Ebbs and Flows
Expat Jack on Georgia football:
Here’s the 4th installment of EXPAT JACK (unedited)…
On Ebbs and Flows, momentum shifts, short-yardage and Zeno’s dichotomy paradox:
When concerns emerged after the Vandy game about a failure to convert on a couple of high-probability third and short plays, and a noticeable second half lull in offensive flow, a prickly Kirby Smart warned us not to read too much into one game. Smart left us chewing the cud on a seemingly inexplicable conundrum: the Dawgs have, unequivocally, the biggest and most talented offensive line in the country, the best game manager in college football, and an unrivaled stable of four capable running backs. Yet, they still can’t find a way to get one measly yard of offense when they need it the most?
There had to be a solution out there. And, after a fairly long back and forth argument with myself, a eureka moment struck. I hypothesized that the gods were using the Dawgs to demonstrate some kind of cosmological proof of Zeno’s dichotomy paradox. And so it is true: motion is just an illusion! I needed more proof, but I would have to wait, because it seems that also the gods don’t watch the second half of the cupcake games either.
Alas, the same concerns about, short yardage, and a sudden disruption of momentum, came full circle midway through the fourth quarter of the Notre Dame game. This time, a contrite, post game Kirby Smart offered some rare self-criticism that may offer us a key to understanding a problem that has haunted this Georgia team in big games for the last two seasons. Fortunately, we won’t need to look to the gods, or even Zeno, for answers (but maybe Zeus!).
The Dawgs offense started out slowly against the Fighting Irish, but that really didn’t concern Coach Smart. The Dawgs were playing their big, physical, fundamentals brand of football that is designed to soften up defenses for a four quarter game. In the post game presser Kirby Smart suggested, “that’s what we want to be. We want to be a dominant team in the fourth quarter. We want to break people’s will, take over the line of scrimmage, which at the end of the day—if you look at the rushing yards—we won the line of scrimmage…That’s what this team is built on, but we’ve got to be able to do other things.”
Concerned about a long term correlation between turnover margin and Notre Dame victories, Georgia prioritized the protection of the football, and went with a punishing conservative style of play to begin the game. Enjoying some success with RPO’s and opportune passes into really tight windows, the Dawgs mustered a colossal 8 minute touchdown drive, but those tiny windows soon closed, and Notre Dame continued to execute its fanatically aggressive high risk/ high reward plan to stop the run, showing excellent team speed, and elite tackling. Post game Jake Fromm explained a little bit about what it looked like at the close of the first half, “their guys were getting into the box in different kind of ways, we wanted to figure out exactly what they were doing, and kind of exploit them more…their guys were doing a really good job of disguising what they were doing…”
As confusing as it might have looked in real time, Kirby Smart suggested that their strategy of quickly slanting and angling into gaps in the box, in an attempt to take advantage of Georgia’s size, eventually takes an enormous toll on the defense, “Well, that affects them, because when you move [like that], you get washed. So, slanting and angling is like rolling the dice a little bit…it usually works early, and usually wears out later, and that’s kind of what took effect”. Yet, the Dawgs were unable make the Irish pay for their aggressiveness, and the Irish took the 10 – 7 reward into the locker room at the end of the first half.
The Dawgs had the ball to open the second half, but again failed to score on their first few drives. It wasn’t until the Dawgs defense had stopped the Irish on three straight three and outs that we saw a notable momentum shift on the offensive side of the ball for Georgia. The CBS announcing crew marveled, “Wow, Georgia, all of a sudden, looks faster!”. Two and half quarters into the game, Georgia’s big physical brand of football had begun to loosen up the Notre Dame defense.
Having called “max blitzes” all day long, Fromm was finally able to exploit the one-on-one match ups that his wideouts were enjoying. “General” Fromm rode the flow, and also went up-tempo from time to time, quickly scoring 13 unanswered points, and they were driving the ball down the field again. A desperate Notre Dame defense was so gassed that on two occasions they tried to counter the up-tempo play with some inglorious flopping. Something that most of us, didn’t even know existed in college football.
So, there we were. The Dawgs were positioned to put the game away, and then it happened…again: the flow suddenly gave way to a lull. After marching effortlessly down the field, it was suddenly third and long, fairly deep in Notre Dame territory, and here comes another painfully predictable third straight busted play. But, General Fromm sensed the urgency: Fromm sees some room up the middle, he tucks the ball, driving, LOWERS HIS SHOULDER PADS, straight into the teeth of the defense, BREAKS A TACKLE, oh! and another one!
That’s right, Jake Fromm rammed it 9 yards up the middle, broke two cringe worthy tackles with some helmet-to-helmet rattling on both of them. Good golly! What an effort by the young man form Warner Robbins. And, the risk seemed worth it for a moment, because the officiating crew signaled for an apparent first down, and the Dawgs appeared to avoid a momentum shift. But, then the re-play booth stopped play for a review. Post game Jake Fromm told us how he saw the moment unfold, “I really thought I had it. I was pretty juiced after that. I really, you know, wanted that first down. And if I was being smart about it, I should have lined… everybody up and called another play really fast.”
So, here we have the first element of a possible solution to Georgia’s short-yardage conundrum. Even, if Jake had thought to make such a call in “real time”, it’s not clear that he would have been permitted to do so in Smart’s system. Can Jake Fromm call a play and go up-tempo when the situation demands it?
Secondly, how did Georgia lose momentum so quickly in the first place? Well, Smart’s post game comments point to a very real problem: “We didn’t get the call out to him fast enough, so he could do what he does best….We’ve got to do a better job of getting the call to him so he can do [what he does best]. When you get down on the play clock, it doesn’t allow him enough time to do that. We had two or three times, where I betcha that he had the call with 11 or 12 seconds left. And that’s not enough time.”
Here we might just have a concise explanation for why a Fromm led Georgia offense frequently stalls when they begin to burn the clock. What Jake Fromm does best is read defenses, he changes the play making “real time” adjustments on the line of scrimmage, putting his playmakers in a position to make plays. Mindlessly, burning the clock, and lining up with just seconds remaining, cuts into what Jake does best. Jake needs to have enough time to manage the line of scrimmage, even when the situation calls for running down the clock. He also needs to be able to go up-tempo and seize the moment when he senses the quickening of a momentum shift. Otherwise, we will be sucked into the infinitely hapless task of arriving at our destination one half the distance at a time.
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