If you believe in college football curses, you probably believe UGA is cursed. The Bulldogs seem to be lumped in with Tennessee as the teams that will somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at least once every year.
Now, looking back on Saturday’s crushing 38-10 loss to of the Crimson Tide, you wouldn’t say this was a blown opportunity considering the talent on the field. But come on. In a top-15 showdown, hosting Alabama in Athens for the first time since the team embarrassed them back in 2008, and being favored in the polls and in Las Vegas, the Bulldogs came up short. A win versus Alabama surely would’ve put them on the right track for an SEC East title and even a spot in the College Football Playoff. The players knew that and you better believe the coaches knew that, too.
As much as I’m sure UGA fans wish there was something to blame such a blowout on, it was as simple as this: Alabama was better. The Crimson Tide’s defenders played like they just got their butts handed to them at home (which they did against Ole Miss). They were angry, they were focused, and they were determined to make UGA their next victim.
But even with that truth, there was blame to be had, and though quarterback Greyson Lambert wasn’t the only one culpable, his shaky confidence proved to be fatal.
Lambert’s fear of failure
When you’re at home versus a team like Alabama, the hype surrounding the game can play a huge role. UGA started the game off with a great play-action deep pass that was just off the mark, but after that, there’s wasn’t much to write about in terms of big-play execution.
The next three drives were three-and-outs, and though Alabama hadn’t put any points on the board, I count that as a loss for the Bulldogs. They were the ones at home and they were on offense first. It should have been a part of their game plan to attack the first down marker and the scoreboard more than they did.
Here are a few examples of where Lambert may not have “failed”, but he certainly didn’t make the necessary plays.
This drive started following an Alabama turnover. It gave UGA good field position, and was the perfect opportunity to swing and multiply momentum in its favor by putting points on the board. They ran the ball on first down for a minimal gain, which was OK. On second down, Lambert just missed his tight end in the flats for an incompletion, and even that was fine; it’s football, it happens. The problem was the play above. Third-and-8 and Lambert throws it to a player who has no chance of moving the sticks.
A punt there was a huge loss of both opportunity and momentum.
This next play came right before Alabama blocked UGA’s punt to take a 17-3 lead. It’s third-and-14, and instead of Lambert stepping up in the pocket (which is required to convert on any first down more than 10 yards) he just kept backing up further and further, finally throwing it to the fully covered running back. If you look down the field, he had an option opening up in the middle of the field to convert, but Lambert didn’t trust the time his offensive line was giving him. Either that, or he didn’t trust himself to make the throw.
Finally, we have third-and-8 on a drive in which UGA needed something, anything. In this situation, Alabama was already up two scores and receiving the ball after the half. UGA had to do something to boost its 3.6 yards per play average to that point, and also ensure the Tide didn’t end the half with the ball and start the next one with it, too.
The Bulldogs started near their own goal line, which wasn’t ideal, but conservative play calling on the first two downs forced Lambert to be the one to make a clutch play; he didn’t. He again optioned for the check down throw, and even if it wasn’t batted down, it would’ve been well-defended.
UGA was forced to punt, resulting in Alabama extending its lead one play later on a bomb to wide receiver Calvin Ridley. The game was basically over at that point against a defense playing that well.
But, you can’t blame it all on one side of the ball, even if the offense struggled to keep the defense off the field. UGA had its defensive woes, too.
Lack of Defensive Discipline
UGA started the game off aggressively. The team bet the Tide wouldn’t do anything too drastic early on following a five-turnover game against Ole Miss two weeks ago, and that was proven right. UGA defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was able to stack the box and stop ‘Bama from establishing the run and played tight, press coverage to buy blitzing players more time.
It worked — for a while, at least.
Where it began to fail was when Alabama started to use play-action. Because UGA knew the Tide was such a run-first team, it had to respect anything that could’ve been a handoff. Once that happened, the linebackers were caught frozen in their zones. Here’s the first successful play-action against them.
If the four-man rush could’ve made it to Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker in time, this might have netted a different result. Coker was too poised against the rush to let the play die, and he instead extends his movement outside the pocket, buying time for the wide receiver to find the soft spot in the zone coverage. That one hurt, but not too bad.
The knockout punch was here.
This play was on first down, and right before this snap, Gary Danielson said the words, “Georgia has to hold them here.”
That did not happen.
UGA had six players in coverage for only two Alabama receivers going down the field, and somehow both of the receivers were open.
You have to think either the safety or slot corner blew their assignment as both of them ran toward the line of scrimmage. With one less deep player, both the far corner and the lone free safety tried to keep up with Ridley, but failed. And even if they did, the crossing route would’ve been good for a red zone visit.
But that defensive confusion wasn’t an outlier. I noticed UGA used its safeties to cover running backs out of the backfield during the early parts of the game. I’m not sure if Pruitt used that strategy to help contain running plays at the line of scrimmage, but it really hurt them once Coker realized the safeties were moving towards the line on most play action plays. It’s a strategy that really hung the cornerbacks out to dry on plays down the field, but maybe they didn’t expect Coker to test them in the ways that he did.
UGA had its chances to take control of the game early on, but Lambert, for whatever reason, didn’t do that. When you combine that with how poorly the UGA defense was against play action, the Bulldogs never stood a chance. There were too many matchups in Alabama’s favor. UGA’s offense had to attack early and play with confidence to win and did neither.