Georgia fans have a reputation for for not being too high on Mark Richt and now former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. I'm not totally sure that reputation is fair, but as Louisville fans we've all heard about how happy fans were to see Todd Grantham leave Athens last year. Georgia is a school that routinely on the fringe of winning the best conference in the country so it's understandable that their fans have high expectations. Those expectations were extremely high this year with Heisman hopeful Todd Gurley in the backfield and an experienced front seven on defense. Two inexplicable losses and the loss of Gurley for the season turned the season upside down and Georgia missed a pretty solid chance to play for the conference championship.
Georgia won't light the world on fire with their passing game, but one thing that Hutson Mason does well is protect the football. All season long Louisville has faced teams with quarterbacks that don't value the football. That won't be the case this game against Mason. Georgia doesn't ask him to do much but Mason is completing nearly 70% of his passes and he's only thrown four interceptions. Georgia likes to keep the passing game within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. Mason only has to make one read and get rid of the ball. They also do a lot of quick screens, bubble screens, running back swing passes, running back screens, and middle screens. It's pretty much the way you would pass the ball in a video game if you had a bunch of fast guys outside. Georgia doesn't have amazing speed at the skill positions, but they do an outstanding job of using their passing game as an extension of the run. I've watched a lot of Georgia games and highlights over the lat week and I've yet to see Hutson Mason throw the football more than 20 yards down the field. If Mason doesn't have that ability it could be a major issue against a defense that has been very good at stopping the run overall.
Here's how good I think Nick Chubb is: Barring injury, he will be a perennial All-Pro in the NFL. Chubb became the starter six games into the season and the only time he's been held under 129 yards was in a game that he only carried the ball 9 times. He still finished with 113 yards. Chubb is the best running back that Louisville will face this year and he has the system and offensive line to make him that much better. What separates Chubb from some of the other backs we've seen this year is his ability to break tackles. Brandon Radcliff has become a fan favorite this year as he has shown his determination and grit when carrying the ball. Chubb isn't as quick or fast as Radcliff, but he is much better at running through defenders. He doesn't break a tackle and slow down. He just runs through guys which makes you gang tackle. If everyone isn't bringing it when he has the ball in his hands he will get a lot of chunk runs. It will be interesting to see how much Georgia uses backup running back Sony Michel. Michel is more of a scatback or speed back that Richt could use to try to gash Louisville on the edge.
The Bulldog's lack of diversity in the passing game has turned a fairly talented group of receivers into a group that seems more like Boston College's receivers. Malcolm Mitchell leads the team in catches per game, but he is only averaging around 9 yard per catch. Michael Bennett is a lanky receiver that tends to do a little of everything. He's a threat down the sideline because of his size, but he's also a guy that can beat you on a slant route. Chris Conley is the best of the group. He's made the biggest plays in the passing game this year and he's the biggest receiver of the group. Conley leads the team with 7 touchdowns catches and he also averages 18 yards per catch. Louisville will have to account for all three as well as tight end Jeb Blezavich but they haven't shown this year that they can really take over a game.
Georgia's offensive line is an unsung group of guys. Greg Pyke and David Andrews were both named second team All-Sec performers but the rest of the group probably deserved some notoriety. Georgia has only given up 15 sacks this season while also only allowing 5.33 tackles for loss a game. When you combine that with the fact that the running game averages 6 yards per carry it's hard to discount the role the line has in the success of the offense. Georgia has faced seven teams this year that have what I would consider good pass rushes. To only surrender around one sack a game is extremely impressive.
KEY PLAYERS: RB Nick Chubb, WR Chris Conley, C David Andrews, RG Greg Pyke
Georgia lost Todd Grantham last season and some felt they upgraded with the addition of former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. It's impossible to know if that's true but Pruitt has done a pretty good job with a solid group of players leftover by his predecessor. Pruitt is running what I call a 2-5-4 defense at Georgia. Ray Drew and and Mike Thornton are the two down linemen in his scheme. Drew has been a steady performer in his career at Georgia. He does a great job of getting penetration when needed as well as holding up blockers to free up linebackers behind him. Thornton is a big body that is responsible for keeping backers clean and plugging interior run lanes. Both are big keys to the defense as a whole as they give the second level players room to run.
The group of linebackers at Georgia are arguably the best in the nation. Led by Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson in the middle with Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter on the outside, the linebackers accounted for the vast majority of the sacks and tackles for loss for the team. Star outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is out with a shoulder injury so I'm not totally sure how the defense will adjust without him. (He missed the UK game this year but I honestly couldn't find any video of the game online). Carter started in place of Floyd in that game so that leads me to believe that they adjusted the defense to a 3-4 alignment. Kentucky went on to put up the third highest point total UGA allowed this year including 24 points in the second quarter. Floyd is a major loss for this defense as he's the most active and disruptive pass rusher. Carter played unbelievably well against UK but he's not yet the player that Floyd is. This group isn't an overly fast or shifty group of players so without a solid pass rush the underneath out routes that Kyle Bolin killed UK with should be open again.
The secondary was thought to be the weak spot of the defense coming into the season but that hasn't been the case at all. Georgia is only allowing 10 yards per completion and they are are second in the nation in yards allowed per game. The 106.36 opponent rating is 11th in the nation and the list goes on. UGA has a secondary that is filled with freshmen and sophomores but senior Damien Swann is the leader of the group. Swann mans the "star" position and lines up all over the field. He will match up as a corner one play and the next as an extra linebacker. Aaron Davis and Devin Bowman man the corner spots when Swann is in a different role. Both have the size and speed to matchup with Louisville's receivers and they have both played well against pretty good receivers. Quincy Mauger looks to have been the odd man out when Georgia adjusted things against UK. He leads the team in interceptions and is somewhat of an enforcer in the middle of the field so I expect him to get plenty of snaps no matter what. The deep safety for Georgia is Dominick Sanders. He is one of two freshmen in the secondary and he is also one of the five players on defense that have scored a touchdown this year.
KEY PLAYERS: OLB Jordan Jenkins, MLB Amarlo Herrera, MLB Ramik Wilson, OLB Lorenzo Carter, DB Damien Swann
- Louisville defensive backs Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons both transferred from Georgia.
- Nick Chubb can jump higher than you.
- Tight End coach John Lilly will call the plays for the bowl game.
- Jeremy Pruitt led FSU's defense to a number one scoring defense ranking in his first year as a defensive coordinator.