On a per-play efficiency basis, Oregon’s passing attack against Georgia was fairly effective – prior to garbage time, the Ducks had 14 successful designed passing plays vs 10 unsuccessful ones, given the down & distance. That’s about a 58% success rate, significantly better than most of the Bulldogs’ FBS opponents last year who averaged just 40% per-play passing efficiency by the same metrics. Oregon focused on short-to-intermediate passes with RPOs, wheels, and crossers, attacking Georgia’s relatively inexperienced inside linebacker unit. Here are some representative examples:
(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 – The returning starter at corner is pointing out the zone exchange to the new starter at ILB when #2 WR Thornton breaks into his crossing route, the backer is dropping too far and #5 RB Dollars has more time than he needs to set up the block to let Thornton turn the corner.
- :10 – The interior of the line is struggling to contain Georgia’s best returning lineman but #10 QB Nix makes a small pocket adjustment and an easy throw to Dollars wheeling out; the rub from Thornton and the initial look off to the field effectively keep the ILB from getting there in time to stop the 1st down gain.
- :18 – Fairly common mesh-sit here that creates backer/corner conflict, good protection and Nix steps up in the pocket well.
- :26 – Georgia’s defensive structure basically allows access to the flat like this in exchange for stopping explosive passes down the sideline, but #23 WR Cota getting extra yardage for the 1st down comes from physicality against the lighter returning starter at corner.
The most significant failed passing plays, of course, were the two interceptions on the second and third possessions, neither of which were throws that Nix should have attempted. The first was on the only deep shot Oregon tried during meaningful play, a 50/50 ball in which the true freshman corner made a spectacular play, but even if he hadn’t it was unlikely that the shorter #7 WR McGee would have successfully caught. The second came on a sequence of plays I’ll address below.
Setting the two picks aside, the rest of Oregon’s failed passing plays only have one thing in common – the deep throw just wasn’t there. Georgia’s pass coverage by the secondary featured four veterans who I think each stepped up from sometimes-shaky performances last year I detailed in last week’s preview, plus a 5-star newcomer I’d never seen (Malaki Starks) who made an excellent debut.
A shorter passing strategy was probably appropriate then, but resulted in virtually no explosive plays – just 8.3% of pass attempts gained 15+ yards, more than four percentage points worse than Georgia’s opponents performed last year. The adjusted yards per attempt figure was also poor, just 5.4 yards on average per throw, a half-yard worse than Georgia’s 2021 opponents averaged.
There wasn’t anything else in Oregon’s passing game that showed up often enough to rise above the level of statistical noise with this sample size. All things considered, the pocket held up very well, Nix didn’t scramble too early or throw inaccurately, and I didn’t chart any obviously incorrect routes run. In terms of player execution, breakdowns were rare and just a little of this, a little of that. Some examples:
- :00 – Pretty clearly a drop by #0 RB Irving, he needs to get his head around quicker. The ILB is playing this fairly well and doesn’t get stalled much by the rub so this isn’t the big throw down the sideline it might have been, but obviously the quick throw was a possibility. Given the ILB’s presence and how well the pocket is holding up, Nix might have checked out of this and dumped off to #7 WR McGee instead.
- :10 – One of only a couple deep throw attempts in the game, the coverage by the new starting corner is pretty good here. I don’t hate the throw since nobody else is open and there’s a chance this much contact draws a flag with no real risk of an interception, and 2nd & manageable is the time to take this kind of shot.
- :16 – This twist is tricky, #74 RT Moore is a beat slow to react but #78 C Forsyth handles it. I think this is a catch against 90% of FBS cornerbacks, the recovery off the break and burst to earn the PBU (or at least get into the sight lines while #3 TE Ferguson is going to the ground) from the true freshman here are really remarkable.
The second interception, on what was otherwise a pretty promising drive, came on what was supposed to be the payoff play set up by a sequence of earlier screens. I can see what Oregon was trying to accomplish here and the larger context is useful for understanding what OC Dillingham is planning for this offense, but the defense simply didn’t bite on the third play, staying back in zone rather than aggressively attacking the bait set up by the formation with man. Nix should have recognized it and thrown the screen again. Here’s the sequence:
- :00 – This is the first 12-personnel set of the game from Oregon, it starts out in a tight cluster then spreads to an unbalanced formation. Lukewarm perimeter blocking like this was common throughout the game - #88 TE Herbert is doing well, #8 TE Matavao is in the right spot but is kind of lunging and loses control without any power, and #1 WR Hutson misses his guy entirely.
