TCU hasn’t played Georgia since 1988, when Jim Wacker was leading the Frogs to a 4-7 record, and the Southwest Conference was alive and well. We’ll be talking a lot with Dawg Sports, the SB Nation Georgia site, but for now I reached out to a few other folks who know the Bulldogs pretty well.
Like I did last year for the Alamo Bowl, I reached out to other team sites whose schools played Georgia this season, and asked them questions about the Bulldogs. Here’s what Rocky Top Talk (Tennessee), College and Magnolia (Auburn), Alligator Army (Florida), Garnet and Black Attack (South Carolina), and From The Rumble Seat (Georgia Tech) had to say.
A big thanks to Will Shelton for answering my questions.
1. The Vol's game against Georgia was a wild one, to say the least. Give us your high-level thoughts on Georgia, based on that game against Tennessee.
Georgia has a lot of the signs and symptoms of a team with a first-year coach. The Dawgs have talent at the skill positions on offense but seemed to struggle to find cohesion. Jacob Eason has a rocket for an arm; there were a number of plays when Tennessee's defensive backs broke on what I was sure would be an interception but just couldn't beat the ball to its intended target. But as a true freshman, his accuracy wasn't always there. The defense was solid but unspectacular.
2. Georgia got up 24-3 before Tennessee clawed their way back into it. What led to Georgia's fast start?
Starting slow was a Tennessee trait all year, but specific to the Georgia game the Vols fumbled on consecutive drives after Georgia went ahead 7-0. The first was on the first play of a drive, giving Georgia the ball at the 36 yard line leading to a field goal. The second was by Jalen Hurd walking into the end zone, a stunning change in momentum that led to a 10-play 80-yard touchdown drive.
3. Tennessee put up 34 points on the Bulldogs, with 20 coming in the fourth quarter. What led to Tennessee's late-game success?
Big plays. Tennessee got a 16-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-3 on the first play of the fourth quarter to cut Georgia's lead to 24-21, stopped Georgia on 4th-and-2, then forced a three-and-out after Josh Dobbs threw an interception. Tennessee's last two scores came via a sack-fumble in the end zone and, of course, the hail mary.
4. Walk us through your experience of that final Hail Mary touchdown.
So not only have the Vols never won on a hail mary before, they've never had a walk-off touchdown to win in regulation in 120 years of football. Georgia had just scored on a 47-yard bomb from Eason with 10 seconds to go where our DB gave up on the route because he was sure Eason couldn't throw it that far. It was crushing to assume we were going to lose that way. But a celebration penalty and a good kick return made it only a 43-yard hail mary, which allows for a little more precision. Jauan Jennings just boxed out and made an incredible high-point catch. When he came down with it I just screamed, "HE CAUGHT IT!" for about 30 seconds. Winning that way a week after beating Florida for the first time in 11 years, it just made you think this was our year. Then about a dozen players got hurt the next week at Texas A&M and everything changed; finishing 8-4 taints this moment in really unfortunate ways.
5. Georgia's offense seemed pretty balanced in this game. Tell us where Georgia found success against Tennessee's defense, and what the Vols did to try and slow them down.
Nick Chubb was banged up and had only one carry, but the other backs had success running between the tackles. The Dawgs also had a lot of production from tight end Isaac Nauta in the middle of the field. The aforementioned Eason bullets hurt, but Tennessee was able to get more and more pressure on him as the game went along.
6. What can TCU folks expect when they encounter Georgia fans in Memphis?
When we saw them, Kirby Smart still had a lot of first-year grace with the fan base. After finishing 7-5, I'm curious to see how much of that remains, though he's recruiting really well right now. The Dawgs have had to watch their four biggest rivals win national championships since 1990 while they haven't won one since 1980; being good-but-not-great sent Mark Richt packing after failing to win an SEC title since 2005. Being a fan of a good program you are convinced should be great can be a frustrating existence - Tennessee hasn't been great in 15 years - but the Dawgs have a lot to be proud of and good reasons to believe great days can still be ahead.
A big thanks to Walt Austin for answering my questions.
1. Give us your first impressions of this Georgia team...
Georgia has a tough defense and an offense with a lot of potential, but is still struggling with a young quarterback. Their rushing attack features very strong runners, and if the OL gives Jacob Eason time, he can kill you with his passing ability. He's going to end up a fantastic QB, but his line hasn't done him great favors this season. Georgia is one of those teams that this season seemed to play to the level of their opponent. Pretty much all of their games were close and almost all for different reasons, it seemed.
