At second glance: More observations on Georgia-Missouri

semerson@macon.comOctober 14, 2013 

You can't see everything from the press box, and they don't give you a rewind button up there either. (Though the food is decent.) So each week we're re-watching the previous game and offering up further observations and analysis.

Therefore, more thoughts on Georgia's loss to Missouri, starting with the defense:

- The problem of the cornerbacks, especially Damian Swann, has been well-chronicled, but the zombie-like tendencies of the safeties cannot go unmentioned. On Missouri’s decisive touchdown, the trick play, junior Corey Moore just sat downfield while Shaq Wiggins ran in one-on-one coverage with L’Damian Washington. And on Missouri’s second touchdown, freshman Quincy Mauger also mostly sat in the middle of the field, not moving to help Swann in his coverage of Washington, who caught the touchdown. Obviously a lot of that is inexperience, and you don't know whether Tray Matthews can make a difference in that regard.

- That’s not to bail out Swann. For one thing, he was beat in one-on-one coverage too much for a No. 1 cornerback. A few plays before that second-quarter touchdown, Swann played off of Washington, backtracking as the play unfolded, and was so far behind Washington that when he finally reacted it was way too late. The result was a 17-yard gain on second-and-8. Then on Missouri’s third scoring drive, Swann was beat again by Washington on a critical third-and-10 catch, but that was a great throw-and-catch. The issue there goes back to something that's a problem throughout the secondary:

- Jam, jam, jam. Georiga’s defenders don’t do it enough to receivers at the line of scrimmage. In fact, they line up pretty far off their guys a lot of the time. If you’re not going to jam, playing off like that should at least allow you to stay with the receiver when he breaks on his route. Instead, Georgia’s players still end up behind the receiver.

- On the other hand, there are plays that just make you think it’s a simple matter of skill: Missouri’s third touchdown, the 36-yard run by Marcus Murphy, was just awful tackling. Wiggins missed low and Mauger missed high, then Moore missed low, and Ramik Wilson and Swann couldn’t catch up. Murphy isn’t even Missouri’s best running back. He’s 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds. Surely someone could have brought him down.

- Missouri’s back-pass touchdown, basically the play of the game: I mentioned the safety not helping on Washington. What's more, too many Georgia players were hesitating about five yards from Bud Sasser before he threw it. Jordan Jenkins was among them. They sensed the trick play too, but were confused. I don't know if it would have made a difference, but if a few had just charged at Sasser it may have affected the throw. Meanwhile, Wiggins committed a pretty flagrant pass interference on Washington, but apparently the officials figured there was no use calling it.

- Amarlo Herrera’s late hit penalty when it was 34-26 prevented what would have been third-and-20, making it first-and-10 from midfield. Georgia got the ball back a few minutes later still down eight, then Aaron Murray threw his interception on first down. But Herrera’s penalty robbed the Bulldog offense of two-to-three minutes and perhaps about 20 yards, which may not have had Murray airing it out on first down. Maybe the interception happens anyway, but ultimately the call is another illustration of a defense that just is flailing around right now, not aggressive enough on some plays, but too aggressive on others.

- Missouri had six touchdowns. It had to punt seven times. On those seven punts, there was a sack on four of those drives. Two of the sacks came on second down. How much this means, who knows, but it bears mentioning.

- Missouri’s first scoring drive was almost bound to happen. Georgia had stopped it the first two times. The third possession was mostly Franklin, bounding up the middle for two runs, including the touchdown, taking advantage of an open middle of the field after Georgia defended the spread. Frankly, that's going to happen against a young defense. It's the pass coverage problems that are the most egregious.

- Franklin hurt his shoulder when sandwiched by Herrera and Jenkins, just after Franklin threw a ball away. Jenkins wrapped up Franklin and threw him down. I know Gary Pinkel has mentioned sending the play to the SEC, but it doesn’t look like any kind of flagrant hit. Whether it’s true or not, Jenkins and Herrera have enough visual evidence to argue they were finishing the play and could not know Franklin had thrown it away.

- Weeks ago, Mark Richt said he wanted to see more rotating at inside linebacker. Weeks later, it’s not happening. Reggie Carter did start this game, but quickly came out. It looked like Ramik Wilson may have just had an equipment problem. Wilson and Herrera are leading the team in tackles, but it’d be interesting to give them truth serum and see if they’re getting winded in the second and fourth quarters. It’d be hard to take Herrera off the field at any point, so that’s understandable. But one wonders why Carter can’t give Wilson a rest every now and then.

- You have to give credit to Georgia’s defense at the start of the second half. It was given relatively short fields to defend on the first two drives, then forced punts. It also forced a punt on the third drive, helping the offense good field position. Couple that with forcing punts on the first two possessions of the game, and clearly Grantham’s unit started out with good plans. It’s the big-play breakdowns later that killed them.

