Damn, that felt good.
Oh, wait. You want more? Alright, what the hell. Unleash the bullet points!
- The crowd was a mixed bag, honestly. There were a surprising number of empty seats in the Georgia section. (And, no, I don’t think you can blame that on Dragon*Con.) But the place was absolutely rocking during the defensive series that resulted in a safety. The only other time I can remember the Dome being that loud was after Ogletree returned the blocked kick for a touchdown in the 2012 SECCG.
- Let’s get the worst part out of the way first: I’d like to say special teams are a work in progress, but suggesting they’ll progress may be overly optimistic in some areas. Georgia still can’t find someone who can consistently blast kickoffs for touchbacks. Punt return blocking was nonexistent. And while it appeared that the kickoff return for a touchdown was enabled by the refs missing a couple of things, it was also helped by poor technique on Georgia’s part, not to mention that Logan made a lot of the defenders look slow-footed. And here we thought the Dawgs were simply a dedicated special teams coach away from greatness.
- There were a few bright spots, admittedly. Kickoff coverage was pretty decent, other than the one serious breakdown. (And, in the case of that one blow-up-the-entire-return team move, downright spectacular.) Ham hit his second field goal attempt, which was pressure-packed. In the end, though, special teams cost Georgia seven points. Even more troubling was that the areas where we thought the Dawgs could pose a threat — punt and kickoff returns — were completely quiet. Put that all together and it’s not hard to think special teams could really come back to bite this team in the butt down the road this season.
- The offensive line looked pretty good in the run blocking department and inconsistent with its pass blocking, particularly when it came to blitz pickup. One thing I remember from Gene Chizik’s days at Auburn is that he’s very good at mixing in his blitzes, and he lived up to the memories. Although his run blocking was satisfactory, Catalina struggled in pass protection, leading me to wonder if we’re in for another season of watching Georgia’s quarterbacks be victimized by speed rushers.
- The other area of concern on offense was at wide receiver, where I saw Georgia’s downfield guys struggle all game to get separation. You can bitch about Lambert holding the ball too long on occasion — more on that momentarily — but he wasn’t getting a lot of help from his guys. North Carolina’s secondary is good, so maybe this was more about the matchup than anything else, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
- Then, again, the priority was on blocking for the run, so it’s also possible that there are other lineups that might do better in that regard. I have a hard time believing that Terry Godwin won’t see the field more than he did Saturday night.
- Isaiah McKenzie may not have had much of a game in the return department, but he definitely blew things up as a receiver. I really liked how sure-handed he was.
- Hello, three tight end sets. Woerner played a ton, which was something of a surprise. Nauta did, too.
- I’ve already said all I can say about Chubb. It’s almost a shame that his titanic effort overshadowed Brian Herrien’s night. Herrien showed unexpected quicks and ran hard. Once Holyfield and Michel return from the land of the wounded, it’s hard to see a team in the SEC that can match Georgia’s depth at running back.
- The 2016 version of Greyson Lambert is a little different from the 2015 version, but not enough for him to hold off Jacob Eason from starting at some point this year. His release is improved, as he showed with that great throw he made to McKenzie for a first down. And he didn’t attempt a questionable pass that I can recall. However, his ability to read and react to blitzes is as slow as before and his propensity to hang on to the ball far too long remains. He is what he is, with all that entails.
- As far as Eason goes, it’s gonna be fun to watch him climb the learning curve. Yes, he had some misreads and went downfield on occasion when a dump off pass would have served better. But he read one blitz well and hit his hot receiver. And he deserves credit on that wonderful completion to McKenzie, not just for the perfect throw, but also for recognizing that he had a linebacker in coverage and having the patience to let the play develop before throwing. Also, it’s not surprising that he still looks more comfortable out of the shotgun than under center, but seeing as he can’t sell play action out of that formation, it’s something he’s going to have to keep working on to improve.
- On defense, how about the two Smiths? Roquan turned him the game of his life and looks like he’ll be a fixture at ILB. Maurice showed why he had Saban and Smart dueling over him.
- They may all come out of the Saban coaching tree, but it’s clear that Smart and Tucker are going to put their defensive backs out on an island far more than Pruitt did. For the most part, they got away with it because Trubisky wasn’t a good downfield passer (and on the one occasion when he made a perfect deep throw, the receiver dropped the ball). But if you’re not a little concerned about what may lie in store against Ole Miss, you should be.
- Damn, did I love the way Malkom Parrish defended that fade pass in the end zone against a receiver a half-foot taller than him.
- The pass rush was on-again, off-again, but when it was cooking, that defense was deadly. Lots of speed at every level, with the most notable level of improvement in that department coming at linebacker.
- Overall, considering that the defense only garnered one sack and didn’t force a turnover, it did well holding the Carolina offense well under its 2015 yardage and scoring averages.
- The biggest puzzle of the game was why North Carolina didn’t run the ball more, especially after Hood and Logan killed Georgia during the Heels’ last scoring drive.
- Chaney called a good game. To start with, there was no bullshit concern for balance. Chubb was healthy, NC’s run defense was questionable and that’s where Chaney made his stand. It allowed Georgia to control the clock and to minimize its weakness at quarterback. He also made the call that got McKenzie isolated on a linebacker in pass coverage that led to Georgia’s biggest reception gain in three seasons. I know he’s had a reputation for getting too cute on occasion, but that wasn’t the case Saturday night. In the end, the offense gained almost 500 yards and scored 33 points against a P5 defense; how much nitpicking do you really want to do about that?
- As far as Tucker goes, it was interesting to see how he’s tinkered with what Pruitt molded. The defense is going to play more aggressively in some ways — the secondary, most obviously — but it appeared to me he really hopes to get more out of his line and OLBs in that regard than did Pruitt. We better hope those freshmen d-linemen grow a lot this year; in that regard, it was encouraging to see Marshall’s play.
- As far as Kirby goes, I thought he coached a damn fine game. Attention to detail was there, as I don’t recall Georgia getting nicked for an illegal substitution call despite the large amount of player exchange going on with virtually every play on both sides of the ball. His game plan was sound and played out as he expected. Best of all, his players could have folded around him after North Carolina went up by ten in the third quarter; instead, they sucked it up and ground their way to nineteen unanswered points for the win. In terms of buying in to what a coach is selling, that may turn out to be Smart’s Hobnail Boot.
Like I said, that felt good. Georgia has a different kind of challenge this week against an FCS opponent. We’ll see how focused this bunch is then. In the meantime, this was a win to savor.