Earlier this week I asked, somewhat sarcastically, whether playing Georgia Southern was such a good idea. For most of the night it looked like the answer was a resounding "no."
Georgia Southern gave the Bulldogs all they could handle before finally giving way late, with the Red and Black triumphing 23-17.
"Triumph" may be too strong a word, actually. "Survive" is more appropriate. "Shuffle onward" would work. It was not a good night for Georgia. The odds were good that it was never going to be a good night. For those with an interest in advanced statistical analysis, an argument could be made that this game was essentially a push. SB Nation's own Bill Connelly's S&P+ rankings coming into this week put Georgia at #39 in the country and Georgia Southern at #40.
Still, the slowly accumulating rage of Georgia fans as the game went to halftime tied, then as Georgia Southern took a lead in the third quarter, was entirely to be expected. Georgia isn't supposed to lose to Georgia Southern. It doesn't matter that Georgia Southern may very well go bowling this December. It's one of those things that just isn't supposed to happen. If it had, it would have likely been the worst loss for the 'Dawgs since Jim Donnan's inaugural squad dropped their inaugural game to Southern Miss in 1996.
The thing that was most frustrating about this one was that Georgia didn't play that badly. At least, Georgia didn't play that far below the standard we've observed so far in 2015. It would have been one thing for a Georgia team that's been dominant all season to lose focus and get a scare from a Sun Belt team. That happens to a lot of top teams every single season. It's wired into college football. It's hard for 19 and 20 year old men to maintain laser focus every day for 13 or 14 consecutive weeks. At least on something other than video games. A mental breather is bound to happen, and it's maddening, but them's the breaks.
What we saw tonight, what's far more worrisome, is that this Georgia team played about like they've played all season. This was the same obscenely inconsistent football team doing the same things they've done all season, at least offensively. Missed assignments up front. Backs blocking poorly in both blitz pickup and lead blocking the run. Greyson Lambert short-hopping open receivers at even the whisper of pressure. Play-calling that really makes no sense under the circumstances. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It was all there once again. And it was almost enough to launch Georgia fans into a pitchfork wielding, torch-carrying riot.
Georgia did finally commit to running between the tackles in the second half, with not terrible results. Not counting overtime (because officially we don't) Georgia ran 14 times for 47 yards in the first half and 83 on 16 attempts in the second half. If the offense had averaged north of 5 yards a carry in the first half this one probably wouldn't have been so eventful.
Similarly, the defense gave up 161 yards in the first half and 116 in the second. It's not a huge difference on paper, but on the field it was enough to allow the Bulldogs to slip away. Again, I think this game probably did a lot more to help Paul Johnson prepare for Georgia than it did for Georgia to prepare for Georgia Tech. But if there's anything to be gleaned from it for the defense it's that you can never give up on a good option quarterback, and that you must get a man on a man on every play. If the defense comes out with its hair on fire next week, it will have been worth it.
The best thing I can say about what I saw tonight is that it's over and Georgia won, and now we move onto Georgia Tech with an 8-3 record. We didn't lose to the Citadel. Sony Michel didn't go off on his coaches before bellowing that he won't be back next year.
But it could have been a heckuva lot better. And it will have to get better. Because this one was perilously close to being one of those games we don't want to speak of in years hence.