At second glance: More observations on Georgia-Vanderbilt

semerson@macon.comOctober 22, 2013 

There will be those of you who can't bear to relive this again. That's understandable. For the rest of you, hopefully these additional bits of analysis and observations on second viewing of Georgia's 31-27 loss at Vanderbilt prove informative:

We’ll delve deep into a lot of things here, but let’s not lose sight of what’s obvious: It was two huge special-teams mistakes and a bad targeting call that cost Georgia this game. The Bulldogs could have and perhaps should have overcome all that, but ultimately those plays were the difference.

Now …

- The opening montage on CBS included highlights of Justin Scott-Wesley, Michael Bennett and Todd Gurley.

- On further viewing, the Ray Drew ejection remains a huge case of overkill. Now, could it have been a late hit penalty? Maybe. But not targeting. It’s also been pointed out online that referee Matt Moore is already holding his flag before Drew’s hit. CBS analyst Aaron Taylor points out, and I tend to agree, that Moore seems ready to call a hold on Vanderbilt (Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins appears to be blocked from behind just before the hit), then Moore decided to throw the flag on Drew instead. Just a strange sequence all around by Moore.

While it was being reviewed, Aaron Taylor laughed and said it “better be overturned or there’s gonna be a mutiny in this stadium.” And there was no mutiny, Aaron. There was no mutiny.

- Watching the game in person, the flag on Ramik Wilson's targeting call seemed to come in late. Watching it on television, it seemed even later. It was a very clean shoulder-to-body hit, which is why it was overturned, but field judge Michael Williams throwing the flag in the first place is confounding. And thus the damage was done. Also, as I said in "morning after" post on Sunday, four officials huddling and deciding to keep the penalty, rather than pick up the flag, smacks of erring on the side of calling a targeting foul.

- The defense did not respond well to adversity in the fourth quarter – which it should be used to by now. After the Wilson penalty, Vanderbilt was at the 15, and it still took six plays to score. I’m not sure how much you can blame the defense there. On Vanderbilt’s next drive, after 41-yard completion to Jonathan Krause on the first play, the defense played like it was stunned and on its heels, until Wilson’s 13-yard sack on second down from the 10. That forced a field goal. But then after the muffed punt snap, Vanderbilt only needed one play to score. Now all that said, defending all these short fieldds is asking any defense to do a lot, especially since it did make an important stop before the officials intervened.

- The snap by Trent Frix to Collin Barber was too high, but it was still catchable. Barber looked like he short-armed it, and didn’t have his arms high enough to make a clean grab. Of course, you don’t recruit your punter to be A.J. Green.

Now let's focus on the defense:

- Josh Harvey-Clemons’ injury came on the play just before Vanderbilt’s fake field goal for a touchdown, and on the same drive that Drew was ejected. But Georgia’s defense actually played better after that: Vanderbilt had 145 yards on 28 plays (5.2 yards per play) through the end of that drive. After that Vanderbilt had 192 yards on 45 plays (4.2 yards per play.)

The difference is that in the absence of Harvey-Clemons, Damian Swann was moved to the star, a move that has seemed like a good idea for awhile. Swann at the star gives you a more traditional nickel defense, faster and better equipped for pass coverage. If Harvey-Clemons is able to play against Florida, Todd Grantham should consider keeping Harvey-Clemons at strong safety in the nickel set.

- As far as Georgia’s defensive backs, you could tell right away that getting more physical with receivers was an emphasis. The cornerbacks were lining up closer, and trying to jam at the line more. (You have to say trying, because it’s easier said than done.) One thing that stuck out to me on the second play was Corey Moore coming up just before the snap to pick up the tight end, and the tight coverage all around the line resulted in Carta-Samuels going through all his reads and having to throw an incompletion. In past games, Moore would have just sat in the flat and waited for the play to come to him.

- Another good mention for Georgia’s secondary: Jordan Jenkins’ second sack was the definition of a coverage sack.

- Swann did have a better game, but only in comparison to his previous six games. When Swann was put on Jordan Matthews, he generally did pretty well. He had very good tight coverage on Vanderbilt’s third drive, on third-and-10, resulting in a stop and a punt. As for the critical long completion to Krause, I’m not sure I agree with Mark Richt and Swann that it should have been pass interference. Krause does have his hand on Swann’s back as the ball’s in the air, but it appears incidental. Then the question is whether the inside move that Krause made to get inside of Swann constitutes interference. Not many officials are going to make that call.

Now to the offense, where we delve heavily into whether it was undone by conservative playcalling.

- The offense looked a lot more open in the first half, because there were bigger holes for the tailbacks and completions to the outside.

- Georgia did not attempt any long bombs, but there were plenty of passes zipped across the middle, and a few to the sideline. Still, the lack of a vertical downfield game is glaring. It’s hard to have one without your best receivers, but a few tries to Chris Conley or Rantavious Wooten probably would have been worth it just to keep the defense honest. That doesn’t mean they would have worked.

