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In 2014, Georgia Tech won in Sanford Stadium on a last second collapse by Georgia. Two years later, here we are again. Mark Richt was fired exactly a year after his mistake. Is Kirby Smart on the same path?
First of all, a word about Georgia Tech. The much maligned Paul Johnson brought crafty play calling and superior discipline to Athens and beat a team with superior talent 28-27. Congratulations. See that it never happens again.
Now back to Smart.
Before the season started, a friend asked me what I thought of Kirby Smart as the new head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. At the time, I wasn't nuts about some of the bad habits he brought over from his former employer (including hiding from the press, influencing the Georgia legislature to exempt his program from sunshine laws, and resisting the transfer of student athletes). However, I said I'd wait until the season ended to render an opinion. The season is now over, and I remain less than optimistic.
Fact: Despite playing all four of them most years for the better part of a century, Georgia has never lost football games to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida, and Georgia Tech in the same season before. Not under Richt, not even under Donnan. Add in that we only squeaked by Auburn because they ran out of players and it gets worse. That's an incredibly inauspicious start to the Kirby Smart era.
All season, I've heard about how Georgia is losing because its talent is lacking. Somehow, that never came up while Richt was coach. Smart started the season with Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb, his talented roommate Sony Michel, and the most talked about quarterback recruit in the SEC. He ended the season ranked 12 of 14 SEC teams in total points per game. Maybe former Defensive Coordinator Smart needs time to adjust to learning to coach offense, but his defense still finished 7 out of 14 SEC teams in total points allowed. Maybe, as his defenders claim, Smart doesn't have the players with the skill sets necessary to play "The System" he brought over from Alabama, but that's not the fault of Richt or the kids he recruited. That's on the coach who chose a system and failed to adapt it to suit the talent he had available.
I hope that the problems of 2016 represented growing pains for a rookie head coach learning on the job. The good news for Smart is that it will be hard to do any worse in 2017. That is, unless he's determined to lose to Auburn, too.
Final score: University of Louisiana at Lafayette 21, UGA 35. It wasn't that close.
Let's see, what else was memorable about the game? It was really windy. The pregame included another flyover (C-130?). By the time we took our seats, Isaiah McKenzie had already scored two touchdowns.
Hmm. Was there anything else?
Oh, right. Black jerseys. No big deal. Can we let that go now? Please?
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Auburn was ranked 9. They were favored by 10 points. Yet they haven't won in Athens since 2005. Do I have to tell you what happened next?
The evening started well, with a rare US flag display in one end zone and an F-16 flyover. Then the fellow who sits next to me showed up drunk. A fight broke out between two UGA fans a few rows in front of me, and then a second scuffle erupted when someone spilled his nacho cheese on someone else's jacket. However, things didn't really get ugly until the teams started playing football.
Auburn began the game with a truly dominant rushing attack. Their first drive was derailed only by a fumble. Their second drive resulted in seven easy points. Georgia, on the other hand, had nothing. They couldn't even get a break on a clear pass interference non-call. Bulldogs fans were not happy. Through halftime, the score remained 7-0. It looked like the sun was setting on what was left of our season.
Then, after halftime, Auburn inexplicably moved away from their run game. Instead, they devoted themselves to a passing attack that was more pass than attack. Auburn eked out only 37 yards in 22 passing attempts for the game and never scored another point. (Next time Auburn fans want to make an argument about firing Gus Malzahn, this should be exhibit A. If quarterback Sean White was nursing an injury, why ask him to do more?)
Meanwhile, UGA intercepted and returned a pass 34 yards to tie the game. Auburn continued to struggle while, in consecutive drives, UGA managed one field goal, missed a second, then made a third. UGA won, 13-7, without ever scoring a single offensive touchdown.
In 2016, we'll take what we can get.
(Special thanks to Friend Randy, an FSU fan who bought me a Coke before the game started and another after the game was over. That's friendship!)
