The rain seemed ominous for Georgia. The last time the weather looked like this on game day at Sanford Stadium, Georgia didn’t score until its eighth possession. And Texas A&M is a better opponent than Kentucky, so you couldn’t blame Bulldogs backers if the precipitation caused consternation.
It turned out the rain wasn’t an issue for Georgia’s offense, at least not after a sloppy start. Instead, it was the same things as always. Georgia’s offense got better, but was never great, and it lacked a finishing punch. The Bulldogs still won 19-13 because their defense dominated.
That’s Georgia football in 2019. There’s no reason to think it will change at this late date. Georgia’s defense may be the best in FBS. The Bulldogs won the SEC East and are in contention for the College Football Playoff because, with one exception, they win with elite defense and an offense that’s just good enough.
“We’ve just got to get better on offense to get where we want to go,” Georgia tailback D’Andre Swift said. “But we won.”
They did. Credit to the Bulldogs (10-1). But I don’t see that recipe working Dec. 7 in the SEC Championship game. The opponent likely will be LSU, which can score a bunch. And if Georgia manages to win that game with defense, what are the chances it can do it twice more in the College Football Playoff?
It would have been reassuring for Georgia to pile up points against the three good teams they played over the past four weeks. Instead, the Bulldogs had to hang on against Florida while scoring 10 points after halftime. At Auburn their offense sputtered late and their defense wore down.
The same thing happened against Texas A&M, which held Georgia to two field goals over its final six full possessions.
“It’s an inability to put people away on both sides of the ball,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
Smart expects a lot out of his defense, but the problems mostly are on one side of the ball. The Bulldogs missed some good chances to score early against TAMU. They scored just six points after halftime. One of those field goals came after Georgia gained just one yard after its defense recovered a fumble.
The Aggies trailed 16-3 early in the third quarter. They were down 19-6 early in the fourth. Kellen Mond’s 19-yard pass to Jhamon Ausbon got Texas A&M within 19-13 with 11:16 to go. Another Bulldogs punt gave the Aggies the ball at their 10-yard line. They made it to Georgia’s 42-yard line before Tyler Clark sacked Mond for a 10-yard loss on first down to scuttle a promising drive.
Georgia got the ball back on a punt at its 10-yard line with 4:26 to go. The Bulldogs at least needed to run out so much of the clock that the Aggies wouldn’t have much time if they got the ball back. They pulled it off.
Brian Herrien plunged two yards on third-and-1. D’Andre Swift lost two yards running on the next play, before Fromm passed to Dominick Blaylock for an 11-yard gain. Swift ran around left end for 11 yards for another first down, and two more Swift runs were enough to finally finish off the visitors.
Said Smart: “That’s the one thing that has been consistent with this team. When your back is against the wall, and you’ve gotta get a first down, most games they’ve been able to do that.”
Good competition has been one mitigating factor for Georgia’s pedestrian offense. The Bulldogs have faced only two FBS teams that play bad defense (Vanderbilt and Arkansas State). They’ve played two elite defensive units, Florida and Auburn, and a bunch of good ones. That’s not the case for fellow playoff contenders Ohio State and (especially) Clemson.
Texas A&M’s defense isn’t great at any one thing, but is solid all around. That’s enough to give Georgia’s offense trouble, especially when it’s missing leading receiver Lawrence Cager (shoulder). The steady rain at kickoff only added to the feeling that the Bulldogs could be in for a tussle.
The weather didn’t prompt Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley to play it safe. The Bulldogs took some shots downfield early. Fromm just couldn’t connect. He was 1-for-6 passing in the first quarter with a pair of misses on potential big plays.
Maybe the wet ball played a role. Fromm wore a glove on his throwing hand to begin the game. He didn’t wear it against Kentucky, when he completed nine passes on 12 tries for 35 yards. Typically, a wearing a glove means gaining some grip and losing some feel.
Fromm completed his first pass, a short throw to tight end Charlie Woerner. His next pass was a wayward attempt on third down intended for George Pickens. It was an uncharacteristically bad throw by Fromm, who looked at his gloved hand after the play.
Later, Fromm missed Herrien running free down the right sideline on third down. Georgia settled for a field goal. The Bulldogs had good field position again to start their next drive. Coley decided to try for a big play, and it was there, but Fromm’s pass on a flea flicker was too long. The Bulldogs ended up punting.
“Offensively, we’ve got to improve,” Smart said. “No bones about it, we’ve got to improve. There were things tonight that we missed that were there. That’s the frustrating thing because I will get a hundred questions about the inability to hit explosive plays.”
Maybe the glove wasn’t the problem for Fromm, after all. He was wearing it again during Georgia’s first touchdown drive of the game. It was his sharpest sequence of the game.
Fromm floated a pass to Tyler Simmons on a fade route near the left sideline. He dropped in another nice ball to Kearis Jackson on a fade to the other side. He snapped a pass to Pickens for a 16-yard score.
The Bulldogs led 13-3 despite managing only one good drive. They won while averaging only 4.4 yards per play and with Fromm finished just 11 of 23 passing. These are the benefits of being so good on defense.
“You win and move on,” Fromm said. “It’s a really tough football league. It’s what the SEC is about. You obviously wish it could be pretty, but I’m not complaining.”
He’s right to feel that way. Texas A&M couldn’t do much of anything against Georgia’s defense. Hardly any opponent does, and that’s why Georgia is among the best teams in the country.
But Georgia’s offense is just OK. It might break out against Georgia Tech on Saturday, but the Yellow Jackets are over-matched. The Bulldogs’ struggles to score against better defenses is a reason why they just don’t look championship-caliber.
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