A few more thoughts and observations from Saturday’s heartbreaker at Auburn …
Sometimes (all too often, frankly) the way Georgia comes out in a big game looking ill-prepared — and the delay in the coaching staff adjusting to what the other team is doing — is just baffling.
Saturday against Auburn, the Georgia coaches seemed tentative in the first half, starting with the decision to give the Tigers great field position with a short pooch kick because they apparently were scared to death of Auburn’s return men. Likewise, in the second quarter when the Dogs faced a fourth-and-1, the coaching staff opted to punt instead and were rewarded with a dismal 23-yarder. It’s like they were coaching not to lose rather than coaching to win.
Auburn, on the other hand, came out full of energy and confidence. After grinding out a scoring drive mainly on the ground, Gus Malzahn then went to the air mostly on the next one, as if to say to everyone, “See, I told you we could pass.”
In response, Todd Grantham’s defensive approach also was a bit timid, relying on his players reacting to whatever Nick Marshall decided to do in the zone-read rather than attacking and trying to disrupt Auburn’s backfield.
On offense, Mike Bobo started the game trying in vain to establish the run with Todd Gurley, only to be stymied by an Auburn defense that was determined to sell out and stop the run.
And the Bulldogs’ offensive line apparently thought it was still in a scrimmage in Athens and had not bothered to watch any film on the blitzing Dee Ford.
“We came out a little sluggish the first half,” lineman John Theus told the Athens Banner Herald. “I think they kind of caught us by surprise. They came out with a lot of energy and they were playing really hard. … I realized it the first drive. I don’t know about everybody else. I got beat off the edge and I realized they ain’t no joke.”
That’s just mind-boggling. How do you come out sluggish for a game against a Top 10 team and big rival? How is it that you have to get shown up on the field before you realize that one of the nation’s top offenses is for real?
And then there was the slowness in Georgia’s adjustments. It took until midway in the second quarter (in part because the Dogs had the ball so little in the first quarter) before Bobo junked his game plan and started slicing up the Tigers with quick slant passes that shortened the amount of time the OL had to “protect” quarterback Aaron Murray, in addition to finally moving the ball. By the second half, Bobo was on a roll and Georgia’s offense was back on track, mixing it up nicely between pass and run.
Grantham was even slower to adjust. Granted, the Georgia defense did a much better job in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, when that pair of three-and-outs on Auburn’s part were exactly what Murray and the surging offense needed to complete a remarkable comeback. But why did it take so long to figure out that what Georgia was doing against Auburn’s offense in the first two quarters wasn’t working?
Yes, there were execution problems Saturday on the part of players, with dropped passes, false starts and missed blocks on offense and exceedingly poor tackling at times on defense. But the biggest problem appeared to be a Georgia staff that spent half the game getting outcoached before finally figuring out what it needed to do. …
I’m aghast that there are actually so-called Georgia “fans” out there who were still denigrating the efforts of Murray after this game. I can only conclude that such foolish talk is a result of these folks not having watched the game or being trolls passing themselves off as Bulldog fans. Murray’s performance against Auburn, both passing and running, and the way he led his team back for a chance at a win was absolutely incredible. I’ve rarely seen a college quarterback play as well as he did in the fourth quarter. It’s not his fault Georgia didn’t win, but without him the Dogs wouldn’t have even come close. …
While Murray deserves all the accolades he’s gotten for his play Saturday, the sort of unsung hero for the Georgia offense was Gurley. He might not have had a hundred-yard day, which has become the favored benchmark of success for SEC backs, but he got some tough yards when they mattered most in the second half, and more importantly he caught 10 passes for 77 yards. That was the most passes caught Saturday by any Bulldog and ranked third in yardage. That’s an aspect of Gurley’s game that hopefully will get used a lot more. …
Special teams play was a mixed bag. Marshall Morgan was perfect placekicking and Georgia blocked a field goal and generally covered kickoffs and punts well (despite the coaches’ fears). But Marshall failed to get a single touchback on kickoffs (while Auburn’s kicker went nine-for-nine in that department), punter Collin Barber had an off day, and Georgia managed to find another obscure penalty it could draw on the punt receiving team and thereby extend an Auburn drive. …
As for the freak/miracle play that beat the Dogs, I can see both sides of the debate over whether Grantham should have blitzed rather than just rushing three and dropping back in a prevent scheme. On the one hand, a blitz might have disrupted Marshall’s ability to heave that long ball; on the other, past experience probably made Grantham less than trustful of his secondary’s ability to manage in single coverage. As it was, the play was well-covered, scheme-wise.
But here’s the big mystery: Why was Josh Harvey-Clemons reaching over Tray Matthews on a ball that Matthews had covered? At the very least, it showed poor teamwork and a lack of awareness of what they were supposed to be doing back there. And if he was trying to steal a pick from a fellow Bulldog, that’s just inexcusable. Nearly as bad was that neither one seemed to realize they should just bat the ball down. I realize they’re both young players, but this was the 10th game of the season. I’m hoping they were just ignoring what they’d been taught, because the alternative would be that Georgia’s defensive coaching is so lousy that they hadn’t been told what to do in that situation. …
Finally, the SEC officiating crew led by the infamous Penn Wagers missed calls on both sides Saturday, but predictably the majority of them went against Georgia. And that’s not even counting all the late hits on Murray that went uncalled.
I don’t know what, if anything, Mark Richt and Greg McGarity have said to the SEC about the problems Georgia has had with blown calls over the past few years from the Wagers crew, but it’s past time they told the conference they don’t want him officiating Bulldog games at all. Ever. And if they’ve done that and been ignored, one of them should make a public statement about it and pay the resulting fine from the conference. Just to get it on the public record that this is unacceptable officiating would be money well spent.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg