Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

Tricky

Yeah, both of Georgia’s trick play calls against Auburn flopped — one of them spectacularly — but you get the feeling from some of Smart’s comments that they still achieved something simply by running them.

During his run as Alabama defensive coordinator, Smart saw his share of trick plays, which he said “tend to stick in your memory.”

He rattled off several—all against Auburn, including one in 2010.

“You try to prevent them by staying home and being disciplined but they happen a lot,” he said. “We got hit on another one on a sprint-out, throw-back to (Philip) Lutzenkirchen that probably cost us the game the year they won the national title. So I remember a lot of trick plays.”

If they stuck in the back of his mind, perhaps his reasoning is that they’ll force opposing coaches into taking them into account in preparing for Georgia, too.  Of course, running them successfully would probably help more with regards to that.

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Taking a chance

I raised the question last week if Rodrigo Blankenship’s sudden prowess on the field goal front might have had the consequence of making Kirby Smart less aggressive on offense — after Auburn, Georgia’s scoring average from game seven on dropped again, by the way — but Ed Aschoff writes something that might be a legitimate rebuttal to that line of thinking.

Smart is more confident in his own process before, during and after games. He’s more comfortable with “game-time stuff and game-time decisions.” The simple aspects of deciding whether to run or pass on certain downs don’t stress him as much. He’s learning when to be conservative with his timeouts and when not to be. Smart’s finally staying a step ahead of his counterparts in certain aspects of games — not all of them, but improvement is improvement for the rookie head coach.

This might sound elementary, but the little things and the hints of evolution have gone a long way for a team that was 4-4.

You saw it perfectly in two trick plays he ran near the goal line with Terry Godwin going from runner to passer. While neither worked — the first one was intercepted and the second, which would have officially ended the game, was knocked out of quarterback Jacob Eason’s hands in the end zone — it showed some great progression on Smart’s part. Smart wanted to be the aggressor, and it showed that he isn’t scared to take a major risk for a potential major reward in a huge game.

“You wanna run the ball in third-and-fourth at the goal? No, we want to find a way to get it in,” Smart said of the trick play.

If you know you’ve got a competent place kicker at your back, maybe that contributes to more aggressive play calls in the red zone.  Though Smart never got the chance to call for a field goal after that first trick play was blown up.  Something to watch going forward, maybe.

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Chaney speaks!

I haven’t seen the broadcast, so thanks to Seth Emerson for this catch.

While the ink-stained media doesn’t get assistant coaches, the CBS crew does get Jim Chaney, who told Gary Danielson he had to be “non-emotional. … I can’t over-react to things that happen. I have to stick to my gameplan. And I want to throw later in the game when those pass rushers are a little tired. Early in the game they’re tough.”

After the game, a friend of mine pointed out that, while those sideline passes Chaney called may not have been effective purely from a yardage gained standpoint, they may well have served the purpose of getting Auburn’s defensive line to do more chasing than it wanted, with the goal of wearing them down.  That, plus more time on the field in a game when Georgia held the ball almost forty minutes, appeared to have just that in mind.

And, boy, did it work.  Auburn only ran 54 offensive plays Saturday night, its lowest number of the season.  Meanwhile, Georgia ran 76 plays of its own, which on the surface may not seem like a lot, but when you’re grinding like hell in a game where both teams are doing what they can to establish the run (Auburn at least was trying to do that in the first half), it actually is.

For all the damage Adams and Lawson did in the first half, Auburn did not have a sack in the second half.  Mission accomplished.

*************************************************************************

UPDATE:  Or, as Smart put it,

“The defense got to rest,” coach Kirby Smart said. “Going into this game that was my major concern was not getting to rest on defense because of their tempo….All the things we did wrong, we possessed the ball. “

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The warm comfort of a competent field goal kicker

In his last three games, Blankenship is a perfect 8-8 on field goal attempts.  That’s good.  But there’s a curious counterpoint to that.  Compare Georgia’s scoring averages in its first six games of the season with the three since Blankenship found his groove:

  • 1-6:  26.67 ppg
  • 7-9:  17.67 ppg

That’s a nine-point drop.  Yeah, Florida is in the last three, but so is Kentucky.  Small sample size maybe, but the question is, has Blankenship’s success led Smart (and Chaney) to be less aggressive on offense?

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Jim Chaney’s got a helluva narrow strait to navigate this Saturday.  Does he try to establish the run?  Well, check out Auburn’s run defense over the past five games:

  • La-Monroe:  112 yards
  • Mississippi State:  103 yards
  • Arkansas:  25 yards
  • Ole Miss:  105 yards
  • Vanderbilt:  120 yards

Of that bunch, the Commodores had the best yards per carry average, a whopping 3.64.

Fine, then throw the ball.  Only, if you do, make sure you account for this:

The Bulldogs face an Auburn team that has been disruptive on the defensive front during the 2016 season. Through nine games, the Tigers have racked up 21 sacks, which places them fourth in the SEC. Stopping that pass rush has proven to be a difficult assignment and could be for a Georgia squad that has had its issues on the offensive line.

Carl Lawson has been chief among the hard-charging Tigers in 2016. The junior defensive lineman has been a menace throughout the season, racking up 8 1/2 sacks to sit only half-a-sack off the SEC lead.

None of which is to say Auburn’s defense is totally impervious.  The Tigers are one spot behind Georgia in SEC total defense, after all.  But to succeed with any game plan, it’s going to require better execution than we’ve seen most of the season.

Smart said a key part of stopping someone like Lawson is the offense not getting itself in positions where the Auburn defense knows a pass is inevitable. It’s a problem the Bulldogs have experienced a considerable amount in the past two weeks. Georgia faced six third downs with 7 yards or more to go against Florida and then dealt with nine in the win Saturday over Kentucky.

I think it’s fair to say the quality of Auburn’s defense is closer to Florida’s than Kentucky’s.

Even if you want to call the defenses on Saturday even, Auburn’s clear advantages in special teams and red zone defense means that Chaney’s gonna have to call his best game of the season and have his players execute at a higher level than they’ve produced at so far for the Dawgs to have a real chance.  That’s a pretty tall order.

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Offensive identity is offensive.

Can you reconcile these two statements?

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball, we’ve got to have explosive passes, we’ve got to be able to throw the ball down the field,” Smart said, adding: “You’re going to say that’s broad, I’m going to say we don’t know until we find out more about our personnel. We don’t make our personnel fit Jim Chaney’s offense. We can’t do that.”

“We have a gameplan every game we go in, just like every team does, that you have three wide sets and you are able to run certain plays out of them,” Smart said. “We have those. If those work, then I’m great with it, especially if we’re not successful in the other. But we have to do what the strengths of our team are. And sometimes that’s two back, sometimes it’s not.”

Actually, I think you can.  It’s just that I’m not sure Chaney and Smart have shown a sense of flexibility consistently throughout the season.  Part of that may be due to them not really having a good feel for what those team strengths are.  So sometimes we’ve seen what feels very much like an effort to jam a square peg in a round hole and sometimes we’ve gotten the impression they’re simply feeling their way around.

“A lot of that is based on not only who we are or what we run, but who we play,” Smart said Monday, when asked about the creativity of Georgia’s rushing attack. “The bottom line is the bigger and more physical they are out there, the harder they are to move. We have to be creative. We have to have the right runs into the right fronts. We have to be stubborn enough to be able to run those. But at the same time allow Jacob to use his strengths and use the wide outs.”

I’m not mocking here.  Eason does have his strengths, as this stat from Jason Butt clearly demonstrates:  “On drives that have ended with go-ahead scores with less than two minutes to go in games, Eason is 11-of-16 passing for 171 yards.”

There are a lot of head coaches who would give their left arm for a quarterback capable of that.   Keep a game close late, and you’ve got a real chance to steal a win.  That’s something to build around.

It’s not an end in and of itself, though.  It’s not nothing, either. So while you shouldn’t slavishly copy everything you do in a end-of-game, two-minute drill setting and make that the sum total of what you do offensively, there are certain elements of it that may be worth adapting in the first fifty-eight minutes of play.

I’ve never coached, but I watched enough Mike Bobo to confirm that the best offensive philosophy is keep it simple, stupid.  Get the ball into the hands of your best playmakers.  Figure out your opponent’s weaknesses on defense and exploit them until your opponent proves he can stop what you’re doing.  Scheme around your weaknesses.

Case in point:  Auburn’s defense comes into Athens a little nervous over what Vanderbilt — Vanderbilt! — did to work around the Tigers’ pass rush.

Georgia’s blossoming attack all starts with quarterback Jacob Eason, and running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, who have combined for 1,178 yards. They’re a big concern for the Tigers’ defense, which has struggled in the last two games against quick passes. Those quick passes, slants and screens have negated Auburn’s once-powerful pass rush.

While “blossoming” may be a bit of a stretch, there is some validity to the concern.  The same Vanderbilt offense that only managed 171 yards in Athens gained nearly twice that last Saturday on the Plains.  It was only the second time all season the ‘Dores managed to exceed 200 yards passing.  And, oh, yeah, Auburn managed only one sack.

You would think this approach would be a no-brainer this week, as it works around an offensive line with shortcomings and plays into areas where Georgia indeed appears to be finding contributing skill position players as the season develops.  But will that happen?

Maybe.  There were some encouraging signs in that regard against Kentucky.

Georgia was in the shot-gun 40 times in last Saturday’s game, and those plays gained 276 yards. The other 33 plays netted 184 yards, though 51 of those came on one play: The 51-yard pass to Javon Wims, which was on play-action.

Both of Georgia’s touchdowns came out of the shot-gun: A 38-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie out of a four-wide set, and a 26-yard Sony Michel run on an inside handoff. Michel had five runs of 8 yards or longer out of the shot-gun.

It wasn’t just the formations they ran.  For the first time in a while, it appeared they made a conscious decision to use the pass to set up the run by backing defenders out of the box.  In the immortal words of Javon Wims, fresh off his career day,

“When we run the team ball teams are going to tend to stack the box, and they’re going to bring all their guys in, and sometimes you have to keep them honest by throwing it.”

Amen, brother.  Sometimes it really ain’t rocket science.  Keep KISSing, fellas.

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Making plays with play makers

Jason Butt tosses out an interesting statistic.

It’s a statistic that shouldn’t hold too much significance. But it sure is still one of note.

When receiver Isaiah McKenzie scores a touchdown, Georgia is 5-0. When he doesn’t, the Bulldogs are 0-4.

Sure, it’s a matter of correlation, not causation.  But it’s also indicative of something that happened on offense Saturday night that gave me some grounds for optimism.  No, I’m not talking about moving Jim Chaney off the sidelines.

I’m talking about what appeared to be a greater focus on getting the ball into the hands of Georgia’s best offensive play makers.  Chubb and Michel got 40 carries Saturday night.  After zero touches against Florida, McKenzie had two catches, including that electrifying touchdown reception.  Terry Godwin had three.  (He did have five against the Gators, so at least they never lost sight of him.)  They seem to have figured out that they have a weapon in Wims, who led the team in catches and receiving yards.

Things still aren’t as smooth as they could be — Ridley’s sudden brush with butter fingers being the best example of that — but it sure felt like the offense performed more capably than it had in weeks.  No doubt the quality of Kentucky’s defense played into that, but, still, take it as a promising development.  Now, they just need to build on that against Auburn.

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