You guys know the basic format to my Observations posts — some broad brushstrokes, followed by bullet points and on to a conclusion.
I think I’m gonna skip the bullet points this week. For one thing, I don’t think you need me telling you that James Cook obviously wasn’t suffering from the flu, or that as gifted as we know Brock Bowers is, it’s still startling to see him turn on the jets the way he did on that end around. Also, given the flu bug that hit several players, I don’t really want to pick at a kid’s performance if he was sick and trying to gut it out for the team.
But the main reason for the omission is that I don’t want to detract from what I think are the two bigger takeaways from the Tennessee game. More than any other game Georgia has played this season, I think the story of what transpired in Knoxville Saturday is best told as a big picture one.
The first story comes from not the play of the game, but the series of the game and maybe the series of the season, Georgia’s 11-play, 90-yard scoring drive that upped the score to 24-10 before the end of the first half. At that point, the message was sent that UT’s day was over, garbage time notwithstanding. If you want to watch a detailed breakdown of the drive, look no further than here:
Monken was masterful with his play selection, even if it didn’t seem all that profound at the time. The drive opened with three straight James Cook running plays, all for positive yards and a first down. The message was sent that Monken didn’t respect the way UT was defending the run. So, from there Georgia doesn’t run another running play for the rest of the drive. Eight straight pass attempts, five completions, four to Mitchell and the dagger to James Cook.
(By the way, even you Danielson haters out there have to admit Gary nailed the way the touchdown pass play went down. That almost made up for the strained Stetson Bennett/Baker Mayfield comparison he kept making throughout the game. Talk about your early favorite for the SECCG Drinking Game…)
I’m not giving you my impression after a few days to ruminate on it, either. Here’s what I tweeted immediately after Cook scored:
He really was. The overarching message I took from that drive is simply I don’t know how you scheme against Georgia’s offense to shut it down for all four quarters. That’s what you get when you’ve got an offensive coordinator willing to take what he’s offered, who has the weapons he needs to do so. It may not be flashy at times, but it’s consistent and it’s definitely effective. Georgia hasn’t scored less than 30 points in a game since the opener (averaging almost 42 points per game), and barring some unexpectedly weird shit happening, I don’t see that streak ending, even in the CFP. Monken is just that good.
The reason I put so much emphasis on that scoring drive is that it leads into my second, even bigger point about Saturday’s game. It may very well have been Georgia’s most impressive win of the season. Not because Tennessee was that team, that challenge everyone and his brother kept referring to for Georgia. After all, the game turned into another garbage time struggle, as most of Georgia’s games have gone this year, en route to the Dawgs covering another spread against a conference opponent.
No, the reason I think the game was a big deal was because it violated Mike Tyson’s famous adage about having a plan until getting punched in the mouth. Consider that they were on the road in a hostile SEC environment, with a 70-man roster and several players fighting off (or in cases like Jalen Carter’s, succumbing to) the effects of the flu. Tennessee came out and did a couple of things no other team had accomplished against Georgia’s defense this season: score a touchdown in the first quarter and score again to hold a lead at the end of the first quarter.
I wouldn’t have expected panic at that point, because that’s not something Georgia’s shown at any point this season. What I did see, instead, was a team that maintained its composure and made adjustments on both sides of the ball that choked Tennessee down completely when it counted in the second and third quarters. On offense, Ericson went out and was replaced by Truss, who was a little shaky on his first series but then settled down for the rest of the game, which was pretty much the story of the offensive line. Once the situation on the line jelled, Georgia made Tennessee pay for its scheme choice and ran the ball effectively.
On defense, two things — first, the coaches pulled Brini, moved Smith to star and played Dan Jackson at safety, which tightened the coverage on the short stuff that had been giving Georgia fits on UT’s first few drives and also slowed the Vols’ running game. Second, they deployed all three of their boss ILBs, Dean, Walker and Tindall, on the field together. It was an effective way to make up for Anderson’s absence at the EDGE position and it absolutely wrecked Tennessee’s offense.
Georgia’s won a lot of games this season just on sheer talent and physical presence (see, for example, the last three minutes of the first half against Florida). Saturday was something different. Georgia took UT’s best shot early, analyzed the lay of the land, adjusted accordingly and cold-bloodlessly kicked ass. That’s what superior in game coaching really is all about, despite what your dumbass cousin who’s a Gator fan might otherwise insist. When you can do that and choke a team riding a bunch of momentum and energy to a slow and steady death, you’re really good.
Georgia is really good.