These are tough. To be this close against a top 10 team on the road and not pull it out, hurts. When it was over, I was almost in disbelief. When LSU scored with four minutes and change in the 4th quarter, I thought we had lost. When Georgia turned back around and left just under two minutes on the clock, I thought we had won. I know that makes little sense, but MY EMOTIONS. When the last pass sailed high above Beckham Jr. it didn't seem like the end, but just an errant throw and we'd get 'em next down. Except there was no next down, Mark Richt cried and the Georgia people kept dancing, just like they were doing at half time (which I found odd).
Obviously, the concentration of consternation this week is directed toward the horrendous performance our defense put out. Yielding nearly 500 yards while allowing 5.4 yards per carry (and much worse while Gurley was still in), and failing to register even a single sack will leave Tiger Nation in disbelief. How did we become that bad, that fast? Everyone expected some regression this season, losing nine players to the draft, but I think many of us believe the drop off from those guys to the next man up wasn't nearly as severe as we're seeing. There's a lot of questions to be answered on the defensive side of the ball, that's for sure.
Frustration or no, as I re-watched the game, I really marveled at just how damned entertaining it was. I know we all love to get on our SEC pedestal, brag about 9-6 victories and how anyone who thinks they are boring is simply dense. But scoring points is fun too. You may feel as if your creed was violated watching LSU march up and down the field, only to be marched up and down upon, but try and enjoy it a little.
Let's start with the defense this week. I'm not a huge fan of the illusion of progress, but here's something I think is worth nothing:
UGA Offense 1st Half: 24 points, 304 yards
UGA Offense 2nd Half: 20 points, 190 yards
Georgia managed only 41 yards in the third quarter. Seventy-five of their 190 second-half yards came on their final drive. I know that's hardly worth throwing a parade over, but in re-watching the game, I could see, very clearly, that the defense improved from half to half. Adjustments were made. The defense line was stronger at the point of attack. The linebackers did a much better job of crashing in the run game and actually tackling. Georgia fans would probably say, "Well that's just because Gurley went out." While that likely did contribute something, 73 of Keith Marshall's 96 rushing yards came in the 1st half. The simple fact is, we tightened up.
However, one area that showed very little sign of improvement is the pass rush. We couldn't generate a rush from the inside, from the outside, or from the blitz. There were maybe five times all game when Murray was "uncomfortable" and then only for a fleeting second as he easily avoided the pressure and settled right back in. When your defense yields 494 yards, there tends to be some chicken or the egg arguments. There were a lot of big passing plays yielded. How much of that falls on poor coverage? How much of that falls on the failure to generate any type of pressure? And even if we couldn't generate pressure, how about altering the throwing lanes of a shorter QB? It never happened. Plain and simple, Georgia manhandled us up front in the passing game and mostly in the running game too. I'm not certain what John Chavis' response to the lack of pass rush will be. As it stands, Jordan Allen is probably our most explosive pass rusher, but he often plays undisciplined and runs himself out of plays. It may be time that some true freshmen are given legitimate shots to make a difference.
The other area of major concern to me are the coverage busts. Getting beat is one thing. Blowing mental assignments, especially if you are an upperclassman, is completely unacceptable. I realize Micah Eugene is just a Sophomore, but he's played enough by now that he should simply know better than to let receivers get behind him... over and over again. Ditto for Jalen Mills, who let a WR run right up the sideline, without so much as offering a challenge.
So there's areas for opportunity for this defense. After Saturday, and up until I completed the re-watch early this morning, I really thought we might be dealing with a lost cause. But I'm not ready to go that far yet. The defense has a lot of work to do, but we aren't re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titantic just yet.
Freak: I really think Freak played better than most will credit him for. He was active up front and one of the few guys that could get into the backfield with any regularity. He also made a heady, athletic interception that put LSU in position to score. Other than the pick, it was a day of near misses for him. He'd blow by his man, but the RB would just dance by. In the second half, in particular, he seemed to be able to control his blockers, which is a big reason the Georgia running game wasn't nearly as successful.