EDIT 2016-11-13: I've been informed that television audiences were informed that Auburn stopped running the ball because they ran out of healthy running backs. All I can say about that is that the running back attrition wasn't obvious to those of us in the stands. I still think Malzahn would have had more success calling running plays for the quarterbacks instead of passes, but I'll have to trust he knows his personnel better than I do.
Frankly, there can be no more debate. The 2016 Georgia Bulldogs are not very good.
Even though I was there and watched every play, I can't tell you why exactly the Bulldogs lost to the Vanderbilt Commodores today. They ran and threw okay (offensive line is still a weakness), but couldn't get points. Special teams were as terrible as usual, if not worse, and I think that was the difference. Giving up 7 points to Vandy in the first 22 seconds (after an opening kick return to the 4 yard line) was probably more than this team could overcome.
At least losing to Vanderbilt 17-16 proves that the Hail Mary loss to Tennessee wasn't as painful as it seemed at the time. This Georgia football team will be nowhere near Atlanta when the SEC Championship Game in December, and rightfully so.
Before the game started, I didn't think UGA was good enough this season to beat Tennessee. With one minute left to play, I hadn't changed my mind.
Jacob Eason wasn't having the best game, but he had it when it mattered. When he launched the ball into the end zone from the 47 yard line, I thought there was no chance. (I said as much to friend Ken sitting next to me.) But freshman wide receiver Riley Ridley came down with it in the corner of the end zone and Sanford Stadium exploded. In 14 years of games, I don't think I've seen that level of elation.
After some terrible officiating (penalties called on replays? failing to replay incompletions?), terrible play calling (where'd the successful running game go in the second half? why did the offensive coordinator keep calling for an empty backfield when the offensive line couldn't protect Eason?), and terrible execution (drops? fumbles? SPECIAL TEAMS!), the Bulldogs were going to win the game, 31-28!
Tennessee had other plans. UGA's score left 10 seconds on the clock. It turned out to be 10 seconds too many.
After Georgia mangled yet another kickoff, Tennessee took possession with the ball on Georgia's 43 yard line and 4 seconds to play. Time enough only for one throw into the end zone for all the marbles . . . and Georgia's players watched as the Tennessee receiver came down with the ball.
Tennessee wins, 34-31.
Goddamn, that hurts.
UGA played their first home game of the Kirby Smart era against 50-point underdog Nicholls State University. Unfortunately, no one told Nicholls State. The entire Bulldog Nation has to hope that it wasn't indicative of how future home games will unfold.
Full credit to the Nicholls State Colonels. If not for one single play in the 3rd quarter, when their senior QB (who wasn't even their starter at the position — that would be freshman Chase Fourcade, who played a pretty great game) fumbled a ball that UGA returned for a quick touchdown, they would have won the game outright. Instead, they only managed to play to within 2 points, losing 24-26.
Their defensive line held Georgia's offense and Nick Chubb in check all afternoon. The Georgia players and staff didn't help themselves, continuing to make the same sorts of special teams mistakes that were named among the reasons that former coach Mark Richt was fired. Late in the 4th quarter, after Nicholls scored their 24th point, Smart replaced first-time starter Jacob Eason with Greyson Lambert. As the fellow to my left yelled, it wasn't Eason's fault that Nicholls was scoring points.
If a lowly FCS school like Nicholls can stymie the (formerly) number 9 ranked Bulldogs, UGA might be in real trouble when they start SEC play next week against Missouri.
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After the way the 2015 season has gone, I didn't think it was possible for the UGA coaches to outcoach anyone. I didn't account for the Georgia Southern staff.
After trying and failing to find anyone to accompany ("I'll be out of town" and "I'd rather spend time with my girlfriend" were common excuses), the only reason I went to this game alone was to see the seniors introduced and see Que officially named Uga X. I got to the stadium 17 minutes before kickoff, and I was too late. I should have just turned around and gone back home.
