BATON ROUGE, LA. – In the 2017 football season, the Georgia Bulldogs were pummeled 40-17 by Auburn in the regular season meeting in Auburn. But, as everyone in Bulldawg Nation knows, Kirby Smart’s team regrouped and used the motivation of that loss on the plains to surge on to the SEC East title, the SEC championship, a college playoff win in the Rose Bowl over Oklahoma and a berth in the national championship game before coming up just short to Alabama in overtime in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
And similar to the path of the 2017 UGA team, this season’s Bulldogs came to LSU’s Tiger Stadium here Saturday sporting an unbeaten 6-0 season worksheet and No. 2 national ranking only to suffer the same fate as those Bulldogs of last year did at Auburn.
It was all LSU as the Tigers of Ed Orgeron, coming off an upset loss the previous weekend to the Florida Gators, dominated the stunned Bulldogs on both sides of the ball en route to a 36-16 spanking of a Georgia team that couldn’t muster any consistency on offense nor stop the Tigers from making one big play after another when LSU had the football.
Now, question is, can the Bulldogs’ 2018 edition get up off the floor as the veteran 13-2 team of last season did and make a repeat run toward the East division and conference crowns?
To that question, I have to say I’m not sure. Whereas the 2017 Dawgs were loaded with playing experience due to the presence of senior stalwarts named Smith, Chubb, Michel, Carter, Bellamy, Atkins, Sanders and Davis, Smart’s present team is youthful from top to bottom with 68 percent of the squad being comprised of freshmen and sophomores.
And, most certainly, that youth showed up at a rocking Tiger Stadium on Saturday as LSU blanked the Bulldog offense in the first half en route to a 16-0 lead, let Georgia whittle that advantage to 10 points, 19-9, at the end of the third quarter and then put the dagger in the Bulldogs’ side in the final period when the Tigers outscored Georgia 17-7 to run away with the 20-point decision.
Folks, this didn’t at all resemble the all-conquering Bulldogs we had witnessed over the first six games this season, the team that had downed every opponent by at least 14 points or more, and that’s because they weren’t the same team due to a more physical team across the line of scrimmage from the University of Georgia.
Offensively, the Tiger defense rendered Georgia sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm so inconsistent that many, including this writer, wondered why we didn’t see more of dual-threat freshman quarterback Justin Fields … anything to shake up the Bulldogs’ sputtering offense on a day when Georgia once went three consecutive three-and-outs at a time when Georgia desperately needed points to stay in the ball game.
Fromm was just 16-of-34 through the air with two interceptions. The usually on-target Fromm did finish with 209 yards passing and a touchdown but then, a number of those completions were of the too little, too late variety. And a Georgia rushing attack that led the SEC with some 250 yards per game on the ground was checked to 113 yards by the crashing LSU defense. You’ve got to run the football to win in the SEC and the Bulldogs didn’t do it nearly enough Saturday, indeed several times opting to pass after the run game with D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield had moved the chains down the field. Look at their respective per-carry averages in this game: Swift averaged 6.0 yards on 12 carries, for a total of 72 yards, while Holyfield bulled the Tiger defense for an 8.0 average per trip but carried the ball just seven times for 56 yards. I’m sure LSU was happy Georgia didn’t run the football more than the Bulldogs did.
And look at the Bulldogs’ final defensive numbers. Freshman corner Tyson Campbell (11 tackles) and junior safety J.R. Reed (9) combined for 20 tackles to lead Georgia and that’s because of two things – the Tigers were advancing into the Bulldogs’ secondary too many times via both the pass and run and, likewise, the Bulldog defense was on the field way too long due to the offense’s inconsistency in attempting to sustain drives. Senior end Jonathan Ledbetter came in with 10 tackles in the loss.
But again, the defense had plenty of chances to get off the field by stopping the Tigers and, the Bulldogs couldn’t do it. They allowed LSU tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire to pound them for 145 yards on 19 carries, allowed quarterback Joe Burrow to run for 66 net yards including a 59-yard gallop late in the fourth quarter that led to the Tigers’ final touchdown and allowed the Ohio State transfer to bomb the secondary deep while throwing for 200 yards on the afternoon. For the day, the now 6-1 Tigers finished with 475 yards of total offense compared to the Bulldogs’ paltry 322 total.
At times in this game, it seemed that anything that could go wrong indeed went wrong for the guys in red jerseys and silver pants. In addition to Fromm throwing two picks, the Bulldogs lost two fumbles and also watched their usually reliable special teams implode … Rodrigo Blankenship being stuffed on a fake field goal attempt when the game would have been tied at 3-3 in the opening quarter had he went ahead and converted the kick and freshman punter Jake Camargo struggling the entire game with a 35.5 yard kicking average.
But I know the Bulldawg Nation doesn’t care to keep hearing of this dreadful showing down in the bayou. Kirby Smart said in his post-game comments he thinks Georgia is still a good football team, one which will learn from this game and still have an opportunity to reach all the goals the Bulldogs set for themselves.
Let’s hope that is the case, because a somewhat revitalized Florida Gator team – like the Bulldogs now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC – lies in wait in Jacksonville on Oct. 27 following both teams’ open date this coming weekend.