Georgia vs. Kentucky: Game Grades, Analysis for Bulldogs

Associated Press

It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough. Georgia was better than Kentucky Saturday to the tune of a 27-24 win. Georgia has now won seven straight against the Wildcats, and in games following the Florida contest over the past 10 seasons, the Bulldogs are undefeated.

Nevertheless, the usual problems plagued the team. But as they say, a win is a win. Let’s make like a disco song and break down Georgia’s performance.

Begin Slideshow »

Pass Offense: B-

Associated Press

Jacob Eason passed for 245 yards, but his performance was unremarkable. He threw a nice 51-yard pass to Javon Wims, who had a bit of a coming-out party. But there was also a poorly thrown ball to Riley Ridley that would have been a first down and instead caused the Bulldogs to settle for a field goal.

Eason isn’t the main story this game as he might have been in others. Where he shined most was in Georgia’s last drive, a balanced four-run, four-pass affair where he guided the team down the field to set up a game-winning field goal. He was a modicum of poise and acted like he had been there before, mostly because he has.

On a big-picture level, this has to be encouraging for the team’s long-term future. Eason spread the ball well, finding seven different receivers throughout the game.

And then there was the junior Wims, who for the night played the part of reliable receiver and even served as a deep threat. Wims racked up 90 yards receiving on five catches for an 18-yard average.

Isaac Nauta continues to have a nice season, notching 47 yards receiving and a key two-point conversion to put the Bulldogs up 24-21 in the fourth. Without those two points, we could well be lamenting another loss—the attitude and pressure surrounding that final drive changes being down instead of tied.

There again was a case of the drops: Ridley had multiple drops. This problem becomes magnified the more it happens, and Georgia is not doing anything to dispel it. The receiving corps as a whole played better than it has in recent weeks, but drops remain a problem. Something tells me there will be some extra work at the jugs machine this week.

The offensive line allowed a total of zero sacks on Eason and should be commended in that area, even if the unit delivered another inconsistent performance overall.

Grade: B-

Run Offense: B

Associated Press

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney called plays from up in the booth for the first time this season. Maybe this was the vantage point he needed to see Nick Chubb and Sony Michel on the sideline.

Chubb and Michel were fed the ball early and often, as they should have been. The two are and have been the bread and butter of this offense. Chubb got 21 carries and racked up 85 yards total. There were a few times where he tried to do too much, often when the play broke down due to poor blocking. Chubb had trouble with ball security, which is uncharacteristic for him. He coughed the ball up twice—both times on plays where it seemed he was trying to make something happen that wasn’t there.

Chubb doesn’t get a lot of criticism, but this was not his best showing, even if to an extent he looked back to his nimble-footed self. Georgia was lucky to limit the damage caused by both fumbles. It can only hope that fumbles from him are a one-game thing and don’t turn into something more.

Michel cracked the 100-yard mark for the second time this season—the other came against South Carolina—running the ball 19 times for 127 yards for a 6.7 yards-per-carry average.

Michel and Chubb functioned the way that they are supposed to. Georgia did a good job of mixing it up and giving them around the same volume of carries. Michel is a change of pace from Chubb, and vice versa. And pardon the cliche, but when you run the ball, it opens things up for the passing game. The previous two plays Georgia ran prior to the deep pass to Wims were runs.

But those two runs went for a loss, which is indicative of the problem that has plagued Georgia all season in offensive line play. The line got a good push in my estimate about 60 to 65 percent of the time, which is a decent average, but you’d like that number to be higher.

There were number of runs where Georgia’s backs were stuffed in the backfield. Georgia rushed for 215 yards, and that is reflective on the offensive line. I’m nitpicking here, but Georgia could have gained a lot more yards than that. I’d argue that those yards were more on the back of Georgia’s runners than the offensive line. That’s not to say the unit doesn’t deserve credit or played poorly, but there’s room for improvement.

Grade: B

Pass Defense: B+

Associated Press

I don’t want to put an asterisk necessarily on Deandre Baker’s interception, but he got burned like neglected toast when Kentucky receiver Jeff Badet bobbled the ball right into his hands on a play in the third quarter. Baker was beaten on the play, so we take that with a grain of salt.

With that said, Georgia’s secondary played fairly well. Kentucky isn’t really a passing team, and that shows on the stat sheet: It notched just 122 total yards passing, and its leading receiver had just 42 yards. The Wildcats passed the ball just 21 times, so Georgia’s secondary didn’t face much pressure. But it made the plays when it needed to, including knocking down a fade intended for receiver Dorian Baker in the fourth to force a field goal.

Mo Smith also made a great play in the third to strip the ball away from Kentucky’s Garrett Johnson after a completed catch. Smith continues to have a nice year in his first stint as a Bulldog.

The defense held Kentucky to just three third-down conversions on 13 attempts as well. Georgia’s secondary didn’t do too much of note, but sometimes that’s a good thing.

Grade: B+

Run Defense: C-

David Stephenson/Associated Press

Georgia was doing so well! There was so much positivity, and multiple units helped contribute to this much-needed win to stay in bowl contention.

But the run defense was not one of these units. Kentucky ran the Wildcat formation (although if you think about it, every play they run is in a Wildcat formation, but I digress), and it gave Georgia fits.

Late in the fourth quarter, Georgia lived its own football Groundhog Day. Freshman Benny Snell, who had a great game going over the 100-yard mark, got the ball nine straight times, with many of those coming in the Wildcat with him under center. Snell single-handedly took the ball from the Georgia 47-yard line to the Georgia 7-yard line. The defense had no answer for what was virtually the same play over and over again.