- On second inspection, I'm not sure it's quite as fair to say Georgia was conservative in the second half: Georgia actually passed more times (15) than ran (11) in the second half.

During the third quarter, it was 10 runs and 8 passes, not that unusual when you’re leading by 10 (and then 13). When the lead was whittled to 27-21, Georgia passed on first down (a four-yard pass to Wooten), and again on third down, when it was third-and-4. But that third-down pass was out of the hands of walk-on Kenneth Towns.

The conclusion: The offensive gameplan wasn’t wide open all game, but it didn’t get more conservative as the game went on. It just got less effective.

- The run blocking got worse as the game went on. In the first half Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green were uncorking some decent-sized runs – which might have been broken for longer runs by Gurley or Keith Marshall. But there were hardly any holes in the second half.

- I kept a close eye on the tight ends in the passing game. Arthur Lynch was flexed out a lot, and Georgia did very little throwing out of the I-formation. Jay Rome did not play very much, and I’d guess his lingering ankle injury is a reason. (Rome told me last week it still bothers him occasionally: "I don't feel like it's a hindrance anymore, but I can definitely feel that it's not all the way to where it was.")

On Georgia’s first drive, it was first down from the 20. Lynch flexed out, and Murray first looked to Lynch, but he was covered. Then Murray went down the middle and it was nearly picked off. Later in that drive, on third-and-goal, Lynch was flexed out to the right, but Murray went right at Conley, the lone receiver to the left. Conley was tackled, and Georgia settled for the field goal.

Rome’s lone catch came in the third quarter, after lining up in the I, and he was clearly the first read for Murray. It was a nice 8-yard gain, and probably a play that could’ve been called up a few more times.

A few other notes:

- Reggie Davis fumbled the first punt of the game, but it was caused by kick catch interference. The thing about that is that Davis should have called for a fair catch and didn’t, and might have just gotten lucky he got hit before the ball got there. But Davis was sent back out there for the next punt and had a 15-yard return.

- So why was Swann on the field for his critical muffed punt? Richt said Sunday that Georgia was in its "punt safe" mode, and Swann is the safe man, ironically. Two years ago Vanderbilt faked a punt against Georgia, and Richt said the Bulldogs were wary of the Commodores faking it again. "That's designed to be a fair catch anyway," Richt said. "We know when we're in punt safe we're not gonna get much of a return. It's just a matter of fielding the ball, and (Swann) has been doing that his whole life. It just hit off his chest."

- Vanderbilt’s second drive, resulting in a touchdown, featured a couple schematic boo-boos by the Georgia defense: First, there should have been multiple people draped on Jordan Matthews when it became evident the Commodores were force-feeding him. Second, the goal-line defense only had four men on the line on second-and-goal from the 4, and Jerron Seymour took an inside handoff and cut right through it for the touchdown. Yes, there were four defenders just behind the line, at the goal-line, but there was such a good push by the Vanderbilt line that Amarlo Herrera, Corey Moore and Wilson didn’t have a chance once Seymour (only 5-foot-7) was through.

- Vanderbilt’s fake field goal: Georgia actually had pretty much its first-team defense on the field, which is the normal extra point block team. Harvey-Clemons went out on the previous play. It just looks like the Bulldogs slacked off after seeming to get the defensive hold in the red zone, and Vanderbilt caught them napping.

- Shaq Wiggins’ pick-six looks better on second review. The freshman acted like he had seen that play tried against him a million times in high school. Wiggins also had a nice play in the fourth quarter, alertly coming up to tip away a second-down pass. Wiggins has a real sense for the ball, uncanny for a freshman.

- For the second straight game Georgia knocked the other quarterback out of the game, and for the second straight week Jordan Jenkins was involved in the hit. Each time the play looked clean and did not draw a flag. (Against Missouri it was Jenkins and Amarlo Herrera on the hit, with Mizzou wanting a flag on Herrera. Against Vanderbilt Jenkins had the sack.)

- The turning point that got overshadowed later: Georgia was leading 24-14 in the third quarter, and drove inside the 5 on its second possession of the half, but Murray’s third-down slant pass to Conley was knocked away at the last second. Conley could have still caught it but couldn’t. Instead Georgia settled for the field goal. The perfect time to make it a three-score game. But just like the Tennessee game – pretty much the exact same scenario – Georgia had to settle for a field goal attempt. (Unlike the Tennessee game, Marshall Morgan made it.) So what went wrong on this red zone trip? The first two runs were 1-yarders, by Green and Douglas, setting up the third-down. The run was working on that drive, so you can’t really blame Bobo for trying it inside the 10, and Murray and Conley were very close to hooking up for a touchdown. Imagine the difference down the stretch if it's 31-14 at that point, instead of 27-14.

Final thought: The offense, still inhibited by the injuries, had a conservative gameplan and Vanderbilt adjusted to it down the stretch. The defense had a rough start, but did quite well despite the losses of two of its key guys. Ultimately special teams and questionable calls cost Georgia the game.

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