As I left Sanford Stadium on Sunday, my recollection of the events that I had just witnessed was that we played very poorly but made enough big plays to come away with a win, which fit with the narrative that was being advanced by Coach Spurrier, the media, and most fans. I was eager to get home and watch the game on television because I suspected that my perception of the first half of the game had been significantly altered by my decision to consume Kraken at the pregame tailgate in quantities that had me vomiting for reasons other than C.C. Whitlock’s pass coverage.
And, indeed, my Kraken-induced haze prevented me from appreciating how solid our defense was through the first three quarters of the game.* It was not until Georgia’s 22-point fourth quarter that the wheels totally came off of South Carolina’s pass coverage, causing Lorenzo Ward’s secondary to veer sharply into the oncoming traffic that was Aaron Murray’s short passing game. In fact, 43% percent of Georgia’s offensive yards came on the final three drives of the game. Through the first 44 minutes of the game, the Gamecock defense had yielded a relatively stingy 5.08 yards per play to the Georgia offense. From that point on, however, they surrendered a whopping 10.8 yards per play (187 yards total) and three touchdowns.
Quite simply, the Georgia coaching staff made some great adjustments and the Carolina coaching staff did not respond in kind. That’s right, Georgia fans. Your coaching staff put your team in great position to win this ball game.
After Aaron Murray spent three quarters getting hurried and forced out of the pocket, Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo started calling a boatload of quick wide receiver screens, slants, and drag routes (at least, that's what they seemed to be called on NCAA 2012), effectively neutralizing the Gamecocks’ potent pass rush and taking full advantage of the fact that the Carolina defensive backs continued to play 10 yards off of the line of scrimmage even after it had become quite obvious what Georgia was trying to do.
After the game, Ellis Johnson seemed to be aware that this was going on: "When you think about Georgia, you don’t think about (the spread). But they got into shotgun and were releasing five receivers real quick and throwing it three-step. You’re not going to get there on the pass rush unless (the quarterback) pulls it down and can’t get it in there."
For whatever reason, Johnson didn’t counter Bobo’s gambit last Saturday. That Georgia doesn’t traditionally run a spread offense isn’t much of an excuse for not reacting appropriately when they do start running it in the course of a game. While I guess it feels nice to have my amateur assessment of what went wrong validated by the Assistant Head Coach for Defense, I would much rather have seen him switch into a different defensive look after Georgia started exploiting what we were giving them so that the need for this conversation could have been avoided entirely.
Instead, Johnson seemed to put a lot of the blame on players using poor technique and not being aggressive enough, but I imagine it’s quite difficult to play aggressively or use good technique when you’re starting the play 10 yards away from the receiver you’re covering and the ball is being thrown to him within a matter of seconds. (Yeah, C.C. Whitlock looked terrible on the Tavares King touchdown, but that was just one play in three god-awful defensive series.)
Basically, Georgia installed East Carolina’s offense in the fourth quarter but had the benefit of running it with SEC players. I imagine that many of the non-Navy teams we play from here on out will employ a similar strategy to counter our elite pass rush, so Ellis Johnson and Lorenzo Ward need to get to work on coming up with a way to attack that kind of offensive gameplan.
I don’t know enough about defensive schemes to offer a solution more constructive than JESUS CHRIST, STOP DOING THAT, but the problem certainly seems clear enough.
Let’s just hope Johnson comes up with a solution by October 1st.
*The Kraken did not, however, prevent me from deciding that it was a good idea to walk around the tailgate with a ladderball in my mouth, I learned from Facebook photos the next day.