Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

My favorite play of the CFP

No, it wasn’t iconic.  And, yes, there were moments of greater drama.  Heck, it wasn’t even in the national championship game.

But, for my money, this play exhibited what Georgia football at its peak was all about this season.

Look at it from Michigan’s standpoint.  The game is early, but it’s close to being at the getting out of hand stage.  UM needs to put together some sort of drive there.  They’re already in a big third down hole.  But they call a good play to get the hands into maybe their fastest offensive skill player.  And the play is even set up well — the pass hits the back in stride; downfield, each receiver has engaged their defender one-on-one with blocking.  The play should result in a decent gain.

But it di’int.  In fact it loses yardage.  Because, Nakobe Dean.

The message was sent.  Georgia knew everything Michigan was going to pull and had the better players to take advantage.  The end result was as soul crushing a moment as I saw in the playoffs.  Or, as Kirby might put it, will imposing.

It was 2021 Georgia football at its best.

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Kirby did it his way.

The only sour note for me during a truly memorable night was the asshole Georgia fan sitting behind me.  (He may have been drunk and obnoxious, but it didn’t make him finer.)  Ten years ago, he would have been sitting in the Sanford Stadium stands, railing about Bobo after every play that didn’t result in a touchdown.  Monday night, it was about constantly giving Monken advice — Georgia should run the damned ball, throw the ball to Bowers or throw the ball to Pickens on every play, depending on the result — and about how Georgia was destined to lose because Stetson Bennett was not national championship material.

The obnoxious part was easy to discern.  The drunk part?  Well, buddy, when you feel it’s important to repeat the exact same point six times in a row, despite the fact that everyone around you, including your wife, is trying their damnedest not to become involved in the conversation, it’s a pretty good clue you’ve loosened your sensibilities with the devil’s beverage.

I mention this, not because he was right —  mercifully, Bennett’s touchdown pass to Mitchell shut him up for the rest of the night — but because it reflected a similar talking point sober fans were making here at the blog during the time between the SECCG and Monday night.  Georgia wouldn’t win the rematch, hell, couldn’t win the rematch, because Kirby didn’t build his team the way Nick Saban built his.

While the building part of that is true, it missed the larger point I went out of my way to make several times here; namely, that Bennett was fine for Smart’s and Georgia’s purposes as long as he wasn’t asked to do the one thing he wasn’t really good at, chasing an opponent with an explosive offense.  Georgia was going to have to win with defense and Bennett playing within himself.  As Matt Hinton put it before the game,

Smart has made some concessions to the spread revolution but never embraced the premise quite as fully as his old mentor. The Bulldogs’ insistence on sticking with Bennett behind center when most of the outside world expected his run as QB1 to be temporary was implicitly a bet that the defense would render the question academic. If they succeed in making a blue-chip, NFL-ready superstar look ordinary enough to win with a former walk-on on the sport’s biggest stage, it will be a landmark victory for the counter-revolution. Can defense still win championships in college football? We’re about to find out.

So we did.  It turned out to be the SECCG that was Georgia’s outlier, not the body of work from the other twelve games.  Imagine that.

You can find all sorts of takes on what the key to the game was, but for my money, the biggest of them all was that Georgia never found itself down by more than one score.  Yes, Bennett was shaky to start the game out, but he never found himself in a situation where he had to operate outside his margin of error.  He managed to regroup after his questionable fumble, when Georgia was still only five points behind, with the great throw to, and even better catch by, Mitchell.  But even there, he took a shot on a free play due to the ‘Bama offsides penalty.  He didn’t force a throw because he felt like he had to be the hero, and that’s because he was never forced to play hero.

In other words, the defense allowed Bennett to stay within himself when it counted.  Just like Kirby drew it up.

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My, how the strategery turntables have turned

December 9, 2021:

Q. This is for Coach Saban and Jordan: What did you guys do to really fluster Stetson Bennett tonight and obviously force him into a couple of huge mistakes?

JORDAN BATTLE: I think the main thing in this game was our disguises. We put in a lot of disguises this week. That was the big thing. Just have his eyes wandering around before the play. I think we did a good job on the back end and linebackers stemming and disguising. So I think that was a big part of the game.

