For a while there, we allowed ourselves to believe. To believe that Georgia could pull this one off. That the defense would do what it’s done for weeks, and that the offense might do just enough, and that Rodrigo Blankenship might be there to cement things.
That belief was misplaced.
Kirby Smart’s team ran into a buzzsaw in purple and gold, succumbed in a hail of injuries, and eventually just sort of spent itself out in a 37-10 SEC Championship Game loss.
Like many of you. I nursed a quiet fear through the week that this one could get bad. For a while now it’s just felt like 2019 was LSU’s 2017. The season when the breaks go their way and all the pieces seem to have fallen into place. The season when the pixie dust falls on you every time it really, really needs to.
Now, let us praise famous men.
From Joe Burrow’s 16 yard first quarter pass to, well, Joe Burrow, to the play on which Burrow avoided being sacked by Travon Walker twice only to throw a gorgeous 71 yard pass and flip the field, this one was not to be in large part due to the efforts of the guy who basically locked up the Heisman Trophy tonight.
I know you don’t want me to say “it wasn’t that bad.” As bad as it was, it’s worth noting that LSU was held 11.7 points and 79.4 offensive yards below their season averages. The Bayou Bengal offense picked up right where it left off last week against Texas A&M. They’re the best in the nation. In the words of legendary football mind Randy “Macho Man” Savage, “you don’t have to like it, but accept it.” Joe Burrow put up a singular performance tonight. Players like that don’t come around every year. This guy is special, and he’s playing as well right now as he ever has and likely ever will.
There’ll be plenty of groaning from Bulldog fans tonight. It was the first time since Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens that Georgia was truly irretrievably out of it before the fourth quarter. That’s disappointing. But it comes with an injury cart full of asterisks.
Tyler Simmons is surprisingly bad at catching footballs for an SEC wide receiver. Matt Landers may be worse. But we were throwing downfield to them because we couldn’t do so to Lawrence Cager or Dominick Blaylock. Or in the middle of the field to Kearis Jackson. Or for the first half to George Pickens. James Coley has earned your frustration for the inability to put together a cohesive offensive game plan for most of the season. But tonight it’s safe to say he was playing with a stacked deck.
It’s interesting to think how differently this game turns out if Simmons and Robertson don’t drop passes on that first drive. Georgia needed a fast start on both sides of the ball and simply didn’t get it.
I continue to believe that once the season is finally over we find out what broke Jake Fromm. My money is on at least one undisclosed injury. There’s simply no way the guy who completed less than half of his passes in each of the last four games did so because he forgot how to play quarterback. It’s academic now, but I suspect he’ll be owed some semblance of an apology later.
In the end, a Georgia team with perilously little room for error made too many errors and got absolutely no breaks from an injury, penalty, or turnover perspective. That’s how you lose to arguably the top team in the nation by four touchdowns.
Now, let’s get real.
No, the Playoff Committee isn’t dropping Georgia out of the top ten.
No, Georgia’s not dropping out of a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Save your “We’re terrible and football is terrible and life is terrible!” takes. It makes you sound like a spoiled child. Really, it does. Georgia won 11 football games this season, beat every single one of its traditional rivals, and did all of that despite a patchwork offense and a defense which at times had as many as five true or redshirt freshmen on the field. If you’ve chosen to label this season “dissatisfying” may I suggest you take a long look in the mirror before you pick apart the Bulldog roster.
If you want Kirby Smart to make changes to his offensive staff, I can’t disagree with you and I suspect we’ll both get our wish. In recent weeks Kirby Smart has finally acknowledged publicly that Georgia isn’t scoring enough points. If you know how measured the guy is, you also know that means he likely reached that conclusion weeks earlier. The truth is that Erk’s time-worn maxim about teams not scoring any points is just that: time-worn. It’s no longer possible to hold good college offenses scoreless on a consistent basis.
Georgia plays the kind of offense it does in part because of Kirby Smart’s belief in the importance of keeping the defense off the field and fresh by keeping the offense on the field for long drives. He’s not going to give up that deeply held bias. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see him re-examine how tightly to hold onto it.
And while it’s cold comfort now, the truth of the matter is that Georgia will likely be better next year on offense in spite of itself. George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock return after each taking huge steps forward through their freshman season. Kearis Jackson will hopefully return healthy, as will Tommy Bush, seriously hampered by injury this season. Georgia already has a pair of elite receiver recruits in Justin Robinson and Marcus Rosemy. They’ll look to add at least one more, and obviously have snaps to sell.
The big wildcard may be Jake Fromm. The odds that Fromm is leaving early for the NFL have plummeted in the past five weeks. If you’d asked me before the season I’d have said there was an 80% chance he’s leaving. Now I’m place those odds closer to 40%. NFL personnel folks still love him. But the results on the field have been bad enough that it’s just not possible to see him being selected among the top three quarterbacks. While he’s still likely just behind Burrow, Tua, and Oregon’s Justin Herbert, I think players at other positions have likely passed him, and there are now questions about his mental toughness that, fair or not, need to be answered.
But there’s one more game before we really have to think about that sort of thing.
Now, let’s look ahead instead of behind.
If I had to wager on it, I’d bet that Georgia ends up in the Sugar Bowl against a top 10 Baylor squad. Waco’s close enough to New Orleans for Bear fans to travel well. And Georgia is an appealing target for a Big XII opponent (as we’ve seen in the past).
The Bulldogs need to get healthy, get their heads right, and get ready for the next one. I intend to do the same, and I hope you will too. Ever and always . . .