It sure started like it would be a good day for Georgia’s offense.
After picking up three yards on its first two plays, quarterback Jake Fromm lofted a jump ball on receiver Javon Wims’ back shoulder. Like he has all season, Wims jumped up, snagged the ball away from his defender and ended the play with a 28-yard gain.
Fromm quickly lined his team up and hit Terry Godwin for a 26-yard gain. Fromm had just completed three consecutive passes for 56 yards and Georgia was able to get running back Nick Chubb to punch in a 1-yard touchdown four plays later.
It looked like Fromm was set to have a big day throwing. Instead, he only threw five additional passes in the first half of Auburn’s 40-17 win over Georgia.
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The Bulldogs have been strong running the ball all season long and leaned on this aspect of the offense, but arguably for too long in the first half.
Head coach Kirby Smart said there was a discussion to open up the passing game more in the opening two quarters. But the reason to stick with the run-first approach was because of Auburn’s threat to rush the passer. Auburn defensive lineman Jeff Holland sacked Fromm on one of Georgia’s two called passes on the second and third drives of the game. The sack came on third down following four consecutive runs.
“With Auburn, if you throw it every play, you get in trouble because they have really good pass rushers,” Smart said. “The threat to run the ball has to slow down their pass rushers. We tried to maintain that threat. We just didn’t do a good job running it.”
In the first half, Georgia called 11 passing plays to 18 runs. Three of the passing plays ended in sacks – twice on third-and-longs and once on a botched flea flicker. The Bulldogs went with passing plays only five times on first and second down in the first two quarters.
Georgia finished the game running the ball 32 times for 46 yards, although it lost 33 yards on sacks. It was evident early that the Bulldogs weren’t going to run over the Tigers’ seven-man boxes the way they have against other opponents.
Wims ended up being Georgia’s top play-maker in the game. His first two catches were impressive snags down the field, where he used his size to high-point the ball over defensive backs.
Wims finished the game with three catches for 96 yards. He defended the decision for Georgia to stick with the run after the game.
“I think we had a solid game-plan,” Wims said. “We went out there and made some adjustments. They just made some back to counter us.”
When the game was still within reach, Georgia stuck with a run-first approached, which, to be fair, is how the Bulldogs jumped out to an undefeated start through nine games.
Fromm didn’t log the bulk of his 28 passing attempts — completing 13 for 184 yards and a late touchdown to Riley Ridley — until Auburn held a big lead.
While it is easy to point to Georgia’s decision not to throw the ball much early in the game, receiver Mecole Hardman said blame for the offense’s performance deserves to be spread all around.
“There were opportunities all night,” Hardman said. “We definitely had opportunities. We’ve got to give the quarterback more time to see things and get the ball to us. We just got to go back and look at the film, see what we’re doing, or whatever they were doing against us defensively.”