The damned thing about last Saturday is, despite the defense looking like hot garbage for the better part of two quarters and the offense disappearing under the weight of the ineptitude of the passing game, I looked up in the fourth quarter and noticed Georgia was still in the game.
How was that even possible, I wondered? Almost as if they were reading my mind, the offense stepped up to assure me it wasn’t.
Now, sure, some of that can be laid at the feet of injuries. It did feel like the Dawgs were running out of bodies at the wide receiver position. But some — hell, most — has to be chalked up to erratic quarterback play that reared its ugly head after the second scoring drive. There were big plays to hit in the passing game, but Bennett and Mathis simply weren’t the guys who could hit them.
It’s a game that Georgia lost because of the disparity at the quarterback position. I would go on to say it wasn’t just what the poor play did for offensive production, either. Georgia’s defense and special teams looked tight as it became clear that the offense couldn’t keep up with the Gators’.
Naturally, that’s led to a fair amount of reflection, most of it unfair in my opinion, about how Kirby Smart has mismanaged the quarterback position. I’m not gonna rehash the Justin Fields situation, because there’s no way Smart was going to bench Fromm in favor of Fields during or after the 2018 season.
Jan. 8, 2019: After leading Georgia to a 28-14 win the Sugar Bowl over Baylor, Fromm announces he is declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft. This left Georgia with a pretty gaping hole at the position.
Jan. 11, 2020: Georgia does not wait long to find the apparent replacement for Fromm in graduate transfer Jamie Newman. At Wake Forest, Newman had thrown for 26 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions, while also adding six rushing touchdowns. His dual-threat capabilities excited many, leading them to bump up the outlook on Georgia going into the 2020 season.
Jan. 17, 2020: Not even a week after Newman’s arrival, Georgia goes out and brings in a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach into the program as it hires Todd Monken. He had previously served as the head coach at Southern Miss, while also working as an offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Monken ended up replacing Coley as both the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
I would argue Fromm made a mistake leaving, but Smart didn’t make any mistakes there. He went out and got a sought after graduate transfer to replace Fromm and brought in an offensive coordinator with a successful track record to upgrade the staff. He also did this:
May 28, 2020: Before Georgia even steps on a practice field, it adds another quarterback to the mix in JT Daniels. He announces that he is transferring to Georgia from USC.
Again, there’s not a single false step in there. What happened, instead, was a series of events beyond Smart’s control: the pandemic forced the cancellation of spring practice (something I failed to give more credence to as a factor in getting the offense up to speed) and Newman’s last minute decision to opt out.
That leaves Daniels and the question on the minds of a major chunk of the fan base: why hasn’t he played, given the shortcomings of Bennett and Mathis we’ve witnessed?
This clip is twice as long as it needs to be, but it’s worth watching.
It’s not that Smart’s too stubborn to play Daniels; it’s that Daniels hasn’t been ready to play. Kirby sees the same things we’re seeing and he’s a helluva lot more motivated to get the right guy out there than we are.
As for Daniels’ readiness, it’s not like it’s something we have to infer, either. McKitty commented about that. And here’s Eric Stokes:
“He’s starting to believe in his knee, of course,” Stokes said. “That was a big thing going on. So he’s just starting to get confidence in his knee and all that stuff. I’ve seen his progress picking out coverages and knowledge and things like that. You can see that’s coming along.”
It’s somewhat absurd to point to Daniels, who hasn’t played in a live game in more than a year, as some sort of program savior. Fortunately, that’s not what Georgia needs right now. All Smart has to be looking for is someone who can hit the open receiver more often.
The good news is that the remaining schedule (assuming it gets played, of course) gives the staff the opportunity to do some serious evaluation of what it has as it looks forward. Baby steps, to be sure, but you have to start somewhere.
You’ve probably noticed the absence of an Observations post this week. It’s not for lack of trying; I simply couldn’t come up with a list of specific bullet points worth anyone’s time.
Instead, what I can offer is a more broadly based take on both sides of the ball. As the tweet above indicates, this post is about Georgia’s defense.
While most of the disappointment from the Florida game centers on the lack of production from the quarterbacks, the defense certainly bears a fair share of the blame. After all, it was handed a 14-point lead in the first quarter that was quickly squandered en route to a 38-21 deficit at the half. There were breakdowns often enough to seem routine. (I’m still waiting for the adjustments to covering the wheel route.)
What’s particularly disturbing about the defensive performance is that there’s enough data to suggest a trend.
