ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia just finished an exciting, epic game against a one-loss SEC upstart with a dangerous offense. Now it’s time for Georgia to turn its attention to, well, a one-loss SEC upstart with a dangerous offense.
First, let’s put a wrap on what happened in the first one, after rewatching and thinking more about Georgia’s 30-21 win over Missouri — and what it may mean for Ole Miss.
Last week we bestowed the word “elite” on the Georgia offense, and it proceeded to have more three-and-outs (two) than it had in the previous three weeks combined. But this game also reinforced another trait: clutch.
Georgia has taken the field 16 times this year when it was trailing. The result of those possessions: eight touchdowns, three field goals, one missed field goal, one interception, one fumble and just two missed punts. (Credit to Benjamin Wolk of Dawgs247 for pointing this out.)
• Missouri takes a 7-3 lead? Georgia comes back with a touchdown.
• Missouri takes a 13-10 lead to start the second half? Georgia comes back with two straight touchdowns.
• Missouri gets back within three early in the fourth quarter? Georgia gets … well, a field goal. But it got something, just as it did after the Nazir Stackhouse interception. Those two drives required 53 and 40 yards to put Peyton Woodring in position to put the game away.
When your punter doesn’t see the field in the second half and you don’t turn it over, that’s a good sign.
Georgia is also outscoring opponents 100-16 in the third quarter.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, has a defense that ranks well: fourth in the SEC in defensive yards per play. But it just gave up 28 points to a struggling Texas A&M offense (the Aggies got seven more on a blocked field goal return), 21 and 20 points to Auburn and Arkansas, and a whole lot of points to LSU — which has a great offense, but Georgia’s is very good, too.
Too much run?
Georgia has been more of a passing team this year (51 percent coming in) and is better throwing the ball (12th nationally in yards per attempt) than running it (31st in yards per rush). Yet in this game Mike Bobo appeared to lean more on the run game: Six out of the Bulldogs’ first nine first down plays were runs. They only totaled 17 yards. Both three-and-outs also started with runs, a 2-yard loss and a 5-yard gain.
So it wasn’t effective, and Georgia … kept running early. Then it started to work: The two touchdown drives in the third quarter included five runs on first down versus three passes. Bobo saw something there and kept trying it, and eventually you could see why: Kendall Milton’s 15-yard touchdown run came on second-and-10, but it showed the run was there. And the best run of the day, the 22-yard gain by Daijun Edwards in the fourth quarter, also came on first down.
Still, the run game wasn’t consistently successful. Take away those two runs, and Edwards and Milton averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Edwards came in averaging nearly 6 yards a carry and Milton over 5.
The flip side of that: Beck was successful on some lower-percentage downs, and the passing game had explosive plays, with seven that went for 15-plus yards. (Missouri had five.)
Another flip side: Georgia ran the ball well enough to chew clock, especially in the fourth quarter after the Stackhouse interception. Nobody talks much about time of possession anymore, but Georgia did dominate (34:18), and maybe with Missouri’s offense, this was a game Smart and Bobo decided they wanted that to be a factor.
Another, more simple reason for the gameplan? Missouri has been about equally good against the pass (fourth in the SEC) and the run (sixth) this season, but it also has that effective pass rush. And with Georgia’s pass protection being leaky early in the game, you could understand Bobo wanting to be careful.
“Mike did a good job of sticking to it,” Smart said. “We were very committed to the run when other teams would have abandoned it.”
More offensive bullet points
• Carson Beck’s scrambling has been a surprising plus, mainly because he’s made mostly good decisions on when to do it. His 15-yard run on the opening possession extended a drive that got a field goal. And his 4-yard run on third-and-3 in the third quarter extended a drive that ended with a touchdown.
• But third downs weren’t as successful through the air this game. Georgia only converted 30 percent of its third downs when it passed. Beck was 7 for 10 in those situations, with a number of passes short of the sticks.
• Something that doesn’t get enough attention is Georgia’s variety of receivers: Six different players caught passes on the first two drives. The defense can’t key on anyone, and Beck can have no hesitation once he sees an open receiver.
• The connection between Beck and Rara Thomas could be used more down the stretch. When they connected on the fourth-down comeback pattern on a free play, Thomas’ ability to stop and come back, and Beck’s timing in hitting him, was quite impressive.
• What happened when Georgia’s offense went into a first-half lull? The third drive started well, with an 18-yard completion to McConkey, but the next play was a lower-percentage deeper shot to Thomas that fell incomplete, then a run up the middle that didn’t get anything. Then the three-and-outs were just out of sorts, with runs on first down, not-great blocking, and a seeming sense of trying to do no harm rather than be aggressive.
• The ugly on the pass blocking: Xavier Truss was straight-up beat for a sack on the opening drive. Tate Ratledge looked like he was beat when a pressure led to a third-down incompletion in the second quarter.
Georgia vs. Luther Burden
Actions speak louder than things said during press conferences, and for all the times that Smart (justifiably) mentioned Missouri’s other receivers, the Georgia coaches showed how much they cared about Luther Burden by moving their best cornerback Kamari Lassiter to the slot, at least for most of the game.