2. Georgia held Auburn to a season-low seven points, and zero first downs in the second half. Why was Georgia so successful defensively, and where did Auburn struggle?
So, I don't want to underestimate UGA's defense here, but I don't think UGA's defense was so successful as much as Auburn's offense was so weak and pathetic. Sean White was playing injured and got hurt even more early in the UGA game. His passing ability was absolutely shot. Every running back (literally (1)) but Kerryon Johnson was either hurt or got hurt early in that game. The play calling was questionable and kind of crazy, too. I think with a healthy Auburn offense - such as the Tigers had for MSU, Arkansas, and Ole Miss - Auburn runs away with the UGA game. UGA's defense was tough, but it didn't do anything particularly impressive against what was a horrific and injured Auburn offense. They did everything they needed to do, though. They didn't need to do much, but what they did was quite enough.
3. On the other side of the ball Auburn found defensive success, especially slowing Georgia down on the ground. What were some keys to that success?
Auburn has a fantastic defensive line and group of run-stopping linebackers. It was getting pressure on the QB and stuffing the running lanes with big bodies that helped Auburn shut down UGA's offense. And they did shut it down. UGA only scored six offensive points. Their lone touchdown was on a pick-six.
4. How might a wide-open, spread offense find success against this Georgia team?
Quick passes and finding a power run game. You're not going to do much going east-west against this defense. They're fast, athletic, and will kill you if you rely on getting to the edge. You better be able to throw downfield, hit quick passes, and gain yards up the middle.
5. To an outsider, the score indicates that this was one of those "SEC defensive beauties." Was it really that, or was this game just a grind?
For Auburn's defense against UGA's offense it was a defensive beauty. For Auburn's offense against UGA's defense it was an injury-depleted, poorly called, horrific showing by Auburn's offense and UGA doing exactly what they needed to stop it. Which, again, wasn't all that much.
6. Georgia:SEC::_____:Breakfast foods
Georgia:SEC::cream of wheat:breakfast foods. They think and act like they're grits, which are awesome and a staple of a good southern SEC breakfast (Alabama), but in reality they're not even close. Or at least their fans are. They'll also bark at you all the time. No kidding. Grown adult men will bark at you. It's sad.
A big thanks to Andy Hutchins for answering my questions.
1. Describe for those who have never been, what the "Cocktail Party" atmosphere is like.
I've only been once, on a gray and hazy day, and I'm not much of a drinker, so I really don't have the truest impression to give, if you get my drift. (An undergrad wrote about her first trip for Alligator Army last year.) But it's an NFL stadium with water just hundreds of feet away, and there is alcohol everywhere in the parking lot. Plus, Georgia fans are prone to bark like actual dogs. So that's fun.
2. What is your high-level impression of this Georgia team?
I think it's okay. Is that mean? I dunno. There's a lot to like about the pieces of the offense, and the defense bared its teeth on occasion throughout the season -- it's allowed just one passing touchdown in its last seven games after giving up 11 in its first five -- but I think this nucleus of Dawgs probably has its best football ahead of it, in 2017 or beyond. I was not particularly afraid of Georgia heading into the Cocktail Party, and what little Georgia was able to do against this limited Florida team validated that lack of fear.
3. Florida's defense absolutely stuffed Georgia's running game, giving up just 21 yards on the ground. Why were the Gators so successful in this regard?
Georgia's offensive line is kind of bad. Florida's defensive line is kind of good. And Florida had its full complement of linebackers available in that game, so Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone (10 combined tackles) were able to plug the holes that did open. Nick Chubb also isn't the kind of back who can go east and west against Florida's defensive speed consistently -- Dalvin Cook was about the only one that did that this season -- and so Georgia struggled to break runs.
4. Neither team found much success offensively, to the tune of 395 yards of offense combined for both schools. Was this just a traditional SEC defensive struggle?
Florida's offense is, uh, not good, and couldn't really take advantage of Georgia through the air, which I think had more to do with the yardage being low than Florida's defense stalemating Georgia's offense. (Georgia yielded a ton of yards through the air early in the season, but tightened up right before facing Florida.) I think that Georgia's defense is probably more likely to give up yards to an offense that can unlock it through the air.
5. What should TCU fans know about Georgia fans?
They bark. That's really the most important thing to know about the Georgia fans who come to games. It's not true of every Georgia fan, but there are some who take being Dawgs far too literally. Beyond that, though, know that Georgia fans are largely either dyed-in-the-wool sorts who have been following since Herschel Walker and vacillated on Mark Richt no fewer than 15 times, or newer ones who got in around Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. Florida fans, in my experience, don't interact all that much with Georgia fans -- but I've lived in Florida all my life, and those members of the Florida expat community in Atlanta who frequent our door loathe the Georgia fan base.
6. How might an offense like TCU's (wide-open, spread offense) find success against Georgia's defense?
I think spreading it out would really be a good idea. There's no Dawg with more than three picks, and just two have more than four pass break-ups, so I think an offense with a multitude of options could find a matchup it likes by forcing Georgia to cover four- or five-receiver sets and taxing its depth. That might not take significant advantage of Georgia's defensive line, which struggled up the gut against Florida, but winning from the outside before winning from the inside would seem possible.
A big thanks to Sydney Hunte for answering my questions.
1. Georgia came away with a 28-14 win over South Carolina, largely due to their success on the ground. How tough are Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, and what makes them so difficult to stop?
If there's any one thing that stuck out for the Gamecocks, it was the fact that they just weren't able to stop the run at any point in 2016. Whether it was Chubb, Michel, or a lesser known RB (or a mobile QB at that), keeping teams from running over them was a big challenge. That's been something that the staff has been working hard to rectify (and they'll certainly have a challenge against a team like South Florida), but this run defense has been exposed big-time throughout the 2016 season.
2. Jacob Eason has had a very inconsistent season, and in this game he was just 5-for-17 for 29 yards, a TD and an INT. What did the Gamecocks do that helped them contain Eason? Or, was his production more just a product of the success Georgia was having on the ground?
I think it was more of the latter. UGA gashed the Gamecocks for 326 yards (the most they gave up to an opponent all year), so that allowed them to have to lean on Eason less. On the other side of the coin, it's always hard for a freshman QB to dominate right out of the gate, and I think the same can be said for Eason. The wind played a factor, but I think those first-year player tendencies (control, accuracy, etc.) showed as well.
3. On the other side of things, South Carolina struggled with running the ball. What did Georgia's defense do that made it so difficult to run on them?
It wasn't so much Georgia's defense than it was the South Carolina offensive line. This is a unit that's struggled mightily over the past couple of seasons and even moreso in 2016. However, they were starting a true freshman running back (in Rico Dowdle) that was getting back to full strength after injury but did gained confidence down the stretch (Florida and Clemson games notwithstanding). Add the fact that the Dawgs D just seemed a step faster and was able to pursue the ball well throughout the afternoon, whether it was Dowdle or A.J. Turner, it was always going to be tough sledding on the ground.
4. Turnovers were an issue for SC in this game. What was Georgia's defense able to do to force those three turnovers?
Funny thing is that the Gamecocks were OK at ball security this season (only losing ten fumbles all year), but two of those TOs against Georgia were damaging. The interception by Perry Orth, who has struggled with accuracy during his career, eventually led to a touchdown. Rico Dowdle had a drive-killing fumble a little later, which I think that was a little bit of freshman jitters in that regard (it was only his second game and his first overall start) because he only fumbled it one other time (against FCS Western Carolina). I guess I see it as more self-inflicted wounds in this instance.
5. TCU hasn't played Georgia in a long time. What can Frog fans expect from Georgia folks in Memphis?
I'm interested in seeing how well Georgia fans travel to Memphis. Memphis is a nice city (I'd put it above Birmingham as a "destination" despite having never been to the latter) and there should be plenty of things for Dawgs fans to keep themselves busy (BBQ, Graceland, a big Bass Pro that just opened up not long ago). While it's not a "big-ticket" destination, UGA fans should enjoy themselves.
A big thanks to Joey Weaver for answering my questions.
1. First and foremost, Georgia Tech mounted a nice little comeback in the last seven minutes of their game against Georgia. What was that emotional roller coaster like, and how did it feel to knock off the Bulldogs for the second time in three years?
To really understand, you have to understand the history that goes along with that rivalry. A quick check of Wikipedia tells me that this is comparable to a fierce, long-time rivalry like TCU has with Baylor (over 100 meetings), but where Georgia Tech has a record in the rivalry like the Horned Frogs do against A&M (under 40% win percentage and LOPSIDED recently).
With the team down 13 in the fourth quarter, it was just another year of playing georgia and another year of frustration coming up. Instead, the team fought back with quite a few big plays (on both sides of the ball) and eventually found itself in position to win the game. Once again, my deep-set pessimism refused to let me believe it was going to happen, and then it did on a brilliant play by Qua Searcy. It was a constant rush of fear, anxiety, and excitement, and a perfect example of what keeps me coming back to college football as my favorite sport.
2. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb combined for 258 rushing yards and two touchdowns, as Georgia looked good on the ground. What made them so effective in the running game?
georgia's been pretty erratic in their rushing performances this year, and this game was an example of that. After 182 rushing yards in the first half, they managed only 76 yards in the second half, and that was when they had a lead and were trying to put the game away. I think the biggest thing they're doing successfully is running in between the tackles and using their size up front for more of a power rushing attack. Georgia Tech's defense held up much better in the second half when they started using some bigger personnel up front to counter the larger offensive line than they've gotten used to this year. In fact, looking at their rushing outputs this year, the pattern that emerges is that georgia has struggled against bigger, better defensive lines, and has been able to effectively neutralize the speed of smaller defensive lines. So, if the georgia offensive line can't overpower their opponents, they're having a lot of issues running the ball -- but if they can, Chubb and Michel are able to gash opponents with ease.
3. What did Georgia Tech's defense do to stifle Jacob Eason and the Bulldog's passing game?
georgia's passing game has been somewhat ineffective this year, due to a freshman quarterback with occasional accuracy problems, occasional issues with receivers' hands, and occasionally poor offensive line play. (It's not that they're all bad simultaneously, but they can never seem to get it all right for extended stretches.) For Georgia Tech, they had success taking advantage of the subpar protection by sending 6-8 defenders on blitzes to create pressure by overwhelming the blocking. They didn't get any sacks in the game, but creating pressure as they did really can exacerbate the other issues that their passing game has by forcing tough, quick throws that make for tough catches in tight windows.
4. Obviously GT has a very different offense from TCU, but the Yellow Jackets found success on the ground. Was that more a product of the offense, or Georgia's less than stellar run defense?
I think it was a product of the offensive strategy, more than the system. Georgia Tech had a lot of success running to the perimeter in this game. It seemed like there were several occasions that defenders were indecisive in deciding to take the QB or pitch man, and there were times that the linebackers struggled to make it out to the perimeter on run plays to the outside as well (due to either a lack of speed or getting caught up in "traffic" while running laterally). The other thing that Georgia Tech did successfully was hit big plays in the passing game when they did elect to go to the air -- Justin Thomas was 6-for-10 passing for 164 yards, and didn't complete a pass for less than 11 yards, if that tells you anything.
Running right at georgia's defensive line feels like a bad idea. Attacking the linebackers and secondary seems to be a much more effective strategy.
5. Overall, what was your impression of the Bulldogs?
This is probably a little biased, but I think they're a team that has somewhat consistently underperformed their talent level. That's a program that has consistently recruited at a top-10 level, and is now finishing unranked for the fourth time in eight seasons. (That's assuming you count 2015 as one where they finished ranked -- they were 24th in the Coaches' Poll, and unranked in the AP Poll. It was perhaps the most underwhelming 10-3 season from an SEC team of my lifetime.) A quick look at their roster shows several players on both sides of the ball that NFL scouts figure to be drooling over (Chubb, Michel, Isaiah McKenzie, Terry Godwin, Isaac Nauta, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, Roquan Smith...), and yet they struggled to be cohesive and dominant in a way that you should expect they could be over a team that might have 3-4 future NFL players on it, at best.
The offense is unimpressive and uncreative, and the defense isn't good enough to win games by itself against teams that can score at a decent clip.
6. What, for you, are the keys to knocking off Georgia?
Defensively, I think TCU has to key in on stopping the run and force georgia to win the game by passing the ball. Their offensive line and receivers have been inconsistent enough that they won't be relied on to win the game unless absolutely necessary. The raw talent is there to beat most anyone, but the inconsistency often ends up their undoing. The other thing that will help with that is winning the field position battle. georgia's offense tends to not be good enough to consistently score on long fields, and their defense is usually good enough to get a stop if afforded a few opportunities to do so. If TCU can limit turnovers and limit georgia's rushing attack, they should be in good position to win this game.
Also, trust me when I tell you that Georgia Tech fans everywhere will be rooting for you. Nothing would make us happier than for georgia to lose every game. So, Go Frogs!