It still seems unbelievable that Georgia dropped Saturday’s game to Vanderbilt 17-16.
Re-watching the game showed a Georgia team that was able to move the ball quite a bit, particularly through the passing game. It also showed a Georgia defense that stopped a Vanderbilt offense from moving the ball all game outside of one fourth-quarter drive.
Yet Georgia came out on the losing side.
Yes, special teams were once again a disaster, and that proved to be a big reason why Georgia lost. A few in-game coaching decisions haunted Georgia, as well.
Here’s a look back after the game upon review, which features quite a few eye-popping things.
A lot has been made about Georgia’s final offensive play. It was a perplexing call, considering it hasn’t been something that’s worked to much success this season. And it was also one Georgia decided to go with after calling a timeout. Before stopping the game, the Bulldogs hurried to the line with Sony Michel in the backfield. Michael Chigbu, Charlie Woerner, Jayson Stanley and Isaiah McKenzie split wide.
But the play Georgia instead decided to go with, which moved McKenzie from the slot to tailback and placed Nick Chubb at fullback, has two options. Chubb can take a fullback dive or McKenzie can also take an outside pitch.
Thus far, Georgia hasn’t run any other options out of this personnel set.
Given the predictability of the set, shown on film at least, it’s easy to see why Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason called a timeout once McKenzie motioned to the backfield.
And in reviewing the film, there was one minor, yet major, adjustment Vanderbilt made after the timeout.
Prior to Vanderbilt’s timeout, the Commodores lined up both inside linebackers for what looked like a double A-gap blitz. Inside linebacker Zach Cunningham was practically standing on the defensive line.
Then the Commodores called their timeout.
When the two teams lined up again, Georgia came out in the same formation. This time, Cunningham was a step behind where he lined up originally. There were also some other changes: No longer were the two inside linebackers directly over the center as a nose tackle was now in between them. The left outside linebacker was also in a two-point stance instead of a three-point stance.
But the subtle change in Cunningham’s alignment proved huge as it indicates Mason knew exactly how to defend this play based on his own film study.
Once the ball was snapped, two Vandy defensive linemen crashed inside and Cunningham darted to defend the pitch. Essentially, Mason had every other box defender sell out inside if Georgia decided to go with Chubb. And therefore, based on the alignment, Smart figured Vanderbilt’s entire defense was designed to take it away, which would leave the pitch open.
But Mason entrusted his best player to run McKenzie down on the sweep. Out of the timeout, Mason was able to successfully take away both options on this play and have Cunningham secure the game for Vanderbilt.
That tweak proved huge as it allowed Cunningham to take the proper angle while keeping him unblocked.
For Smart and the Georgia coaching staff, that’s an easy situation to avoid. Either you have a third option out of that play – a quarterback bootleg or play-action pass – or you shift to a different formation and get a new call from the sideline. There’s no reason whatsoever, based on what everyone knows about Mason as a defensive coach, that Georgia should have run the exact same play it previously showed following a timeout.
Smart was right about having the proper call to defend Vanderbilt’s screen pass that went for 37 yards in the fourth quarter. Trailing by six, Vanderbilt’s big play, on third-and-12, helped set up the eventual game-winner.
But the defensive play called was designed to take the screen away. All credit should go to Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb for making the gainer happen.
After the snap, Webb ran forward and outside linebacker Chuks Amaechi, tasked with guarding Webb, ran toward him. Webb then made a swift cut to his right, which turned Amaechi around and forced him into a chase situation.
Webb was then able to take the screen up the field. He avoided Amaechi and safety Dominick Sanders before being tackled by safety Quincy Mauger at the Georgia 11. Three run plays later, Vanderbilt was able to move ahead with a touchdown.
That play accounted for 21.6 percent of Vanderbilt’s offensive output. And it helped get the Commodores an upset win at Georgia.
This time, the biggest issue running the ball wasn’t the fact that the offensive line couldn’t get a push. The Bulldogs were absolutely owned on the edges by a swarming Vanderbilt defense that did everything it could to bottle the big play from bouncing outside.
By this reporter’s count, Georgia only had only four successful running plays on the edges out of 35 total rushes. Georgia actually had better success running up the middle than it did on the perimeter.
While a lot of people stress the need for balance in terms of passing and running the ball, there’s also a needed balance when it comes to the type of run plays called. Earlier this year, it seemed the inside run game was stymied. Against Vanderbilt, not too many runs were able to spring around the corner.
The Vanderbilt linebackers and defensive backs spent most of their energy ensuring this would be the case. And therefore it left plenty of situations where receivers and tight ends were open down the field, hence why Jacob Eason was able to throw for 346 yards and a touchdown.
More Wims needed
Junior college transfer Javon Wims is Georgia’s biggest receiver at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds. There isn’t anyone else on the roster who has his size. With the way Wims played against Vanderbilt, he very well could have earned himself some extra playing time.
He saw a lot more time during this game and Eason targeted him four times, connecting on three passes for 32 yards. His most impressive catch came on the target that didn’t count, with Eason throwing the ball too far to the outside down the field on the sideline.
Wims went up and caught the ball at a high point but was unable to stay inbounds. He also did a much better job of catching his passes with his hands instead of with his body.
Wims should be someone Georgia’s passing game turns to over the final five games of the season. His size and body position should help Eason as both continue to progress.
Special teams blunders, yet positives in kicking game
Vanderbilt’s opening 95-yard kick return to the 4-yard line (and moved to the 1-yard line due to two penalties before the first play from scrimmage) came from what appeared to be a unit that was out of position across the board.
Nine players converged on Darrius Sims as if they were crowding the box at a line of scrimmage. Out of the assigned rush lanes, it made things real easy for Vanderbilt’s return unit to block the Bulldogs for a big gainer.
On Marshall Long’s 41-yard punt in the third quarter out of his own end zone, he didn’t get much hang time on it at all. The ball was kicked low to where it one-hopped to Kalija Lipscomb, who was able to return the ball back to the Georgia 27-yard line.
Now, it’s hard to fault Long too much because he’s backed up and needs to get rid of the ball as soon as he can. But once again, the coverage unit couldn’t do much to contain Lipscomb. That play set up a Vanderbilt field goal.
While Georgia dominated Vanderbilt on offense and defense, the Commodores won the special teams phase fairly handily – and that’s with Rodrigo Blankenship making all three of his field goals (45, 22, 36) and hitting three touchbacks. And the special teams victories proved to be the deciding on-field factor in the final score.
But Blankenship’s performance should be commended given Georgia’s kicking struggles this year. Blankenship’s make from 45 yards out looked like it could have gone in from 55, making Smart’s comments about his range afterward a tad strange. In real time, and from a sideline angle, it was hard to tell how far the 45-yarder actually traveled. On replay, and from the end zone angle, Blankenship’s kick boomed through the uprights with plenty of distance.
It makes the decision not to try the 54-yarder at the end of the first half – even with a return man that scared Smart due to the "Kick Six" game he was a part of against Auburn while at Alabama – somewhat of a second-guesser. But it’s still an understandable decision, given the 45-yarder was the first any Georgia kicker had made over 30 yards all season.
Carter’s two sacks
Both of Georgia outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter’s sacks came on the same defensive play.
Carter lined up on one side of the defensive formation and delayed his blitz by running around his defensive linemen. This helped disguise where Carter was coming from and allowed him to spring unblocked at the quarterback.
This was a good play for Georgia to use against an offense that couldn’t operate the quick passing game effectively.
Carter now has four sacks this season, with all of them coming in the past three games.