Well, yesterday’s game may go down as the least satisfying 22-point win of the Richt era. I don’t approve of fans booing college players, but I have to admit I didn’t cringe like I usually do when the boos rang out during the course of that horrid 5:30 stretch that ended the first half. I know it was hot as Hades (I was even more uncomfortable than I felt at the 2010 Arkansas game), I know the opponent was a MAC squad coming off a 3-9 season, I know about the suspensions and the injuries and I know the game plan was as vanilla as you could possibly expect with this coaching staff… but, still, that hardly justifies the complete lack of interest the team showed then. I’d describe their effort as mailing it in, but that would be an insult to mail carriers everywhere. It might be more accurate to call it a postal strike.
That all being said, it’s worth saying this: these Dawgs are a talented bunch. A C-minus effort still got them a win by more than three touchdowns. And while the game was closer at times than it ever should have been, there really never was a point when the outcome was in question. I don’t think you can say as much for your Florida Gators this morning.
Now, on to what I saw.
- The opponent. Give Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn a lot of credit. His team’s effort was better than Georgia’s. His preparation was faultless. He knew what kind of game plan to expect and did a good job of gearing towards it. On offense, the Bulls were able to move the ball as long as they were able to stay out of second-and-long and third-and-long situations. They ran the ball effectively and their quarterback took advantage of man coverage to bust a few scrambles. On defense, they clearly confused the offensive line with some fronts and sets. They also gambled on deep coverage – and got away with that for a while until Murray’s accuracy improved. They didn’t have the talent to win, but they had the effort to avoid embarrassment.
- Special teams. I said before the season that if Georgia was able to elevate its special teams play from awful to merely competent, it would be a big key to improving the team’s chances this season. Yesterday gave me a lot of hope that Georgia can do that. Special teams were solid across the board. Morgan showed some jitters with his first extra point and field goal attempts, but finished 6-6 on his PATs and hit his other field goal try nicely. Kickoffs were as drama-free as I could have asked (boy, do I like the new kickoff rules). Barber showed a powerful leg and got terrific hang time – and, no, the 30-yard return was not the result of him out-kicking his coverage. They’ve added a new wrinkle with Erickson’s pooch punts and all landed inside the 15. Swann had a nice punt return. And all of that’s before I even get to the story of the game…
- Todd Gurley. Yeah, it was a mighty damned impressive debut. Three TDs, 100 yards rushing and a 100-yard kickoff return will do that for a true freshman. Buffalo had enough of him, too, as witnessed by the Bulls kicking away from him as the game progressed. The only troublesome notes sounded were from him cramping up a little (although he came back to knock out that 55-yard TD run) and his pass protection, which, to be honest, left something to be desired, as he whiffed on a guy who sacked Murray. If he’s not anointed the starter for a while, that’ll be why.
- Running backs. The rest of the group weren’t bad. Marshall is quick and looks like he has good vision. He should have caught Wooten’s pass on the trick play, though. Malcome ran hard before he got hurt and he and Samuel clearly know what they’re doing in pass protection better than the rookies do, which is no surprise. Run blocking from the fullbacks was acceptable – and, man, does Quayvon Hicks look like an impressive physical specimen.
- Offensive line. I ain’t buying the post-game happy talk, at least not entirely. These guys were coddled by the coaches’ game plan. Georgia played a ton of I-formation, max-protect. Lynch didn’t have a pass thrown to him that I can remember because he stayed in to block. Still, pass protection broke down enough to see Murray sacked several times. Run blocking was more workmanlike than dominant. I’m not convinced Gates is any more a true left tackle than Glenn was, but as I’m also not convinced that Theus is ready to handle pass protecting Murray’s blind side, that’s where Gates will stay for a while. I will say that I thought the unit as a whole looked more cohesive as a group than I expected, so they may very well grow into the job as the season progresses. Overall assessment: work in progress.
- Receivers. No Brown, no Mitchell, but I thought this group looked pretty good. It was good to see Wooten return to action with, among other things, a beautiful catch on Murray’s best-thrown ball of the day for a long TD. King had a pretty good day and if his quarterback had been on earlier, it would have been bigger.
- Aaron Murray. He didn’t come close to his preseason 70% completion goal and most of the fault for that lies on him. He had no touch on the deep ball early in the game and thus wasn’t able to cash in on what Buffalo was offering him from its defensive sets. He got caught a couple of times waiting for a receiver to come open. He also locked on to a target now and then, most notably when he missed seeing a wide open Michael Bennett on a go route that the Bulls completely failed to cover. And he missed Samuel on the game’s one 344-Fullback call, damn it. On the plus side, he did manage to get untracked as things progressed. As I mentioned, that TD pass to Wooten was a gorgeous throw. And, notably, Murray didn’t turn the ball over, even when the game was at its sloppiest moments.
- Mike Bobo. Hey, he wasn’t bad. He wasn’t going to show much (although Georgia ran the toss a lot more than I expected, especially with Gurley) and it was clear he has concerns about his offensive line. But he still got close to 500 yards of offense without a turnover. I’ll take that.
- Defensive line. I expected domination, to be honest, and I got less than that. Maybe it was the heat. They had some good moments, but not as many as I was counting on seeing. It looks like I’ll still keep hoping that Cornelius Washington turns into a monster, because it hasn’t happened yet. Saw some good stuff out of Jordan Jenkins, though, when he lined up on the line.
- Jarvis Jones. I expected domination, to be honest, and I got that. Even if Buffalo seemed to spend the entire first half on offense locating Jones and running every play away from his side.
- Linebackers. Ugh. They played much of the game as if they had somewhere else to be. Herrera was okay, but Robinson and Gilliard looked slow Ogletree can’t get back soon enough.
- Secondary. They were fine in pass coverage, but much of that was due to Buffalo posing little deep threat. Run support wasn’t anything special, except when Shawn Williams was involved, of course.
- Todd Grantham. If anything, he showed fewer cards than Bobo did. But I doubt he was expecting the lack of effort he got from his troops in the first half. He did get their attention at halftime, though, as the Bulls punted on their first five possessions of the second half. If it’s any consolation, he’s probably more upset by the defense’s play than I am.
Sure, it’s a win. By better than three touchdowns. But with a little tightening of the screws, it should have been by nearly twice that. And if there’s something to worry about, it’s the lack of focus, something we were assured all through the preseason was not a problem. What bothers you – and what better bother Mark Richt this week – is that the natural reaction will be that it will self-correct due to the step up in class with this week’s opponent. Sorry, but after what I saw yesterday, I wouldn’t take anything about this team’s mindset as an automatic. Does this team have the talent to beat Missouri? Absolutely. But it’s not going to happen with another C-minus effort.