How South Carolina’s Defense Slowed Down Georgia’s Offense

After two dominant performances, the Georgia offense looked rather pedestrian against South Carolina. Part of the difference is the fact that the Gamecocks have a very tough defense, whereas Georgia Southern is a I-AA team and Central Michigan doesn’t play defense.

I went to my recording to find out what the deal was. I didn’t go over the game as thoroughly as I did for my analysis of Miami’s defensive success against Florida because I don’t know Georgia or South Carolina nearly as well as I know my Gators.

I do know the Bulldogs and Gamecocks a bit though, so I give you this breakdown of SC’s relative success.

South Carolina’s Game Plan

There didn’t seem to be an overarching plan like Miami had. South Carolina’s defense did a lot more situational scheming rather than using Miami’s non-stop blitzing strategy.

SC dropped their linebackers into coverage a bit more often than they blitzed them. They blitzed the least on second down and blitzed the most on first down. They were definitely trusting in their defensive line to win trench battles over the young and inexperienced UGA offensive line, and ultimately that trust was well-founded.

On Georgia’s nine offensive drives, the Gamecocks forced three three-and-outs, caused three other punts, and allowed three scores.

Georgia’s Game Plan

As is normal for Georgia under Mark Richt, they went with a run-first mentality. The Gamecocks knew that was coming though, and they were ready. The Bulldogs ended up averaging just three yards per carry, so they passed a lot more than is usual. The mix was 25 passes to 35 rushes, but four of those runs were sacks. That makes the true ratio 29 pass plays to 31 run plays.

In case you weren’t aware, Georgia does not play around with formations much. The bulk of the offense was done from either a three-wide, one-back shotgun set or a two-wide, I-formation set.

The rushes were mostly your standard pro-style offense runs, a combination of handoffs, tosses, and counters. They did run a small number of read option quarterback draws to varying degrees of success.

The passing game was mainly quick, short passes and screens or deep heaves. The intermediate passing game was not used much, probably due to the pressure from the South Carolina front line. That is a shame for the Bulldogs since the five or so intermediate throws were the most consistently successful of any.

What South Carolina Did Right

The Gamecocks’ biggest success was making Georgia have to work for its yards on the ground. Knowshon Moreno had seven of his 18 rushes go for more than five yards against Central Michigan; against SC, just six of his 20 rushes went for more than five yards with none going longer than 11 yards.

The 3.0 yards per rush that South Carolina held Georgia to was the lowest amount since the Bulldogs’ 35-14 loss to Tennessee last season. Of Georgia’s 31 true rushing attempts, 15 of them were stuffed, meaning they got fewer than three yards and it wasn’t a short yardage situation. A third of those 15 run stops didn’t even require a blitz.

The corner blitz in particular was very effective for South Carolina. Two sacks came from the play, one of which forced a fumble. Gary Danielson pointed out on one of them that the fullback should have been picking up the blitz, and it’s likely that injured starter Brannan Southerland would have done so. His loss may have also played a part in Georgia’s struggles in running consistently.

South Carolina avoided giving up the big play, ultimately using Georgia’s offense to shorten the game. Two of the Bulldogs’ three scoring drives took 13 plays or longer.

What Georgia Did Wrong

The drop demon possessed the Georgia receivers once again. They had four drops in the first half, stunting any momentum they were able to create. Though they didn’t have any drops in the second half, three of the four first half drops were on third down.

It also did not help that Matthew Stafford was not very good on his deep passes Saturday. I would classify nine of his 25 attempts as deep passes. Four of those nine were on target, with two dropped, one thwarted by good coverage, and one that was completed.

Of the remaining five, three were overthrown and two were underthrown. One of the underthrown balls was easily picked off, though Stafford was bailed out by a moderately fishy interference call. It did not appear that the receiver could have come back and caught it, but the flag was thrown nonetheless.

After scoring its touchdown to take a lead finally, Georgia’s offense went very conservative. Eight of UGA’s final eleven plays were runs or screen passes, with the final drive consisting of three runs from a heavy running set with two fullbacks. That allowed South Carolina to rush the backfield aggressively, getting a sack on two of the three longer pass plays and giving its offense chance after chance to score.

Final Takeaways

Georgia helped out South Carolina some by not executing especially well, but some of those troubles came from the pressure the Gamecocks exerted. This year’s Bulldog offensive line is not as good as last year’s was, and a dominant defensive line should be able to rough it up. Take note, LSU.

When Stafford is not connecting on his deep throws and Moreno is not finding gaping holes, the Georgia offense looks rather ordinary. Stafford theoretically will do better on his long passes, but this game calls into question whether he can win a game against an elite team if the run is taken away. South Carolina easily could have scored on each of its last two drives, and better offenses will not turn the ball over in those situations.

Ultimately, it is still early in the season so there is time for UGA to work out its issues. There isn’t that much time, though, since their road contest in Arizona is next, followed by a bout with Alabama’s stout defense.

South Carolina provided a template for beating this Georgia team even if it couldn’t seal the deal. How much other teams can duplicate the plan and how much Mark Richt and his staff can counter it will define the rest of their season.


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