There's a lot of things that can be taken from this game, both good and bad, but here's the thing that made me the most happy about last night...........For the first time in a LONG, LONG time, UGA appeared to clearly be the better conditioned team in the 4th quarter. The defense was on the field for 91 plays last night, plus the special teams plays that have a lot of the defenders on them, plus the game just seemed to last FOREVER, yet our defense just kept stepping up and making plays. At no point did I ever get the sense that we were starting to wear down, and that is a refreshing change. The new guys that Joe T. and Richt brought onto the staff this year are clearly paying dividends.
Now onto the rest of my observations, as much as I can remember through my Malbec-induced headache this morning.
- We found out that no matter how highly rated they are, true freshmen are still going to play like true freshmen sometimes. I lost count of the total number of false starts between Theus, Gurley, and I think Marshall may have even had one. Gurley dropped a perfectly good toss on his first touch of the game. And Theus got abused in pass protection most of the night.
- Speaking of Theus' pass protection, I hope that was due to some combination of the bad ankle and/or the false starts causing him to be a little gun shy off the snap. I kept having flashbacks of Justin Anderson out there last night, and I wasn't expecting that. But I'm going to chalk this one up to a kid playing his first SEC game, his first SEC road game, and doing it on a bum ankle. I look to see pretty significant improvement from him as the season wears on.
- Every year we've heard how great Marlon Brown has looked during the preseason, only to have him disappear once the season started. And I gotta admit, when he had to sit out last week with a bad hammy, my first thought was "Here we go again". But that was a big time performance by Brown last night. Michael Bennett had an uncharacteristic off night, with multiple drops, but Brown stepped up and snagged everything that came to him. Bennett has proven his abilities, I have no doubt that last night was just an aberration, and I am excited to see our offense develop over the season with those two as reliable possession receivers, and King and Wooten (and possibly Mitchell) providing the home run threats.
- Murray finally settled down last night and did some good things once he got dialed in. My Dad (Ugavet76) texted me early on that it seemed like Murray didn't trust his pass protection, and it definitely seemed like Murray was rushing things. We saw the same thing as the Buffalo game where early on, he was just high or long on everything down the field. To be fair though, I'm not sure I would have trusted the pass protection either because the OL just wasn't very good early in the game. As the OL settled down though, Murray did too, and he ended up with a solid game.
- Jarvis Jones is one bad dude. His impact cannot be overstated. He's one of those guys who makes plays that he doesn't even get credit for ---- for example, that fumble that was a result of a missed handoff between Franklin and the RB in the first half. The RB was more worried about blocking Jones, Franklin seemed to hesitate on whether to handoff or keep it, and the next thing you know the ball is on the ground. That goes down as a missed handoff rather than a forced fumble, but Jarvis totally made that happen. That's what the great players do.....of course they make the sacks, tackles, etc, but they also force the opponent to make mental mistakes that don't necessarily show up on the stats. I'll never understand what Southern Cal was thinking when they let Jarvis walk.
- It will still be nice to get Ogletree back whenever he's off suspension, but I love watching Armalo Herrera play. His pursuit to the ball at his size is a thing of beauty.
- He's still a big dropoff from Rambo, but Connor Norman came up and made a couple of nice tackles last night and never appeared to be a liability in coverage. His lack of range was evident on the play where Bowman got burned deep, but that was the only play that stood out to me with him in a negative way. I was very worried about Mizzou finding a way to pick on him, but he played a solid game, and the pressure from our front 4 didn't give the Tigers a lot of opportunities to throw deep against our safeties. I'm guessing that we'll see Sanders Commings lining up at the free safety spot now until Rambo is back, but Norman showed that he can fill in when needed.
- Overall I thought both coordinators did a good job. I thought we'd see a little more blitzing from Grantham, but we were getting pressure all night from just a 4 man rush, so blitzing wasn't necessary. Grantham seemed to have them figured out pretty early on. I texted the other guys just before halftime that if our offense would get their heads on straight at halftime, we'd win the game by 17 points, because it was clear to me that our defense could hold them in check. Of course, when our offense came out still playing awful early in the 2nd half and the defense gave up that big pass play, I was getting close to throwing in the towel, but from that point forward it was what I thought we were going to see coming out of halftime. I thought Bobo called a good game. Take away some of those uncharacteristic drops by our WR's, and the offense would have been on track a lot earlier in the game. But Bobo was eventually able to get Murray into a rhythm and the offense converted on most of the opportunities given to them by the defense.
- Oh yeah, and to the outside observer, that call by Pinkel for the fake punt was an awful call, especially with such a long distance to gain for the first down. But as we all know with our history of stopping fake punts, that was a reasonable call to make. And if the blocker had gotten a better block on Samuel, it might have worked. But that's why I'm glad to see the staff getting the more experienced players out there on special teams now. Samuel read it, and there was no way he was going to be blocked. He made the play whereas a walk-on in that same spot might have been blocked out of position. Great job by Samuel, and great job by the coaching staff to have the right personnel out there.
In the end, it was a 3 touchdown victory in a game where many of the experts were picking us to lose. In its present incarnation, this is still not an elite team, but it is a good team that still has a high ceiling of room for improvement, based on potential. Whether they can move forward and fulfill that potential is still a huge question mark in my mind, however. I really want to see what this team can do once everyone is both eligible and healthy, but we'll see if that point ever comes. But for now, I'm looking forward to a fun tailgate and hopefully an easy game against FAU before we hit the real grind of the SEC schedule.