“They just did the right things at the right times,” LeCounte said. — The Red and Black, 10/14/18
It turns out there are only so many bullets one team can dodge.
Georgia’s Year of Living Dangerously, of showing up not bringing its A game, finally caught up with the Dawgs Saturday. The team that’s tried to out-talent its way through the schedule met its match in a motivated LSU squad that played an elite game on defense, was consistent on special teams and conservative on offense in the best sense of the word, willing to take what Georgia would give it.
As it turned out, Georgia’s defense was willing to give it quite a lot.
I know that the general consensus is that Georgia’s defense front got out muscled by the LSU offensive line, but from my vantage point (as the header indicates, we sat up high, but had a good view from there of watching plays develop), it was a lot more complicated than that. What I saw was a d-line that was inconsistent in gap control and containment, on-and-off flow to the play by the inside linebackers and some bad tackling at every level.
But it wasn’t an every play thing. Georgia’s defense had its share of wins — several sacks, traction through the first three quarters of forcing LSU to settle for field goals, holding Joe Burrow’s completion percentage to 50% — but it wasn’t enough, not nearly enough, because the defense couldn’t maintain any consistency, and every time there was a slip, LSU was prepared to take advantage.
Two examples of that: the busted coverage that allowed Burrow to complete a long pass down the right side to a wide open receiver (the bust was so spectacularly bad that the home crowd was cheering the play almost before the ball was thrown) and Brenton Cox’ failure to hold contain on the right side of the line allowing Burrow, who read it, to break a big run late in the game to seal it.
As inconsistent as the play on defense was and as poor as the offense played, the team still had a pulse at the start of the fourth quarter, down 19-9. After the offense scored its first touchdown of the day, the defense forced a three-and-out at the LSU 28 and Hardman produced the special teams’ only bright spot of the day, a big punt return that brought the ball back inside LSU territory.
Georgia had momentum you could feel and promptly frittered it away with a jet sweep LSU had seen coming all game and stopped for nothing, a modest run and a sack of Fromm that produced a punt.
In response, LSU went 86 yards on six plays for a touchdown. Turns out that was all she wrote.
I’ve seen it all year. This team is too complacent with its talent level. The only sense of urgency I saw in Baton Rouge came from the home team, which channeled it into outplaying Georgia all game long. Will that be a wake up call for a team that’s been, well… sleepwalking through much of the first seven games?
Bullet points ain’t pretty, both because there aren’t very many players deserving of praise — and certainly no coaches who were praise-worthy — and because it was hard to track everyone from where I was sitting and LSU didn’t do the greatest job on the replay front.
- Speaking of LSU, let me go on record as saying somebody’s been getting a bad rap. Every Tiger fan I ran into before and after the game was as friendly and good-humored as could be. That’s a lot more than I can say for some other fan bases I won’t mention. Tailgating was a complete pleasure; free (!) parking in a grassy, shady lot came close to blowing my fuzzy little mind. Even more shocking, the local cops disbursing the post-game traffic displayed a common sense that I could only envy. Well played, folks. It’s a shame we won’t be back for another dozen years to enjoy your hospitality.
- I’m still not sure why people keep throwing Deandre Baker’s way.
- I don’t know if he led the team in tackling, but I heard Tyson Campbell’s name called way too many times after a play was over. And, no, it wasn’t simply because he was getting picked on in the passing game.
- I didn’t see which safety blew the coverage on that wide open pass play, but, jeez, guys, that was bad.
- Another example of on again-off again defensive play: pretty good on third-down conversions, but allowed LSU to convert all four of its fourth down plays.
- The one halftime adjustment on defense that I saw work, preventing Burrow from hurting them with the run, was, of course, completely undone by Cox late.
- The offense was a mess, largely due to two reasons. One, the game plan was ineffective. LSU elected to play six men in the box in response to Georgia’s spread formations. It was an invitation to run the ball, and, indeed, when, the offense acted on that, it moved the ball much of the day. Both Swift and Holyfield were effective on the ground. For some reason, though, Georgia wouldn’t stick with the ground game.
- The quarterback rotation isn’t doing anyone any favors. Nobody believes Fromm is going to keep the ball on the read option and nobody believes Fields is going to throw the ball when he’s stuck in the game for a play or two here and there.
- The second reason the offense was a mess was because Fromm was frustratingly inconsistent. Missing an open Hardman for a touchdown on the first series was brutal and nicely book-ended by a late pass on the flea flicker to Robertson. Had that pass been on time and on the money, it’s a score; instead it was an incompletion because the receiver couldn’t corral a poorly thrown ball before going out-of-bounds. Jake missed seeing open players regularly — I’m not sure LSU ever covered Swift coming out of the backfield — despite holding the ball way too long on too many occasions.
- Fromm wasn’t helped by some timely drops on some of the occasions when he did make the right pass, either.
- The offensive line wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t dominant. I thought Andrew Thomas played his worst game of the season, which didn’t help. Blitz protection by the line was probably the weakest part of their game; fortunately, they got bailed out for the most part by the running backs doing a great job with blitz pickup.
- For the first time all season, special teams were a net liability. Outside of the aforementioned Hardman punt return, the return game was largely non-existent. Hardman’s fumbled kickoff return was vintage Richt-era “I’ve got to be the hero” decision making. Camarda appears to be regressing. Earlier in the season, at least he was booming his punts. And don’t even get me started on that abortion of a fake field goal.
- If the play was disappointing, the coaching may have been even worse. LSU was anything but exotic on offense, but Smart and Tucker had no answers. Georgia’s defense was frequently out of position when the Tigers went hurry up. There never appeared to be a sense of urgency in response to it; indeed, Georgia was whistled for an illegal substitution penalty trying to substitute on a play when LSU didn’t.
- Cheney was too cute by half. I know he was trying to find a work around for a sputtering quarterback, but whatever he thought he had, it wasn’t the right thing. I doubt Holyfield and Swift had 30 carries between them and that’s not what the day called for.
- As far as Kirby goes, I have no idea what he was thinking going in. For Mr. Impose Your Will to resort to trick plays in a game where LSU made it clear early on it was throwing punches and would keep doing so and to allow Chaney’s impatience with the running game to fester was strange, to say the least. Shockingly, his was the team that lost its confidence in the second half.
I’m of two minds afterwards. Yes, it was just one game and it would be silly to make any grand pronouncements now. (That existential post is going to have to wait, peeps.)
That being said, I’m not ready to see this as analogous to what happened at Auburn last year, although I heard Kirby give a nod in that direction after the game. Unlike this season, Georgia did play some dominant games before the 2017 loss. We still have no idea if this is a team that can play a solid sixty-minute game and that gives me some concern, to put it mildly.
The bye week couldn’t come at a better time. The coaches need to do some serious self-scouting. LSU looked well-prepared for what Georgia threw at it. The rest of what needs to come is some self-awareness about how far talent alone can take you.
They’d better figure the lesson out quickly. Lose in two weeks at Jacksonville and all that “our goals are still in front of us” talk goes up in smoke.