This has been the toughest Observations post I’ve tried to write, mainly because there’s a certain element of closing the door after a game that I’m reluctant to absorb. As I posted in the immediate wake of the win, it was the greatest football game I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing in person. It’s damned hard to put that feeling in my emotional rear view mirror and I say that even knowing that I’ll be back at it with an even bigger game Monday night.
Boy, it’s tough being a Georgia fan these days, ain’t it?
Enough navel gazing, then. On to the bullet points:
- If the obvious comparison in terms of results is the 1980 Georgia-Florida game, I have to say that unlike my Jacksonville experience, I never reached the point in Pasadena when I thought things were hopeless for the Dawgs. Concerned, sure. There were moments, such as when Oklahoma went up by seventeen near the end of the second quarter and when it took the lead back after the Michel fumble — and what a time for the first in his collegiate career — when things seemed shaky, but they never got to the “abandon all hope, ye who enter here” stage.
- That being said, how huge was Tae Crowder’s snag of the squib kick?
- That, in turn, led to Kirby Smart’s best management of a first half ending all season. And that, in turn, was based on Smart’s faith in Blankenship’s ability to kick the longest field goal of his career. All told, that may be the most remarkable six seconds of game time I’ll ever see from a Georgia team.
- From there, we were treated to the most dominant third quarter of play this season. The defense shut down Oklahoma — three complete series netting less than thirty yards — while the offense stormed back behind Chubb’s awesome 50-yard touchdown run and another long touchdown run from Michel. The offensive prowess wasn’t that surprising, given that the Sooner linebackers didn’t play the run well all day, but the change on defense, after watching it take it on the chin all through the first half, was remarkable.
- Smart and Tucker made a decision at halftime to play more nickel on the back end and to attack Mayfield aggressively on the front end. The result forced the Oklahoma offense to work harder to move the ball downfield. It also appeared to confuse the Sooners offensive line, which had pretty much had its way in the first half. Georgia was able to get a lot of pressure on Mayfield in the third quarter with a four-man rush, and if there’s a general rule for success on defense, it’s that if you don’t need to blitz to disrupt the quarterback, you’re in good shape. Such was the case.
- For those of you who were skeptical about Mayfield and his offense, the first half should have changed your minds. Even so, just watching TV and tape won’t give you an accurate idea of how good that offense is when it’s clicking. There is so much going on at times that it makes Auburn look like it’s running basic I-formation stuff. Even worse (from Georgia’s perspective, anyway), it’s going at light speed, which means any defensive misstep is enlarged. Mayfield is a master of misdirection; he clearly had Georgia’s defense befuddled early on. Really, Smart and Tucker had no choice but to find a way to bring pressure, because Mayfield made a joke out of Georgia’s attempt to contain him.
- Rodney Anderson is the best back Georgia saw this season.
- Another game in which Georgia’s special teams proved to have an advantage that made a significant difference. I’ve already mentioned the sequence that ended the first half. Another factor that fueled Georgia’s third quarter comeback was a series of kickoffs that the coverage team handled brilliantly and left the Sooners starting with poor field position time after time. Then there was the Lorenzo Carter block of the field goal attempt in the second overtime that set up the game winning score. It’s almost stunning to consider how quickly and effectively the staff turned around a weakness that had plagued Georgia football for years.
- Offensively, you have to start with the line’s prowess on blocking. The insertion of Ben Cleveland into the starting five after the Auburn debacle elevated the line play and that was evident Saturday. When Chubb and Michel combine for well over 300 yards on the ground, you know the run blocking was effective, but what equally stood out was how much time Fromm had to throw. He was sacked twice, but one of those came on a safety blitz that it appeared the tight end and Michel didn’t expect.
- Speaking of Chubb and Michel… well, what can you say? They both ran all day like two seniors who came back for exactly that moment in the sun. And you can’t write a better ending to a game like that than Michel’s redemption for the fumble.
- Two plays from the Wilddog, two touchdowns.
