Like most games, Georgia’s against Alabama came down to a few big plays. It just so happened 99 percent of the big plays were made by Alabama, which is why the Crimson Tide came away with a 38-10 victory.
The game was essentially decided on three plays – the Derrick Henry touchdown run, the blocked punt by Minkah Fitzpatrick and the bomb from Jake Coker to Calvin Ridley. It was sealed on Brice Ramsey's pick-six early in the third quarter. This film study will start with those plays, as those were the difference in a game.
What the coaches warned against
When Georgia head coach Mark Richt was asked about Alabama’s play-action game last Tuesday, he went into detail about how important it was to stay fundamentally sound and guard against it. He recognized it would be tough, considering Alabama will block play-action plays like runs, and therefore can masterfully disguise what is actually happening on the play.
The 45-yard touchdown pass to Ridley is evidence of that.
Thing is, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin set this play up earlier in the game on a jet sweep. This time, with receiver Richard Mullaney going in motion, Georgia safety Dominick Sanders got sucked in on the play fake to Mullaney, thinking it was once again a sweep. Sanders came crashing in right behind safety Johnathan Abram, who was the guy who appeared to have the motion man and subsequent route covered. The problem, however, was now there were two guys covering a short route, with one safety left to cover two deep routes.
Off the snap, Ridley ran down the middle of the field with cornerback Aaron Davis in coverage. Ridley’s speed was able to burn past Davis, with the sophomore needing safety help. At the same time, ArDarius Stewart was running a crossing pattern from the right side of the formation to the left.
Quincy Mauger lined up by the linebackers but began to drop back after the snap. As the lone safety remaining with two guys running free, he had a split decision to make. That lone instance of having to slow down and think prevented him from getting over the top of the play. Coker threw a perfect pass to Ridley behind Mauger and Davis for Alabama’s first kill shot of the game.
Thing is, the Crimson Tide came right back to the play in the third quarter. This time Sanders stayed back but Stewart was able to come free on the crossing route and Coker found him for a big gain. This helped set up Coker’s short touchdown run later in the drive.
After the game, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said Alabama has long run the same route concepts out of different formations and that Georgia knew what to expect. Executing and matching the routes became problematic, however, in real time. In this instance, the Crimson Tide were able to get Georgia off-balance with the threat of the run, which opened up the big play through the air.
The blocked punt
This was the part of the game when Georgia started to lose control. The offense was sputtering and quarterback Greyson Lambert couldn’t find any open receivers to throw to. Not wanting to force the ball, it became a guessing game for Lambert as to where to go with the football.
After the game was 3-3, Georgia went three-and-out on two consecutive series. The second three-and-out ended in disaster.
On fourth down, Georgia lined up in a shield punt formation, with Sterling Bailey, Greg Pyke and Josh Dawson as the shield personnel. Sanders was the last man on the right side of the line of scrimmage, with a space in between he and linebacker Roquan Smith.
Following the snap, there was some big-time miscommunication.
Smith engaged a defender directly in front of him while Sanders seemed confused as to which of the three lined up across from him he’s supposed to take. Fitzpatrick is in the space between Smith and Sanders and ran right through, with Sanders reaching an arm out as he’s moving by.
Bailey and Pyke engaged defenders from the left and center. Dawson, however, either never saw Fitzpatrick or didn’t expect him to come through. He joined Pyke in double-teaming that particular defender, leaving Fitzpatrick a clear path to punter Collin Barber.
Barber never stood a chance to get the punt off. Fitzpatrick blocked the punt, scooped the ball up and scored.
It was a game-changing moment for Alabama and a poorly executed punt play from Georgia.
Henry runs untouched
This play was typical of what Alabama has done so well over the years.
Alabama was in a single-back formation with two tight ends. That gave the Crimson Tide seven blockers to Georgia’s eight in the box.
After the snap, Coker handed the ball off to Henry. Five of the seven men on the line engaged with Georgia defenders and won each one-on-one matchup. Georgia linebacker Tim Kimbrough was taken care of on his side of the A-gap. There’s a possibility linebacker Jake Ganus is there to make a play or at least slow the run down if he stays on the other side of the A-gap. However, based on Henry’s first step, it appears Ganus expected Henry to hit the hole Kimbrough was trying to fill.
Henry saw the hole opening up on his right side of the A-gap, and it was too late for Ganus to come back. Ganus was blocked and Henry ran untouched for 30 yards and a touchdown.
Interesting enough, that was the lone blown assignment in the run game for Georgia's defense, even though Henry was able to go for 148 yards and a touchdown. While Henry broke some solid runs, he didn’t have any others that went the way that one did.
Chalk the touchdown run up to great execution by the Alabama offensive line more so than to it being a blown defensive play.
On Sunday, Richt mentioned one of Ramsey’s interceptions was due to miscommunication with a receiver, while the other was his solely his fault.
After re-watching the game, it would still appear both picks were Ramsey’s fault. The one Richt is likely referring to is the first one. The second pick came later in the third quarter, with Ramsey throwing the ball in tight coverage with a safety over the top. It was a desperation heave at that point of the game.
The first pick, which resulted in safety Eddie Jackson extending Alabama’s lead to 31-3, still appeared to be on Ramsey. Three receivers were running vertical routes. From the sideline angle, it looked like perhaps – maybe – Ramsey thought receiver Terry Godwin was turning around after 10-to-12 yards. But then the angle from Ramsey’s perception appeared to tell a different story, that he was just launching the ball downfield and hoping for a play.
If Ramsey thought Godwin was running a curl, that ball still might have sailed into Jackson’s arms. It just seemed ill-advised to throw the ball in the center of the field with a safety sitting there. Regardless of the reason for the throw, it was one of the easiest interceptions Jackson will have all season.
-On a run-pass option in the first half, Coker got Sanders to worry about Kenyan Drake in the flat after a play fake. That left some space for Coker to hit Mullaney for a big gain.
-Georgia was actually effective against the outside run. Most of the yardage Henry gained came on inside runs. But when the Alabama backs tried to bounce outside, the speed of the Georgia defense helped corral them.
-Lambert had an OK first quarter, although he had the two early misses to Malcolm Mitchell and Glenn Welch. In the second quarter, with Alabama covering his primary reads and blanketing the receivers’ routes, he just seemed confused and uncomfortable in the pocket. It almost looked like he was guessing and hoping guys would be open. He rushed one throw that would have been a first down to Mitchell and tossed one into two Alabama defenders in the direction of Godwin, who wasn’t looking for the ball.
-On Chubb’s 83-yard touchdown, Hunter Long can be credited for sealing the hole for the sophomore runner to burst through. Long did a good job pushing the defender away, which set up the crease. It looked like Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland was responsible to fill the gap but he got caught up in a mess of players. Chubb was then off to the races untouched. (Note: It seems strange pointing out Ragland on this play, considering he was one of the main reasons why Georgia’s offense had a horrible day. Ragland was everywhere on the field and made a ton of plays. He kept Lambert from scrambling for a first down on one, and that came after he took away Reggie Davis’ crossing route. Ragland was a menace for Georgia all game long.)