As Seth Emerson points out ($$), beginning last season, there are two Georgia defenses, the one that flops against powerhouse offenses and the one that successfully defends everyone else. Given that, it’s obvious to ask the question why. Here’s what Smart had to say about it:
“Yeah I would definitely say there’s concern schematically in terms of putting guys in tough situations. I mean, we have a philosophical belief that you have to be able to play man-to-man to be able to play defense in this conference. And maybe sometimes we need to try to help the guys out some. Sometimes in our, I don’t know the right world, our defensive world, our defensive system, it can be all or nothing. It can be feast or famine. You either shut somebody down and it’s incomplete, second and 10, third and 10. Or you give up a big play. I mean look at the Tennessee game, right? There were times they couldn’t breathe and we were suffocating them. And there were times we gave up two dime balls like back-to-back. So kind of the same thing with Alabama at times. But philosophically I don’t think I’m ever gonna change that we have to play man-to-man, we have to be aggressive, we have to pressure, we have to play combination coverages. To be honest with you, it’s not so much that we’ve got to change the scheme, but that we’ve got to get the scheme right. That’s the toughest part for me to swallow, is in two of those games there were a lot of mistakes. And I don’t blame the players for the mistakes, I blame myself. We’ve got to do a better job of getting them to execute what we need them to do. And you can be simpler. You could be simpler. But I’ve seen what simple does too on teams like that. They can expose that as well. So you’ve just got to be careful. I thought LSU there was not busts, you know what I mean? They beat us. But we had busts in the other two games that you give gifts away. You can beat deep one-on-one. Just don’t give up gifts.”
He starts off questioning the scheme and ends up blaming execution and coaching. To me, all of those are factors, depending on the game. LSU was definitely an example of the scheme falling short, but it’s not like anyone outside of Auburn did a good job defending that team last year, at least in the sense of keeping points off the board. ‘Bama out-executed Georgia where it counted — on the line of scrimmage and in the secondary — and simply made more plays, although there were some plays where Sarkisian did a good job of manufacturing bad matchups and exploiting them.
Dayne: Florida completed their chunk plays, most often the wheel route out of the backfield, or a tight end streaking behind a receiver route. Credit to Kyle Trask for being incredibly accurate and showing masterful touch on his passes. The Gators spread the ball out. On each of these, you see a Georgia player making a mistake in coverage. Nakobe Dean took a step in the wrong direction, and Major Burns missed an open field tackle.Brent: If I had told you early in the week that Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney would combine for 12 touches for 99 yards and a single touchdown, you probably would have been pretty confident in Georgia traveling home with the victory. That obviously wasn’t the case, though, as Dan Mullen out-schemed Kirby Smart and Dan Lanning, and Kyle Trask and the Florida offense executed that plan to the tune of 44 points.
While the wide receivers made their fair share of plays, it was obvious the running backs and tight ends on these wheel/leak concepts were the focus. Here are Trask’s numbers when targeting those two position groups:
– RBs – 10 receptions on 11 targets for 212 yards and a 91.9 passing grade,
– TEs – 6 receptions on 7 targets for 150 yards, two touchdowns and a 90.8 grade
The first clip above is almost the exact play (without the jet motion) James Cook hit against Kentucky last week. As Dayne notes, Dean’s step with the pulling guard causes him to be late in coverage, and then Burns misses a chance to limit the damage in the second clip.
The third clip appears to be the one true mental lapse. Every defender in coverage is playing zone, with cover-3 technique on the back end, except Tyson Campbell. He momentarily pauses, as if he sees the tight end leaking out. But then he strays into the middle of the field with the outside receiver and leaves a massive void in the coverage. Further, watch every other eligible receiver for Florida. They are basically going through the motions. This play was going one place and one place only.
Smart and Lanning were outcoached by Mullen. There’s no way to sugarcoat that, although it certainly wasn’t helped by poor execution. To me, it looked like Georgia’s coaches gameplanned to stop Toney from burning them and Mullen took what he was given as a result. (You know, what we like to think Georgia does facing Todd Grantham.)
The other credit here has to go to Kyle Trask, who was ready for everything he saw from Georgia’s defense. And that’s the other common thread with these three games: stellar quarterback play. It’s the reason the 14-game Cocktail Party streak of the team with the most rushing yards being the winner came to a crashing halt.
That last fact, more than anything else, should tell Kirby Smart that the world has changed. He’s no longer in an era when a defense can expect to control a game against a great offense. Where things go from here depends on how he internalizes that realization.