- It was a solid day from the receiving corps. Wims was his usual self; his touchdown catch was brilliant. Godwin made a couple of tough snags, especially on Georgia’s fourth quarter drive to tie the game. But perhaps my favorite play from the receivers came from a guy who didn’t have a catch. On Michel’s TD run that tied the game in the third quarter, Riley Ridley blocked his man down the field and then took him five yards out of bounds before planting him on his ass.
- The stats may not reflect it, but given the stakes and the pressure of having to come back from seventeen points down, that may have been Jake Fromm’s best game of the season. He kept his poise throughout — it was Mayfield, not the true freshman QB who threw a crucial interception — and was brilliant with his pre-snap reads in particular. He was positively Murray-esque in that fourth quarter scoring drive that tied the game and took it to overtime, particularly on that play where he eluded a pass rusher who’d gotten by Baker, stepped up and looked like he might run, only to slide down the line of scrimmage and dump the ball off to Michel for a decent gain. If that’s what a game manager looks like, then carry on, Garth.
- As far as the defense goes, there’s no way to sugarcoat the first half. Those guys got shredded. It was stunning to see how effortlessly Oklahoma scored on its first two possessions of the game. The Dawgs wound up yielding more points in the first half than they did in all but one game all season.
- As Roquan went, so did the defense. His first half wasn’t particularly memorable, but he was the picture of dominance in the second half and was otherworldly in the overtime, with two enormous stops.
- His day overshadowed Lorenzo Carter’s. Carter was in on a number of plays and was all over the field. And he certainly picked an ideal time for the first blocked field goal attempt of his career.
- On the front line, Ledbetter, Walker and Clark all turned in terrific efforts. There was a stretch in the third quarter when Clark was unblockable. Ledbetter had one of the few great plays in the first half when he ran somebody down short of a third-down conversion to force a rare punt.
- Like the rest of the defense, most of the secondary had a better second half. (Deandre Baker being the rare exception, as he was one of the relatively few first-half bright spots.) But when they got going, the safeties played well, particularly when Georgia committed more fully to lining up in nickel sets.
- Another big adjustment that was made in pass coverage was paying a lot of attention to Andrews, Oklahoma’s great tight end. Georgia appeared to be bracketing him a good bit in the second half and denying him as a target for Mayfield.
- As far as the coordinators’ days went, while you can knock Tucker’s game plan for the first half, you also have to give him credit for finding a way to get some traction in the second half. Again, the defense was as dominant in that crucial third quarter as it had been all season, against the best offense it faced all season. As far as Chaney goes, while I could quibble with some of the play calling — when your backs are averaging better than twice as much as your quarterback is throwing, why have Fromm attempt almost thirty passes? — but his game prep was top-notch. One reason Chubb and Michel were ridiculously effective all day was because Chaney came up with sets and plays that exposed the Oklahoma linebackers. When your offense goes for 54 points and more than 500 yards, you must have done a few things right.
- Smart had a good day, too. He got exposed by Lincoln Riley’s playcalling in the first half, but in the end, he had the last laugh, as it was Riley’s playcalling in the overtime that seemed questionable. Smart’s conservatism was justified by his team’s physicality and revealed him to be the coach who had the best handle on how the game progressed. He also deserves credit for keeping his team from panicking; part of that second half comeback came from managing his team’s emotions and riding the shift in momentum all the way to a lead after a 24-point run.
- This was the first game all season when the officials quietly surprised me by not having a bad day. I can think of very few bad calls — there should have been an offensive pass interference on one play when Wims was prevented from catching a pass I recall — but for the most part I didn’t really pay attention to what they did, which is how it should be when they’re doing their jobs right.
- The venue was everything it was cracked up to be. The history, the surroundings and the classic sight lines you get inside a one-level bowl all added up to something truly memorable. (The concession prices were also remarkable, but not in a good way.)
I’ve never been through a game with more palpable momentum shifts. There was so much at stake and the changes on the field were so dramatic you couldn’t risk leaving your seat.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend two remarkable games at two bucket list stadiums this season. If you’re a college football fan, it’s hard to see how things could be better… although I can think of one thing happening Monday night that might qualify.