The tape can sometimes tell a different story.
While Georgia’s defense executed to near perfection in Saturday’s 20-19 win over Notre Dame, the offense had its share of ups and downs.
In the moment, it sure seemed there were some issues regarding game flow, considering Nick Chubb and Sony Michel – despite reeling off some big gains – were only given 26 combined carries of the 69 plays Georgia ran. (This, of course, doesn’t count the three kneel-downs at the end.)
Watching the game again shows that the offensive play-calling wasn’t as big of a deal as it may have seemed.
In fact, if Georgia would have hit on some of the big plays it called, perhaps this game isn’t as close as it turned out to be.
I’ll get to the defense and highlight its standout performance. But let’s first take a look at the offense, with what went right and wrong during the game.
Running the football
Georgia finished with 185 yards on the ground. Given Notre Dame’s front was considered a weakness, there was a belief that this could, or should, have been a greater number. Throw in the fact that Chubb and/or Michel weren’t run as much as many would have expected, it was easy to second-guess this part of Georgia’s play-calling.
Also, in the moment, it seemed Georgia relied too much on running the ball out of the shotgun instead of getting downhill from under center. But the tape, and the stats, show that Georgia had more success in the shotgun as opposed to under center.
In fact, the Bulldogs put 29 runs on the field out of the shotgun for 128 yards. That’s good for 4.4 yards per carry. Not great, but not bad. Under center, the yards per carry average is deceiving. Georgia ran the ball 11 times for 63 yards when Fromm took a snap from under center. Forty of those yards, however, came on a D’Andre Swift sweep. Take that run away and Georgia posted a 2.3 yards per carry average from under center.
Three factors could be at play:
- Perhaps offensive coordinator Jim Chaney figured the best way to attack Notre Dame would be out of the shotgun.
- Maybe Chaney and head coach Kirby Smart weren't as confident in Georgia’s offensive line to sustain consistent movement from under center.
There’s a chance Smart and Chaney decided to go mostly shotgun since Jake Fromm predominantly played in that during his high school career.
Outside of Swift’s run – and another Swift carried that was called back – the big runs Georgia had came out of shotgun.
Take this run from Michel, for instance. Georgia lined Swift in the backfield and saw seven players in the box, with two safeties over the top.
Georgia then motioned Swift to the left, which removed one of the safeties.
The play from here is a zone-read, with defensive lineman Daelin Hayes watching Fromm. By giving the ball to Michel, Georgia has now taken Hayes and the safety out of the play. Therefore, Georgia now has only three defenders to deal with at the point of attack. Michel has a lot of grass in front of him, which he turns into a 17-yard gain.
Out of the shotgun, when Georgia executed its assignments, the running backs were able to find room. On Georgia’s second drive of the game, Chubb took a handoff to the left after standing next to Fromm before the snap.
Left tackle Isaiah Wynn took care of his man and tight end Jeb Blazevich had his defender engaged. Center Lamont Gaillard blocked his man just long enough so that he couldn’t get to Chubb in time. The end result was a 30-yard run.
There was also another potential factor at play with why Georgia seemed to run so many plays out of the shotgun. Much like last year, when Georgia went under center, Notre Dame loaded the box. That’s one reason why its best run play under center came on a motion from Swift. The defenders, with a numbers advantage, are keyed in on a run between the tackles.
Whether it’s Fromm or Jacob Eason at quarterback, teams will likely continue to do this until the threat of the pass can soften the box. In the near future, one of those quarterbacks will need to offer a big-time consistent threat passing the ball to help open up the run.
And this actually appeared to be the strategy at times. Georgia didn’t shy away from throwing the ball on first down and that was with a true freshman quarterback.
Fromm's first start
Fromm’s game was the most deceiving in the moment.
Live, it didn’t seem like he had a good game. There was the lost fumble he didn’t pounce on. He also had the interception, which the TV tape shows he immediately realized was all on him.
But Fromm didn’t have a bad game. No, it wasn’t great. But other than the lost fumble, Fromm never had another moment that put Georgia in a precarious situation – and that includes the pick since that came with 26 seconds left to go in the first half.
In the third quarter and following Lorenzo Carter’s sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery, Chaney dialed up the perfect play-call – a deep post pattern to one of his faster wide receivers.
No, it wasn’t a perfect throw, but it was a catchable ball. And Hardman, who is still learning to be a better pass catcher since he didn’t play receiver at length until this past spring, dropped the ball. If Hardman catches the pass, it’s easily a touchdown. And Fromm’s stat line jumps from 141 to 196 yards.
Fromm, from the Georgia 26-yard line in the second quarter, had another deep ball to Hardman, on a wheel route, that just fell incomplete. For the sake of argument, since the ball landed around the Notre Dame 40, let’s say if Hardman’s able to get it, you’re talking about adding 34 yards to the stat sheet. Then you’re talking about Fromm having 230 yards.
Fromm also had a 48-yard pass that was just overthrown to Godwin. If Fromm’s throw connects, you’re looking at 278 passing yards. You’re also looking at a lot less criticism directed toward Chaney. You’re also looking at potentially softening the box and opening up more runs.
But Fromm had some good downfield passes that did connect.