Ego: Pretty quiet night. He did bat down one pass, early in the game, but we never saw it again. Took on some double teams. Didn't make any huge plays, so his performance was a bit more workmanlike than in general.
LaCouture: Saw some time as the first DT off the bench. Flashed some pass rush ability. Interestingly, on UGA's final scoring drive before the half, both he and Quentin Thomas were the DTs rather than Ego and Freak. Talk about on the job learning. He got a good push on the play.
QT: Only saw him on the GL stand, but he was able to get a good push.
Hunter: I continue to believe that Hunter is emerging as our best all-around end. His best play came in the 2nd half. Mike Bobo called a draw play, undoutedly to taken advantage of the aggressive nature of he LSU defense. Marshall broke the play away from where Hunter was aligned. Hunter spins off of his block (yes a full 360), crashes down the line of scrimmage and puts the hit on Marshall for no gain. It was truly spectacular athleticism.
Rasco: Made a TFL on Gurley, early, but mostly a byproduct of poor blocking. He's probably our best run-defending end. Made on other play scooting down the LoS. Really not a fan of the roughing penalty called him. It was hard to tell on the replay, but to me it looked like he hit Murray's shoulder pads. Murray hardly moved. Just a weak call, when they are allowing people to be tackled with the ball in flight on the back end.
Allen: He's definitely the best end we have at getting upfield/getting pressure, but he plays so reckless, and it's not always a good thing. Frequently ran himself right out of plays. Not an impact defender in the run game. He got reach blocked by the TE on one play that went for a big gain by Gurley. That just can't happen. Drove the LT into the ground on one play with a nice rush, but nothing to show for it. His best play of the game came on a 1st and GL from the 10 when we ultimately held UGA to a FG. They ran a trap play and Allen absolutely stuffed the pulling lineman, which slammed the hole shut and kept Marshall's gain modest.
Welter: I really don't know what else to say. I do think Welter, for the most part, knows how to read his keys in the run game, but it's reaching a point where his total lack of aggression makes it a moot point. He had one play early where it looked like he forced a fumble, but they didn't spend much time with it, so hard to tell. He proved to be the benefactor from Allen's good play near the GL, as he made the tackle. Most every note I have is "Welter blocked," or "Welter cut down." He busted in coverage, as well, on the long TD to Michael Bennett that Micah Eugene allowed.
Barrow: I felt like this was the tale of two halves. To me, Barrow played maybe his best half of the season in the 2nd half against UGA. He looked aggressive, strong, and attacking. He looked a lot like the guy we saw last year. Early on it was just the same story, different week. Down field tackles. Poor angles. Slow reads. But by the second half, seemed as if something clicked. He was getting off blocks, which we haven't seen all year. Best play came when he attacked the lead blocker, shucked him, and made the tackle on the ball carrier. Doesn't sound as impressive typing, but on tape, it was a physical, aggressive play. He did get kicked out on J.J. Green's run late in the game. Overall, I saw improvement.
Kwon: Played the whole game due to a hamstring injury to Tahj Jones, though I'm curious if it sticks. He does things that are just flat out impressive from an athletic standpoint, but he also misses plays. His coverage is strong enough that we don't have to rotate out of base defense, because he can stick with most slot guys. That's a tremendous asset. Missed a tackle on Gurley early, despite playing it well. Then over-ran another. Kwon was another LB to struggle with all of Georgia's pulls and traps. Somewhat like playing an option team in that regard. Did an amazing job in coverage when Murray tried to pull a Mettenberger and drop a ball in between three defenders. Showed his athleticism. The next play he crashed hard in the run game and made the play.
Louis: The only back-up LB I saw get into the game, and it was only for 2 series. I'm guessing Welter was dinged or tired or having equipment issues. I wish we could have seen more. He still looks really physical to me. Got called on to blitz and did a great job fighting through his man. Probably best rush of the day. Got wiped out on one play by the FB, but it was a great job blocking by UGA. On another play he manhandled his OL, driving him backward, then coming off to make a diving tackle on Marshall. Great play. Read his keys and aggressively took on the FB on another play.
