Every week, UGASports.com teams up with 11Alive.com and hands out grades from Saturday's game. Here is the report card from a 34-31 loss to Tennessee.
Jacob Eason was close to being the hero for a second time in his brief career as a Georgia Bulldog, but it just was not in the cards for true freshman. Eason’s pass to Riley Ridley was brilliant, plain and simple. Ridley beat his man down the sideline and Eason connected on a 47-yard touchdown pass with just ten seconds left on the play clock. Eason did not have a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but his ability to start a drive on his own 19-yard line with only 1:07 on the game clock and finish that drive with a touchdown is something that a freshman just should not be able to do. Eason’s final stats looked average, 17-of-28 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, but his final drive was truly special. He also fumbled in the endzone for a Tennessee score and threw an interception at a critical point in the game.
Running Backs: B+
Brian Herrien and Sony Michel stepped up in the absence of Nick Chubb, accumulating 165 rushing yards on a combined 31 carries. The rushing attack looked completely different against Tennessee with most of the runs bouncing out to the perimeter instead of trying to force the ball up the middle as in previous games. Chubb did get into the game for a rush early in the first quarter, but he immediately came out and never returned. The Bulldogs’ offense was a lot more well-rounded in this game compared to the last three mainly due to the fact that they were able to get the running game going early and stayed with it for the entirety of the game. If Chubb ends up missing the South Carolina game next week, which as of now there are no indications of that, the Bulldogs should be in good hands with Michel and Herrien.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B
After an ‘F’ grade last weekend against Ole Miss, the wide receivers and tight ends looked like a completely different group against Tennessee. Riley Ridley, who is still nursing a broken thumb, almost brought down Sanford Stadium with his 47-yard touchdown reception. Freshman Isaac Nauta also hauled in a 50-yard touchdown pass from Eason that gave Georgia a ten-point lead late in the third quarter. Nauta finished with a team-high 83 yards on five receptions and also contributed some in the run game with his blocking. Isaiah McKenzie only caught three passes for 26 yards which was surprising. Terry Godwin, Javon Wims, Jeb Blazevich, and Christian Payne all had one catch for minimal yardage, with Godwin being the top man out of the group, picking 16 yards. The performance this week was much better from this group, mainly due to the number of dropped passes being significantly lower. They also blocked extremely well. One thing to remember is that the core nucleus of this group is extremely young and Eason looks to be gelling with Nauta and Ridley, both of whom are also freshmen.
PHOTOS | Georgia vs. Tennessee
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line looked like a different group in terms of run blocking and being able to open up holes for Michel and Herrien. This is an agile group, meaning they aren’t the prototypical size that offensive line coach Sam Pittman likes to have, but he made a huge adjustment this game, which was letting his guys operate in space. On almost every run play someone on the offensive line was pulling around to the opposite side and turning downfield to free up the outside rushing lanes. Now that Pittman and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney see that they have something that could potentially work for the rest of the season, the outside rushing attack should become a more permanent staple in the offense. Not everything was peaches and cream for the offensive line against Tennessee, though. The pass protection was lackluster and defensive end Derek Barnett set up residence in the Georgia backfield. The pressure continued to come from the defensive end positions, especially on the left side, which is manned by Tyler Catalina, the graduate transfer from Rhode Island.
Overall Offense: B-
Georgia put up their second highest point total for the year, 31, and did so without Chubb. Eason had a few freshman mistakes, but he also completed an amazing pass to Ridley for what many thought was the game-winning touchdown. Michel and Herrien both stepped up and looked more than capable of shouldering the rushing attack for the Dawgs. The offensive line looked to have figured out some of their run blocking mistakes, but pass protection still seems to be a major cause for concern for the group. Georgia will face an easier defense in South Carolina next weekend, but a night game in Columbia is never easy.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line rotated just six players the entire game due to injuries, but they still stopped the two-headed monster of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara from running wild. Hurd and Kamara combined for just 104 yards on 26 carries, or 4 yards per carry. Freshman Julian Rochester made his first start, and while his stats may not not impress you (four tackles), he was clogging the running lanes for the entirety of the game. Trenton Thompson finished with 6 tackles and Daquan Hawkins-Muckle finished with three tackles of his own. The biggest cause for concern has to be the fact that for a third week in a row the defensive line has not registered a sack.
Natrez Patrick finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. Fellow middle linebacker Roquan Smith had five tackles, outside linebacker Davin Bellamy forced a fumble, and Lorenzo Carter had a huge sack on Josh Dobbs late in the second quarter. For every good thing this group did, they also whiffed on some tackles and missed on a number of opportunities to add even more sacks to the stat line.
Deandre Baker made his first career start and he excelled at the corner position opposite of sophomore Malkom Parrish. Baker laid a monster hit on Hurd at the 1-yard line that forced a fumble and gave possession back to Georgia. Parrish was having to face much taller receivers, which is usually not a problem, but for some reason Parrish just was not able to get up and jump with the likes of Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone. Aaron Davis played a very well rounded game for the Bulldogs, finishing with 8 tackles and a fumble recovery. Maurice Smith came up a very big interception in the fourth quarter and also forced and recovered a fumble. Unfortunately for the secondary, the play that will live in the forefront of Georgia fans minds will be the 43-yard touchdown pass that was completed as time ran out.
Overall Defense: B-
Even though the Georgia defense gave up 28 points, it did a good job of stopping Tennessee’s rushing attack and slowed down Josh Dobbs for most of the game. Numerous players had strong performances that that helped swing the momentum in Georgia’s favor, but the lack of sacks by the defensive front is alarming, and of course, the Hail Mary to end the game should have been batted down.
Special Teams: C
Rodrigo Blankenship was asked to ‘sky kick’ the last kickoff. We just wanted to get that out of the way before he was blamed for not kicking it into the end zone. Punter Marshall Long had a few punts that were iffy and gave Tennessee very good field position. Overall, the biggest win for this group was the fact that all extra points and field goals were made, which was the biggest cause for concern coming into the game. The real issue this week was the fact Georgia gave up 170 yards on kick and punt returns.
Paul Maharry is a contributor to UGAsports.com.