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Georgia Aces Open-Book Test

By Matt Smith
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Even before Saturday’s 41-0 win over the Volunteers, it was safe to call the Georgia defense elite.

There was little doubt about the prowess of the Georgia defense coming into Saturday’s game at Tennessee. The Bulldogs’ two most noteworthy victims in the season’s first month, Mississippi State and Notre Dame, have been dominant offensively in every game expect Georgia, when they managed a combined 22 points.

So, even before Saturday’s 41-0 win over the Volunteers, it was safe to call the Georgia defense elite. Saturday’s performance, as dominant as it was in holding Tennessee to just 125 yards of total offense, wasn’t going to make it elite on its own.

Tennessee has shown for the past two weeks what kind of team it is. The available adjectives are numerous – fragile, injury-riddled, predictable, unprepared, unlucky, broken and lifeless all come to mind.

The coaching gaffes late in the Florida lost were very telling, as was the completely flat effort in a 17-13 escape against a hapless Massachusetts team last week. Then, there was Monday, when head coach Butch Jones used “fake news” to describe the Knoxville media and claimed they were impacting recruiting in a negative way. If that’s not a coach who can see the end of the road, then I don’t know what is.

Quarterback Quinten Dormady can’t run nor pass effectively, which is a problem in the game of intercollegiate tackle football. His arm isn’t live enough to fit passes into tight holes, and read-option plays don’t even have options, because Dormady always hands it off. Georgia knew what was coming and knew exactly how to handle it. Jump outside throws, crash on read-option plays, don’t fear the deep ball, and don’t worry about quarterback containment.

Most teams can deploy that game plan effectively. With Georgia’s athletes, simply being effective becomes holding the opposing offense without a point. This wasn’t a test that involved applying theories to various scenarios. This was merely a set of instructions that needed to be followed step-by-step. Do that, and earn an A. Georgia did.

The game began with an interception, as Tyrique McGhee stepped in front of a soft throw from Dormady, allowing Georgia to take a 3-0 lead barely over a minute into the game. The next seven drives included four three-and-outs and two turnovers, with the ‘Dawgs adding 21 points to their lead. Dormady’s passer rating for the first half was negative 0.6.

Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm didn’t need to be great, and he certainly wasn’t, tossing a bad interception on a slant route and nearly throwing a few others. But, as is the case with most highly-recruited true freshmen quarterbacks, there were moments of brilliance as well, including the team’s first touchdown on a lovely out route to Javon Wims and a pair of touchdown runs. He barely threw in the second half, finishing with a better-than-it-looks stat line of 7-of-15 for 84 yards and the touchdown strike to Wims.

Like the defense, Fromm was asked to execute a simple set of instructions. He didn’t do it quite to the level of the defense, but it was a solid B+.

The rest of the job was taken care of by Tennessee. The Vols dropped passes, snapped a shotgun snap off the center’s rear end, punted into the back of the up man, and had a player kicked out of the game for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It was exactly the meltdown that the prior two weeks in Knoxville had foreshadowed. With a bye week ahead, could Jones be on the way out now? Keep an eye on Rocky Top over the next 24 hours.

For Georgia, the tests should at least get minimally tougher. Vanderbilt doesn’t offer much in the trenches, but does have a capable quarterback in Kyle Shurmur. Missouri is a mess, but then comes nemesis Florida, whose offense appears to have found some life of late.

We may not have learned much about the Georgia defense Saturday, but the Bulldogs were able to take an already advantageous situation and maximize it. We all had an open-book test at some point in school. It counted for something, as it did on Saturday for Georgia.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they now have to move on from the Tennessee chapter of this year’s textbook. The material will get more difficult, but don’t expect their grades to slip.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.