Film study: how Florida can build a game plan against Georgia

Georgia is 6-1 on the year, which means there have been seven opportunities to take a look at the team and figure it out. Two of them, the Bulldogs’ wins over Arkansas State and FCS Murray State, don’t tell a whole lot on account of the talent disparity. The same could be said to a degree of the opener against Vandy, where it kind of felt like the Commodores were playing dead so as not to poke the beast too badly.

With those caveats in place, here are elements from the other four games that I believe Florida could (and almost certainly has been for weeks) take away as lessons from those contests.

Notre Dame: use the tight end

The Fighting Irish didn’t appear to think they could run on Georgia, so they almost didn’t try. They ended up with a balance of 49 pass plays (including two scrambles on passes) and just 12 runs.

The squirrelly Irish quarterback Ian Book didn’t challenge the Bulldogs deep much because he really doesn’t challenge anyone deep much. Between a lack of interest in the run, which didn’t work well the few times they did try it, and a ton of short passes, Notre Dame’s offense struggled to do much of anything. It’s not a coincidence that their three scores came after a muffed punt by UGA and during situations (right before halftime and late while nursing a two-score lead) when the Bulldog defense was intentionally playing bend-but-don’t-break.

The lone standout player on the Irish offense was tight end Cole Kmet. OC Chip Long knew he had something good there and got him involved from the start. Kmet finished with nine catches on 11 targets for 109 yards (9.8 per target) and a personal success rate of 63.6%. The yards per target rate doesn’t wow you, but it led the team among players with more than one target and is almost double what three of the other four guys with at least five targets had.

Here are some examples of how Notre Dame got Kmet free. It’s not hard to see how Florida could do the same with its own tight end mismatch, Kyle Pitts.

First, the Irish do a traditional play action bootleg pass to the tight end in the flat. Next, wide receivers run verticals to clear out space for Kmet on a shallow cross. Then ND uses play action on 2nd & 5 to draw up both linebackers to the right and get the tight end free to the left. Finally during some of that pre-halftime soft coverage, UGA safety Richard LeCounte stares at play action just long enough for Kmet to blow past him on a vertical.

(Note: you may have to press play twice on this player to get it to work. That’s just a thing with this particular video-chopping service.)

Dan Mullen has plenty of ways to get Pitts open, and he could easily crib some from the Irish’s successes.

Tennessee: scheme outside receivers open

One of the required ingredients to beat Nick Saban’s Alabama is to have fearless, talented receivers. It’s no surprise that the same kind of player has success against Kirby Smart’s Georgia.

Tennessee has a limited team in a lot of places, but its top two receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway are for real. The final box score wasn’t pretty for the Vols, but Jennings had seven catches for 114 yards while Callaway had three catches for 105 yards. They got theirs.

How did they do it? OC Jim Chaney, fresh off of a stint as UGA’s play caller, did a good job to scheme them open.

First up is a deep sideline bomb to Callaway. He uses a double move to get past the corner, and the safety help LeCounte totally bites on it. South Carolina similarly used a double move outside to get a long score against UGA, and Florida turned around and used a couple on the Gamecocks. That kind of thing is in the playbook.

Next we see a couple of examples of Jennings beating soft coverage with quick slants. The first comes open in part from motion drawing a linebacker away from the slant and the second is textbook throwing to where the blitz came from. After that is Jennings beating his man inside on the side of the field with no safety help. It’s a bit reminiscent of Jacob Copeland’s first catch against South Carolina. Finally, there are two examples of first Jennings from the right and then Callaway from the left getting open on intermediate dig routes behind shorter curls.

Some receivers are good enough to get open on their own. Watch any highlight reel of Van Jefferson to see it happen. It doesn’t hurt to use play design and tactics to help them get open though, and that’s something that Mullen is pretty good at doing. Not everyone is though…

South Carolina and Kentucky: play tight pass coverage

Georgia OC James Coley does not appear to do a whole lot to scheme his players open. They run routes, and they must beat their coverage man to get a window.

Thing is, attrition has left the UGA receiving corps rather inexperienced. Two of the top four yardage guys are freshmen, and the other two are transfers. If there’s a common theme among many of them, it’s that they’re gifted athletes who aren’t yet fully developed as receivers. Miami graduate transfer Lawrence Cager is the most polished of them, but even upperclassman Cal transfer Demetris Robertson hasn’t lived up to his 5-star billing from high school.

South Carolina largely rushed only four against Georgia and only employed a small number of well-timed blitzes. That largely syncs with what Florida has done this year. The difference is that the Gamecocks had their guys right up on the Bulldog receivers. That does not match what UF has done.

The upshot is that while UGA moved the ball — it outgained Carolina by 171 yards in the contest — almost no receptions resulted in yards after the catch. A missed tackle here and a hole in the zone there allowed receivers some YAC, but these were few and far between. They forced Jake Fromm to have to fit the ball into close spaces, and while he can and did do that, he easily had his lowest completion percentage on the year against the Gamecocks.

Kentucky also played tight pass coverage, although it was a much different situation. In rainy weather and facing a team starting a wide receiver at quarterback, Georgia mainly ran the ball and let its defense win the game. Still, the lack of yards after catch is readily visible in Fromm’s 2.9 yards per attempt against the Wildcats.

I don’t have a clip reel for this section because it’s basically the same thing on every pass play. Gamecock and Wildcat defenders stayed up tight with Bulldog receivers all game, and tackles came very soon after catches.

Florida played a lot of soft coverage against LSU, and the Tigers roasted the Gator defense. Granted Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase are far better than anyone UGA has at receiver, but those two racked up huge amounts of yards after the catch.

Several of Georgia’s receivers have 5-star speed even if they don’t have 5-star skills. They’re not likely to burn the defense much before the catch, but they can definitely do it after. That’s why it’s important to stay up on them and especially to make the tackle on the first try.

If Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard are healthy enough to be impact players, it’ll make everything more doable. Fromm is vastly more comfortable making the first quick throw than sitting in the pocket and going to his second or third options. He can and will do that successfully, but he looked like a nervous ball of energy while having to do it against the Gamecocks. South Carolina’s defensive front got to him enough that he was rattled and ended up throwing three picks.

It wears even on a quarterback as good as Fromm is to have to be perfect on every throw. Florida should make him feel that he has to by playing tight coverage.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2