Georgia delving into third-down struggles

Georgia delving into third-down struggles

October 14th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia redshirt senior receiver Malcolm Mitchell is trusting the coaches to fix the third-down woes for the Bulldogs, who rank last in the SEC in getting first downs on thirds.

Photo by Jim Hipple

ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia Bulldogs have been somewhat stout on offense this season, averaging 451.3 yards and 37.2 points per game.

When third down arrives, it's a different story. The Bulldogs were a combined 7-of-31 (22.6 percent) on converting third downs into firsts in recent losses to Alabama and Tennessee, and their season rate of 29.0 percent (18-of-62) ranks last in the Southeastern Conference.

"We're just not getting it done, and it's as simple as that," tight end Jeb Blazevich said Tuesday. "I think there are a million different reasons why, but we just have to figure out what works for us."

Said receiver Malcolm Mitchell: "I'm not sure what the issue is, but I trust that the coaches will fix whatever problems that we're having."

Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt said he spent Monday night reviewing all 62 third-down opportunities to seek out common themes. Richt declined to offer specific findings but admitted it has been concerning.

The Bulldogs were 5-of-9 on third down in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe, but it's been downhill since.

"We've had too many three-and-outs," Richt said. "When you get three-and-outs, you lose momentum offensively. You put your defense back on the field faster than you want to, so we definitely have to get better at that. That's a huge point of improvement that we're trying to make.

"Last night was 'Third Down Night,' and I can promise you that we stayed up another hour or an hour and a half than normal."

Thompson emerging

Touted freshman defensive tackle Trenton Thompson has started the last two games and played more than 60 snaps at Tennessee. The 6-foot-4, 307-pounder from Albany compiled eight tackles against the Vols, a season high.

"Trent does a really good job of using his hands and getting separation from the blocker and being able to shed him and go make a play," Richt said. "He's still a work in progress for sure, but Coach (Tracy) Rocker has really helped him develop some good fundamentals. He came in with some good stuff, too, but he's certainly perfecting it.

"He's starting because he deserves to start. We didn't promise him anything in recruiting. You come in and earn it, and he did."

Thompson has 19 tackles, which is third among Georgia's defensive linemen behind seniors Sterling Bailey (25) and Chris Mayes (22).

Longevity tandem

Richt and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel are in their 15th seasons, which is tied for sixth nationally in longevity at their respective Bowl Subdivision schools.

Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer leads the way, having coached the Hokies now for 29 seasons. Beamer is followed by Kansas State's Bill Snyder (24 seasons), Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (17), Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (17) and TCU's Gary Patterson (16).

"Coach Pinkel has done a great job of leading that program for years," Richt said. "They're the two-time SEC East champions, so they're a team that knows how to win. The last time they were here, they beat us, so we know that we have a great challenge in that regard."

Odds and ends

Richt again does not expect receiver and return specialist Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring) to play this week, and Sony Michel will have his return duties reduced due to his increased role at tailback. Georgia's tight ends have just 11 combined catches through six games, with five of those occurring against South Carolina. Richt said redshirt sophomore tailback A.J. Turman continues to provide good looks as a scout-team member. Missouri is 13-8 against SEC East teams since joining the league in 2012.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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