He had a 31-yarder to Godwin in the first quarter that might have been a touchdown if he had the chance to get more air under it. But Fromm faced pressure and was still able to put the ball in a spot where Godwin could make a play on it. So that’s as good of a play as you want from your quarterback in that situation.
Fromm also showed once again that he will trust his receivers in man coverage. His 31-yard completion to receiver Javon Wims in the fourth quarter with cornerback Nick Watkins in coverage was just that. Wims had about three to four inches and 10-to-15 pounds in this matchup. Fromm put the ball up and let Wims make a play. That kind of trust goes a long way on offense.
The fact that Fromm had this kind of potential to put in a much better day statistically is quite impressive considering it was his first start and on the road.
OK, the defense, starting with Roquan Smith
Smith played like a future first-rounder against the Fighting Irish.
He had one possession in the first quarter, a Notre Dame three-and-out, where he made two solo tackles and assisted on the third.
The first play in that series was the most impressive.
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush kept the ball on a zone-read, with Davin Bellamy crashing on the running back. Bellamy’s presence was enough, however, to force Wimbush to take a couple of steps back before turning up field.
At this point, Wimbush is taking off around the Notre Dame 7-yard line. Smith, standing near the Notre Dame 16-yard line, sees Wimbush taking off.
In the moment, it looks like Wimbush has plenty of room to run and will get well past the 13-yard line, which was the line of scrimmage.
Smith’s closing speed, judging by the next screenshots, is indicative of just how fast he is.
On the very next play, defensive tackle John Atkins blows up the middle and allows for Smith to clean up the play with a sack. On third down, Smith was one of three defenders to force a punt.
Smith also was pivotal on Notre Dame’s first possession that resulted in a field goal. On third-and-3 from the Georgia 22, Adams went into the flat with Wimbush looking his way. Smith undercut the route, forcing Wimbush to make a perfect throw over the top in order to get a completion. Wimbush was unable to do so, which led to the field goal.
Smith was so much of a factor that Notre Dame tried to take him out on a play in the third quarter. Smith looked to run Wimbush down on a third-and-10 but was taken out from behind by running back Josh Adams.
Officials missed the penalty, which turned out not to hurt Georgia. Freshman safety Richard LeCounte closed instead to force Wimbush out of bounds and for Notre Dame to punt.
Carter and Bellamy's big days
Let’s break down some of their biggest plays.
Carter received a ton of praise for his pass-rushing Saturday. A key play he had early in the game was on a run stop. Adams looked to have a hole that could have gone for a big gain in the first quarter. But Carter was able to shed left guard Quenton Nelson and extend his left arm out on Adams. Slowing him down, Carter then finished off the tackle, which led to only a gain of 1 yard.
There also seemed to be countless times that Notre Dame allowed for Carter to get a free release off the line of scrimmage. Why? I’m not so sure. Seems kind of stupid if you ask me. By allowing this, there were many moments where Carter affected the quarterback and forced bad throws to otherwise open receivers.
A good pass rush will always help out a secondary.
On Carter’s sack in the third quarter, Notre Dame allowed for him to come untouched after the tight end released. What allowed for this might have been Georgia’s pre-snap play design. The Bulldogs didn’t bring up its linebackers and defensive backs until after Notre Dame began to bark out signals. Carter rolled up next to defensive tackle Tyler Clark on the left side of Georgia’s defense. With Adams to the left of Wimbush and behind left tackle Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame did not account for Georgia’s star pass-rusher.
Making Notre Dame’s set worse, Bellamy dropped back into coverage. Adams became useless on the play and recognized too late that Carter was closing quickly on Wimbush. Carter punished Wimbush and picked up the loose ball at a critical time in the game, considering the Fighting Irish were at the UGA 35.
Bellamy also had a number of key pursuit plays on Wimbush when he was on the run. For as fast as Wimbush is, Georgia’s defenders in pursuit always seemed as fast, if not faster. On Notre Dame’s final offensive play of the game, Bellamy took off the moment Notre Dame snapped the ball.
McGlinchey, a potential first-round draft pick, never had a chance. Bellamy, using a speed rush and a club move, forced the fumble by hitting Wimbush’s blindside.
Equally as important on this play was Carter’s ability to move right tackle Robert Hainsey back. Carter was then in great position to recover the fumble.
Days like this were why Carter and Bellamy decided to come back to Georgia for one final season.
All of these plays came in the fourth quarter but were overshadowed by how Bellamy and Carter closed the game.
- On a third-and-2, Notre Dame hurried to the line, snapped the ball and had Wimbush run to the right. Wimbush looked to have the edge at first but safety J.R. Reed was able to close quickly. Reed shoved Wimbush out of bounds and forced a punt with less than eight minutes left to play.
- On a field goal drive in the fourth quarter, which moved the Bulldogs ahead 20-19, Georgia faced a third-and-short situation. Chaney called a fake to the fullback with a toss going to the halfback. Notre Dame had it covered. But Michel juked the defender and ran for six yards. Without that play, Georgia’s drive ends without a field goal.
- On Notre Dame’s second-to-last possession, Wimbush saw receiver Chris Fincke break open for a moment over the middle. It was a third-down play and a completion would have moved the chains. But LeCounte was able to make contact with Fincke to make a catch difficult. Fincke had one last shot to come down with it but Smith ran in and hit his arm away. The Fighting Irish were then forced to punt the ball away.