After struggling against Tennessee, it's time for adjustments to Georgia's slow offensive start
It took roughly 56 minutes.
Well, on the field, that is. In real time, it was roughly 3 hours. For Georgia fans, it probably felt like 3 days.
That is, for the home team to impose its offensive will on Tennessee.
That’s a Tennessee team that entered Athens as a 31-point underdog having not won an SEC game since November 2016. The same program that couldn’t stop a nosebleed last year against the Dawgs in Knoxville — albeit with a different coaching staff — prevented Georgia from imposing its will for roughly 56 minutes.
Then D’Andre Swift muscled his way into the end zone, and seemingly all of Sanford Stadium exhaled.
Saturday’s victory against Tennessee wasn’t what many expected, especially after the Vols surrendered 47 points at home to Florida last week. Georgia, which beat all but 2 SEC East teams by at least 24 points dating to the start of 2017, was stuck on 24 points until that 56-minute mark.
Against Tennessee, the “too close for comfort” moments weren’t about whether Georgia would win. They were about why the Dawgs weren’t running away from a bottom-feeder East team like they usually do.
A couple of late touchdowns might have made the casual observer think that a 38-12 final score was just Georgia being Georgia.
But don’t be fooled. Georgia’s offense needs to adjust, and it needs to adjust now.
Before you assume that’s my way of calling for a quarterback change, let me stop you right there. I believe Jake Fromm should be the Dawgs’ starter. He gives Georgia the best chance to win games.
In fact, I wasn’t a fan of the fact that Justin Fields entered with Georgia up 10-0 in the middle of the second quarter for a non-red zone series. To me, that looked desperate from Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Whether Fields is the more talented quarterback or not, I’m not a fan of the precedent it sets to sub out your starting quarterback because a spark is missing. I think that gets in his head.
That was a theme throughout the day — the interesting substitutions.
In the middle of the series, we’d see things like offensive linemen rotating — Isaiah Wilson and Kendall Baker were being used interchangeably in the fourth quarter — for non-injury reasons.
I mean, third-string tailback Brian Herrien was being shuffled in to pick up key first downs in the middle of the fourth quarter. Regardless of what the final numbers said (220 rushing yards), Georgia rushed for 3.5 yards per carry for nearly the entire game. It was 3 yards and a cloud of dust.
Swift struggled to find big holes and after a solid start, Elijah Holyfield was held in check. It was far from a Nick Chubb-Sony Michel effort, and that’s not necessarily a knock on Swift or Holyfield. The holes just weren’t there.
The offensive line was less than stellar all afternoon. It probably was a fitting sign that Georgia’s first touchdown of the day came on a play when Tennessee actually had a strip sack, but Isaac Nauta was Johnny-on-the-spot with an offensive scoop and score.
What in the world pic.twitter.com/QmIjoB96pP
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) September 29, 2018
The ball isn’t always going to bounce Georgia’s way like that.
Credit Jeremy Pruitt and Tennessee for putting guys in the right spots. Darrell Taylor basically lived in the Dawgs’ backfield all afternoon. Better SEC teams will have a handful of guys who can do that.
For the second consecutive week, though, Georgia’s offensive line didn’t look like it was dominating in the trenches. The Dawgs were coming off a game in which they barely beat Mizzou in rushing yards. If not for a few D’Andre Walker sacks last week, that wouldn’t have been the case.
Saturday would have been much more interesting if Georgia had an average defense. That’s not the case. The Dawgs are still a force on that side of the ball. They look like they’re capable of imposing their will on teams.
The problem is that eventually, there will be teams who can score on the Dawgs. Georgia will face ranked teams in 3 of its next 5 matchups. Working out the kinks against a lesser team like Tennessee can happen. Perhaps that’s why there were so many mid-series substitutions.
But Georgia needs to find what works, and fast. That’s on Chaney. That’s on the offensive line. That’s on Fromm. That’s on everyone who has a say on that side of the ball.
Does that sound nit-picky after Georgia just failed to score 40 points for the first time all year? Probably. Still, nobody watching the past 2 weeks would tell you that the Dawgs were a finished product on the offensive side. They’re not on the same level as last year’s squad. At least not yet.
Let’s see what tweaks Georgia can make to get there. Whether that’s finding an offensive line rotation that works, allowing running backs to stay on for a full series or allowing Fromm to air it out more, adjustments are needed.
The first 56 minutes of Saturday’s effort proved that.