The narrative after Saturday night's victory over Mississippi State was JT Daniels' stellar debut as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback. Daniels posted an outstanding stat line of 28-for-38 passing, 401 yards and four touchdowns. It was the first time a UGA quarterback had passed for at least 400 yards since Aaron Murray in 2013 against Auburn. It was a great night for the aerial attack as they held off Mississippi State 31-24.
Although the "new-look offense" was the talk of the town, there were concerns afterward. One of the things to be worried about is the Georgia secondary.
Last week, it was known that a key matchup would be Mississippi State's Air-Raid offense versus a struggling Georgia secondary. It turns out that matchup resulted in the game coming down to the wire.
Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers was a completion machine, finishing 41 of 52 for 338 yards and a touchdown. He looked very composed in the pocket for most of the game and was set up for a potential game-tying drive at the end of the game. The defense finally stepped up, but the real question was why a star-studded defensive roster allowed that many passing yards.
First, the game plan was drop into zone defense, rush no more than four linemen and rally to the ball. Second, the defense is depleted. It is missing All-America safety Richard LeCounte and defensive lineman Jordan Davis. Georgia appeared to be fine with allowing Mississippi State receivers and running backs to run and catch short passes.
Although Rogers completed 41 passes, he averaged only 6.5 yards per attempt. Head coach Kirby Smart had a different plan for this game from others with more zone coverage than man or zone-match coverage that they usually favor. Smart knew Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach runs an offense that throws the ball 83 percent of the time and that Rogers would throw the ball 50-60 times, so he was OK with allowing passes underneath as long as they weren't over the top for big gains.
Still, it was not a pretty site for the. The secondary struggled, but up front there were only two sacks. Both of those came during the last two possessions for the Mississippi State offense. Defense has to be a team effort, and this was not one of the better overall performances we have seen from a talented and deep defense.
They didn't create havoc plays, they didn't create turnovers and they failed to get Mississippi State off-script for the majority of the night.
The change of a game plan from one week to the next should also not be an excuse. The Mississippi State offense had scored 14, 2, 12, 0 and 24 points in its last five games before playing Georgia. They scored 24 on Georgia with a backup quarterback. It comes down to executing properly, and we haven't seen much of that lately from this Dawgs D.
While playoff hopes may be over, there is still a lot of football left to play. The fact that a lot of defensive players will be back next year should provide motivation for the unit to step for the rest of the season. Whatever the issues may be right now, it would be good to see the defense get it figured out and finish the year strong as they gear up for another potential national championship run next year.