Football is a game of adjustments, and in the matchup of Tennessee’s offense versus Georgia’s defense in last Saturday’s win, the Vols adjusted as the game went on; the Bulldogs did not. Game plans have to go deeper than a single stop. They have to not only be able to contain what you’ve seen a team pull off in previous weeks, but also be flexible and creative enough to stay one step ahead.
There’s a story behind Georgia blowing a 21-point lead on Saturday, and that tale is more complex than just admitting Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs was unstoppable — because that wouldn’t be true. Dobbs was stoppable, or at least containable, at one point. But as the chess match between Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt went on, you could tell who was playing for the next move and who was playing for five moves in the future.
UGA’s defense came out strong to start this game much like they came out strong against Alabama. Their players were excited and focused, and their mistakes were minimal.
Knowing Tennessee was a run-first offense, Pruitt set his defense up with an extra man in the box whether it was a nickel corner playing near the linebackers or a strong safety walking up towards the line. But every team does that against Tennessee. What made the Bulldogs’ defensive hold so effective early on was how they shut down everything to the sideline, something the Vols love to do on sweeps and option plays.
Here’s an example:
Georgia must’ve run that play one thousand times the week leading up to this game, and that preparation paid off by containing runs designed to get to the outside. Even running back Jalen Hurd struggled to get there off a quicker handoff and less traffic.
A focal point for shutting down outside runs is typically the middle linebacker, and UGA’s linebacker Jake Ganus showed great anticipation for the outside plays in the first 20 minutes.
But as much as Pruitt wishes the story ended there, it was only chapter one. Next came the first adjustment.
Vols adjust the game plan
Since runs to the outside weren’t earning their keep, DeBord decided to use his quarterback as a weapon instead of a decoy.
As Georgia began to get comfortable with their containment of run plays while only having three down linemen, Tennessee began to take note that if there were only three down linemen and five (sometimes six) blockers, they might be able to overpower them right up the middle. The Vine above shows evidence of that.
Now, it’s important that Dobbs was the one doing the running on that play, not Hurd, and here’s why. Ganus’ game-long assignment as the middle linebacker was to play as a spy on option plays or any rushing plays in which Dobbs could take off with the ball himself. That sounds like a man coverage assignment, but it wasn’t. If Dobbs didn’t show threat to run, it was Ganus’ job to then occupy a space in a zone coverage role.
Debord was able to make his offensive adjustment by observing one thing: Ganus’ first step after the snap. In the Vine above, notice how Ganus’ first step is towards the line of scrimmage. That tells you he’s getting aggresive to make a play. It worked in the early stages of the game as he was able to arrive at a ball carrier faster, but in that particular play you can see how being overly agresive hurts him. The pulling guard and lead blocking tight end create a hold and congest the linebackers to where they can’t even move. That’s the result of over-anticipation creative run blocking.
But that was just an example of the ball on the ground, the adjustment was really meant for this next play which opened up the pass.
Again watch Ganus’ first step. He sees the swinging wide receiver and takes an initial step forward, most likely believing he’s seen that play before in practice. Instead, he’s caught hesitating on the play action and leaves a soft spot in the zone behind him.
It’s an incredibly tough task for a middle linebacker to both contain a running quarterback and play decent zone coverage, but DeBord knew how to attack it and Pruitt didn’t get his linebacker any help.
For two weeks in a row now, UGA’s defense has gotten worse as the game has gone on, and it’s not just in one single coverage type.
UGA’s defensive communication as a whole is poor. As Tennessee would move a player in motion, you could notice Georgia defenders frantically making signs to their teammates that were sometimes not acknowledged.
Here’s one example. Tennessee bunches three receivers to the left, which is something the Bulldogs should be prepared for as the Vols like to run multiple receivers to one side. The defense gives away their hand by not rotating the cornerback on the far side, and linebacker Leonard Floyd confusingly walks near the receivers to try to mask the blown assignment. The second the ball is snapped, Floyd moves up and is caught in no-man’s land. This shouldn’t happen on a play Georgia should have expected to see a lot of.
In the Vine above, we see even more trouble off the rotation when the Bulldogs are playing in zone. Does this look familiar? It should.
There’s no complex scheme going on here, it’s just another blown assignment. This is the second week in a row this, and many other miscues, have happened for the Georgia defense. Pruitt is showing he prefers a zone blitz as opposed to a man coverage blitz, but there’s no way around saying it isn’t working.
This goal line score is a prime example of “no one knows who/what they’re guarding.” The play is slowed down so you can’t see the catch itself, but the pass goes to a wide open Alvin Kamara for six points. Now, Georgia fans can complain about some wide receivers picks being set — which aren’t blatant, but I’d listen to the argument — but they should be complaining about yet another broken setup.
If three receivers are lined up right and you know the inside corner is blitzing, how is the safety not at the line of scrimmage and following Kamara as he moves to the right side? Rotation coverage in the pre-snap is dooming Georgia’s defense and for the second week in a row. Pruitt’s players look lost during the game’s most crucial moments.