Georgia’s defensive line did not have a great game. To avoid sounding like a broken record, I won’t get too far into why (no push and trouble taking down physical backs are some of the greatest hits). Stanley “Boom” Williams and Snell are two of the better backs in the East, if not the conference, and they tore Georgia up on the ground. Sixty percent of Kentucky’s 308 total yards came on the run; Williams rushed 14 times for 77 yards, and Snell rushed 21 times for 114 yards.

Of the three times Kentucky managed to convert on third down, two of those came on the ground to extend drives. The defense also gave up two runs of 25-plus yards, with Snell and Williams each getting one.

Trenton Thompson left the game due to injury on top of this, and according to the AJC’s DawgNation, he has a hip injury but should be fine.

In all, this is and remains an area of concern for Georgia, as myriad missed tackles and trouble wrapping up runners were glaring throughout the night.

Grade: C-

Special Teams: C+

Associated Press

I saw on Twitter that people have taken to referring to wily Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship as RodriGOAT, and I am fully behind this.

I’d also like to offer some more Blankenship wordplay: Rodrigotomatic, Wake Me Up Before Rodrigo-goes, Field (Rodri) Goals and finally a good business idea for his own line of rec specs should he go pro—RodriGoggles.

Rodrigo, have your people call my people in a few years. We’ll go on Shark Tank and make millions.

Jokes aside, give it up for Georgia’s redshirt freshman kicker. What was once the subject of ire is now one of the team’s biggest strengths, and Blankenship’s leg is a big part of that. There was a time this season when the team did the football equivalent of running around your backhand and going for it on fourth down because the result of a potential field-goal try was all but a foregone conclusion.

But there was Blankenship, quickly becoming a fan favorite, winning the game for the Bulldogs off a 25-yard field goal and doing postgame interviews on the field with his helmet still on.

A short time ago, Georgia fans would have greeted a last-second field-goal attempt with bated breath and the looking-through-their-fingers usually reserved for horror movies. Blankenship, who was 4-of-4 on the night with a long of 49 yards, nailed it and gave the team a huge win.

Marshall Long was also much better this week than last and likely put any murmurs of a further punting competition to bed. Sorry, Brice Ramsey.

Long had ample opportunity to prove himself—the Bulldogs punted five times—and he was able to pin two of those inside the 20 after neither Georgia punter did so last week. Long averaged 41.2 yards, with a long of 50 between those five punts, a serviceable number.

And that’s about where the positive things in special teams end. Special teams coordinator Shane Beamer must have a high tolerance for stress. I’m not sure how his head isn’t constantly as red as a tomato, because Isaiah McKenzie fielded and fumbled a punt in what was the umpteenth poor decision made by a Georgia player on kick or punt returns.

It was exactly the type of mistake Georgia had hoped to avoid. The miscue led to a short field and an eventual Kentucky touchdown.

I don’t know what can be said or done differently. McKenzie can be such a frustrating player. For every big play he makes, something like this happens. He had a nice pass reception on a play where his effort and route running were key to him reaching the end zone. But the fumble nullified that. McKenzie is an electric player, but the problem with electricity is that for all that it supplies you with, sometimes it can shock and hurt you.

The season is past the halfway mark, and Georgia is coming to be known for its special teams mistakes. Ideally, special teams ebbs and flows without raising an eye. That is not the case here, and a positive change this late in the season doesn’t seem likely. Blankenship and Long were good or great, but the unit overall couldn’t deliver.

Grade: C+

Coaching: B

David Stephenson/Associated Press

Georgia’s play-calling was much better Saturday. It was much more balanced when you look at the yardage: 245 yards passing, 215 yards rushing. Chubb and Michel should be getting around 20 or more carries every game, which isn’t a novel concept. Jim Chaney’s move up to the booth had to have some impact and was done for a reason.

It paid off.

Head coach Kirby Smart did a good job of making sure his team didn’t come out with the wrong attitude. Georgia could have gone into Lexington against a Kentucky team with everything to play for and lied down because of its disappointment with its season. That didn’t happen, and as a result, the Bulldogs are still in the hunt to qualify for a bowl, needing one more win. 

Georgia needs to look at the tape and figure out what went wrong on run defense, however, especially with Auburn up next with the looks it can give on offense while spreading out the ball.

But this was a must-win game morale-wise. Winning in the SEC on the road regardless of opponent isn’t a cakewalk, and beforehand you had to wonder whether Georgia would show up, given its play the last few games. It did, so give the coaching staff credit.

Grade: B

Conclusion

John Raoux/Associated Press

Saturday was a learning experience for Georgia. It learned it has a legitimate weapon in Rodrigo Blankenship, who is now 9-of-10 on field goals on the season. It rediscovered its running game. It may have found a receiver in Wims who can consistently catch the ball and run smart routes throughout the game.

With that said, reality does still need to be considered. Georgia is not a great football team. The Georgia teams we’re used to don’t usually need a last-second field goal to beat Kentucky, and they aren’t usually 5-4 heading into Auburn, where it will likely be the underdog. There just isn’t a lot of fluidity to the way this team plays. The Bulldogs don’t do a lot of things that jump out at you.

The SEC East is poor across the board this year, and there’s a universe where a more cohesive Georgia team reaches Atlanta. But the Bulldogs are mistake-prone. At this point, the special teams units are going to make an error or two, and defending the run is going to be a problem. The team’s weaknesses are what they are, and we have a big enough sample size to see that this won’t change.

That’s the big picture. For now, Georgia can celebrate a win—its first since early October—and focus on getting one more to become bowl-eligible. It’s a minor victory, but right now, the team will take what it can get.