As I posted before the bowl game, 8-5 sure looks a lot more palatable than 7-6. Winning is always better than losing, so it’s satisfying to see 2016 close out on a positive note. Not that the win over a 6-6 TCU squad qualified as dominant in any sense. Georgia won because, unlike so many other games this year, the Frogs had a miserable kicking game and, in something of a shocker, managed to turn in a worse red zone performance than did the Dawgs.
That being said, in so many ways the bowl game was such a microcosm of the season, it’s hard not to look under the surface and see most of the things that drove us crazy during the regular season in play. A perfect of example of that came in the first half: David Marshall goes from looking completely lost on one play to blowing up a double pass by staying home (a skill that has notoriously eluded many a Georgia defensive lineman over the years) on the next, only to see Kirby Smart waste a challenge and a time out arguing the second pass was a lateral when it was apparent from the broadcast that it went forward.
I came away thinking yet again that this year’s team was talented. You don’t watch a dominant performance by Trent Thompson, another terrific effort by Roquan Smith — boy, it’s a pleasure to see an inside linebacker who’s not a liability in pass coverage — Chubb and Michel being Chubb and Michel, among other things, and not come away with that impression. But it’s frustrating to see how that talent gets frittered away by, for want of a better description, overcoaching.
Watching Smart and Tucker stubbornly insist on constant player substitutions in the face of TCU running its hurry up offense was maddening. The result was disorganization that was as bad as a Grantham defense in its heyday, minus the hand waving. Plus, it was clearly ineffective, as TCU’s offense moved the ball up and down the field.
It also resulted in Georgia having to burn time outs as it attempted to get its collective defensive act in order. Those timeouts might have come in handy at the end of the first half when the Dawgs recovered a fumble at midfield with less than a minute on the clock and wound up having to settle for a field goal attempt that was out of Blankenship’s range. Smart’s first-year clock management skills have proven to be as frustrating as Richt’s were.
Much the same could be said about the insistence on the same blocking strategy by the offensive line in the first half that served the offense so poorly in the first twelve games. The results were completely expected. The running game was largely bottled up. It was to Chaney’s credit that he didn’t abandon the run going into the second half (and what does it say when you can make a credible argument that was the best coaching decision of the day?).
What did change in the second half was a couple of adjustments on offense. Eason spent less time lining up under center and the line pulled and trapped a good bit more. The result was the most unusual of circumstances in this 2016 season: holes for running backs to pop through. (Somewhere in the middle of the third quarter, Chubb and Michel had to be pinching themselves at their sudden good fortune.) It’s amazing what you can accomplish with an approach that utilizes what your talent does better than what it’s shown all season it’s not as capable of doing.
In short, it was a game that could have played out in a more comfortable manner than it did had the game plan been to play to Georgia’s strengths from the beginning instead of establishing a mentality, or whatever it is they like to call it. This is what on the job training looks like.
Just a few bullet points, because it wouldn’t be an Observations post without them.
- What I enjoyed the most about McKenzie’s huge gain on Georgia’s first scoring drive was the downfield blocking by Michel, who blew down there like a human whirlwind, and Godwin, of all people. Terry has come a long way in that department.
- I’ve mentioned Thompson’s dominant performance, but the defense as a whole deserves credit for a total of five sacks and seven tackles for loss. It also forced two fumbles. All of the disruptions were key. (From Pro Football Focus: “However, Hill’s numbers would dramatically plummet when under pressure, with his QB rating (42.4) ranking as the 13th-worst, low enough that simply spiking the football on each of those plays would’ve only dropped that value down to 39.6.”) Despite running plenty of HUNH that the Dawgs had their struggles with, TCU’s offense was held under its season averages in points, yardage, yards per play and plays run. They may have been choppy, but they were effective.
- Perhaps best of all, that was the top red zone performance the defense turned in all season. TCU managed to score only four times out of six opportunities. If you don’t think that’s much of a big deal, consider that Georgia managed to move up thirteen spots nationally after the game and will finish the season no longer the worst team in the conference in that regard.
- Maybe somebody can explain why TCU doesn’t play John Diarse more. He had two touchdown receptions, one of which was one of the best catches I saw all season, and yet didn’t seem to be on the field much.
- Jacob Eason remains very much a work in progress. On that McKenzie big gainer, he did a terrific job keeping the play alive by moving to his left. He also managed a couple of nice runs out of the pistol when there weren’t any open receivers. But he still holds the ball too long too often and his touch on the deep ball is inconsistent, to say the least. I don’t know whose learning curve progress is more crucial to success this coming year, his or Smart’s, but Georgia really needs for Eason to take a big step forward soon.
- If you get a chance to watch a replay, keep an eye on Kublanow. You’ll really see what I mean about giving the o-line the opportunity to play to its strengths. Trying to hold his position in the first half, he had a hard time establishing any room for the running game. But in the second half, when he was allowed to move, he was more effective, both pulling on the line and with some timely downfield blocking.
- The best thing you can say about special teams play was that TCU’s bunch left more points on the floor than did Georgia’s. Ramsey’s punting was largely ineffective, kickoff coverage wasn’t much better and blocking on returns was close to nonexistent. However, Blankenship made all his extra points as well as his makeable field goal, which is more than you can say for TCU’s kicker. (Also, somebody on the TCU sideline should have been paying attention when Ramsey, not Eason, went out as the holder on a field goal attempt.) Small victories, I guess.
It was not a win for the ages, but it was a win. Move on from that, crush recruiting over the next month, spend the next couple of months leading up to G-Day figuring out how to avoid making those rookie mistakes in the future and it’ll be a good start to Kirby Smart’s second season. Here’s hoping.