Mills: Not his best day. Georgia was clearly unafraid to throw at any of our corners. They went after Mills early. Seemed to bust on a play where he turned an outside WR loose downfield to come up and play the short man. Play went for a big gain due to that. Should have stuck with the long man and for the underneath throw. Made an obvious PI in the end zone. He had a couple others that were fortunate to not be called. Last TD of the game he turned Justin Scott-Wesley loose, rather than sticking on him. May have been the right call. I was more impressed with how physical he looks in the run game. Still think he could be an outstanding safety.
Tre: Bad day at the office for the kid. Got burned early. Got burned often. Got benched. Gave up an early TD, and then pulled the string on him. I thought it was a quick hook, but he didn't prove to be worth keeping in in his subsequent times back in the game. Did have great coverage on one play and still get beat by a masterful throw by Murray. That's just the type of day it was for him. Sat most of the 2nd half, but came in when Mills was shaken up. Immediately gave up a slant and 1st down. Back to the bench.
Collins: Subbed in for White early and played the rest of the way. As soon as he was subbed in, they went after him. He initiated contact early but got away with it. Absolutely dusted on a back shoulder throw to Chris Conley. Got burned by Conley again later on a square in. Did see him try and absorb one blocker in the run game. Not much else of note.
Thomas: Played in DIME, but didn't notice much of anything good or bad.
Loston: We played our Safeties off most of the night, so Loston wasn't around making big plays. Made a couple of down field tackles. Injured Gurley's ankle. Got burned on the first TD. Looked completely flat footed in coverage. Victimized by good eye work by Aaron Murray on the final TD. Murray held him in the center of the field and then hit his man on the deep sideline for the game winner.
Martin: Martin was back this week after missing last week due to the death of his father. Thought he looked tremendously improved from earlier outings. Tackled pretty well, which was really a sore spot for him. Made a nice read and crash on an early run, but missed the tackle. Could have been a 3-5 yard gain, instead went for 20+. Sure seemed like he should have been in deep coverage on the TD where White got burned. May have been looked off. Did a nice job covering JSW in a man-to-man situation, right in the hip pocket. Got beat in the EZ but JSW tripped, so no TD. Did well in coverage again on Michael Bennett. On another play, he was forced to suck down and take Welter's man, who beat him. As a result, Bennett has free path to the EZ due to poor coverage by Eugene. This game made me feel more confident about him as the other safety going forward.
Eugene: We saw the same things from Eugene that we already knew. In the run game and as a blitzer, he can be a force. In coverage... woof. In an early play, he was clearly blocked in the back after aggressively taking on the FB. No call. Verne even commended the FB for a "great block." Torched on the long Bennett TD. Looked lost.
I want to be clear. What we're seeing from Zach Mettenberger is dynamic, top-tier, superb quarterback play right now. The mistakes are minimal, the throws are outrageously good and the way he controls this offense is just next level. Can you please stay forever, Zach Mettenberger? I love you, Zach Mettenberger. Never leave, okay?
Cam Cameron says he's been given too much credit for the progress of this offense, but let me say this: this is the most competent, coherent, strategic offense we've run in the Miles era. Rarely are there head scratching plays. Often do we see plays that set up plays later in the game. We often see Cam return to the well when something is working. In this game, in the 2nd half, we found a great match-up by stacking Beckham/Landry to one side and dragging Landry underneath. We ran it three consecutive plays on our final TD drive. Landry was eating up big time yards right under those linebackers.
We seem to have accepted that zone-running schemes are our best bet. We sprinkled in a couple of different looks here and there, but by and large, we were just student body left, student body right and let Jeremy Hill find a hole and do his thing. That said, tough sledding in the run game this week. The primary difference I saw in UGA and AUB is that UGA's second level guys were making tackles when Auburn's where not. There were more than few plays that we blocked up front soundly enough, but Hill would pop through and be taken down nearly immediately. It was clearly an emphasis of the Georgia defense this week. I thought Hill battled admirably and earned every single one of his 86 yards.
