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Clarkson: Offense’s struggles lingering

In the last two weeks Georgia has secured one pseudo title to hang on the wall. The Bulldogs’ 24-10 win against Mississippi State on Saturday secured the championship for the state of Mississippi.

Georgia (3-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) completed its two-week sweep of the Magnolia State and its defense keyed both contests.

Unlike Ole Miss last week, Mississippi State didn’t stray far from the traditional playbook, but ran into the same stone wall. Georgia held Mississippi State without an offensive touchdown. MSU struggled to convert first downs and Georgia’s pass rush set another season high with five sacks.

After a 0-2 start when Georgia looked average in some areas and dreadful in others, Mark Richt has plugged the leaks and won three straight.

Even better news came from other venues on Saturday. Auburn beat South Carolina 16-13 and Alabama dropped Florida 38-10 to dump the Bulldogs into a three-way tie for first place in the SEC East.

The injury situation improved as inside linebacker Christian Robinson returned to the field after sitting two weeks with a foot injury. But Robinson’s comeback might be canceled out by outside linebacker Cornelius Washington’s post-game drunk driving arrest. Washington will miss at least this week’s game at Tennessee and next week’s meeting with Vanderbilt with a suspension.

The Good

In the last two weeks, Georgia has delivered its best back-to-back defensive performances since switching to the 3-4 last season. The run stopping has been stifling and sack totals keep climbing.

The Bulldogs allowed a combined 90 rushing yards and a whopping 1.5-yard average per carry against Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

A couple of factors help pad the numbers. Georgia has held second-half leads, so opponents have been in catch-up mode, which takes away from their ability to establish the run. The yardage from nine sacks the last two weeks also helps skew the average.

Georgia’s pass defense has been even more impressive. Mississippi State and Ole Miss combined for 306 passing yards and four interceptions. The Bulldogs’ revived pass rush has picked up nine sacks after having just one in the first three games.

Georgia has quietly become one of the top-performing defenses in the SEC, which has given Richt and his crew time to diagnose what’s wrong with the second-half offense.

The Bad

Georgia failed to put away Mississippi State after an anemic second-half offensive output.

The Bulldogs managed just 78 yards, six first downs and three points after halftime when they had a chance to finish Mississippi State for good. Georgia punted three times, had a turnover on downs, missed a field goal and threw an interception in the second half.

The poor second-half production is even more perplexing because Georgia executed so well in the first half. Isaiah Crowell had 90 rushing yards and Aaron Murray threw for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the opening half.

As long as Georgia continues to play strong defense, it can survive second-half offensive swoons like it did against Mississippi State and Ole Miss. But it’s a disturbing trend that’s on the verge of becoming a problem.

The Ugly

Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf looked nothing like the behemoth that overpowered Georgia last year. Relf totaled just 31 rushing yards and 157 passing yards on Saturday.

Georgia collected a season-high five sacks against Mississippi State and picked off two passes. That total could have been even higher but Sanders Commings and Brandon Boykin dropped interceptions that likely would have been touchdowns if they made a clean catch. Even when Relf had time and space, his throws often wandered horribly off target.

Next Week

Georgia travels to play Tennessee (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday. Georgia has lost its last two games at Neyland Stadium by a combined score of 80-33.

Check out photos from Saturday’s game.


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