Han Vance on Georgia football: I saw that coming at Death Valley, way back in the offseason when I picked it as the team’s only regular season loss, but as game time approached I got all wishful and called for Georgia to somehow survive a scare and prevail 27-24. A lack of offensive identity appeared to me the real culprit Saturday, in a rough 36-16 loss.
Was I being honest with myself as a prognosticator? No, it was a bad pick. I was right before, and I just couldn’t handle the truth. I didn’t stick to my guns because they were pointed at the team I love, while the UGA fanbase can be so seriously misguided that the majority of folks I was talking to in Atlanta, in the buildup to the bad loss, thought UGA would blow LSU out, like the glorified scrimmages handily won against inferior competition. Scheduling strategy to get the weakest teams possible and pile up easy wins backfired, as untested Georgia was exposed as extremely vulnerable. They don’t get blown out at home, folks, rarely lose games in Baton Rogue to any team that is not Bama, virtually never losing at night. Got them at 3:30 here with the nation watching, first big moment of the season. Fail.
This is life on the road in the great SEC, playing a home team that needs the win, the most true-to-the-term fans often propel their team to victory. The kids – and no mistake about it, in college they are youthful and impressionable – get their confidence from the tipsy or worse, loud and crazed home contingency and ride the crests of momentum toward victory. It simply happened again.
Georgia came in having won 4-of-6 versus LSU in recent series history, Dogs last losing at LSU in 2003, to a team that also beat Georgia in the SEC championship game and won a (split with USC) national championship, pre-full-BCS. Though manhandled on the road, Georgia would absolutely love to play LSU again, in Atlanta, a la Auburn of 2017. The Bulldogs being the only SEC team with this distinct (home-state) advantage, it possibly could pan out again. LSU barely beat Georgia at Death Valley when folk hero Billy Bennett had a horrible game kicking and the Dawgs got the rematch in the Georgia Dome. Sounds better than it was, I was on hand as LSU blew Georgia out, unable to protect David Greene.
Kirby Smart fell to 0-3 in road games against the SEC West, having been blown out in such in each year of his tenure. Bad losses were a key factor in the decision not to retain Mark Richt obviously, and there has been zero improvement there yet: Georgia still gets blown out every single year. Coach Smart is now 3-4 overall versus his former division, where he was a longtime assistant at (#1) Bama and (#5) LSU. Kirby defeated Miss State and Auburn in Athens, Auburn in Atlanta, was completely embarrassed at Ole Miss, wiped out at Auburn, out-coached in the second half and overtime of the national championship game played in-state to a majority Georgia crowd, then this one got away. Room for improvement there.
Kirby Smart is 27-8 lifetime, with a school-record 77% career mark. This is still progress. The sky isn’t falling. Kudos to Kirby on this factoid: Ol’ Georgia had never been 6-0 two years in a row. Never, ever. Just like last year, it was a thudding reality check on the road. But just like last year, Kirby had Georgia in a great position to withstand a loss. The team went 23 and 4 with the loss, since they turned it around middle of Kirby’s first season, winning out save a Tech upset in Athens, last loss Between the Hedges. Good chance Georgia will win out at home again this year, both Auburn and Tech struggling.
Teams have their mettle tested on the road in this mighty, mighty football league. This was a tough spot. How the team responds over two weeks of practice will probably define the whole athletic year at UGA.
Seasonally, nothing is lost. Georgia remains top 10 in both polls (6th/8th), which are getting thrown out anyway, as far as any real relevancy, once the CFP committee begins slotting teams in two weeks. Should Georgia be able to get through (6-1) Florida in Jacksonville, at the site of the former Gator Bowl and formerly-called World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, where Kirby is 1-1 and the Dawgs have won 4-of-7, lost 3-of-4, all is well in the quest to repeat as SEC East and SEC champs. Just like last year after Auburn, there is no further margin for error; it is earlier in the year, though.
After slow offensive first quarters, Georgia did not score at all in the first half. The best kicker in the country was called on to run on 4th and 9 instead of putting needed points on the board. This struck me as not just a bad call but unnecessarily desperate.
The defense was debased for 475 yards, 200 passing and 275 run right down their throats from power formations. D’Andre Walker was playing well and providing the bulk of the team’s pass rush before injury. The presence of Roquan Smith was missed in this game, Georgia’s defense soft in the middle. The theory that Georgia is much more talented now than upon Kirby’s first year has no basis in proven reality so far outside of some ratings of large and talented children by recruiting scouting services. Chubb/Sony/Roquan/Wynn/Wims, Eason, even are real NFL-caliber talents, and they all left school together as SEC champions, with the UGA interception leader (Dominick Sanders) and several other noteworthy drafted and un-drafted players that may pan out in the pros. Show me a star right now besides one senior cornerback and a formerly non-scholarship kicker.