How’d it work? Burden had one big play, the long touchdown catch in the first quarter, but it came against Daylen Everette; Missouri, perhaps seeing what Georgia was doing, schemed it well, lining Burden up next to another receiver and criss-crossing them.
Otherwise, Burden was rather quiet, and he was also not 100 percent after turning his ankle in the second quarter. Burden was healthy enough to catch a two-point conversion and was on the field a lot, but his final stat line (seven targets, three catches for 53 yards) shows that part of Georgia’s strategy worked.
It wasn’t a perfect plan, and Missouri reacted. When Burden was doubled in the slot on one play, Brady Cook hit Theo Wease in single coverage against Julian Humphrey for a 33-yard gain. Everette was victimized on some fourth-quarter passes to Wease.
Lassiter’s move to the slot meant more snaps for Humphrey, who finished with essentially the same amount of snaps (47) as Everette (46). Tykee Smith still played 40 snaps, some in the slot and some in dime formation.
“I wasn’t really worried about me this week,” Smith said. “And I also thought Kamari played really well.”
There was one other notable part of Georgia’s approach: Playing Jalon Walker. Walker had mostly been a third-down pass rush specialist this season, but between Missouri’s passing attack and Walker just earning the playing time, he had 32 snaps, almost tripling his total from the Florida game.
(The broadcast highlighted Walker as Dumas-Johnson’s replacement after the injury, but that was really CJ Allen, who finished with 20 snaps. Allen was in the backfield to force Cook’s pass that Stackhouse picked off.)
Not stopping the run
Early on, Georgia actually did a good job stopping Cody Schrader, who only had 5 yards on his first four rushes. The Bulldogs were doing a good job keying on the stretch run. That started to change on Missouri’s third drive, when Schrader got some yards up the middle and Cook had two long runs, including one up the middle.
At that point, it looked like Georgia started having Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Malaki Starks keep at least one eye on the QB scramble. (Dumas-Johnson hurt his forearm while tackling Cook on a scramble up the middle.)
When Schrader got going in the second half, the Tigers were playing off the pass: A first-down completion down the left side to Wease, a first-down catch-and-run to Mookie Cooper over the middle. It was good play-calling by Missouri coordinator Kirby Moore and an offense in rhythm. But Georgia firmed up in the red zone, with Tykee Smith’s inside blitz for a sack shutting things down.
Then the stretch run really started to work for Missouri, at first not huge chunk plays but enough to move the sticks, then Schrader’s 12-yard touchdown run to the edge.
Georgia also started playing more zone pass coverage, while sending more blitzes, trying to limit Cook’s scrambling. That probably created chances for the stretch run to work. It also caused at least one notable pass coverage breakdown, a 23-yard completion when Lassiter released on the receiver, then turned around to see nobody there covering him.
Georgia had to pick its poison against a good offense. It picked well enough to win.
• Peyton Woodring was the special teams MVP, but Mekhi Mews gets honorable mention. He gave the offense a few extra yards each time on his returns: 54 yards on two kickoffs, 6 yards on a punt.
• What was the deal with the pass interference-review-overturn? In real time, I had no idea. After rewatching, it was … well, just a big waste of time. The review went nearly three minutes, but CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore at least seemed satisfied that the review got the play right and a flag never should have been thrown.
• When Dillon Bell fumbled the opening kickoff — before picking it up to avoid early disaster — CBS analyst Aaron Taylor chimed in that “turnovers have been a big problem for Georgia.” Uh, not exactly: Georgia had nine coming into the game, middle of the pack in the SEC. The bigger issue was not forcing enough: also nine coming into this game. But the Bulldogs got two in the fourth quarter.
• Yes, the CBS announcers made people realize they’ll miss Gary Danielson and Brad Nessler — and they should miss them, they’re very good. But the main issue with Saturday’s game was a CBS crew that wasn’t as familiar with Georgia and the SEC. When I rewatch games done by people like Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, Matt Stinchcomb, etc., it’s enjoyable because they know the team, they know the league and their analysis holds more weight for that reason.
What it means for Ole Miss
As well as Kirby Smart and Lane Kiffin know each other, they’ve only matched wits in a real game once, and it was way back in 2010, during Kiffin’s one year as Tennessee coach. (Smart’s Alabama team won that, 12-10.)
Smart and Kiffin did go up against each other in practice for two years at Alabama.
“He doesn’t get enough credit. But it’s not like he’s trying to be scheme of the week,” Smart said. “He does what he does really well, and he knows what they do well. And he also knows what you don’t do well, and he’s looking for a matchup most of the game.”
Ole Miss ranks third in the SEC in offensive yards per play. The Rebels’ passing game has been more effective — second in the SEC in yards per attempt — but tailback Quinshon Judkins has come on lately, with 100-plus yards in four of his last five games.
Will Ole Miss do what Missouri did with the stretch run, or get around the edges the way Auburn did? Quarterback Jaxson Dart can also run, so can he do what Cook did in the first half against Georgia?
The task for Georgia seems to be similar as the Missouri game: Limit the damage on offense, then find ways to outscore them.
(Photo: Jeffrey Vest / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)