Five games into the season, Georgia’s offense is much better than most of us expected, but Todd Grantham’s defense has yet to live up to its lofty preseason reputation.
Part of that, of course, was having two to four starters suspended during the first four games.
And while the defense was back to full strength against Tennessee, the last two returnees, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo, were still a bit rusty — Rambo especially when it came to pass coverage.
And, yes, the turnovers committed by the offense and Georgia’s generally poor special teams play put the defense at a disadvantage Saturday, frequently giving the Vols a short field to work with.
So up to a point I understand why Grantham said after the game, “I feel fine about the way we played on defense.”
But I’m hoping he doesn’t really feel fine about it, because even taking those extenuating circumstances into account, Georgia’s D hasn’t looked like the veteran group they are.
The front seven too often has failed to dominate and was, for the most part, stymied by Tennessee’s veteran OL. With Jarvis Jones double-teamed and taken out of the equation much of the game, the inability of the defensive line to put much pressure on Vols QB Tyler Bray made for a long night in the secondary.
Speaking of which, pass coverage has been dicey all season, with too many busted coverages, and it was at its worst against UT. I lost count of how many times Bray was throwing to a wide-open receiver Saturday, though thankfully in a few instances he missed them.
And while the Dawgs had been tough against the run in previous games, they let Tennessee establish a rushing attack that not only opened up its offense, but provided scoring punch. Tackling also was poor throughout the Tennessee game.
The defensive nadir of the season so far came on Cordarrelle Patterson’s rambling 46-yard touchdown run in the third quarter when most of the Georgia defense had a shot at him but looked like they were moving in slow motion.
Unless the Dawgs want to keep having to depend on the offense to win shootouts like Saturday’s, in which the two teams combined for 95 points, 13 touchdowns, 46 first downs and 1,038 yards, the defense is going to have to start playing on a much higher level than we’ve seen so far.
Speaking of the offense, Aaron Murray may have had a couple of lapses Saturday reminiscent of last season, but generally he’s been playing at the top of his game and making good use of a deep and talented receiver corps.
Add to that the young offensive line progressing fairly rapidly, and, most important of all, the addition of an explosive running game with the “Gurshall” tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and you’ve got record point production. The combination of Gurley’s shifty moves and penchant for breaking tackles and Marshall turning on the afterburners when he reaches the secondary makes for a really potent ground attack.
And then there’s Mike Bobo, who drew praise the previous couple of weeks for his more varied play calling. When Georgia’s offense was clicking against Tennessee, Bobo was at his best, deftly mixing the running and passing games.
But Bobo unfortunately reverted to Mr. Predictable in the fourth quarter when Georgia tried in vain to eat up clock with its ground game and only wound up with one first down the entire quarter. Everyone in the stadium — including, of course, the Tennessee defense — knew who was going to be getting the ball. So the Vols loaded the box and Gurley ended up mostly going nowhere.
That’s when Bobo is at his most frustrating.
A few other quick hits: I’m not sure why it took Mark Richt so long to figure out that Malcolm Mitchell was uncomfortable and indecisive as a punt or kick returner, but thankfully he finally appears to have come to that conclusion. … Murray is not an option quarterback, so let’s hope we don’t see any more plays like the pitch to Mitchell early in the game that wound up losing 10 yards. … The tight ends finally showed up in a big way as receivers, with Arthur Lynch making up for the previous week’s drop by snagging three passes for 75 yards and Jay Rome having a very nice one-handed catch where he went up high for a 21-yarder. … In addition to apparently deciding that offensive holding isn’t something they were going to call, no matter what, the inconsistent officiating crew also missed a facemask call and a horse-collar tackle. … The mostly red-clad crowd showed up early, got loud frequently and stayed until the very end. It was an absolutely electric atmosphere Between the Hedges for the first time in quite a while. … Finally, UT coach Derek Dooley sounded a bit like the Athens boy he was with his postgame assessment of the Dawgs: “We went toe-to-toe with a top 10 team that will be competing for a national championship.”
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg