First and foremost, it was terrific just to see Georgia line up and play football again. 2020 has been a rocky, tumultuous year in so many ways, and the football season being impacting is just adding insult to injury it seems. However, Georgia and Mississippi State were able to put on an SEC contest in the Classic City on Saturday night and it was, to say the least, interesting.
Entering the game, all the attention in the Georgia Bulldog world seemed to be on two things. Would Georgia wear the black jerseys? They did. Would JT Daniels be the quarterback, and how would that impact the offense? He was, and A LOT! The game was a strange dichotomy of exciting markers of change, and confusing signs of struggle. Obviously, each team has coaching staffs that get paid really good money to prepare and study opponents, and with each team having extra time to prepare for the other, the dueling game plans made for interesting and unexpected outcomes. All these outcomes played themselves out on the field and are glaring in the box score. Let us look at the stats that mattered in the victory over the Bulldogs form Starkville.
If you had told me entering the contest that Georgia would pass for 65 more yards on the night than Mississippi State, I might have believed it, but I would have assumed that the Dawgs’ defense just absolutely annihilated and smothered Mississippi State. That was not the case! Mississippi State took the death by 1000 cuts approach to the Georgia defense, and it proved sustainable and effective as Leach’s offense patiently accumulated 336 yards through the air. Georgia countered by bombing the ball down the field on the arm of JT Daniels to the tune of 401 yards. Truly a mind-boggling stat given the circumstances, and it turned out to be much needed.
Conversely, Mississippi State rushed for 14 more yards than Georgia did. Absolutely no way that I, or anyone else would have predicted that. Granted, Georgia only allowed 22 yards on the ground, Mississippi State ultimately and improbably help UGA to 8. 8 yards rushing! RBU got shutdown on the ground on this November Saturday night by a steady diet of loaded boxes with man to man coverage behind it. Of course this strategy by Leach’s defensive coordinator gave up big plays down the field as was mentioned before, but they were determined that JT Daniels would have to prove himself and Zamir White and James Cook wouldn’t get to do any of the heavy lifting.
After allowing the Mississippi State defensive front to get to JT Daniels three times in the first half, Daniels nary had a finger laid on him in the second half. The pass protection up front for Georgia, lead by Trey Hill, was stellar. Not allowing a sack in the second half was huge for JT Daniels, his confidence, and ability to accurately deliver the football down the field. It was clear that in the second half JT and the offensive line had built up an even better rapport than what was had between the big uglies and the signal caller from SoCal. Again the excellent pass protection was a necessity with the MSU front dominating the Georgia front when they attempted to run the ball.
George Pickens caught eight passes on Saturday. All in all, Pickens was targeted 10+ and the fact that he draws extensive coverage over the top a lot of the time, makes this even more critical. George Pickens is one of the more freakish athletes on the field, period. Kirby Smart and Todd Monken have alluded to the fact several times that injuries impacted Pickens’s ability to play and his production on the field. The extra week given to the Dawgs via the Missouri postponement allowed the Dawgs to get Pickens healthy and more importantly to build a rapport with the new Georgia starting QB. Jermain Burton was the leading receiver on the night, and he’s a very promising young player, but consistently finding ways to target George Pickens and get him involved early is only going to help the offense be more productive and explosive, as was seen against the Bulldogs in Maroon.