I was able to attend my first game of the season on Saturday and, for a 3:30 P.M. start, the vibe - at last to me - was a bit weird. So was the game. Nevertheless, we won and got a peak into the future.
1. The mood during the tailgate was festive, but certainly the most subdued that its been in a long time for a Georgia-Tennessee tilt. People were doing their due diligence when it came to pre-game cookin’ and drankin’ and socializin’ and such. But there was really no buzz about it. There were maybe 1500 Tennessee fans in the stadium (not counting their reduced band numbers), if that many. Those Tennessee fans who did show up may have already considering the game a fait accompli, but you know what? Kudos to them for coming down anyway. What I couldn’t understand is why so many Georgia people were leaving in droves at the half. The bridge swelled with folks headed home and the game was certainly still in doubt...all the way into the 4th quarter. Still, this game had the buzz of a nooner vs. “Direction U.” I blame Tennessee for being down.
2. So, we defer the 2nd half kickoff and stop Tennessee right away. They punt, and we score on a bizarre Isaac Nauta fumble recovery after Nauta missed his block on the right side end. That was a head’s-up play by Isaac, but that is also going to be a disaster later on in the season against better competition. Anyway, this is the epitome of Tennessee football at the moment. Weird.
Points are points, but I’d prefer not to have to have a defibrilator after scoring ‘em.
3. I thought our offensive line was out of sync for much of the afternoon, particularly in pass protection. We’re flip-flopping guys at the moment, and I suppose if you’re going to experiment a bit, do it at home against a team that you’re supposed to beat. We are missing big Ben Cleveland’s presence and his ability. Our run game, when we had to have it, picked up when these guys blocked as a unit and the push late in the game was what we expect from this line. Isaiah Wilson got plain beat a few times and has to work on his footwork. I guess my biggest disappointment on the day was Jake Fromm’s inability to sit in a pocket and wait for his receivers to break open. The few times he did deliver the deep ball, the connection just wasn’t there.
4. Having said that, we’ve got some monsters in the receiver’s room. It was good to see Terry Godwin become more involved. Riley Ridley continues to improve and is just an excellent route runner. Jeremiah Holloman is ascending. We have all the skill you could ask for with a good mixture of speed and physicality. The tight end was involved more, but we missed some shots as well. Yesterday, this unit looked like a shiny red Ferrari that had some dirt in the fuel line. Still slick, but not running quite right. When this thing starts firing on all cylinders (assuming we improve our pass protection), it’ll be a joy to watch. It’s all fixable.
5. Our backs ran hard all day and the opportunities were spread around. D’Andre Swift was beginning to resemble last year’s version of #7 with his ability to make the first guy miss, and get really tough yards after contact. I think he scores if he catches the screen pass from Jake Fromm. I know he’s not 100%, but he looked closer to being healthy than he has in a while. This could bode well down the stretch. Elijah Holyfield looked good with his early carries Brian Herrien had the best day of his career with some really tough running, especially in the penultimate scoring drive. Our ground game went into a lull after the first quarter. Only did it really pick up when a sense of urgency arose after Tennessee cut the lead in half.
Trying to tackle D'Andre Swift is an unenviable task. pic.twitter.com/QiR8gzqQjX— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 29, 2018
That’s what I’m talking about, #7.
6. Woo! That was cool.
When Herschel and “The Nature Boy” hugged, I got a bit misty...
7. After a lengthy injury/CBS time out, I’m watching Jake Fromm and Justin Fields play toss in front of the Georgia bench to stay warmed up. I was looking at the size of Fields’ hands and was astonished. They are huge. They’re bear-paws. After seeing this kid (fairly up-close) in person, I am really impressed how thick his lower body is. After watching one of Tennessee’s better tacklers latch on and get bucked, I’m thinking he might be the best back of the bunch. I can’t wait until Kirby lets him sling it a bit. Soon.
Watch how Fields sheds Tennessee’s Kirkland on the first touchdown. Power.
8. Rodrigo Blankenship: El hombre, el mito, la leyenda.
I’ve seen some greatness in ‘ol Sanford Stadium. I’ve been thrilled by long touchdown runs, gracefully arcing touchown passes, dynamic kickoff and punt returns, defensive dynamite and great overall team effort.
But I’ve never been as impressed and laughed out loud as I did on Hot Rod’s extra point attempt.
This. was. awesome.
9. Special teams was mixed. Rodrigo was perfect (in so many ways), and every kickoff resulted in a touchback. Our punt returns were all nullified by Tennessee’s excellent Joe Doyle (7 punts/47.1 avg...one shank and one boomer for 71 yards). Jake Camarda still has yet to find his touch when trying to pin it deep and is still finding the endzone too often, resulting in touchbacks.
10. So, on a day when Georgia rushed for 251 total yards but the longest gain of the day came from Isaac Nauta, you could call it weird.
11. At what point does Demetris Robertson get more involved? Is this a matter of learning the playbook, or is he just not as complete a player in all-phases as the other guys ahead of him. I’d like to see more of James Cook as well. Going forward, I think we will, but we are almost halfway through the season. I can’t believe I just typed that.
12. Defensively, the line played much better than a week ago. The linebackers seemed to be dialed in as Tennessee only rushed for a paltry 66 yards on the day. We are still rotating heavily, especially at linebacker. Eighteen different Dawgs got in the game on defense, It was good to see Monty Rice back in there. Natrez Patrick had a solid game.
13. One shouldn’t complain much when you hold your opponent to only 209 yards of total offense. I’ll do it anyway. Tennessee first score was just a bust in the secondary as J.R. Reed was late helping a linebacker cover UT’s Josh Palmer on a 37 yards touchdown pass. That has to get cleaned up. What was even more maddening was the screen pass in the 4th quarter that sprung the Vols’ Ty Chandler. Over-pursuit and some bad angles allowed him to weave through the heart of the defense, and the last line of defense was Richard LeCounte who hesitated a deadly second too long to make the play. Gotta get that cleaned up, too.
14. So, after a lengthy and hot-as-hell September, what do we make of this team? We are flawed at the moment, but 5-0. That’s something! I still feel that many of the problems we have are absolutely fixable. This team has so much talent that if (when?) the proverbial light “goes on,” it could go into a 2nd-half tear much like the 2007 team did. These guys are playing well enough, but haven’t come close to reaching their potential. We’ve got another relatively easy week as Vandy comes to town next Saturday night (7:30 P.M. on SEC Network). From where I sit, it appears that Justin Fields is going to become a very important part of this offense. I saw some really good signs that D’Andre Swift is regaining some of his quicks and speed that we all know and love. If Ben Cleveland can return in a few more weeks, that’ll only bode well for an offensive line that is a bit nicked up, but that is also gaining experience. Our receivers are all hot-rods, Hot Rod is the best kicker in America, and the defense showed it can improve from week-to-week. I expect more improvement on Saturday. We’ve got a chance to go 4-0 vs. the entire Volunteer state.
15. Sorry for the abbreviate “Thoughts.” I just got in this afternoon and, frankly, am detoxing from too much good downtown Athens food and a few too many local brews.
Life is Good. So are our Dawgs. They could be great. Still much work to do.