These guys are well missed in Athens, nothing embarrassing about that. A lot of good talent went out from a league champion at Georgia. The strong recruiting classes came in, but Georgia is young now. While true sophomore Jake Fromm is not nearly athletic enough to save the season alone, he is a tough dude who will fight hard. I expect him to play very well in Jacksonville. The real concern is a lack of offensive identity – exactly what I pointed out when much of the fanbase were already audibly looking forward to playing Alabama in Atlanta again. This team just does not know itself fully, yet.
Win, Dawgs. When are the coaches going to feed Holyfield and Swift until it gets stopped? At GEORGIA, WE run. The stars are running backs. Everybody thought I was being hyperbolic when I identified this issue on an undefeated team that was leading the SEC in team rushing. No real feature back(s).
This isn’t an egalitarian spring practice. A man needs to step up, and at the University of Georgia, when the Dogs are good, that player runs the rock. Swift, who I keep waiting to break out, got 72 on 12, a solid six yards a pop. He finished with 93 total yards, with 21 on two catches. He played pretty well and got 14 touches. Holyfield and Swift should be getting a minimum of that apiece, based on their production. I’d probably feed Holyfield 25 times every game and see what happens, because I do not see anybody producing better per play on this whole hyped roster after seven full games.
The year is half over, as Georgia will be going to a bowl game, if not the CFP. While the CFP is on the table, still, with no more losses and a repeat league crown. To-date, Georgia is, in reputation, living off the accomplishments of last year’s team and a schedule featuring middling teams from Tennessee. Had the Bulldogs faced a tough schedule such as LSU’s, what would the young team’s record be, I wonder.
The problem Saturday was not just that Fromm (16-34, 1 TD, 2 picks, 6 ahem “carries” for -19) and Chaney were bad. Commit four team turnovers, on the road, that is going to be a loss. Justin Fields (1 run, 3 yards) is clearly not trusted to throw the ball or lead the team. There is no QB controversy, never was. If Fields is ready to throw, he would have played more after a scoreless first half. Fields was just a decoy and still appears to the media more likely to transfer to-date than to get the reigns. But maybe not.
Let’s look at my 27-24, again, to see how farfetched my fantasy was. Three points for Rodrigo instead of a gang tackle – he could have gotten hurt and cost us multiple games lost, by the way – and that is 19 scored instead of the sad little 16. Maybe Holyfield scores again, if he gets even double-digit touches. Every turnover is considered, by coaches, to be worth four points. 36-12=24. Play clean and run the guy with the best yards per carry average more, it is 26-24. Maybe I wasn’t just drinking the Kool-Aid.
Georgia went for two at the end of the third quarter, down 10. If the lost 3 points from the fake kick were on the board, that would have been utterly unnecessary. That’s squarely on Kirby. Missing the two on a trick fake reverse run by Swift, the seized momentum was lost again. There, I would have had Blankenship kicking. Any full good quarter would be enough to top 9 points. It was a bad quarter.
While as an O.C. you have to be able to abandon or highly modify the offensive game plan on the fly and go with what is working and go away from what is not working. I promised not to criticize Chaney while the Dogs were scoring 40+ every game.
Recall, Chaney had to be personally convinced by Chubb and Sony to feed them the rock middle way his first, going-terribly, year in Athens, starting an epic 17-2 run that culminated with Sony’s Rose Bowl MVP. They could have left school after that first season and last year’s SEC title not happened. While Chubb is a shy man of few words never considered anything close to well-spoken, the dominant personality (outside of Kirby) of the program for a few years has been Sony Michel, the 100-yard rusher seen saving Tom Brady on TV over an undefeated NFL team Sunday night. Bill Belichick drafted Wynn, the first UGA O-lineman to go in the first round in 15 years and who is hurt this year, first, Sony, second, both in the first round. You know Belichick, right? Little Nicky Saban’s mentor.
How good is Georgia? Good enough to win the SEC East, at least, maybe, I hope. Offense-minded Gators coach Dan Mullen and salty, blitz-happy former UGA D.C. Todd Grantham provide another real challenge to the Dawgs. Plenty of motivation on both sides.
Florida looks good, having survived a scrappy Vandy after out-physicalling LSU in the Swamp. If this next game, after the bye, were being played in the Swamp, I’d have to take Florida. They lost once, too, to a strong Kentucky who were due. It is a three-team race in the SEC East, each of the teams with a loss, while Georgia would be in third place in the SEC West right now, even having played the current schedule, which has been garbage. Only Alabama played a weaker schedule in the whole league heading into the game at LSU, Georgia with the single toughest schedule (on paper) in the entire league the rest of the way. Tested.
Georgia was not going undefeated, obviously. The relevancy of this next game down in Florida cannot be stressed enough. Georgia will be in control, with a key matchup at Kentucky the following week, or already irrelevant from a national perspective. Good time for a bye week.