- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- Some observations after re-watching Georgia’s 29-24 win over Kentucky from Saturday night:
• The narrative concerning Georgia’s night on defense would have been completely different but for one enormous problem. Todd Grantham’s group was horrendous at defending third-down runs. Clearly the idea was to get Kentucky into third-and-long or -medium situations and make them have to throw. But Kentucky still ran out of those situations and was shockingly successful.
Here is a recap of all 14 of Kentucky’s third-down plays:
Third-and-7 at UK 40: Jonathan George run for 21, first down
Third-and-4 at UK 25: Jalen Whitlow flushed, scrambles for 14 yards, first down
Third-and-14 at UK 35: George run for 12 yards, just short of first down
Third-and-13 at UK 39: Raymond Sanders run on delayed draw for 13, first down
Third-and-10 at UK 23: Sanders run for 9, just short of first down
Kentucky was 4-for-7 on third down in the opening half including a touchdown. On five of the seven, they ran for an average of 13.8 yards per rush. Georgia did a much better job against the third-down run in the second half, but that first-half showing left a lot to be desired.
Third-and-12 at UGA 20: Cornelius Washington drops interception on Newton throw, forces FG
Third-and-3 at UK 31: Whitlow pass incomplete
Third-and-6 at UK 46: Newton flushed, scrambles for 17, first down
Third-and-8 at UK 37: Newton pass incomplete
Third-and-4 at UGA 44: Sanders takes pitch around right end for 6, first down
Third-and-8 at UGA 12: Whitlow pass complete to La’Rod King for 6
There were a variety of problems that led to Kentucky’s early success on third down. I don’t have anything original to add there. Clearly Georgia’s players were not doing a very good job playing the right rushing lanes and hitting the right gaps in a couple of pass-rush situations. It’s been going on for a while, so that’s nothing surprising, I guess.
• It’s not just because of the stats, but this was really one of Aaron Murray’s best games. The offensive line had another so-so game -- particularly in the run game, although Kentucky also sacked Murray three times -- and receivers Marlon Brown and Arthur Lynch dropped two sure touchdowns, but Murray kept right on clicking.
Let’s highlight a couple of key possessions where he stood out even more than he did the rest of the game:
In the second quarter, Georgia starts at its own 25. Facing third-and-2 at the 33, Murray should have been sacked, but he dragged UK defensive lineman Farrington Huguenin 5 yards to barely get the 2 yards necessary to get a first down and keep the drive alive. Two plays later, center David Andrews literally rolled a shotgun snap to Murray, but he calmly picked it up and fired an 8-yard strike to Malcolm Mitchell for a first down. And on the next play, Murray hit Tavarres King with a beautiful deep ball off a run fake to Keith Marshall for a 48-yard gain to the Kentucky 5. And credit King for holding onto the ball despite Cody Quinn’s effort to rake the ball out. Great throw and catch that set up a 1-yard King touchdown catch that made it 14-13.
In the third quarter, Georgia trailed 17-16 when Murray was flushed for a 5-yard gain on first down and then went 4-for-5 on the drive for 57 yards, including a perfect 22-yard touchdown pass to Chris Conley. He was pushed right in the pocket on the play after Marshall picked up a blitzer and threw the ball hard -- it might have been the hardest I’ve seen him throw a pass -- to Conley just before Huguenin arrived on the pass rush. It was an exact strike to Conley, who caught it in a bit of traffic, having gotten a step on Zack Blaylock, and beat three defenders to reach the end zone.
• Georgia attempted some trickery twice and was flagged for an illegal formation or shift both times.
I’m not entirely sure what happened on the fake-punt penalty that eliminated a 33-yard Mitchell run. Mark Richt said the referees told him that Kosta Vavlas had been covered up by Mitchell before the players shifted and that Vavlas was uncovered at the snap, which was the source of the penalty.
Then, on their final touchdown drive, they attempted to shift Murray to receiver and run a direct snap to Marshall, but the referees said two Georgia players were moving at the snap. I watched it in slow motion and Murray was definitely moving. It’s possible that the other moving player was Brown, whose hand was barely moving as he got set when Andrews snapped the ball. I’m confused there, too.
• This was Mitchell’s best game, obviously, since he caught nine passes for 103 yards. But the catches were also impactful. Of his nine catches, six went for first downs. They need a guy who can help keep the chains moving, particularly now that Michael Bennett is out of the picture. Mitchell can clearly do that, and he can make great things happen once the ball is in his hands. Expect to see more of that.
• By the way, say what you will about the run not working, but the threat of the run produced a number of big plays. I didn’t track every single time Murray passed off play-action fakes, but it was effective. Murray hit Lynch for a huge 22-yard gain on Georgia’s last touchdown drive because two defenders bit on a run fake to Marshall, leaving Lynch wide open.
• I thought Jordan Jenkins was being overly dramatic when he accepted the blame for Kentucky’s 84-yard touchdown drive to open the game. He certainly was not the only person to blame, but he was right. It wasn’t his best series. He had a pretty good second half, though.
2dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough