Coming into this game, I felt that we would either see Carolina blowout Georgia or Georgia win a close, under the assumption that we were the much better team but that if Georgia came out fired up, the Dawgs would play a gritty game and win a nailbiter. Obviously, I was wrong: Carolina won the nailbiter, and quite frankly I came away feeling like we escaped with a win despite being outplayed by the other team. Georgia's offense manhandled our defense for much of the game, and other than on a couple of key drives, our own offense--largely due to Stephen Garcia struggling--was unable to move the ball. However, the Gamecocks got 21 points off turnovers, another 7 off a fake punt, and benefited from some other swing plays, too, particularly Georgia's just-offsides onside kick. This game reminded me of a lot of the games of the past where Carolina outplayed the Dawgs, only to lose due to mind-boggling turnovers and failed execution at important moments. The difference, though, is that this time we won.
All of that may make you feel like this victory is a bit hollow, and certainly the team has a lot to work on in the coming weeks if it's going to rise to its potential and make a return trip to Atlanta. However, it's worth noting that every great team has to win a couple of games like this, where it doesn't play as well as it might have but still manages to make the big plays it needs to win the game. Auburn had several wins like this last year, and it won a national title. We should be happy that we went into Sanford Stadium and won--not a common feat in our history, mind you--and hope the team is going to make the proper adjustments before next week's game against Navy and particularly the next week's showdown with Auburn. And don't forget that if we enjoyed a bit of luck yesterday afternoon, we made our luck, too--and it sure is a lot easier to make your luck when you've got guys Jadeveon Clowney and Lattimore on your side.
A few more thoughts:
--After all the heat they took over the past week, you have to admit that Mark Richt and his staff made some nice adjustments for this one and, perhaps just as importantly, came out swinging and wanting to do whatever it took to win the game. At the end of the day, their best-laid plans were stifled by failed execution, but I feel the UGA coaching staff has bought itself a little respect from its fans. It's worth noting that what were likely the Dawgs two toughest games on the season are now over. The Dawgs are 0-2, but they've now got a very manageable path to 8-10 wins--and they're far from out of the SEC East race, considering that we have the tougher schedule. It wouldn't shock me to see them go on a run at this point. The first order for them is to put the rock in Isaiah Crowell's hands more often. That guy looks like he's going to be a good one for them.
--I would pin most of our offensive woes on Garcia, who looked completely our of synch in the first half and failed to get the ball to open receivers. However, the good news is that Garcia only threw one INT (I'm not counting the one on the hail mary to end the half), and he did bounce back and make some nice throws in the second half. There was a slant he delivered to Alshon Jeffery towards the end that was a thing of beauty. His stats were also hurt by continued drops by receivers not named Jeffery, although you have to like that we managed to get Ace Sanders a bit more involved in this game.
--I liked our coaching staff's choice to give Garcia the chance to make some plays at the beginning of the game, as Georgia was clearly geared up to stop the run. I think, though, that they should gone to Lattimore a bit more often--or maybe tried Bruce Ellington a bit more--once it became apparent that Garcia was struggling. I also would have liked to have seen us try a bit more plays in the midfield passing game.
--Speaking of Lattimore, the guy had a Heisman-like performance with nearly 180 yards and a magnificent fourth-quarter drive where he put the team on his shoulders for the go-ahead score. With Georgia plugging the middle, we exploited the edge more than we usually do, and Lattimore proved he can make his yards there, too.
--I was again impressed by our offensive line play. They opened some great holes on the edge for Lattimore, and they didn't allow Garcia to get too banged up. Hats off to Coach Elliott for the turnaround he's effected with this group.
Continue reading after the jump.
--I've been criticizing the offense, but obviously the big concern here is the defense. First of all, our rushing defense seems to have regressed. Granted, Crowell looks to be the real deal. However, last year we were able to shut down great backs, as in the Alabama game. This game has me worried that the departure of Ladi Ajiboye has hurt our team's rushing defense, which is a concern with Navy and Auburn coming up. The good news about our defensive line is that the pass rush is solid. We didn't get as many sacks as I was hoping for, but we got some, and they were big ones. Moreover, we delivered quite a few hits on Aaron Murray, who is one tough QB, by the way.
--I thought Stephon Gilmore played much better than last week, and Antonio Allen had another great game, but other than that our secondary struggled quite a bit. The tackling by the safeties is very suspect, which surprises me considering that tackling was supposed to be D.J. Swearinger's strong point. After playing well last week, C.C. Whitlock struggled in this game, getting picked on quite a bit by Murray. Luckily, Akeem Auguste should be 100% soon, and we get Victor Hampton back after the Navy game. That should help.
--Did anyone catch how Georgia's players seemed to be dropping like flies with cramps and other minor ailments towards the end of the game? Makes me glad that Coach Fitzgerald is our strength-and-conditioning coach.
--Lastly, hats off to our special teams, which played great. Obviously, we gave up a couple of long returns to Brandon Boykin, but he does that to everyone, and we never let him break loose for a really long one. The fake punt was a thing of beauty--I didn't think it was possible for a 275-pound man to run that fast. Our punting team was very solid. And how about Jay Wooten? Knocking down a long FG late in a game at Sanford with the game tied takes some guts. Very impressive.
That's a wrap on this one. On to Navy--with a Top-10 ranking possibly in tow. It will be good to see the team back on the field at Williams-Brice.