Grading the Dawgs: Evaluating Georgia after 2-0 start
Georgia is 2-0 after two weeks of football, and that’s ultimately what matters. The context of those wins, however, help us evaluate the Dawgs’ strengths and weaknesses thus far.
The Bulldogs’ two wins are nowhere near similar. In its season opener, Georgia battled a talented North Carolina squad and showed mental toughness in earning a 33-24 victory. Week 2 was a very different story, as Georgia looked half asleep and nearly let the game slip away in a 26-24 win against Nicholls State.
Thus far, the Bulldogs’ offense has averaged 26 points per contest – one of Georgia’s touchdowns against Nicholls State came via defense – and the defense has allowed 20.5 points.
The SEC season starts Saturday for the Dawgs. Here are the grades for Georgia through two weeks of the 2016 season.
Passing offense: C+
The Bulldogs have not taken to the air very often and have mixed results when they do. After two games, Georgia has 391 yards passing, an average of 195.5 yards per game.
In Week 1, Georgia used the passing game sparingly but to greater effect. Against Nicholls State, the Bulldogs had a few good moments but not enough to overshadow the mistakes. Drops have played a big role as has inexperience from the quarterback position.
Jacob Eason looks to be the team’s best option moving forward, throwing for 335 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but he will have his flashes of brilliance followed by poor decisions. His first start was about what many expected from the true freshman, and he should only help the passing attack as he matures.
Isaiah McKenzie has unquestionably been the team’s best receiver through the first two weeks. He has 8 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns. A dynamic player, McKenzie has been utilized in various ways and provides Georgia with a unique weapon.
— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) September 10, 2016
Outside of McKenzie, Michael Chigbu and Terry Godwin have been Georgia’s primary receiving options. Godwin showed last year he is capable of having big games, but he’s yet to make an impact this season. Chigbu had several notable drops against Nicholls State and will need to show that isn’t a problem that will continue.
Rushing offense: B
There is no aspect that demonstrates Georgia’s Jekyll and Hyde act over the first two weeks more than the team’s run game.
When everything is clicking, the Bulldogs may have the best rushing attack in the SEC. The team was far from perfect against North Carolina, yet still managed to gain 289 yards on the ground against a defense that was determined to stop the run. Nick Chubb led the way in his return, gaining 222 yards and two scores on 32 carries.
Against Nicholls State, Georgia couldn’t do anything on the ground. The Bulldogs’ offensive line was manhandled and failed to open running room. For the first time in a full game as the starter, Chubb failed to gain 100 yards. He ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries but fought through several defenders on most of his carries. As a team, Georgia gained 167 yards against the FCS opponent.
We’ve yet to see much from Sony Michel, or anything from Elijah Holyfield, but Brian Herrien has been a pleasant surprise. As Chubb’s primary replacement, the freshman has 15 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Georgia’s running backs are more than capable of winning a game, but the offensive line must give them room to operate moving forward.
Pass defense: A-
The secondary had a strong performance in Week 1 against a strong North Carolina passing game. They followed up that game with another strong showing in the home opener.
Georgia limited a potent Tar Heels attack to 156 yards in its win and looked comfortable against veteran receivers. While the Bulldogs registered only one sack, there was decent pressure on North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky for most of the night, which prevented him from getting comfortable.
For the first half against Nicholls State, it appeared as though the secondary could do no wrong. Juwuan Briscoe and Dominick Sanders each had an interception, and the Bulldogs limited their opposition to only 14 yards passing. The second half was a different story, however, as Nicholls State threw for two touchdowns, and Georgia made a few mistakes that could have been costly.
Here's the one handed snag by DB Dominick Sanders. Barely stepped out. pic.twitter.com/uzog1fU0dy
— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) September 10, 2016
This was expected to be a strength for Georgia this season and has looked as good so far.
Run defense: B-
Georgia has not been dominant against the run, but it hasn’t been as big of a problem as would be expected after replacing six starters from last year’s front seven.
The Bulldogs allowed 159 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against North Carolina, but Tar Heels fans believe the game would have turned out differently had their team run the ball more often. They aren’t necessarily wrong, as Georgia allowed several long gains to Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan.
Against Nicholls State, it was a reverse performance from the Bulldogs’ pass defense. Georgia looked lackluster against the run in the first half but tightened after halftime. The Colonels gained 125 yards with one touchdown, but the Bulldogs did a much better job limiting the long runs.
One source of optimism is the emergence of sophomore defensive tackle Trent Thompson. The former No. 1 recruit looked dominant against Nicholls State, racking up 11 tackles and a sack while knifing through to the opposition’s backfield.
Special teams: D+
Easily the biggest problem area for Georgia through the first two weeks, special teams continues to be a work in progress.
The Bulldogs surrendered a big touchdown on a kickoff return to start the second half and failed to muster anything of their own in the return game. William Ham and Rodrigo Blankenship struggled in their debuts. Ham missed his first field goal attempt and had a few shaky extra points, while Blankenship couldn’t regularly kick the ball deep into the end zone on kickoffs.
Things improved slightly against Nicholls State, but there were still notable errors. Ham converted two of his three field goal attempts and the one he missed was a 52-yard kick, which is acceptable from a player in only his second game. McKenzie gave the team a much-needed jolt with a 55-yard punt return early in the second half but then muffed a punt deep in Georgia territory late in the game.
Kirby Smart is working hard to get this aspect of the game corrected for Georgia, but it could take some time before everything is running smoothly.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.