At second glance: More observations on Georgia-Tennessee

semerson@macon.comOctober 8, 2013 

Georgia Tennessee Football

Georgia place-kicker Marshall Morgan scores the game-winning field goal during overtime against Tennessee on Saturday.


The press box gives you a good view of the game, but a DVR gives you a rewind button. Therefore every week this year we're re-watching Georgia's game, thus picking up on some things we may have missed the first time, and reinforcing some earlier analysis. Forthwith, here are more observations from Georgia's 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee:

- It's amazing how quickly this game turned, and how quickly we forget how close Georgia was to winning it comfortably. It was 17-3 early in the third quarter, and Georgia was at the 18, poised to make it a three-score game. Then Marshall Morgan's field goal hits the uprights, Georgia lost two more key players, Tennessee starts to find the holes in Georgia's defense, the punt block happens, and ... Well, you know the rest.

- I'll address the injuries first. The hit on Keith Marshall was clean. People have speculated that the targeting rule was an indirect cause, leading Cameron Sutton to go low. But I didn’t see it that way. It could have happened anyway.

It was heart-wrenching to watch Marshall teared up on the training table, but perhaps a bit overdone by CBS. They cut to Marshall a second after Chris Conley’s touchdown catch. Literally, a second.

Michael Bennett’s injury came at the end of a run play, when he came in late on a pile, the play already basically over. No one touched his leg. Justin Scott-Wesley didn’t touch anyone either when he tore his ACL. His leg just buckled as he tried to avoid the Tennessee player who called a fair catch.

When Scott-Wesley went down, the final player to be hurt, it was Georgia 17-10. Bennett went down when it was 17-3. And it was clear Aaron Murray and company needed some time to adjust, which they eventually did.

- Still, did Georgia’s offense get conservative when it went up 17-3? Yes, but it was also without its top two tailbacks, and receivers were gradually getting hurt. And what some have overlooked is the running game was still working enough to justify trying to stay balanced. Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green broke into the secondary a few times in the third quarter, and Green had a 19-yard run on the game-tying drive in the final two minutes. It’s not like the run wasn’t working.

So if you’re Bobo, you’re thinking you can still run the ball well enough to keep Tennessee honest, especially with your receivers down. Green had runs of 12 and 7 in the fourth quarter, when it was tied at 24. That drive then stalled when a fullback draw to Merritt Hall was stuffed on second down. Again, hindsight says another call, but again, look at all the weapons suddenly missing.

- Aaron Murray’s 57-yard run to finish the third quarter, setting up a touchdown to put Georgia up 24-17, would have been the turning point of the game had things settled down after that. (Which obviously they did not.) But Murray’s run illustrated that he still has the capability to do that, and with all those injuries on offense, you have to wonder if there won’t be more of that in the future. The problem is that Georgia’s coaches don’t want to risk injury to their star quarterback. That said, if your other players are getting hurt celebrating touchdowns and covering punts, I’m not sure there’s too much else to lose.

- OK, let's delve (deeply) into the punt block: Barber’s first punt attempt was nearly blocked, as Tennessee got through the three up-men. John Lilly, who coaches the punt unit, could be seen talking to Barber after the play, urging him to get it off quicker. So I thought I’d time it: Barber’s first punt, nearly blocked, was between 1.9-2.1 seconds, from snap to the ball leaving Barber's foot. (I measured it numerous times.) Barber’s second punt measured out about two seconds, and the Vols’ got close again. And the punt block was also around the two-second mark.

So was it the blocking? When Tennessee finally blocked it, it was three-on-three in the backfield, but Quayvon Hicks basically whiffed on his man.

It seems there’s issues all around there: Because of the blocking issues, Barber probably needed to adjust and get his punts off quicker, and should have done that after the first near-block. But he didn’t adjust, and it cost Georgia later. (When Adam Erickson punted in the fourth quarter, he also got it off in about two seconds, but Tennessee also hardly brought any rush.)

By the way, Tennessee uses the same punt formation, and Georgia came close once. I timed the Vols getting the punt off in about the same amount of time.

- Let's go to the defense. It got lost in the shuffle how much Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins were taken out of the game. You can attribute that to Tennessee’s strong tackles. Ray Drew managed two sacks, but his first one came from inside. (Drew almost had a third one in the third quarter, again coming from the end, forcing Worley to rush for no gain.) The second one, however, drew rammed right through the left tackle, so kudos to him. Floyd got closer more than Jenkins, who was in pass coverage some of the time. Floyd did get good pressure at the end of the first half, when Tennessee was in the two-minute drill, and was a couple steps from a sack before Drew beat him to it for his second sack.

- It was amazing how much better Tennessee’s offense moved the ball on the outside, and that was even in the first half. Grantham mentioned afterwards that the Vols adjusted at halftime, going to the outside runs, but it was there in the first half too. Something’s going to have to change on defense: Grantham will have to have the confidence to adjust, as in past years, or he’ll have to adjust and hope his players deal with it. If not for that ball falling out of Pig Howard’s hands at the pylon, we’d probably be talking much more about Georgia’s struggling defense.