- :13 – Here’s the very next play, same formation but mirrored sides. #21 RB Cardwell is hesitating to pick a gap here because Matavao isn’t really controlling his block (he’s trying to get outside leverage so Cardwell can get to the sideline, but he doesn’t get his hat on the right side).
- :20 – Next drive, same formation. The idea is that the defense should recognize it and want to play up to get a jump on the screen, and instead to pop it over them to Herbert. But they don’t take the bait and instead play pretty far back … so far that there’s plenty of space to just throw the screen and pick up maybe 8 yards. The throw isn’t hurried, either, great protection here. I can’t understand why Nix doesn’t see it.
Compared to what Oregon fans have become accustomed to over the last 20 years, the Ducks’ rushing attack was fairly modest in this game: 7 successes vs 7 failures, and only 3.6 adjusted YPC. However, considering the Bulldogs’ phenomenal rush defense last year, that’s actually a pretty impressive performance – it’s 9 percentage points more efficient on a per-play basis than Georgia’s opponents in 2021, and a slightly better YPC average.
The Ducks also got a couple of 10+ yard rushes, and while the sample size is pretty small, even getting a single one is kind of amazing given how ruthlessly the Bulldogs stopped explosive rushing — and pretty much all yards after contact – in 2021. Oregon’s 14.3% explosive rush rate was more than six percentage points better than Georgia’s opponents enjoyed last year.
On my tally sheet, Oregon’s blocking performed very well considering the talent of the opposing defensive front, and Nix made appropriate reads on every option play I charted. The Ducks converted on three of the four 3rd-down rushing attempts to keep the chains moving, meaning the rushing attack was working when they needed it most, even though it wasn’t (and probably never would have been against this defense) efficient or explosive enough to affect the Bulldogs’ structure to open up the passing game. Here’s a representative sample of all designed runs:
- :00 – This is the right read of the OLB, the blocks are good enough to get positive yardage, and the safety is 12 yards out. Most DBs can’t accelerate fast enough to make this play but Georgia’s veteran starter can.
- :08 – It’s 3rd & short and Georgia has a lot of personnel on the line, but the o-line is moving them pretty effectively. Really nice patience and vision by #22 RB Whittington to find this hole.
- :23 – I think this returning starter at OLB is Georgia’s best defensive player; very few people are capable of beating #56 LT Bass on this move but he pulls it off. Still a decent 3.5-yard gain by Irving after contact.
- :29 – A run on 3rd & 7 is a pretty bold playcall but it pays off. Great burst by Dollars and excellent blocking, with #71 RT Aumavae-Laulu pulling all the way around with impressive speed.
Oregon’s defense only stopped a quarter of Georgia’s offensive plays – 10 out of 40 – prior to garbage time, one of the poorest overall defensive performances I’ve ever charted from an FBS team.
The Ducks were a bit more successful against the run than the pass, four successes vs 10 failures or 29%. They limited the Bulldogs to about 5 yards per carry with about 14% of them gaining 10+ yards, which is about the same numbers as Georgia averaged last year. They avoided running up the middle almost entirely, instead using a lot of outside zone and a few quarterback keepers on designed rushing plays. One of the few bright spots from the Ducks’ perspective is that the defensive line and backers handled their interior blocks and gap-filling assignments pretty well, but the major downside was way too much inside movement and inadequate outside contain. Some examples:
- :00 – This power run was Georgia’s most effective traditional rush play last season. #3 DE Dorlus blows up the TE and disrupts the backside pullers, giving #2 OLB Johnson time to catch it from behind and the rest of the defense to clean up. This was the first play of the game and basically one of the few times the Bulldogs tried something that wasn’t to the outside.
- :10 – With man coverage, #44 OLB Swinson needs to be playing square and forcing the inside handoff (#33 ILB Bassa’s job is to take the RB cutback), not turning his shoulders and prompting the QB to pull the ball and run into vacated grass.
- :17 – Nice job tracking the play here by #4 DB B. Williams, #7 DB Stephens, and #1 ILB Sewell.
- :25 – Johnson gets trapped inside instead of playing the TE’s outside shoulder. Stephens and #11 CB Bridges should be coming down harder, there’s nobody to the boundary for them to cover and a fast trigger by DBs to limit outside runs is essential to this defense.
In pass defense, both Oregon and Georgia clearly had gameplans that responded to Georgia’s offensive philosophy last year. The Ducks aggressively jammed the tight ends and played off coverage on the outside receivers, since intermediate tight end passing and surprise deep shots were the major aspects of the Bulldogs’ 2021 production. Georgia either reacted to this in-game, or more likely, simply knew that’s what Oregon was going to do, because their offensive strategy was pretty different to what they put on film last year – outside passing with screens and attacking the curl/flat with the wide receivers and split-out backs, and throwing on a 2:1 basis instead of the even run/pass balance of last year. Some examples of structurally exploiting Oregon’s defensive tendencies:
- :00 – Four of Georgia’s first six plays were outside screens, very uncharacteristic of their 2021 offense. The first three worked but Oregon had this one figured out, with Dorlus beating the RT outside and forcing the play back inside, #55 NT Taimani tracking outside too, and Sewell running through the TE’s jersey grab.
