don’t understand you guys sometimes. I really don’t,” Smart said.
We’re a conundrum, all right. For instance, who rewatches an entire game against UT Martin and writes an opus about it?
This guy does. The return of the Second Glance, the season opener edition:
‘A bad deal, man’
OK, let’s start with the goal-line sequence at the end of the first half. Starting with the fact it was not actually at the goal line, rather at the 3-yard line, a detail that Smart indicated was not well-known when the play was run.
“A bad deal, man, bad deal,” Smart said. “To be honest with you, it’s just a miscue, not knowing how close it was to the goal line and probably making the decision too fast.”
Georgia takeaways: What did we learn about Carson Beck, Bulldogs in win vs. UT Martin?
So who made the decision to run the ball, resulting in Cash Jones losing 2 yards and then having to spike the ball to stop the clock? Was it his call, Mike Bobo in the press box or Beck at the line? Smart didn’t say, only that it was a breakdown at some point.
“We spend a lot of time on moments like that; I take a lot of pride in moments like that. Should never happen. Should never happen. But making a decision really fast, sometimes you don’t make the right direction,” Smart said. “We had enough time there; we actually got the ball snapped there without losing any time on the clock. But the decision was thinking it was probably closer than it was. And it cost us. It cost us at least one play.”
If Beck hits Arian Smith in the back of the end zone on third down, the first-down foible is forgiven. Still, the attention was on first down, when the team ran downfield and ran a play rather than spiking. Bobo in the box calling the offense, Aaron Murray calling the game, well, it was hard not to harken back 11 years. The good news is this time it happened in the first game, Georgia still got a field goal and won 48-7.
But for all the attention that situation is getting, there was a play earlier that stuck out more: a third-and-5 from the UT Martin 45 when the defense was stacking the box, and Georgia ran the ball inside anyway and went nowhere.
That wasn’t the only play when you wondered if something needed to be changed at the line, and I asked Beck what kind of freedom he had to change plays at the line.
“Obviously, we have parameters for certain plays. It’s not like full freedom of, ‘Change this play all the way to a totally different play.’ I’d get yelled at,” Beck said with a smile. “But certain plays have certain checks based on certain looks. So there are certain parameters. … That’s part of looking at the game plan, knowing what the defense is going to try to do to you. And understanding what play you would go to based on a certain look.”
I asked Smart about it on Monday, and he also used the word “parameters,” plays that can be checked from run to pass and vice versa or a check from one run play to another. But not every play has those checks.
“So there’s sometimes where you’re going to sit back, as you guys can do, and we can do as coaches, where we can second-guess and say, ‘Well he should have thrown that ball.’ Then there’s a check to a throw, which is completely different from a run-pass option,” Smart said. “It’s really complicated and elaborate, but he did what he was coached to do, and he did exactly the things that we want him to do. ‘They’ve got two outside; well we’re checking this.’ He followed those. And he’s already done that. He did that all last year under coach (Todd) Monken.
“And he did it in practice because he had to be ready to play. ‘If they’ve got this coming, we can’t run this play we’ve gotta go over here to this play.’ … He’s very bright. He understands it. And we’re lucky that we can do some of the things that we can do because he’s like Stetson (Bennett) in that way in that he’s been in the system long enough to be able to handle the volume.”
Georgia’s offense needs to get better, and that’s fine with Kirby Smart and Carson Beck
The offense in general
The theme that emerged on the rewatch was that Georgia wasn’t so much vanilla as it was uninspired, both in playcalling and execution. That’s not great but not wholly unexpected given the opponent. And that opponent may have surprised Georgia’s offense with how well it played, fast to the ball and not getting pushed around.
But Georgia had nearly 600 yards, surpassed 40 points and gave off a general air of it would have done things differently against a marquee opponent. Let’s go to the videotape:
• The offensive players weren’t playing quick in the first half and were looking at their wristbands a lot. As late as midway through the third quarter, Murray pointed out there was a lack of explosive plays and the offense was playing slow. He also opined that the less you play, the harder it is to make explosive plays because you’re not in rhythm. Soon after, Mekhi Mews uncorked a 54-yard touchdown.
• What was with the offensive line? This is a boring answer, but it was going against stacked boxes. Too much five (or six or seven blockers) against eight defenders, and even when the two-time national champion is playing an FCS team, the math matters. That’s why it’s incumbent on the offense to react by running outside more, using more motions and misdirections and playing faster. Georgia started doing more of that as the game went on. The run game was stifled when it was in predictable situations and running into boxes.
Smart, on Monday after watching the tape, indicated that UT Martin’s approach caused a lot of the early issues.
“They did a couple things that hurt us. And it probably hurt our offensive line more than our offensive line didn’t play well,” he said. “We’ve probably got to do a better job of helping them, in-game adjustments and things like that. But I did think they played better in the second half. They pass protected well throughout the game.”
• My count was eight broken tackles for Brock Bowers, and I probably missed some. But as great as he is, the staff can’t depend on that happening against SEC opponents.
• There were still double-tight-end sets, with Oscar Delp joining Bowers. But it was well under half the time, with Darnell Washington gone and Dominic Lovett now in the slot. You didn’t see much from freshman tight end Pearce Spurlin (Lawson Luckie is out with a high-ankle sprain). It’ll be interesting to see how much they play as the season goes on and if it helps open the offense up a bit more on some other plays. Luckie has a Bowers-like ability to do some damage in open space.
Beck and the quarterbacks
• If fans were looking for Beck to come in and look like Patrick Mahomes, they need to realize Georgia may not need that, given its defense. Smart was happy with Beck’s mistake-free game, as he saw it.