NICK SABAN: I think that you try to change the picture as much as you can and make the quarterback try to make decisions after he gets the ball in his hand. Stetson Bennett to me is very instinctive, very good player. If he knows what the picture is — and I couple times tonight when he knew what the picture was, that’s when he made plays, and several big plays.

So I think us changing the picture on him a little bit helped. We have to play the ball better in the deep part of the field. We’ve had a couple of those the last couple of weeks that are things that we need to do better, but all in all, I think that was probably the one thing that helped it the most.

Pass rush always helps you. If you get good pass rush. We affected him in the pocket. He scrambled some, which is — you hate, but you’re also affecting a guy when you do that because you’re not throwing the ball on time.

January 10, 2022 ($$):

“I think that they switched up some stuff, had different tendencies,” Young said. “And I have to process that faster, just make the right play for the team better than I did tonight. So they changed some things, and I wasn’t able to execute.”

Alabama ran a stunning 85 plays Monday night.  That was the highest number of plays Georgia had to defend all season.  Bryce Young, the Heisman Trophy winner, put the ball in the air 57 times.  No other offense had attempted more than 48 passes against Georgia’s defense this season.  On paper, you’d think that would have been a disaster for the Dawgs, but Young finished with his second worst passer rating of the season.  Sure, the two picks were a factor in that, but the bigger deal was only averaging 6.5 yards per attempt.

Georgia made Young work for everything.  In the end, that worked for Georgia.

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Saving his best for last

Okay, I’m not about to tell you Monday night was Todd Monken at his best at Georgia.  ‘Bama had done an excellent job prepping for what he was throwing at them and the Dawgs offense struggled to move the ball much of the game.

But this may have been his best call of the season:

The broadcast didn’t do the way Alabama’s defense was totally fooled on that play justice.  Live, it was utterly clear that they bit on the runner first and Bennett keeping the ball second.  Rosemy-Jacksaint’s block was great, but I think Bowers makes it in no matter what.

Just a brilliant play call and design there.

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Making changes

Good piece from Dayne Young about making adjustments to the defensive game plan here.  He’s got three main suggestions:

  • Play dime personnel (six defensive backs) on 1st & 2nd down

  • Pressure Bryce Young

  • Think players as much as plays/scheme

With regard to the first, if you do that, you’d better hope your front six can control Alabama’s running game, especially now that Robinson is healthy.

As far as the second point goes the issue isn’t so much pressure as it is how to bring it.  And where:

Focus almost entirely on the right side of Alabama’s offensive line. The Tide’s left tackle Evan Neal, while not unbeatable, is one of the best players in the game and only allowed one quarterback hit on 50 pass-block snaps in the SECCG. The right side of Alabama’s line is in doubt due to injury, but whoever plays is a significant drop-off compared to Neal. Also, if you come heavy from the Tide’s right side and force Young to roll or scramble to his left, his play suffers to the tune of a 46.6 passing grade and less than 50 percent completion.

The third point is especially interesting.

Looking back at the SEC Championship, Julian Rochester, Warren Brinson, Tramel Walthour, Chaz Chambliss and Zion Logue played a combined 40 snaps. While that group provides valuable depth, their impact in bigger games has been minimal. In the SECCG, they combined for one quarterback pressure and one tackle in those 40 snaps.

Given that ‘Bama spent a good amount of time running tempo to keep Georgia from substituting, I’m surprised that bunch got as many snaps as they did.  Either Lanning needs to scheme more production from them, or they need to see the field less.

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The game plan, she is simple.

It really isn’t rocket science.

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Guarding the slot

Last night, Graham put up a good post on the key matchups to watch Monday night, with supporting stats.  I’m probably getting close to continuing to smack the deceased equine about it, but his first one is my biggest concern.

Alabama’s WR’s vs UGA’s Slot DB/Star Position – The good news for Georgia? There’s no John Metchie in this matchup. Metchie turned in 6 receptions for 97 yards and a TD in just under a half of play before tearing his ACL in the first game between these two teams. While we hate to see any player get injured, there’s no doubt that not having him on the field changes the calculus in this game quite a bit. Jameson Williams will still be on the field, and with 7 catches for 186 yards and 2 TD’s he too toasted Georgia in the first game.

However dealing with one elite WR is a whole lot easier than trying to guard two. In game one Georgia actually held up pretty well on the boundaries.