- :07 – I watched Georgia’s defense do exactly this about 150 times on last year’s film. They know #18 OLB Funa is going to drop to help cover the TE and RB to the boundary, meaning Bassa is going to insert as part of the pass rush, and there won’t be any underneath coverage on the slant. Actually a pretty good tackle by Williams to save the 1st down but there’s no way he has the leverage to stop the pass without a backer in the throwing lane. The QB knows this is the play the entire time, watch his head.
- :15 – This blitz requires Sewell to run from one side of the formation to the other to fill in for the pressure from Bassa and #19 DB Hill. The QB knows it and never takes his eyes off this little hitch. It doesn’t help that Sewell then overruns the play.
Since Georgia was focusing on a short, methodical passing strategy and effectively exploiting the holes in Oregon’s coverage, their per-play success rate was very high – Oregon defended just six designed passing plays vs 20 failures, or 23% — but once I figured out what they were doing that wasn’t the big surprise to me.
What was shocking was the number of execution errors in coverage and tackling that let what should have been modest plays that had to slowly march down the field instead turn into explosive plays. That resulted in Georgia putting up more than 12 yards per attempt with nearly 31% of all attempts gaining 15+ yards, numbers I’ve never charted before. Explosive passing was already a strength of Georgia’s offense (arguably the only real one in 2021) but Oregon’s defensive strategy effectively cut into the ways they were generating them in 2021. However some of the worst tactical play I’ve ever seen let the Bulldogs’ alternate strategy of methodical passing each big chunks of field regardless.
Here are some examples of coverage problems:
- :00 – This was a pretty rough outing for Bridges, whom I figured would be over at safety for this game instead of starting at corner. His only coverage responsibility is this throw to the flat so I don’t know why he’s backed out so far. I noted this same problem with tackling last year, though.
- :11 – This is zone coverage so Funa should be dropping, not engaging the back wheeling out, and Bridges should be handing off the deep route to collapse down into the short zone, not running with the X-receiver.
- :28 – Something about this coverage is really off. Stephens should be over the No. 2 receiver instead of 4 yards inside of him, and Sewell shouldn’t be pursuing him at all but rather on top of the No. 3 receiver. Bassa also shouldn’t be whiffing this badly.
And now for tackling problems:
- :00 – I’m surprised to see #10 ILB Flowe not get to this throw in time and miss diving at the receiver’s feet. The rest of this is pretty ugly too.
- :10 – The new starting back picks the wrong rusher to block so Sewell has a free shot, I’m not sure how he lets the QB go.
- :19 – Hill is in the right place for this screen and should have been able to limit it to three yards, but he’s too far inside and lets the back make a move for extra yardage. He should be coming in from the outside and letting his help inside take care of a juke in that direction.
When Oregon had the ball, they faced a Georgia defensive front that was replacing almost all of their starters, and in last week’s preview I thought that they’d be missing some of the amazing versatility in their d-line and the new inside backers would show some inexperience. I think that prediction was basically correct, Oregon handled the pass rush pretty well and opened some good holes for the backs. I think their outside backers performed as I described as well, and correctly called who the third guy in the rotation would be. The secondary though really surprised me. They played a freshman starting corner I didn’t even mention, and the returners all significantly improved at tackling. I did see similar coverage issues, however. I had a few thoughts about depth concerns in the secondary which wound up being moot since the interceptions cut short the early drives and then Oregon’s poor defensive play ushered in garbage time so quickly.
Georgia’s offensive personnel was exactly what I predicted it would be, all the way down to predicting the returning right guard would lose his job and precisely which three other guys they’d cycle through during the game. However their offensive gameplan was totally different than what they put on film last year. I’m not sure at this point if that’s going to be a season-long change up or if they were just exploiting what they knew Lanning would do on defense. I suspect that Georgia performed a self-scout over the offseason and determined, in the same way I did, what they were completely reliant on (tight ends and play-action deep shots) and what aspects were unsustainably inefficient (traditional inside rushing). So I think my description of Georgia’s offense in 2021 was correct, but unlike virtually every other team I’ve studied, Georgia in 2022 decided to do the mirror opposite of that. At any rate it makes the roadmap I laid out in my article comically backwards to read now.