Saturday was not kind to the University of Georgia — the season as a whole hasn’t been too kind, either.
Not only did the No. 19 Bulldogs lose a game in which they were up by at least 21 points, but they also lost their star running back Nick Chubb to a gruesome knee injury on their first play on offense.
Tennessee’s comeback in that game was obviously noteworthy and something we’ll discuss in a following article, but here I want to dive into what happened with UGA in Knoxville, and what a season without Chubb may look like going forward.
UGA had their fair of offensive struggles again, but it wasn’t as glaring as last week versus Alabama. One element of Georgia’s offensive woes seems to be when offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer calls rhythm plays as opposed to letting Greyson Lambert make his own reads.
Lambert’s Lack of Freedom
Georgia’s third down conversion rate is bad, and by bad, I mean it’s ranked 126th in the nation at 29 percent. When Georgia passes the ball on third down, most of their struggle come from scripted plays that have Lambert drop and throw in under three seconds, like this:
It’s plays that require quick throws to one receiver that give Lambert accuracy problems on third down. In the play above, we see Lambert lock in on one player. You can tell he just looks uncomfortable. He even hesitates to throw the ball. You would think simple reads would be easier to complete, but they actually seem to give him more anxiety.
Here’s another look.
This is a tough throw for any quarterback to make when the defense knows there’s only four yards to gain. Lambert makes a poor read believing the defense is in man coverage when, in reality, they were baiting him with zone. Even more important than the misread coverage is that Lambert doesn’t even glance at the tight end finding the soft spot right in front of him. One-read, quick throw plays on third down are a place Lambert really struggles. There’s no deception in the routes, and you can see Lambert will force a throw because the timing calls for it rather than be given the freedom to think. Extra time in the pocket isn’t a guarantee he’ll make a good decision — UGA fans know that — but they seem to be more effective.
Here’s a call that went well.
On this play action, Lambert has layers to his reads because the play has more options. He looks much more comfortable when delivering the ball after he’s the one who gets to choose where it goes. I’m not saying Lambert’s decision making is perfect by any means, but Schottenheimer needs to realize a choke hold on Lambert isn’t making the offense any simpler. UGA has much better success on third down when they call plays with simple reads. Not giving Lambert reads at all is what’s causing the panic.
Utilizing Reggie Davis
One aspect of Schottenheimer’s play calling I really liked as the game went on was how he used wide receiver Reggie Davis. We saw Davis’ great speed on the punt return for touchdown, but straight line speed isn’t everything; coaches have to find ways to get those guys the space to use it.
Tennessee plays a very aggressive style of defense with their corners lining up in press man coverage for the majority of the game. It’s a confident style of defense which works well when their pass rush can fluster a pocket. A poor pocket leads to either quick throws or poor throws, both of which can be well defended out of the press. A good counter for that, however, is a burner receiver, and after Reggie Davis was able to get behind the defense once early in the game, he became a focal point for breaking the Vols man coverage.
In the play above, Tennessee’s corner isn’t even in press coverage; he’s playing off to respect Davis’ speed. But even that failed as a perfect throw was delivered to Davis who still found yard of separation. If he and Lambert can get on the same page with those deep passes, the playbook can really open up.
Davis’ ability to open up the defense can be a great tool in getting fellow receiver Malcolm Mitchell easier match ups in the future. The concern with Davis is his hands (I’m sorry you have to see this again, UGA fans.)
This throw was against press coverage. Davis breaks the press at the line and out runs his man down the field to a beautiful strike from Lambert. But as we saw him bobble the punt return earlier, he does the same here.
That’s a heartbreaking play, but if bulldogs fans can get by that, they have a top burner in Davis who is a great counter to teams playing aggressive against them.
Sony Michel Show
Losing a player like Nick Chubb is tough to watch and tough to go through for any team, but if there’s any team in the country who can take a loss like that at the running back position, it’s Georgia. Sony Michel was known as a change-of-pace back before this week, but after his 22-carry, 145-yard performance, I’m calling him a workhorse.
What impressed me the most about Michel was his patience as a runner, something that’s very hard to teach.
The Vine above is his first big run, and it as only the beginning. On this run, notice the quick feet and the ability to go from lateral movement (left-right) to straight line speed in fluid motion. There’s no gathering of his feet or extra steps needed to balance himself; it’s read, process, move, and go in less than a second.
Next comes his ability to make something out of nothing. Michel is stopped for no gain on this play. If he continued forward to the right, the gain would’ve been minimal. Instead, he quickly finds the open gap, shoots the hole and then proceeds to carry a defender an extra three yards before being brought down. The best running backs aren’t always the ones who take a few carries to the house every now and then. The best ones are the ones that can turn a 2-yard gain into a 7-yard gain, along with that home run ability. Michel showed the first aspect here, and he showed the big ability next.
I had to fan myself after watching this run. Not one, not two, but three quick-cuts took this play from a tackle for loss to a 66-yard gain. Nick Chubb is a fantastic running back, but he doesn’t have feet like that. Patience, determination and quick feet make for a special running back. Michel could be very special for the bulldogs in Chubb’s absence.