“… I’m worried about getting our team better. It’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems. And that was 100 percent evident watching that tape. The defense wasn’t as good as it seemed and the offense was not as bad as it seemed. We have to do a good job at doing better. That’s the only thing that matters.“ — Kirby Smart, at yesterday’s presser
So, Kirby channeled his inner Ray Goff yesterday — and, really, that’s an evergreen observation on his part — to let us know he knows that we don’t know, even when we think we know. So take what I’m about to post with the appropriate grain of salt.
I did watch the game again yesterday. While I don’t want to dive down too deeply, a few things did manifest themselves, even to a relative tyro like me.
First off, the offense was as bad as it seemed, certainly in the first half. Maybe worse. As big a problem as Mathis was, he wasn’t the biggest. Early on, the offensive line was a completely discombobulated mess. It wasn’t that they were being physically dominated. It was that on virtually every snap, there was a lineman or two who looked completely lost on his assignment.
The example that stuck with me the most was watching Trey Hill after the snap take a couple of steps back… and stand there without blocking anyone. His body language was pure “WTF am I supposed to be doing now?”. Whatever Matt Luke was selling, his guys were having trouble buying. The wholesale shifting and subbing of linemen until they found a working five was absolutely necessary.
The good news is that things did settle down noticeably in the second half. As I mentioned in yesterday’s Observation post, if you get the chance to watch the blocking on the TD throw to FitzPatrick, watch the way Cleveland and Condon flawlessly pick up a defensive stunt.
If you want the unalloyed good news it’s this: Todd Monken knows how to design a passing attack. There were receivers open on pretty much every passing play. Here are a few examples:
That was Georgia’s best pass on the day and good for Matt Landers to be on the receiving end of it. But watch FitzPatrick leak out on a delayed basis and be an open option in case Landers wasn’t there for Bennett.
That was Monken’s best play call of the day and something I swear you’d have never seen from Coley. It came, if you recall, after a sack with Georgia still trailing. Last year the call would have been some bullshit draw play up the middle in hopes of settling for a field goal, but Monken was aggressive and it paid off. Stetson was clearly looking for Pickens all the way (not that I blame him), but watch Washington come open across the middle. I love the whole thing and you should, too.
This comes out of a power formation, but watch the way White to the right and a tight end on the left leak out, with both being open. Bennett has two viable pitch and catch options.
Which brings me to the real issue with Mathis’ game Saturday. Here’s what Smart said about that:
… D’Wan [Mathis] did not play as bad as it seemed to some. I thought he did some good things watching the tape, and he had some unfortunate bad breaks that happened while he was in a quarterback.
He did have some bad breaks, to be fair. But the biggest flaw in his performance was that he did a poor job of reading his receivers. The interception he threw was a perfect example of both. The intended receiver broke the wrong way on his pattern, but if you watch the play, the o-line gave Mathis plenty of time to see the field and he missed a receiver coming open across the middle near the goal line.
It’s the exact sort of mistake you’d expect from a kid with limited experience playing in his first SEC game. Every rep that Jamie Newman took away in fall practice hurt Mathis. And that’s a real shame, because there’s no denying Mathis has real physical talent.
Which brings me to my final point about the offense: right now, knowledge is king. Like it or not, the coaches have to prioritize the ability to play in the new scheme over sheer ability. Daniels may be cleared to play, but if Bennett is better at taking what Monken and opposing defenses are giving Georgia’s offense, you play Bennett and don’t look back for a second. Same deal on the o-line; Luke has to play the guys who know what they’re doing and if that means sitting someone who may be physically better, so be it. (Fortunately, if the second half against Arky is any indication, Luke is on the mother.)
As far as Smart’s comment about the defense goes, well, maybe a little. Georgia was a little sloppy on the Hogs’ first scoring drive, but tightened up noticeably as the game progressed, as some split stats indicate.
Defensively, average rushing yardage by quarter:
- 1st: 3.71
- 2nd: 0.80
- 3rd: 1.29
- 4th: 4.22 (garbage time, largely)
Oh, and Georgia did not allow a rushing touchdown again.
And here’s defensive passer rating by quarter:
- 1st: 99.57
- 2nd: 60.0
- 3rd: 63.6
- 4th: 60.0
It wasn’t particularly good to start with and got progressively worse.
What I saw when I watched the game again correlated with those numbers. In other words, I think I’ll let Smart worry about his defense. (Although I should mention again his comment about spending more in-game time working on the problems with the offense as an indication about how worried he really is.)
Oh, as far as special teams go, here’s what Smart said about that:
I will be honest with you, I wasn’t exactly ecstatic about the special teams. I thought we missed some opportunities there. We left some things out there that were there. We didn’t handle a couple situations well. We had to burn a timeout. I was not pleased with that. Now statistically, you can look at it and say, ‘Well, you are crazy because you did this, this, this.’ We have an experienced punter who punted the ball well, and some really competitive gunners that we worked all offseason on being a better ‘pin the team inside the 10.’ Those reps showed. We were very fortunate to have those reps show. The return game, I thought we left some out there. If we block a little better or maybe we return a little better we [would] score a touchdown on that.
Maybe a little coachspeak going on there, but Smart did go on to say that part of the reason special teams play looked so good to us was because of the overall talent gap between Arkansas and Georgia, a gap that will be considerably smaller this week, with Auburn coming in. Fair point.
Bottom line, there is plenty of room for improvement, which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s paid attention to this crazy year. There is more to be fixed on the offensive side of the ball than anywhere else, but Monken makes me think that’s doable. The questions are how long will the fix take and can the defense keep things under control until that happens.
It felt like Georgia blew a season’s worth of field position advantage in just a single first half and against a better team, it would have really cost them. Gotta do better… er, buttah.