Dean

Georgia inside linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) during a game against Mississippi State on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Lewis Cine said Dan Lanning told Georgia’s defense “don’t bite the cheese” with Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense. 

“Most likely, there’s something behind you coming,” Cine said in a virtual press conference after Georgia’s 31-24 win. “The type of offense they have is they’ll show you something so you can bite it, and then have something come behind you, so they can throw it. The goal was to have them throw it in front of us so we could just rally to it.” 

With quarterback Will Rogers’ consistent short passes, especially in the first half of Saturday’s matchup with Georgia, it was a game of patience. When Georgia went into halftime tied at 17 with Mississippi State, Rogers had completed 24 of his first 29 passes for 210 yards. 

In the second half, Georgia’s defense kept Rogers in check, allowing him to complete 8 of 11 passes for 72 yards in the third quarter and 9 of 12 for 54 yards in the fourth. After Mississippi State’s final touchdown with 5:07 left in the third quarter, Georgia held the opposing Bulldogs to two consecutive three-and-outs, a 19-yard drive ending in a punt and a turnover on downs. 

The patience paid off. They didn’t bite the cheese.

Mississippi State’s Air Raid style of offense was a talking point all week, so it was hardly a surprise to see Rogers opting for pass after pass, ending the game 41-for-52 with 336 yards and a touchdown. 

What seemed to surprise Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was how much Rogers had improved before playing Georgia. Rogers, a true freshman who’s played in four college games before starting in Athens, had never passed for more than 226 yards and was inconsistent with his accuracy, throwing double the amount of interceptions as he had touchdown passes before the Georgia game. 

“I mean it’s crazy. You go watch tape, every team that’s played them plays the same stuff, and we probably got as good or better players than the teams that played them good,” Smart said in a virtual press conference after the game. “The difference [is] they didn’t drop balls, they didn’t fumble, they didn’t throw an interception. … Will Rogers played really well and really accurate. It forced us to be really patient.”

The conventional wisdom with such a pass-heavy team could’ve been to rush more defenders, but Smart disagreed. He said the success rate went down when Georgia rushed four or five players at Rogers because of his quick release on the ball. 

Smart also cautioned against man-to-man defense, noting that’s how LSU lost against Mississippi State with KJ Costello under center back in Week 1. He said man-to-man coverage is what Georgia brought when the defense was torched by Rogers’ 51-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.

“It was like ‘Golly, as soon as you go to change it up, bam, they hit you,’” Smart said. “It’s just not worth it.” 

Not altering its defensive scheme was part Georgia’s patience  its attempt to not bite the cheese, if you will. 

Even when Georgia was struggling to keep up with the consistent short passes on defense, linebacker Nakobe Dean came down with tackle after tackle, finishing the game with 12 total. He said in a virtual press conference he felt like Georgia improved its execution after the second half.

“We know we got to execute better,” Dean said. “I do kind of put that strictly on the shoulders of the linebackers and the leaders of the defense. We know we got to execute better and play better.” 

Mississippi State’s offense wasn’t the kind of pushover that Las Vegas betting odds or college football pundits expected it to be. Smart gave head coach Mike Leach and Rogers himself plenty of respect postgame. 

“They got a good system, and they’ll be a force to be reckoned with if the quarterback’s that accurate and people continue to play them the way that we played them,” Smart said.