Beyond the run game, the one area we struggled was blitz pick-ups, particularly on the left side. Vadal often looked hapless as a pass blocker. This isn't altogether shocking. UGA went after him with some different blitz looks. Even La'El seemed confused a time or two. That said, their pass rush was never consistent. It showed up early, fizzled through most of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters and then popped up again on the final drive.
Mett: Big. Damn. Hero. What more is there to say? Mett has such a great feel for this offense right now. ORTigerFan expressed some concern that Mett's numbers may be the byproduct of playing against a poor defense, but I can't say that I agree. His numbers are superb because he's got two tremendous WRs and is delivering the ball with accuracy and decisiveness. Over and over again he would make big throw after big throw. The throw to Landry, between three defenders... that's the stuff of legends. Remarkably hard throw. He also dropped one over underneath coverage, in front of Kadron Boone, but under the deep coverage. That's arm strength, touch and accuracy all rolled into one, even if the throw was dropped. Even beyond the throws, he did a great job operating the offense. Consistently audibled. Utilized motion and silent snaps to uncover UGA coverages and blitzes. He won the chess match. Finished 23/37 for 372 yards and 3 TDs.
Hill: Grown man effort. Tough sledding on the ground, but he made an impact as a receiver, doing his best Ray Rice impersonation. Beautiful play when he ran an angle and attacked their LBs. Great route and nice run after the catch. Missed a TD early being tackled by a blitzing S. If he breaks that tackle, he's in there. Not a ton of runs to talk about, but he plied away all day. Biggest run came on a 2nd half draw play. Didn't look great in pass pro, so needs to make strides there. Finished 21 carries for 81 yards and 1 TD. 4 catches for 44 yards.
Magee: First back off the bench to spell Hill. Got crushed on his first carry when La'El was torched on the outside. Made one superb block in pass pro, cutting down the OLB to give Mett all day to throw. Otherwise, quiet. Finished Finished 3 carries for 6 yards. 1 catch for 2 yards.
Hilliard: Able to pick up a few yards here and there, but not much room. Did score on the good ole toss lead play, reminiscent of the 2011 SEC Championship Game. Did make the heads up play and pounce on the ball after Mett fumbled the snap. Finished 4 carries for 11 yards, 1 TD.
Blue: Managed 1 carry for 6 yards. Nothing in my notes about him.
Copeland: They love to talk about J.C. Copeland. He's a fun, physical player to watch. Didn't have his best game. Clogged up running lanes meant a lot of what I saw was Copeland disappearing into piles. Did whiff badly on a blitz from Leonard Floyd. Did see him get a nasty block on Amarlo Herrera late.
Neighbors: He's playing just about as much as Copeland at this point. It was his motion out wide that cleared out the middle for Hill to get a big gain on the angle route. Got a really strong block in pass pro late. Also cut down Herrera on an option play, which was awesome.
Juice: With all due respect to Marqise Lee, Jarvis Landry is the best WR in college football right now. There are receivers with better numbers, sure. But I'd take Landry over all of them. Tenacious, hellacious, aggressive. Hands catcher. Precision route runner. This guy is so much fun to watch right now. The leaping catch between three defenders was a thing of beauty. Stole this from someone on twitter, but Jarvis Landry makes a catch of the year... every week. It's remarkable. Best compliment I can pay him is that he got shutout the 1st half. Yes, 0 catches. Hardly any looks either. Some WRs would get frustrated and be out of the game. Landry just responded by posting a 10-catch 156 yard second half. MONSTER.
Soapbox: Let me also say that Juice was absolutely interfered with on the final drive and got no call. Both sides were being allowed to be "physical." I know we all hate ticky-tack PI calls, but erring too far the other direction is just as blatantly bad. UGA was forced to kick a FG after we got a stop via obvious PI. Our drive ended a play after Juice was obviously interfered with. Just make the call. When the defender is not looking at the ball, has his hands around the WR, then grabs one of his arms... all before the ball arrives, that's textbook. Make the call. In this case, the refs were TOO lenient. Finished 10 catches, 156 yards, 1 TD.
