Injuries or not, Georgia has a long-term issue with elite offenses
The injuries. The quarterback play. The 2nd-half adjustments.
There are reasons Georgia lost to Florida in Jacksonville for the first time since 2016. You can point to any of them. If you want to sit here and say that Justin Fields would have won that game, well, that’s your right to do that, too.
While those reasons are understandable, there was something else that should have raised some eyebrows by day’s end. Yeah, it had something to do with the 44 points that Florida scored against what was supposed to be Kirby Smart’s best defense yet (I know, I know. The injuries.)
But for the 3rd time in as many games against an elite offense, Georgia’s defense was anything but elite.
It didn’t matter that the Dawgs had a 14-0 head start, or that they appeared to have the ground game rolling early with Zamir White. Somewhere between that opening play and the final seconds ticking off, a trend was carried out. Kyle Trask threw for more yards (474) than any player in Florida history.
Trask followed in the footsteps of Mac Jones and Joe Burrow. That is, throw for a whole mess of yards, mix in 4 touchdown passes and roll to a multi-possession victory against the Dawgs.
Since the start of 2019, those were the only 3 offenses it faced that averaged 40 points per game (the Gators came into Saturday averaging 42 points per contest and nearly hit that in the 1st half). Here’s how each of those losses turned out:
Again, those offenses doing what they did weren’t even outliers. That’s what those groups usually did against everyone else. Troubling was the fact that once again, Kirby Smart’s defense couldn’t prevent that from happening.
I’ll spare you the well-documented quarterback issue rant and how that certainly played a part in that. I get it.
But bad quarterback play has nothing to do with stopping a wheel route, which Georgia did maybe … once? How many times did Smart’s unit have to get schemed into mismatches for that adjustment to be made?
Great defenses impose their will. Georgia hasn’t imposed its will on a great offense since the start of 2019. That’s the way the game is played now. Even Smart’s former boss, Nick Saban, shared this little gem a few days after his team’s win against Georgia (via ESPN):
“It used to be that good defense beats good offense. Good defense doesn’t beat good offense anymore,” Saban told ESPN on Friday. “It’s just like last week. Georgia has as good a defense as we do an offense, and we scored 41 points on them [in a 41-24 Alabama win]. That’s not the way it used to be. It used to be if you had a good defense, other people weren’t going to score. You were always going to be in the game.
“I’m telling you. It ain’t that way anymore.”
It’s not that Smart has yet to figure it out. Granted, it took him a bit too long to abandon the 20th century offense that his team ran. That’s why when he went out and brought in Todd Monken, the plan was supposed to be to air it out more. You know, to keep up with these high-powered offenses. There was nothing high-powered about a Georgia offense who completed 9-of-29 passes for 3.9 yards per attempt.
Still, though. How is it that Georgia looks up at halftime and sees that its vaunted defense allowed 341 first half passing yards? That’s not just Richard LeCounte, and it’s not just Jordan Davis. For what it’s worth, Georgia was actually fine defending the run. The Gators, even without having to face the run-stuffing Davis, were held to 97 rushing yards. Saturday actually ended a streak of 14 straight Florida-Georgia matchups in which the winning team held the rushing advantage.
Times have changed. I wonder if Georgia has.
What’s the common denominator between 2019 LSU, 2020 Alabama and 2020 Florida? All of them had several pass-catching weapons who know how to get separation and veteran quarterbacks who know how to read coverages and buy time in the pocket. Georgia hasn’t really had an answer for that yet.
Find an elite team who doesn’t have an offense run like that. Clemson? Ohio State? They’re all doing it now.
Georgia feels like a team who would’ve been dominating 10 years ago. It would’ve been able to do Alabama-like things to teams and get away with not needing to score 40 in these games against elite competition. But, as Saban said, it ain’t that way anymore.
I mean, look at the final scores of the College Football Playoff National Championships during the Playoff era:
- 2014 — Ohio State 42, Oregon 20
- 2015 — Alabama 45, Clemson 40
- 2016 — Clemson 35, Alabama 31
- 2017 — Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (OT)
- 2018 — Clemson 44, Alabama 16
- 2019 — LSU 42, Clemson 25
The winning team hit 42 points in 4 of those 6 games, and in the only title game of the Playoff era in which the winner didn’t hit 35 points, Georgia saw in the 2nd half what happened when it faced a quarterback who could truly stretch out the defense.
Rare it is now that you can win at an elite level just with a defense that imposes its will. Clemson had the No. 1 scoring defense in America until it ran into the LSU buzzsaw last year. Georgia can relate to that.
The Dawgs should no longer go into these games assuming that it’s going to hold an elite offense to half its season average. That might work against the Kentuckys and Tennessees of the world, but it sure as heck won’t work against teams offenses like Florida or Alabama. It just won’t.
Well, Georgia probably would’ve stood more of a chance if after White’s 75-yard run, he actually got the ball after that. But hey, I won’t get caught up in how his 5th carry came in the middle of the 3rd quarter. By that time, Trask already had over 400 passing yards against a Georgia defense that was on its heels for most of the day.
This year has told us that even if you have depth galore on the defensive side, it’s probably only a matter of time before you get gashed against an elite offense. Georgia didn’t match up well against Alabama or Florida. Not this year. Not when the backbone of the team is suddenly a liability.
I don’t know what Georgia does to fix this other than hope and pray it can finally get a quarterback who can win a shootout. Or rather, keep* a quarterback who can win a shootout. Sorry. Didn’t mean to make a second Fields reference.
Georgia’s best defensive core of the Smart era didn’t stand much of a chance in the 3rd consecutive game against an elite offense. It’s time to change. Whether that’s not being so married to the single-high safety system that Smart relies on or daring teams to run the ball more, adjustments need to be made.
Until Smart acknowledges that, all the 5-stars in the world aren’t gonna make a difference in Athens.