Ball control and a stingy defense are bolstering Georgia Bulldogs’ chances of making the College Football Playoff
Oct 18, 2014; Little Rock, AR, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt with fans after the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at War Memorial Stadium. Georgia defeated Arkansas 45-32. (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)
ATHENS, Ga. – (C+P) After a 38-35 loss on the road to South Carolina, Georgia fell out of the top 10 and off many people’s playoff lists. However, they appear to be firing on all cylinders winning their last five games by an average of 28.6 points. Their ability to dominate the turnover margin and improve defensively accounts for much of this success.
Georgia’s offense operated efficiently failing to turn the ball over once in their 45-32 victory against Arkansas Saturday. This was nothing new as the Bulldogs have four turnovers this season, drastically improving from last year. In 2013, they threw six interceptions and fumbled six times in the first seven games.
Much of Hutson Mason’s efficiency results from the decrease of passing attempts. Last season Aaron Murray threw 78 more passes in the first seven games of the season. However, Mason’s completion percentage of 69.2, which ranks eighth in the nation, also strongly contributes to the lack of interceptions. His ability to consistently find open receivers makes it difficult for the defense to generate turnovers.
Georgia’s running backs improved with ball security helping reduce turnovers as well. The only fumble the Bulldogs lost this season came against Clemson after a catch by Michael Bennett. If they can sustain this pace, Georgia can continue to rely on its rushing attack, which ranks 12th in the nation.
Also, the defense’s ability to force turnovers has allowed Georgia to control the turnover margin. In the last two games, they forced nine turnovers, six of which were interceptions. Their 17 takeaways this season helped the Bulldogs become the nation’s leader in turnover margin.
Jeremy Pruitt’s system seems to be working as the secondary seems to play better each week. Quincy Mauger is an example of this improvement. After intercepting zero passes in the first five games, Mauger intercepted three passes against Arkansas and Missouri. The play of cornerback Damian Swann improved recently as well. Swann intercepted two passes and forced two fumbles in the last two games. His performance last week earned him SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
The improvements have not just taken place in the secondary; they also are happening at linebacker. Leonard Floyd continues to wreak havoc in opponents’ backfields. In their last three games, he recorded three sacks and forced a fumble. Along with Floyd bringing pressure, Jordan Jenkins is getting to the quarterback. Jenkins has 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the last two weeks. Their ability to create pressure will make life very difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
Continuing to build on this momentum should not be difficult for the Bulldogs as their next two games are against Florida and Kentucky. Both are coming off blowout losses and should be overmatched by Georgia. Playing good in these games is important because they will need momentum heading into a showdown with Auburn November 15th. The Tigers are the only ranked opponent left on the schedule, and a win against them will ensure a trip to the SEC Championship. Based on Georgia’s ability to win the turnover battle and improve defensively, they look ready for any challenge ahead of them