The Georgia offensive line is physically overmatched and technically inept.
The Georgia special teams units put the defense in untenable positions over and over again.
The Georgia Bulldogs lost in convincing fashion to the Florida Gators.
I could have typed the first two sentences nearly every week for the past two months. I could have typed the last for the past two years. I knew all were likely to reoccur this afternoon in Jacksonville, but that doesn’t make me any happier about it.
The Bulldogs came out and took the ball away on a Dominick Sanders interception, then took a lead on a Rodrigo Blankenship field goal. But the Red and Black never really controlled this one.
Florida ground out a commanding lead in time of possession (37:27 to 22:33). Georgia tallied an utterly inexcusable 21 rushing yards on the day. Yes, you read that right. 21. Freakin’. Yards. Of course Georgia only ran the ball 19 times on the day, running only 52 total plays, 22.9 plays below their season average. 8 of 13 Bulldog drives ended in 4 plays or less. It was futility writ large. It was what happens when a great defense faces an offense that literally cannot do anything well.
Jacob Eason finished 15 of 33 for 134 yards, not a great performance, but he was once again victimized by drops and running for his life literally from the opening whistle. It’s not rocket science at this point. The 2016 Georgia Bulldog offensive line is tragi-terri-awful. The Yugo of offensive lines. The New Coke of offensive lines. The Gigli of offensive lines. It’s not getting better.
To be fair to the guys on that unit who are playing their hearts out, it isn’t all them. Some of it is employing three different offensive line coaches in three years. It’s trying to block seven man fronts sent by defensive coordinators who don’t yet fear Eason’s ability to beat them with a receiving corp which has been . . .let’s say . . .mediocre.
But we’re friends here. We can be honest with each other. I rarely say that any team or unit “will be improved by graduation”, but we’ve reached that point with this offensive line. The players on it, with the possible exception of the still developing Lamont Gaillard, are as good/big/strong as they’re going to get. And frankly that’s good enough to play in the Sun Belt, not the SEC.
I don’t know that the same can be said of the special teams unit. I’ve seen multiple high school punters this season with better averages than Georgia’s kickers. Fans shrieked for years for Mark Richt to hire a special teams coordinator. Kirby Smart did it from the outset, but you’d be hard-pressed to explain what Shane Beamer has done in the position. Marshall Long might have lost the punting job with a 20 yard clunker to set Florida up in prime field position. Had not Brice Ramsey followed it with a 25 yarder of his own.
There’s no universe in which the current UGA special teams performance is acceptable. Sorry, once again, we’ve reached that point. Such questions aren’t productive during the season. But as soon as this stumbling, retching, failure of a season ends, Smart needs to provide a sound answer regarding what he plans to do to improve the Bulldogs’ special teams play. This team simply cannot go anywhere until this third of the game is addressed in some way.
It’s too early to say that Kirby Smart won’t be a success as the head coach at Georgia. I wasn’t in favor of firing his predecessor. I was skeptical of the process that led to Smart’s hiring. But I’ve seen what he’s trying to do in Athens and I’m actually more inclined to believe he’ll succeed now than I was when he was hired.
Defensively, there are lots of proverbial green shoots emerging from the scorched earth. Once again the defense played with heart despite being thrown onto the field with its back against the wall and on little rest. This Florida offense isn’t the 2005 USC Trojans. But holding it to 231 total yards after being continuously hung out to dry by the UGA offense should be a point of pride for Mel Tucker’s unit.
It’s way, way to early to speculate about whether Kirby Smart will succeed n Athens. But the time is approaching when we ask a subtly different question: whether Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens has been a failure.
I think by Christmas a majority of Bulldog fans will answer yes. Because losing to Vanderbilt is never acceptable at Georgia. Losing to Florida is never acceptable at Georgia. The 4-4 Bulldogs have Kentucky, Auburn, and Georgia Tech remaining on the schedule. Vegas doesn’t set lines as a prediction. They set them to even out the betting. But if you asked them for an honest assessment I can’t see how Georgia could be a clear favorite against any of those teams right now. The Bulldogs will need to beat one of them and avoid upset at the hands of Louisiana-Lafayette just to be 6-6 and barely bowl eligible.
That’s not acceptable at Georgia. Not in a rebuilding year. Not with a freshman quarterback. Not in a house, or with a mouse, or in a box, or with a fox. It’s not acceptable for Mark Richt. It’s not acceptable for Kirby Smart.
This game didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know about this Georgia team. The things that have been horrendous all year were equally ghastly today. It wasn’t reasonable to expect those things to improve since the Vanderbilt game, and without them improving it wasn’t reasonable to expect Georgia to win this one. This is a loss that reasonable Bulldog fans should have seen coming from a long way away. That doesn’t make it any easier. Just because you know it’s coming, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
What we now know is that this Georgia team is pretty officially not going to get any of the breaks necessary to have a better record than it deserves. 8-4 is pretty unlikely. 7-5 would take a good sprinkling of pixie dust. 6-6 sounds about right.
But it’s not acceptable. Not at Georgia. Kirby Smart knows that as well as anyone. What none of us know is whether the steps Smart has put in place to correct the things we all know are broken will do the job. For now, we need to get ready to face a tough Kentucky team. Yeah. That hurts. Until later . . .