OBJ: I'll deal with STs later, but not enough people are discussing the fact that he still went 6 for 118. Really? Week 1 we were astounded to have two WRs go for 100+ for the first time in like 500 years. Now we're gonna roast the guy and ignore his accomplishments? He got mugged early on, no call. Hate that precedence set. Later he gets facemasked after a brilliant catch. Again, no call. I also want to note that Danielson marveled at this play, as if it were simply unfair. "That's just an NFL WR playing college ball," I believe he said. We got it good right now, guys. Finished 6 catches for 118 yards.
Boone: He got to be the benefactor of the intense attention paid to both Landry and Beckham early in the game. It's nice to see that if that happens, we have guys that will make you pay. His first TD was just easy pitch and catch as they gave him free release off the line and then turned him loose down the middle of the field. Excellent read by Mett. 2nd TD, more of the same. S pulled off to double Landry, and Boone gets the spoils. Finished 2 catches for 52 yards and 2 TDs.
Gordon: Seemed to do fine in blocking... nothing of note. Did drop one pass. Wasn't an easy catch, but should have been made.
Stokes: No real notes, but continues to be our 2nd blocking TE. Playing time lessened with Dickson healthy.
Dickson: He's the H-back in this offense. We move him all over the formation. Out wide. Inline. Slot. Backfield. He's a chess piece. We got him open in a wheel route, but he couldn't control the catch after a big hit. Excellent throw and nice job by him going up and getting it. Reminds me of a James Casey in this offense.
Collins: I thought he played pretty well, except for the occasional lapses in blitz pick-ups. One particularly bad one he stepped out to get a piece of the OLB, but turned him loose to the back, so he could try and get on the blitzing corner. He should have kept with the OLB and let Hilliard pick up the corner. Otherwise, a solid, quiet performance.
Vadal: Really struggled. They picked on him with blitzes. Gave up a sack to Ray Drew on a pure bullrush. No. 93 and No. 94 with Georgia kinda took turns having their way with him. Rough day. His initial punch is usually good, but his footwork just lacks, so he loses a lot after.
Porter: I was worried the tape wouldn't be kind, but I actually thought he did admirably. Spent most of night having to block up guys that are 330+ and did a fine job of it. Got driven back by John Taylor once, but Taylor is a load, so that's gonna happen.
Turner: Quiet game. Got a false start for the stupid "natural reaction" rule. They should really change that. He did bust badly on the last drive, yielding a sack to Leonard Floyd, which also resulted in burning our last T.O. Untimely error.
Hawkins: Thought he did a pretty good job handling some tough pass rushers outside. One of my favorite plays of the game was a simple dive where there was nothing doing up the middle. Hill bounces and fortunately, Turner/Hawkins/Gordon have four men blocked with three bodies. Love that. No penalties!
Hairston: His early kicks didn't seem as strong. Not sure if it was by design. Still managed his fair share of touchbacks.
Delahoussaye: Whoa, where did that come from? It's too bad his long FG was upstaged by UGA's 55-yarder. I don't think any of us knew he had it in him, though. Two long kicks, both buried. Kid must have eaten his Wheaties.
Keehn: Punts were solid. Only two all day, both around 44 yards and one he put inside the 20. Nice work.
Beckham: First of all, he managed 175 yards in kick returns. So let's not forget that he was a nice weapon in the return game. He nearly broke a few. BUT, he did fumble a punt, inexplicably, and that proved to be costly. Not really sure what happened, but he looked more frantic when fielding it. I think he was trying to do too much. There was a previous punt where he was dangerously close to the ball while they were attempting to down it. Not sure the logic of that, but I seem to remember some strange rule about the ball can be fielded if it's unintentionally touched by the kicking team, without repercussion. I remember seeing this in a game once. Guy went after the ball and everyone was calling him a moron. He wound up getting five yards or something, but even if he had fumbled it, it would have been ruled dead, I guess. Confusing rule. I'm always an advocate of getting away from the ball in a potential turnover situation.