Observations from breaking down the tape of the USC-Georgia game:
The Nunez package
On the Sanford Stadium turf Saturday night, the Gamecocks faithful got their first true eye-full of what athletic former four-star quarterback Lorenzo Nunez can bring. He added a little extra look to what South Carolina’s football team can do, and coach Steve Spurrier said on Sunday’s teleconference more chances will come for the young passer.
With that in mind, it’s worth looking at exactly how Nunez was used in his first action.
Never miss a local story.
Charting the game until it was so out of reach Georgia started emptying its bench midway through the fourth quarter, Nunez got 23 snaps to 35 for starter Perry Orth. That broke down to 18 runs and five passes for Nunez. It’s worth noting how heavy things went toward designed runs.
Four of those plays (22 percent) were true, old-school option calls, three triple options and one a standard option with the quarterback and pitch man. Then there were three more runs where Nunez worked off running backs heading one way and cut the other behind a pair of pulling linemen. He also ran a pair of quarterback keepers after faking handoffs, plus three draws.
The staff also augmented his skill set by putting more speed in the backfield when possible. On six of Nunez’ plays, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper motioned into the backfield to give USC some of its few two-back looks. With Cooper back there, he could either play as pitch man on the option, a potential speed nightmare on the edge, or run outside sweeps opposite Nunez to stretch the field horizontally.
Often, a television commentator drops the adage that if a quarterback misses, low is far preferable than high. The truth of the axiom remains unclear, but South Carolina ex-walk-on Perry Orth got a full dose of the perils of slinging it too far.
His interception, the only USC turnover, came in the third quarter as the game was slipping away. On third-and-10, he tried to fit the ball in over a defensive back to Deebo Samuel, but Orth sailed the throw straight to a safety playing deep Cover-2 (two safeties are responsible for splitting the deep halves).
Georgia came out in a different alignment, playing only two linemen with hands on the ground with a pair of stand-up rushers on the outside. Then one end twisted up the middle, creating a bit of late pressure, perhaps enough to create the overthrow.
Coming into the season, one narrative floating around Georgia centered on the need to get the ball in the hands of dynamic tailback Nick Chubb and get out of the way. Against South Carolina, the Bulldogs showed they were doing OK in that department.
The 159 yards on 21 carries is impressive in itself, but that doesn’t tell the story of the workmanlike or simple nature of how it got done. Almost all of his runs came on what looked like inside or outside zone runs, some derivation of power (had a pulling lead guard) or a wide toss that had a pulling guard and fullback leading the way.
Only four of his carries went for fewer than four yards and 13 went for more than six. That highlighted an offensive output in which South Carolina’s defense allowed at least 10 yards on 40 percent of the plays it saw.
One notable moment for Chubb came in what seemed like an odd alignment and bit of gamesmanship from Bulldogs offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. After a long pass brought the Dawgs to the USC 2, Georgia spread out four wide receivers near the goal line.
That forced four defensive backs out wide, leaving a six-man box to deal with five linemen, quarterback Greyson Lambert and all 228 pounds of Chubb. Usually that math can go either way, even with Lambert not being a runner, and Chubb bowled through the less-crowded pile for the score.
Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert came into Saturday’s divisional showdown with South Carolina looking like a weak link. Instead South Carolina’s defense allowed him to look near perfect.
His 24-for-25 day was remarkable in itself and pointed to the fact the Gamecocks couldn’t really get much pressure on him. In 22 dropbacks, the Gamecocks sent only four on 15 plays.
South Carolina never had more rushers than there were blockers, and only once were its rushers not outnumbered.
But more than that, review of tape shows several key facets that helped keep the USC front at bay. The first was a strong running game behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, which meant every fake handoff drew attention and usually opened space either between linebackers and safeties or for quick dump-off passes (Georgia also managed to run a sweep under a defensive back blitz South Carolina brought).
The Bulldogs also employed several of what are called package plays. In them, the offensive front run blocked, right down to pulling linemen, and the quarterback read a backside linebacker, pulling late to connect with slanting receivers.
No party in the back
Perhaps the number that tells it all is how South Carolina’s secondary never really got burned, allowing no pass longer than 28 yards, but still couldn’t seem to get in the way of anything Georgia’s Greyson Lambert threw up.
The graduate transfer only missed one of his 25 pass attempts, though his per-completion was not out-of-this-world, and the causes seemed diverse. The South Carolina secondary often gave receivers some cushion, and they and Lambert took advantage just about every time. Then Georgia’s running game was a constant threat, helping contract the heart of the defense and open up more lanes (at least 12 Georgia passes had some kind of play action).
This all became particularly noticeable on slant routes, which take express advantage of the mix of off coverage and linebackers being sucked in. Georgia went 6-for-6 on them, averaging 11.5 yards per attempt. That included a five-yard touchdown to Malcolm Mitchell, when a play-action fake held an underneath defender just long enough to open a window.
The overall pressure numbers actually look fairly kind for South Carolina starter Perry Orth. In his first college start, he was sacked once, when outside linebacker Leonard Floyd stunted inside on a well-designed rush, and was not hurried according to the official statistics.
He did face six pass rushers on four of his 17 pass attempts and five on another. He went 1-for-5 on those attempts.
Georgia also throws out some diverse looks, with a smattering of lineman/linebacker stunts and often playing fewer down linemen to get smaller, quicker rushers onto the field. South Carolina’s front and backs actually did a good job picking up several blitzes, including one that came following shifts just before the snap and one that sent two rushers right up the gut.
At no point since 2013 had Pharoh Cooper posted so sparse of numbers as he did Saturday against Georgia. One single reception, a short out-breaking route on an Orth roll out, traveled six yards. That was it.
He was targeted only three more times. The assumption would be that he was given special attention, but it didn’t really show up on film (at least looking for him on USC’s first 18 pass attempts).
He faced a mix of press coverage, off coverage and matching up with safeties out of the slot. He nearly caught a leaping fade early but couldn’t come down in bounds. There were a couple spots where Orth scrambled, looking for Cooper short, and the receiver went up the sideline.
Cooper was not targeted on screens in those first 18 attempts, though he did get 34 yards on five carries.