Sigh. I was hoping if I gave it a day, I’d feel a little better. No such luck. I’m still a little numb… yadda, yadda, yadda… on to the bullet points.
- The weather was nice.
- The crowd was enthusiastic.
- The tailgate beer was cold.
Hey, I’m trying.
- If you’d have told me before the game that Georgia would be on the front end of a 17-0 game midway through the second quarter, I would have taken that in a heartbeat, of course. But I just had the feeling when the Vols got the ball back for their last series of the first half that if they scored there, they’d take the opening kickoff after halftime and score again to make it a real game. Which is exactly what happened.
- The sad thing about that scoring drive is that, up until then, the Georgia defense had done a great job of bending but not breaking, as well as keeping Dobbs in check. All that went for naught in less than two minutes, as Dobbs busted contain for a big gain and hit a couple of key throws to get his team down the field in a hurry.
- It was a mixed day for the defense, as they did a relatively good job on the yardage front, managed to force three turnovers, including two fumble recoveries, but struggled on third-down conversions all day long. Not to mention that, um… oh, forget it.
- Speaking of oh, forget it, you can complain all you want about Tucker calling a prevent defense on that Hail Mary pass, but you might want to consider what the Vols playing pressure defense accomplished on Georgia’s last score. In the end, it comes down to execution.
- Sanders whiffed on a tackle on a play Tennessee scored on, but had a couple of big, big hits in the second half. D’Andre Baker showed out nicely in his first start, making that big hit on Hurd that forced a huge turnover preventing a Tennessee score.
- I keep hoping every week that this will be the game when Lorenzo Carter gets it all together. He deserves credit for wrapping up the sack of Dobbs, but there are still too many moments when he’s just not quite where he needs to be.
- Overall, I saw way too many missed tackles to allow the defense to control the game.
- What’s frustrating about this defense is that, for all the breakdowns you see on individual plays, you also see moments when you can tell they’re getting proper coaching. Aaron Davis isn’t the most athletic player out there, but he is solid mechanically. Julian Rochester, who played well, also did a nice job with containment on a couple of plays I noticed.
- On offense, the real story is two-fold. First it’s the breakout of so many true freshmen players: Eason, of course, but also Ridley, Nauta and Herrien. Georgia doesn’t make a game of it without their efforts.
- The second part of yesterday’s offense was Jim Chaney’s game plan, which was flat-out excellent until the fourth quarter, when somebody decided it was time to let the air out of the tires. He schemed around Georgia’s two big deficiencies by staying in the shotgun with three- and four-receiver sets and by getting his offense to the line quickly to wait for further instructions after the Vol defense set. The former got defenders out of the box, which gave the offense a little more breathing room to run, while the latter took the pressure off a green quarterback who’s not ready to do a lot of checking out of called plays yet.
- Unfortunately, there’s only so much Chaney could do to work around the limitations he has. That pretty much begins and ends with the offensive line. No, it wasn’t the complete disaster it was against Ole Miss, but most of the day it really struggled handling the Tennessee blitz. And don’t think Eason didn’t feel that. A lot of the time you could sense he felt rushed and it impacted his reads and mechanics. Nor was Georgia able to run the ball up the middle with any success when the Vols had more than seven players in the box. (By the way, if there was ever a time to go play action and toss the ball to a tight end leaking out of the formation, it was when UT had nine men in the box and quickly threw the rest of the secondary up in run support as soon as Eason turned to hand the ball off.) Without more consistency from the o-line, this offense is going to continue to look constipated at times, no matter how much Chaney schemes.
- I’ve written before that it was only a matter of time before special teams cost Georgia a game, and you can make a pretty good argument that was the case on Saturday. It was nice to see Blankenship make his only field goal attempt of the day, but it was from a short distance and you had the clear impression that Smart wasn’t going to consider attempting any more unless he had no choice and a similar opportunity. That, in turn, affected the play calling on at least a couple of drives.
- The return teams still don’t block well, especially on punts. McKenzie’s one good return came from his fooling the coverage into hesitating as he fielded the ball. Davis had one good kickoff return where he did take advantage of the blocking, so there’s that.
- It also felt like on those occasions when the teams traded punts, Georgia gave up field position. That was kind of a big deal on the series when Tennessee first took the lead.
- Then there’s kickoff coverage. Georgia still doesn’t have a kicker who can consistently boot the ball into the end zone, of course, but the problem is exacerbated because the coverage team isn’t much more consistent. As much as I harped on what the two penalties cost the Dawgs in setting up Tennessee’s death blow, I saw the coverage team’s two missed tackles as being equally big, as Berry looked like he was able to make about another ten yards after the first man whiffed.
- I give Smart credit for having his team ready to play emotionally after getting embarrassed in Oxford. The game plan was solid, too. But — this will sound familiar — it felt like he took his foot off the gas in the fourth quarter. That shouldn’t have cost him, but plays like the one that ended the game occur because you leave the other team in position to pull them off.
- I’d say something about the officiating, but it would be pointless. Except I still can’t believe how they missed that incomplete pass — and then reviewed the next play.
In the end, it was a brutal loss and there’s no way to sugarcoat that. The hope is that the toughest part of the schedule is behind Georgia (Sagarin currently has Georgia’s SOS sixth in the country) and now the team will have the chance to settle in against competition that’s somewhat less challenging. And maybe that’s true. You have to be a little excited by what some of the newbies are showing and hopeful that the coaches are feeling their way around with what they’ve got.
But it’s also a season that’s already seen a ridiculous amount of disappointment in the space of a mere five games. Any team that can come within a whisker of losing to Nicholls can lose any of the remaining games on Georgia’s schedule. Kirby Smart’s job one from here on out is to bring focus to this team and this coaching staff; accomplish that and this can still turn out to be a successful season. That starts this Saturday in Columbia. I’m certainly ready to compose a different Observations post.