Dawgs have no bite in second half
Despite win streak, Richt and Bobo raise concerns about offense in final 30 minutes
ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt can't explain it, but he knows the problem is obvious.
"Anybody that watched the game, they know in the first half we looked like an exciting football team -- offense, defense and and special teams," Georgia's head coach said after Saturday's 24-10 win against Mississippi State. "And then in the second half, we couldn't separate to the point where we were really comfortable, because we just couldn't get it done offensively."
That has been a problem for Georgia in each of the last two games -- highly similar wins against Ole Miss and Mississippi State -- but it was particularly evident Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
"There's something missing in the second half, for sure," Richt said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo agreed, adding, "For whatever reason we've been a little flat and not as energized and haven't executed."
A contributing factor could be the flow of the last two games. Georgia built comfortable leads in both games, with its defense dominating the opponent. The Bulldogs have surrendered only one defensive touchdown -- on a gadget play, no less -- in the last three games. So Bobo relied less on the no-huddle offense as the Bulldogs worked to grind out a win in those games.
In both games, Bobo said he felt confident that if his offense avoided big mistakes, the defense was playing well enough to secure the victory.
"That's got a lot to do with it," Bobo said. "When you're playing any team and your defense is handling them like they are, you don't want to put yourself in a situation where it puts them in a bind, so to speak. You slow down your offensive tempo a little bit, make sure you run more clock, and then that's when the execution becomes more important.
"We've got to do a better job of executing in those situations. I still think we can execute and get first downs, even though we're slowing down our tempo a bit and how we're approaching things."
That has been a problem lately. It hurt that Blair Walsh missed four second-half field goals in the last two games, but the Bulldogs have also had difficulty sustaining drives. In 13 second-half possessions against Ole Miss and Mississippi State, Georgia had five punts, four missed field goals, two field goals, one turnover on downs and an interception.
The interception came against Mississippi State, when Darius Slay intercepted an Aaron Murray pass and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown that cut Georgia's lead to 24-10 with 8:31 remaining.
Murray, who threw three interceptions Saturday, also struggled to explain what went wrong in the second half.
"I don't know exactly why," Murray said. "I think intensity, we're still pumped up and ready to go out there and play. We're just not making the plays when they're there."
Georgia's second-half swoons have not been particularly costly. The Bulldogs (3-2 overall, 2-1 SEC) have won three games in a row and the defense has allowed 169 yards per game during the winning streak.
That makes Bobo's job much easier, he admitted, after several seasons in which Georgia's defense regularly allowed big point totals.
"I'll take that any day, trust me," Bobo said. "I'll take shutting them out and knowing they don't have a chance to score any day, instead of trying to have to score every down."
But with Georgia preparing to visit Tennessee (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday night, Richt knows he might need a more complete effort to keep pace. The Volunteers have the SEC's second-best passing offense (336.5 yards per game) and total offense (447.5 ypg) and rank fourth in the league in scoring (37.8 points per game).
"In order to keep winning, we're going to have to play better," Richt said. "We're going to have to play offense well for 60 minutes, not just for 30 or however many it's been."
Once again, Bobo is on the same page as his head coach.
"We have played very well defensively and we've played very well offensively in the first half. And then in the second half, it's been, 'Well, let's control this game and get out of here with a win,' " Bobo said. "But we've got to do a better job of executing and putting somebody away. That's part of growing and part of the process of becoming a great offense. We're not there yet, but we'll continue to work and get better."
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.