“I thought Carson played really well,” Smart said. “I thought he played composed. I’m trying to think of the throws that were just awful or erratic. I didn’t see that. There’s going to be incompletions in games; there’s going to be looks they maybe fool you with that you didn’t see the week before in scouting. His run-check game, his carrying of his fakes, his decisions in the pocket, his throwing the ball away, I mean the guy, for a first start, played really well.”
Smart acknowledged that Beck missed Lovett on a third-down slant pass. Beck also overthrew Arian Smith twice, on a deep ball and on a pass down the middle when Georgia was backed up. It didn’t look like any defenders were underneath; Beck just threw too high.
Beck did look comfortable running the two-minute offense late in the first half and on some intermediate-type passes, such as when he hit Bowers just beyond the sticks on a second-and-10.
That may be where Beck is ultimately most effective, the classic drop-back, pocket passes. This game looked like an effort to be different in the pass game, going with screens and deep balls. The opening play of the game was an example of that: Five wide, Mews went motion, got a screen … and was tackled for a loss.
By contrast, the scoring drives in the third quarter may have been Bobo saying: Let’s go get some points and get out of here. The coaches called three straight intermediate passes, starting with a 47-yard completion to CJ Smith, which began with a bunched formation, then the receivers spread out and opened a seam across the middle for Smith.
Beck’s scrambles shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s not going to be Bennett-like, but he’s also not going to be a statue. In fact, that was the most confident he looked on Saturday when he decided to run, particularly on his touchdown. (Although not to nit-pick, but if Beck had waited a split-second, Mews was about to break open in the back of the end zone.)
• Brock Vandagriff’s long ball to Rara Thomas was the quarterback’s first career completion. It was a great ball, hitting Thomas almost perfectly in stride. The next completion, a touchdown pass to Delp, slightly was underthrown, but Delp reached down to get it.
Vandagriff’s wheels looked really good on a designed keeper that netted 29 yards, only to get called back because of a holding (which was legitimate and helped open the hole for Vandagriff). Gunner Stockton was allowed to run the ball when he came in, almost as if in both cases Bobo was getting them warmed up first by letting them run. Monken did that with Bennett sometimes.
No. 1 Georgia wasn’t perfect, but it just needed to play a game after offseason turmoil
When the expectation is a defense will be great, it’s hard to feel like it has been confirmed by seeing a near-shutout against an FCS team. But there was one area that seems now will be a strength: the secondary.
The two safeties and Tykee Smith were strong in run defense and in the open field. It was particularly good to see that from Malaki Starks, helping pick up the slack left by Christopher Smith, who was adept at coming up to make plays.
Daylen Everette was the surprise starter at cornerback and had a quiet game other than a pass interference in the third quarter. The call looked close, and Everette thought he played it well, but Smart immediately spoke to him. A few plays later, Everette had good coverage on a back-shoulder pass to stop a third-and-long.
The third-down success and pass-defense numbers may not just be a product of the opponent. This looks like a strong secondary, Murray said it will be the best Georgia has had. We’ll see, but with Javon Bullard and Starks in the back, Tykee Smith looking good at nickel back, and Kamari Lassiter at one cornerback, that’s a great start. The coaches used Dan Jackson in dime coverage as they did the past couple of years when Jackson was healthy.
There are questions about Georgia generating a pass rush without Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith. But even if there’s a dropoff, the back end of the defense may make up for it.
• Jalon Walker, as expected, came in on third downs as a pass rush specialist. But in a bit of a surprise — a pleasant one, if you’re a fan — freshman Jordan Hall played on the interior on an early third down, flanked by Mykel Williams and Darris Smith (normally an outside linebacker). It was a look that gave the team three speed rushers and resulted in a sack for Williams.
Hall got some snaps on second downs in the first half, as well as the second. That’s a sign the coaches are developing the freshman to be a factor, and he may have the most upside. He may not be Jordan Davis or Carter this season, but Hall can fill some of the gap, literally and figuratively. As Murray pointed out on the telecast, the coaches are looking for disruptive pass-rushers so they can use a two-high safety setup on passing situations.
• Georgia’s run defense gave up a few big runs, but they weren’t classic gash-the-middle runs, including a 10-yard run to the right on second-and-8 when the offense ran a quick play and got Georgia’s defense to pack in the middle. An 11-yard run came on second-and-10, going up the middle. (The three-down linemen were blocked off the ball.) A quarterback keeper went for 28 yards on first down. UT Martin ended up averaging 4.4 yards per rush, which is more than Georgia should be giving up, but there was no sustained ground success that would be a red flag.
• The main issue Smart had with Georgia’s performance: not enough havoc, no forced turnovers, no batted balls, only one sack, four tackles for loss in 63 plays: “We didn’t hit our havoc goal the other day. Played decently. But you can’t hit your havoc goal if they get the ball out in 2.1 seconds. It’s hard to do that. You’ve gotta bat balls, you’ve gotta force turnovers, and we didn’t do those.”
• UT Martin’s lone touchdown was a close call on whether it was a catch, but it was a could-go-either-way call. The receiver one-handed the catch before he stepped out, and there wasn’t clear evidence the ball came loose as he hit the ground.
“I don’t think they were shaving points or anything,” Smart quipped, apparently bemused at the question.
• One of the surprises was Peyton Woodring winning the place-kicking job because Jared Zirkel stuck around to his fourth year, waiting patiently. Zirkel was given the kickoff job, but Woodring beating him out for field goals and extra points may have said something about how the freshman did this preseason.
• Georgia only can hope it has faced the best punter it’ll see this season. Between that and the lack of turnovers, the offense did not get the benefit of good field position or take the field with great swings of momentum. It felt like Beck and company mentally were playing uphill all game.
(Top photo of Carson Beck: Todd Kirkland / Getty Images)