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Upon Further Review: UGA-Buffalo

9/3/2012

ATHENS, Ga. -- There is only so much you can glean from watching a live football game -- and plenty of important stuff can easily slip through the cracks unless you go back and watch it again with the benefit of a pause button and instant replay.

With that in mind, we’ll rewatch Georgia’s game each week and share some thoughts and observations every Monday in our “Upon Further Review” feature.

Here are some thoughts from the Bulldogs’ season-opening 45-23 win against Buffalo:

Underrated play of the game: Georgia was a bit too cute for its own good in the second quarter and let Buffalo cut its lead to 24-13 just before halftime. The Bulls had driven to the Georgia 1 and faced third-and-goal with a chance to score a touchdown and make it 24-20 at the break. But Shawn Williams broke up an Alex Zordich pass -- from his body language, it looked like Williams thought he could have intercepted it -- and forced a field goal. The Bulldogs refocused in the second half and dominated the rest of the way, but it could have become really interesting if Buffalo reached the end zone there.

Halftime adjustments: The Bulldogs were apparently not prepared for Zordich to run as much as he did. The Buffalo quarterback had 53 yards at halftime and frequently stepped up in the pocket and escaped with huge open spaces to run into after Bulldogs pass rushers rushed to the outside. There was plenty of grumbling -- even some booing late in the second quarter -- among the Bulldogs faithful before Todd Grantham’s defense slammed the door in the second half.

Four of Buffalo’s first five drives in the second half resulted in three-and-outs (Georgia held Buffalo to eight three-and-outs in the game). The Bulls mustered 19 yards on their first 18 plays in the second half before finally cracking the scoreboard with a 10-play, 75-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter after Georgia had subbed out its entire starting defensive front.

Uh-Oh moment: With the considerable hype Georgia’s defense carried into the season in mind, all of us were no doubt scratching our heads when Buffalo converted three separate third downs -- the first of which came on a dumb offside penalty on Bulldogs linebacker Michael Gilliard on third-and-4 -- during an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 7-6. That was the first possession when it became clear the Bulldogs would have issues containing Zordich, as his 19-yard run on third-and-6 at Georgia’s 35 set up his touchdown pass to Alex Neutz.

Why Murray works: Georgia fans received a reminder of why Aaron Murray is a dangerous quarterback on the Bulldogs’ first possession. On third-and-13 at the Buffalo 43-yard line, Georgia left tackle Kenarious Gates’ man beat him to the quarterback, but Murray spun out to the left and hit Michael Bennett with a 32-yard bullet to the Buffalo 11. Rantavious Wooten was also in the neighborhood and leaped to make the catch, but we’ll give Murray the benefit of the doubt here. It looked as if he was aiming for Bennett the whole time. Todd Gurley scored Georgia’s first touchdown two plays later.

Murray’s biggest problem was inaccuracy on the deep ball. He sailed passes over Tavarres King, Wooten, Bennett and Chris Conley’s heads and led Bennett too far out of bounds on another long pass that could have been a touchdown. Give him credit, though, he did complete a 63-yard touchdown to King and a beautiful 38-yard TD to a diving Wooten (great catch there) and did not throw any near-interceptions.

Speaking of Bennett: The sophomore receiver had five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown -- a solid first effort, no doubt -- but re-watching the game offers insight that was easy to miss live about how well Bennett actually played. Georgia made great use of his blocking ability to help spring King and Wooten on multiple quick passes. On one possession, they did it three plays in a row, with Bennett clearing space for King and Wooten to take short passes a total of 36 yards. He also blocked for Wooten on a double pass that should have gone for a touchdown, but freshman Keith Marshall dropped the ball at the Buffalo goal line.TV analyst Andre Ware talked about Bennett’s workmanlike effort all game, for good reason.

Nuts for Neutz: Buffalo receiver Neutz only finished with five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown, but I think Georgia’s defensive backs would agree that he’s a player. He made a couple of impressive plays, including a leaping, juggling catch over Damian Swann that came back on a holding penalty. He scored Buffalo’s first touchdown and did a nice job of getting his feet inside the pylon.

Penalty problems: Speaking of that play, one of the most blatant holding non-calls that I’ve seen occurred before Zordich launched his pass to Neutz. Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins beat Buffalo left tackle Andre Davis around the corner, so Davis grabbed the back of his jersey hard enough to pull his shoulder pads through the neck hole of the jersey. Jenkins left the field trying to get his jersey back over his pads while the referees reviewed the play.

The referees were obviously not in midseason form, either, as Jarvis Jones was held several times -- Buffalo finally was flagged for it in the fourth quarter -- and Bennett was blocked in the back on the Bulls’ best special-teams play of the afternoon, a 33-yard Cordero Dixon punt return that set up the second-quarter field goal.

Big hit of the day: Dixon paid a price for his big return, however. Georgia’s Arthur Lynch met him at midfield with a leaping tackle that resembled a pro wrestling move and hammered Dixon into the turf at Georgia’s 48.

Defensive line’s day: I came away from Saturday’s game thinking Georgia’s defensive front had a bad day, but it was not as bad as I thought. Jones, Jenkins and Cornelius Washington were regularly in the backfield hassling Zordich -- although, yes, the Bulldogs accounted for only two sacks and allowed him to escape too often -- and most of Buffalo’s big plays were Zordich improvisations. Tailback Branden Oliver rushed for 111 yards, but that came on 30 carries. And half of his yardage came on one touchdown drive, when he rushed four times for 56 yards as the Bulls drove for a score in the second quarter. His 26 carries for 55 yards the rest of the day showed that Georgia’s defense was mostly making it tough for Buffalo to move the ball on the ground.

This just in: Gurley has a pretty good stiffarm. It wasn’t at an embarrassing level, but he deftly used his right arm to cast two Buffalo defenders aside on his 55-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. And he has a pretty good burst, too, as evidenced on his 100-yard kickoff return touchdown when he put on the brakes at the Buffalo 37 and then promptly accelerated again to lose Buffalo’s Alex Small. Then he outran another Bull to the end zone to score a 100-yard touchdown on his first college kickoff return. Gonna be hard to top that one.