Accounting for opponents, Georgia probably had its best offensive performances at Tennessee in its fifth game and vs. Missouri in its ninth. The Bulldogs haven’t been able to repeat it. Yes, they played in bad weather against Kentucky and Texas A&M. It’s true they’ve faced lots defenses that are good and two (Florida and Auburn) that are elite.
But the bottom line is, save for last week against out-manned Georgia Tech, UGA’s offense hasn’t produced the big game quarterback Jake Fromm has predicted for weeks. It’s getting late. The Bulldogs (11-1) will face LSU (12-0) in the SEC championship game on Saturday.
They can lean on their defense, as usual. But they did that too much at Auburn and their mighty defense wilted. That happened to a lesser extent against Florida. LSU’s defense yields more than those two teams, but it’s record-setting offense is much more capable of making Georgia pay for not putting up points.
It’s now or never for a Georgia offensive surge. The Bulldogs can win this game with defense, field position, kicking and a touchdown or three. I don’t see it happening if LSU breaks 30 points.
The Tigers did that against two defenses in Georgia’s class, Florida and Alabama. Another one, Auburn, held them to just 23 points. Georgia’s defense is good enough to deliver a similar effort, but the margin could be thin for an offense that scored 24 points per game against FBS foes (again excluding Tech ).
There’s a good chance that, to beat LSU, the Bulldogs need that offensive breakout that Fromm has been talking about. He said he still believes they are close to doing it based what we don’t see: Georgia’s practices.
“Our defense is one of the best, I believe the best, in the nation,” Fromm said during a teleconference. “They probably won't like this, but we kind of give it to them sometimes. So it's like, if we can do it against them, we can do it against anybody.”
It’s not that Georgia’s offense is bad. It’s just relatively average in the SEC. Georgia’s 25.2 points scoring average in conference games tied for sixth. Georgia’s offense is efficient: fourth in the SEC in yards per play and second in turnovers per game (0.9). The main problems for the Bulldogs have been finishing drives with touchdowns (ranked 10th in red-zone TD percentage in SEC games) and creating big plays.
The two are related. Explosive plays mean more scoring chances, if not long touchdowns. It’s hard to grind all game. Coach Kirby Smart has said the goal is one explosive play for every eight overall. The Bulldogs haven’t come close to that (ambitious) goal in SEC play.
I’m counting runs of at least 15 yards and passes of at least 20 as explosive plays. By my tally, Georgia has produced 37 explosive plays (21 run, 16 pass) among 524 total plays in SEC games (not counting kneel-downs or overtime). That’s one explosive play for every 14.
There are reasons to think the Bulldogs can do better against LSU. Fromm missed wide-open targets for big plays at least twice against Texas A&M (afterwards Smart seemed frustrated because he was tired of hearing about the lack of them). The Bulldogs still produced six explosive plays among 57 overall against the Aggies (finishing drives was their issue, again).
Big plays and red-zone TDs are weak points for LSU’s defense. In SEC games, LSU’s defense has allowed touchdowns on 65 percent of opponent trips in the red zone, second-worst in the league. According to Football Outsiders, the Tigers ranked seventh-best among SEC teams in explosive drives allowed (average 10 yards per play or more). If the Bulldogs can be a little bit sharper, big gains and red-zone TDs are possible.
Smart has reason to lean into the narrative of winning with defense. Instead, when asked about college football trends, he said that’s not how it’s done anymore.
“I don't know that the adage ‘defense wins championships’ stands as much as it used to,” Smart said during his media session in Athens. “Now, it's like, ‘I got to play pretty good defense and I got to score a lot of points. I can't play horrific defense. I can't play bad defense, but I might not have to be perfect.’
“(That) is the way a lot of teams have had success. They probably take more chances and risk and they just score tons of points.”
That’s not the way Georgia has had success in 2019. The Bulldogs used an old-school formula to win the SEC East for the third year in a row. It’s not unreasonable to think they can use it to beat LSU and win their second league title in Smart’s four years as coach.
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