Kelee Ringo: 6 TGT/2 REC, 63 YDS, 1 TD, 5 YAC

Derion Kendrick: 5 TGT/3 REC, 27 YDS, 9 YAC

If you told Georgia they were going to go into a game against Alabama and their boundary corners would only give up one big play and 5 receptions they would take it every single time. The problem in matchup one came when UGA had to guard the middle of the field. William Poole III got his first career start in the SEC Championship, and Alabama hunted him all day.

Poole: 11 TGT’s/9 REC’s, 164 YDS, 2 TD’s, 111 YAC allowed

Yikes, that’s abusive.

Graham thinks they’ll be using Brini and Smith some at the Star to reduce the risk and maybe he’s right, but the whispering I’ve heard this past week is that the coaches are still all in on Poole (the same whispers say he’s looked much better in practice, for what that’s worth).  There aren’t any perfect options.  Brini has had issues with speed in the open field, although I thing he’s terrific in short field/red zone situations.  If you play Smith at the Star, that means you’ve got Jackson at safety, and he also isn’t built to handle the speed of ‘Bama’s wideouts.

In any event, if, like me, you believe Georgia isn’t built to win shootouts, your first concern shouldn’t be Stetson Bennett, but the leaky sieve in the defensive secondary.  Let’s hope Smart and Lanning have figured out a way to patch it up.

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What’s a “game manager”, anyway?

As somebody who’s pulled his hair out repeatedly watching Stetson Bennett succumb to the occasional “gotta make a play here” instinct that’s repeatedly led to less than optimal results, it’s weird to see people insist the label applies, like here:

I can’t think of two recent Georgia quarterbacks who differ more in their approach to the game than Fromm and Bennett.  Larry’s right — the label is a lazy way of analyzing a quarterback without an elite arm.

I assume some of this thinking also derives from Bennett only averaging about 20 pass attempts per game.  Funny thing, though:  three of the SEC’s four top quarterbacks in passer rating average less than 24 attempts per game.  I don’t hear Hooker or Jefferson referred to as game managers, at least not as frequently as Bennett is.

All of which makes me wonder as I continue to reflect upon game prep for the national championship if the most subversive coaching move of the season for Georgia was Monken’s game plan against Michigan, letting Bennett come out throwing early and often and finishing with 30 attempts.

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Difference making

So I asked earlier about whether Georgia might adjust its quarterback pressures, but on a larger scale, Richard Johnson takes a deep dive into a lot of things the Dawgs have to do differently this time around with Alabama.

This is the one that concerns me the most:

Young leads the country in dropbacks that feature bunches, per Sports Info Solutions. Georgia knows the way the Tide can sting defenses out of these formations. This is how the Tide scored on the first of those five straight possessions.

Leading to the confusion of how to handle Williams (or any Bama WR) is how they release out of the bunch. The Williams TD shows that all three receivers do not simply take off down the field at the snap every time. Sifting through who is going where and when incorrectly can lead to coverage busts, like the one that created one of Williams’s SEC title game scores.

And Bama will play with who is in the bunch (often adding a tight end to run bubble screens) in addition to what it does out of the bunch and how it gets into the formation at all (using motion to create and hide its intention until right before the snap). This may seem like a normal crossing route by the Tide’s Slade Bolden, but the slight delay postsnap can help WRs get lost in the coverage.

In the SECCG, they destroyed Georgia’s slot coverage over and over again with bunch formations.  And, as Richard points out, it wasn’t just Williams and Metchie.  Slade Bolden was productive out of the slot against Georgia and Cinci.

I don’t know why Georgia struggled so much — okay, picking the SECCG for Poole’s first career start may not have been a genius move in retrospect — but if they don’t clean that up, it’s gonna be another long day at the arm of Bryce Young.

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Moving the chess pieces around

Dial the clip at the linked article up to the 37-minute mark to hear Pete Thamel discuss what an SEC defensive coordinator said he saw in the conference championship game — namely, that Georgia was “tipping their hand” with their simulated pressure packages, that ‘Bama was able to pick up on when they were being called and signaled to Young that he’d be facing zone coverage pre-snap.

On top of that, by dropping a defender from the line of scrimmage into coverage, Georgia wasn’t fully able to exploit the weaknesses of the right side of Alabama’s offensive line as Auburn had done, for example, just the week before.

If all that’s true, how will Georgia adjust?  And how will Alabama adjust to Georgia’s adjustments?

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