Now to the offense:

- As solid as J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas has been, watching the game serves as a reminder to how much is missing when Todd Gurley, or even Keith Marshall, isn’t out there. You could tell on the first drive: Three passes and punt. As good as Murray is, you’d have to think there’d be a Gurley run in there somewhere, and the effect it would have on the Missouri defense. Murray’s first pass, downfield to Conley, was tipped away at the last second thanks to a safety coming in late. If Gurley were there as a threat, or a full allotment of receivers, is that safety there to knock away the pass?

- Murray’s passes got very crisp as the game went on, and appeared almost like he was running a West Coast offense, dinking to tailbacks, then hitting the tight end downfield. But ultimately the offense was limited by the inability to go downfield. Missouri figured out late that it could clog the back, leading to the first, and game-deciding, interception. On that interception, it was just a case of Murray, pushed up in the pocket and throwing on the run, not seeing the defender.

- It's also worth noting that on the interception, Arthur Lynch was flexed out as a receiver. That happened on some other plays too. When you have a full allotment of receivers, that's called being creative. When you're decimated at receiver, it's called being desperate.

- The sack and fumble touchdown: Missouri’s Shane Ray just blew past Arthur Lynch and Kenarious Gates. Lynch took “100 percent” blame after the game, but 50-60 percent seems more like it. Lynch was beat by Ray, but Gates was late reacting. When the play began you had Lynch one-on-one with Ray, and Gates and left guard Dallas Lee doubling a defensive tackle. Gates pulled off, but much too late.

- I don’t grade every offensive snap, and the Georgia coaches do. But it sure does seem Kolton Houston gets beat a lot more for big plays than John Theus does. I'll ask the coaches about it this week.

- Missouri would have had another sack, but Michael Sam’s sack on Houston was negated by an offsides penalty. (One play later Georgia converted, after the sack would have forced a punt. The Bulldogs went on to score and take a 7-0 lead.)

Special teams:

- I missed this the first time around: The three-man shield on the punt team has changed, with Arthur Lynch the only up-man still there. Freshman Brandon Kublanow was on Lynch’s right, replacing James DeLoach, and Mike Thornton was on the left, replacing Quayvon Hicks.

Speaking of the punts, people have asked why use that formation. Well if you look at the personnel, having that three-man shield allows them to stack the line with faster, gunner types, whereas with a traditional punt team you can only really have a couple gunners. That’s a big reason so many teams are going to that formation, and as I pointed out last week, Georgia does a good job of containing punt returns when it actually gets the punt off. Missouri didn’t have any punt returns, though Collin Barber’s two punts were pretty short.

Overall, some seemingly small moments where things either didn’t break Georgia’s way, or it broke things itself:

- Rantavious Wooten was one very late leg-tackle from a 73-yard touchdown, which would have tied it at 14. Instead Missouri’s E.J. Gaines barely brought him down, and the Bulldogs eventually settled for a field goal. (After a Murray third-down pass to Brendan Douglas, which would have converted it, ended when Sam hit Murray’s arm just enough to affect the throw.)

- On the ensuing drive, Josh Harvey-Clemons made a horse-collar tackle, turning what would have been a third-and-14 into a first-and-10. It was a close call, but it appeared to be the right one. I’m not sure if Harvey-Clemons definitely could have made the tackle otherwise, but Shaq Wiggins and a couple other Bulldogs did have contain on that side, so it probably wouldn’t have been a long gain.

- A litany of third downs on Missouri’s third touchdown drive, including Murphy’s run.

-Georgia damn near blocked Missouri’s punt with 25 seconds left in the first half, which would have made up for the Brendan Douglas fumble.

- Missouri’s lead down to 28-26, just over 11 minutes left, Sanford Stadium is loud. Third-and-10. After a Georgia timeout to get the defense ready, Franklin hits Washington over the middle of the field for a 15-yard gain. That play got overshadowed later on the drive when Missouri pulled off the trick play for the touchdown.

- Oh, and backup QB’s Maty Mauk’s 6-yard scramble for the first down, two plays before the trick play touchdown.

- At halftime, Lou Holtz said some stuff about Georgia’s defense but I couldn’t understand most of what he said.

Final thought: I went into the viewing wondering if, like the loss to Clemson, I and others had been a bit too harsh on the defense, because after all the yardage stats weren't that bad. But no, re-watching just reinforced that Georgia's defense seems lost right now. The tackling isn't good, the defensive backs are struggling to see where the ball is going, and both of those factors lead to not forcing turnovers. The run defense is good, and the Bulldogs are getting sacks. But when an opposing quarterback has time to throw the ball ... the result is hardly ever good for Georgia.

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