- For all the talk about Georgia’s run defense, and it’s legit, part of the problem on the outside is the Bulldogs are tending to bunch up the middle on first and second down. That’s what happens when you don’t have a John Jenkins or Kwame Geathers in the middle. Frankly, I think a lot of what you’re seeing out there is that you just don’t have Alec Ogletree or Jarvis Jones, with the ability to fly around the field.

- The pass coverage was summed up on a third-down play, just before Tennessee scored to tie it at 24. Georgia rushed four, and with no blitzer, Worley had all the time to throw. So No. 1, the pass rush isn’t enough. Then Worley has time to find an open man, and when he zips it into receiver Jason Croom, there’s no one within three steps of him. Ctroom ran past Harvey-Clemons, who was evidently in a run-short pass contain, and Quincy Mauger and Shaq Wiggins weren’t in position to hop right on Croom. So No. 2, your coverage isn’t good enough. Later, Worley converted a critical third-and-10 from deep in his territory when there was a five-man rush, but Wiggins was caught in one-on-one coverage against Josh Smith.

In fact, as improved as Worley looked in the second half, there were several more plays where there was a lot of time to throw, and you shudder at what a Mettenberger or Boyd would have done to that defense. In fact, we already know.

- There was a play late in the second half, a third-down stop by Georgia, where the Bulldogs did contain the outside: There was a rush from the left side (of the offense), forcing a hurried throw, and Shaq Wiggins was there to make the stop. That was a case of Grantham either being shrewd or lucky, depending on how you look at it. But either way, perhaps Grantham should be taking more chances like that. Sitting back isn’t working as much.

- Georgia’s tackling just generally isn’t good. It happened on an outside run on the first drive: Harvey-Clemons could have tackled Raijon Neal for a loss, but Neal scooted right by him. And Harvey-Clemons is one of the team’s leading tacklers. I know Grantham has blamed angles and other mechanics. But Georgia’s best tackling came when the runner was bottled up. That’s normal, but a) that means the tackling in space isn’t that good, and b) they need to bottle up the runner better, i.e. be on top of the play. It’s a symptom of a defense that’s struggling.

- How close to the vest does Grantham keep his lineup? CBS had Brendan Langley as the starting cornerback. But it was Shaq Wiggins. Normally the network gets a heads-up from the team before games.

- Richt and Grantham have said they did not intentionally let Tennessee score the final touchdown. Assuming that’s true (and the film shows it is), boy that was pretty awful run defense.

- That said, there were a lot of moments where this game could have stayed on course for a Georgia comfortable win. The main one was Tennessee’s first touchdown, making it 17-10. It was the third-down pass where Marquez North tippy-toed in the end zone. It was a great throw by Worley, but Georgia’s coverage wasn’t good. Safety Corey Moore and Amarlo Herrera were on the coverage. A safety and a middle linebacker. But Grantham went with a zone-blitz on the play, it was just picked up very well by Tennessee, giving Worley time to throw. That particular play you can’t pin too much on schematics.

- Marshall looked really good before the injury, especially his first couple of carries. Granted, the holes were there, but Marshall had that burst, and if he had never been hurt, probably would have broken one at some point. J.J. Green did have a fine game, but if Marshall doesn’t get hurt, this game probably doesn’t go to overtime.

- John Theus replaced Kolton Houston at right tackle for the second series, earlier than usual. (Danielson said that Theus got the start, but that wasn’t the case.)

- The offense was making an effort to get Rantavious Wooten more involved in the first quarter, even before all the injuries. While he only had two catches coming into the game, he had four in the first half, including a touchdown, before any receiver was hurt. That’s a decent sign going forward.

- Chris Conley’s one-handed catch was A.J. Green-esque. He’s still healthy, by the way.

- Great catch by Wooten on the goal-line, and great trust by Murray putting the ball that low.

- I had a chance to look closer at the defensive delay of game penalty on Blake Sailors, which allowed Tennessee to go for it on fourth-and-1 (and convert) on its way to the touchdown to make it 24-24. It’s a call you don’t see much, but Sailors did do what the officials flagged him for: He bluffed in order to try to get the Vols to jump, and it worked. The officials just alertly saw that it was Sailors doing the jumping. Now, did Sailors do it so obviously that it screamed for a flag? That’s debatable.

- The end of regulation: When Georgia drove inside the 10, Murray did so by completing passes or handing off only to freshmen (J.J. Green, Douglas and Reggie Davis) or a walk-on (Rhett McGowan). And on two of the goal-line throws, you had a tailback (Green) and tight end (Lynch) flexed out as receivers.

- Final thought: Aaron Murray and the offensive line deserve a lot of credit. So does Richt, not showing any signs of panic as the game seemingly slips away. The defense and special teams? Well ... yeah.

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