As Georgia walked off the field at halftime Saturday, trailing 21-17, I wasn’t worried, but I was frustrated. The Dawgs were clearly the better team, but had just enough misfires on offense, defense and coaching to make Tennessee competitive.
You don’t have to be a program insider to know that Smart chewed some major ass in the locker room then. (I wonder what he said to himself about the decision to go for it on fourth down at the Georgia 36.) And he clearly lit a fire under the defense, which stormed out of the gate in the third quarter and never let up.
It took the offense a little longer to get going, though. The play that felt like it unleashed the hounds was Bennett’s 20-yard completion to Jackson late in the third quarter when they finally seemed to re-discover the middle of the field. Even though they promptly followed that up with consecutive miscues, those didn’t slow them down as Jackson scored his first collegiate touchdown on the drive, giving Georgia its first two-score lead of the day.
And so the formula continued for a third straight week — stifling defense, great special teams play and just enough offense to make for a comfortably successful second half.
On to the bullet points.
- Let’s get the most unpleasant aspect of the game out of the way first: the o-line struggled, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Hill’s bad snap put the team in a hole on the game’s second play. The interior of the line couldn’t run block worth a flip for the first three quarters, and what made that even worse was that Pruitt didn’t load the box. Pass protection was decent, but had the occasional issues with blitzes (to be fair, Pruitt, as we all know, is one of the best at designing and calling those). Things did stabilize later in the game, some of that no doubt due to conditioning. Moving Salyer to right tackle and bringing in Truss, who is one large human being, to play left tackle also seemed to help. In any event, whatever good feelings I had about the line after the Auburn game dissipated last Saturday. Right now, this is the weakest link in need of shoring up.
- Although it didn’t make up for the bad snap, Hill’s hustle on the play where he recovered Burton’s fumble was admirable. You like a player who doesn’t let one horrid play affect his effort.
- The play of the o-line had a ripple effect. Because UT’s front was able to get traction without bringing up safety help, the Vols were able to defend the run and the pass well. Georgia’s offense stagnated for much of the second and third quarters. Bennett hit a wall then and Monken’s play calling became noticeably more conservative. The running game wasn’t much help, either.
- Speaking of the running game, it wasn’t Zamir White’s best day. He missed seeing a few holes and never came close to breaking anything. On the other hand, he did pound the hell out of the UT front and that probably did contribute to wearing them down as the game went on. McIntosh continues to make a case for more playing time. Milton ran hard — that one play where it seemed like he broke the tackles of every player on Tennessee’s defense was electrifying — but has some ball control issues that need fixing before he can be counted on for more.
- Tre McKitty had a nice debut in a Georgia uniform. He was the tight end on the seam pass recipient of the week. As a group, though, the tight ends didn’t do as good a job blocking as they had in the previous two games.
- Tennessee came out doubling Pickens and no doubt that contributed to his quiet game (on the field, at least). But it served to open up the middle of the field, which was most noticeable on a completion to McIntosh and a couple of throws to Jackson. The frustrating thing to me was that Georgia didn’t take greater advantage of what the Vol defense offered. I don’t know how much of that was on Bennett and how much on Monken, although I suspect the former more than the latter, but again, there were open receivers on almost every pass play I saw. Burton is clearly ahead of the rest of the true freshman receivers.
- I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that the TD pass to Jalen Carter was a most satisfying experience, both for the call itself and the target.
- Outside of his dead spot in the middle of the game, I thought Bennett had another solid day. He didn’t turn the ball over, although he came close on the end zone pass to Pickens, ran just enough and at the right time to keep Tennessee’s defense on its toes and did his usual good job of anticipating his receivers coming open. He’s not a liability and his teammates clearly respond to him.
- Of course, the defense was the story of the day — in four decades of watching Georgia football, their second half was the most dominant effort I’ve ever seen from a Georgia defense — and that started with stellar line play. Georgia’s defensive front exposed the myth that UT’s offensive line was dominant. Jordan Davis drew double teams all day and Wyatt, Herring and Walker feasted as a result. Tennessee couldn’t run the ball all day.
- The outside linebackers weren’t exactly slouches, either. Ojulari and Anderson did their usual job of wrecking havoc. Anderson’s sack, in particular, was satisfying as he beat a too slow Cade Mays, who had been shifted to right tackle for some reason.
- That might have been the best game of Monty Rice’s career. Other than his slip on a reception over the middle that turned into a Tennessee first down, Dean played brilliantly, too. Also noteworthy was the effort Channing Tindall turned in late; no doubt he deserves to play more, but who would you sit to make room for him?
- Stokes turned in another superb day. The other side was marred by two long touchdowns, although it appeared the first was aided by a well-executed push off, and the second was the result of a pass and catch that were virtually impossible to defend. Campbell did have a nice pass break up to go with that, though. Stevenson played well, all over the field. LeCounte and Cine may be the fastest safety pair in the country. All that being said, if the offensive line is the biggest general concern I have about this team, the secondary’s tendency to give up the occasional deep pass is my biggest specific concern going into a game against Alabama’s passing attack.
- Special teams play was special again for the third straight week. With the exception of one errant kickoff, Podlesny was perfect in his place kicking duties. His 51-yard field goal would have been good from at least five yards further out, and he still managed a touchback with his kickoff from the 20. Camarda only punted twice, but he made them count. His 64-yard blast was mechanically perfect and you could argue that it might have been the key play of the game. McIntosh turned in another great kickoff return, and while Jackson didn’t have anything to show in punt return yardage, he saved a bunch by fielding several punts instead of letting them roll. Outside of one kickoff return, the coverage teams were solid. All in all, I don’t expect we’ll see Roll Bama Roll mocking Kirby this week for hiring Scott Cochran.
- Smart has certainly called better games. I hated the decision to go for it on fourth and short inside Georgia territory when he made it and I expect he’s not too thrilled with it in the aftermath. The failure to score on the goal line was unfortunate, but I don’t question the decision to do so. (And it’s worth mentioning that he did a great job with clock management leading up to those runs.) The half time adjustments were effective, admittedly, but that makes two out of three games where the team looked sluggish coming out of the gate early. That’s not something you want to do this week against the best offense Georgia has seen since last season’s SECCG.
I don’t think Georgia’s play in the wins against Arkansas and Tennessee would be good enough to garner a win Saturday, but if the team plays Alabama the same way it played Auburn, I think Georgia can go into Tuscaloosa and play the Tide punch for punch. Let’s get ready to rumble.