Grading the Bulldogs' performance in victory over Appalachian State

Video: Jacob Eason injured in UGA's season opener

The Georgia Bulldogs hosted the Appalachian State Mountaineers on Saturday and played one of their best games of the Kirby Smart era. The Dawgs showed up and showed out against a Mountaineer team that simply could not compete against the talent Georgia fielded.

School is back in session and the grades are in for this week’s Georgia victory.

Quarterbacks- B+

Before I get hate mail for this grade from Jake Fromm supporters, let me make it abundantly clear that this is the grade for ALL of the quarterbacks that played in the game, not just Fromm. Okay, now we can get back to the grade. Sophomore Jacob Eason started the game for the Bulldogs and looked to be out of his comfort zone during his first three pass attempts. The first drive of the game ended after just three offensive plays, and one of those was an errant throw by Eason that sailed over fellow sophomore Isaac Nauta’s head. Eason had no time to get comfortable. During the next drive, he was hit out of bounds and sidelined for the rest of the game. It is too soon to tell if Eason will miss any significant time due to injury, but, if he does, Fromm looks more than capable of stepping in during his absence. The freshman threw for 143 yards on 10-of-15 passing, including connecting with wide receiver Javon Wims for a 34-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Fromm played just about as well as you could ask a true freshman to in his first ever college game. One reason why is offensive coordinator Jim Chaney really simplified the first few drives for Fromm so that he could get some confidence early on. The first few passes thrown by him went for just 8, 8, and 5 yards, respectively, but they were drawn up to be simple one-progression throws to get his feet underneath him. Brice Ramsey, the third scholarship quarterback on the roster, came in during mop-up time and completed two passes to Appalachian State. Ramsey went 0-for-2 with two interceptions, making two bad reads each time. While Eason and Ramsey both struggled, Fromm excelled and showed that if he has to play against Notre Dame, he is good enough to get the job done.

Running Backs- A

This grade could have just as easily been an A+, but this year the A+ grade is going to be saved for special moments so that it means more. Nick Chubb rushed for 96 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns. Sony Michel rushed for 87 yards on 16 carries, including a touchdown out of the “Wild Dawg” formation. The tandem not only did a good job of running the ball, but they made it easier for Fromm to stay upright in the pocket with key blocks on pass rushers. Freshman D’Andre Swift rushed for 31 yards and had three receptions for 18 yards. After seeing Swift’s success in the run game and his ability to catch, it seems like he will get more playing time than most expected.  

Wide Receivers/Tight ends- B

If the grades were solely based off of the stat line at the end of the game, the wide receivers group would probably have ended up with an F. As a group, they caught just four passes for 88 yards, 81 of which belonged to Wims. The tight ends caught four passes for 40 yards. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The wide receivers and tight ends were blocking for the running backs, doing a good job of sealing the edge when Chubb or Michel ran a sweep. Give credit to Wims - that catch he made for a touchdown was a thing of beauty. He looks ready to be the top wide receiver for the Dawgs this season.

Offensive Line- A

The big question mark coming into this season was the young, unproven offensive line. “Isaiah Wynn is too small to be the left tackle,” and “Lamont Gaillard can’t play center,” were just a few of the remarks made by fans and analysts alike in fall camp. But the offensive line quickly quieted the “haters.” To be fair, the Appalachian State defensive line was not a strong test; it was quite undersized compared to Georgia. Then again, the Bulldogs started a true freshman at right tackle, Andrew Thomas, and he had a few solid pancakes during the game. Gaillard did get called for a few false start penalties, but that should be corrected by the time the Dawgs head to South Bend. The stat line shows that Eason was sacked once, but that sack was more on Eason not getting rid of the ball and trying to scramble around for an inordinate amount of time. The offensive line was thrown a curveball with Fromm having to step in and change things up early in the first quarter. Still, they took it in stride and kept the freshman quarterback squeaky clean and upright for the entirety of the game. Bravo, Sam Pittman and company, bravo.

Defensive Line- A

The defensive line did exactly what they were supposed to against Appalachian State’s offensive line, and that was to wear them down throughout the game and then make plays when necessary. Junior Trenton Thompson picked up right where he left off after being named MVP of Georgia’s bowl game. The talented lineman tallied 6 tackles, including two for loss, one of which was a sack. The rest of the defensive line did a good job for most of the contest. The defensive line did not get as much pressure on Taylor Lamb, the Mountaineer quarterback, as they would have liked. Georgia’s new defensive line coach, Tray Scott, continually moved linemen in and out, but seemed like he was still trying to find his timing regarding when and whom he should substitute. That will come. Next week at Notre Dame, they could encounter the biggest challenge they’ll face all season.

Linebackers: B

While it was not the best performance by the linebackers, it was definitely not their worst in the Kirby Smart era. First off, the option that Appalachian State ran was extremely effective and had both Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and D’Andre Walker biting each time it was ran to either of their respective sides of the field. If I am Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator, I am installing a few option read plays first thing Monday morning. On the bright side, the inside linebackers did a great job of stopping the running backs from getting to the third level and did not miss many open field tackles. The lack of sacks from the outside linebackers is concerning, but Bellamy did get pressure on Lamb quite a few times. Roquan Smith tied for the team lead with 6 tackles. This group should be solid all season and, if they get a grade below a B-, the Bulldogs will more than likely have lost the game. That is how critical these four guys are to the success of Georgia’s defense.

Defensive Backs- B

If this grade was solely based off the play of redshirt sophomore J.R. Reed, then it would be an easy A+. Reed, a transfer from Tulsa, moved his way up the depth chart and found himself starting the first game of the season, ahead of his cousin highly heralded cousin Deangelo Gibbs nonetheless. His strip-sack on Lamb really stopped the building early momentum for the Mountaineers and his aggressive tackling helped stopped a number of other drives too. Meanwhile, his counterparts in the secondary were kind of unexceptional. Yes, freshman Richard LeCounte looks like he is a heat-seeking missile, but other than him and Reed, the secondary really didn’t do a whole lot in the game. Deandre Baker got straight up snagged on, and senior Dominick Sanders had just three tackles. The Mountaineers completed 21 passes, but only for 148 yards. The Bulldog secondary didn’t record a turnover but did help maintain a shutout for most of the game.

Special Teams: A+

Cameron “I don’t really know how to say his last name so I just call him ‘Cam the Punter’” Nizialek transferred from Columbia to Georgia to try and beat out incumbent Marshall Long for the punter position. To be honest, not much was said after his initial transfer, as it seemed like a guy just wanting to come down from the North and finish out school in a sweet college town. Oh, how wrong was that thought… Nizialek averaged 43.8 yards per punt and the Mountaineers did not return a single one of his five boots. Yes, Smart got real lucky when he got the call from “Cam the Punter” earlier this year. Sophomore Rodrigo Blankenship made his only field goal attempt, a 23-yard chip shot, but what was more impressive were his kickoffs. Blankenship only had one of his six kickoffs returned and the other five were booted well out of the end zone.

Paul Maharry writes for UGASports.com.

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