I suppose if you judge by the final score, it must have been a pretty good game. Some of the crowd seemed to enjoy it, especially the apparently 50,000 Georgia Southern fans in attendance. (The picture above was taken at the start of the 4th quarter when the fans turned on the lights on their cell phones in place of the usual "four finger" signal.) I did not. Greyson Lambert was his typically terrible self, and Georgia Southern only lost because... honestly, I'm not sure why.
Tied 17-17, the GaSo coach kicked a late punt in an obvious attempt to reach overtime. I guess he'd heard that his team was a 13-point underdog, and maybe he had placed money on his team covering the spread. His kicker had easily scored a field goal from the UGA 31 to take a lead in the 4th quarter, but after reaching the UGA 16 in overtime, he went for it with a "wildcat" run up the middle that was doomed to fail.
Why not kick to extend overtime? Typically, the answer is because underdog coaches feel they have to take a chance on the win rather than lose a protracted battle against a deeper team. However, that strategy only applies if you're playing catch-up (say, going for a two-point conversion as opposed to kicking). Maybe the GaSo players were out of gas. Maybe their kicker had broken his ankle. In overtime, if you can take a lead on your opponent, you should. Georgia Southern didn't and lost. All UGA had to do was kick a field goal on their first overtime play, and they would have won. The fact that they ran up the middle for a touchdown doesn't excuse the Georgia Southern decision. Bad strategy is bad strategy.
If only we could get the Georgia Southern coaches jobs at Florida.
So now Georgia has 8 wins on the season, and I couldn't care less. "There's always next year" they say. Here's to 2016.
Only one week after his season-ending knee injury, and boy, do the Georgia Bulldogs miss Nick Chubb already. It's time to stop pretending this 2015 football team is remotely good.
Missouri 6, UGA 9. Nothing but field goals. Quite frankly, UGA didn't really deserve this, as their game-winning kick came only after the officials gifted the team with a truly mystifying pass interference call on a play that Plastic Man couldn't have cought. Greyson Lambert's 3rd-down pass was characteristically awful, and I have to assume that the officials assumed that a pass 5 yards out of bounds was as on-target as he could make it. Maybe they just wanted this terrible game over so we could all get home before dawn.
I probably should have expected this sort of game. UGA was missing Chubb, and Missouri suspended its starting quarterback two weeks ago. Add in the terrible games UGA played back-to-back in the past two weeks against Alabama and Tennessee, and I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that NONE of the season ticket holders beside or in front of me came to the game. You know it's sad when the regular fans don't care to show up for a homecoming night game against the reigning SEC East Champions.
Anyway. I hope the team enjoys this ugly victory. UGA heads to Florida in two weeks, and 9 points won't win anything in Jacksonville.
UGA crushed South Carolina. Then Alabama lost to Mississippi. Vegas declared No. 13 Alabama an underdog against the No. 8 Bulldogs. All UGA had to do was show up and play.
Final score: Alabama 38, UGA 10. It wasn't ever really that close.
In all the UGA games I've ever watched, never have I seen the team collapse like they did today in the steady rain. After clawing to a 3-3 tie, it was like they ran out of fight at the start of the 2nd quarter. Alabama proceeded to score a rushing touchdown, block a punt for a touchdown, pass for a touchdown, and come back from halftime to intercept the ball and ran it back for a touchdown. All UGA did was stare at their own navels. The only reason the score wasn't worse was because Nick Saban didn't need it to be.
UGA did nothing right. Defensive backs were out of position on every play. Quarterback Greyson Lambert couldn't decide who to throw to and froze up. Relief quarterback Brice Ramsey couldn't manage to throw to his own team. But the worst of it all was Coach Richt and his coaching staff:
- Calling a majority of passes and not runs even before the game was out of hand. (The Bulldog's two scoring drives were the only two possessions in the game when UGA called more runs than passes. That was not a coincidence. Maybe I was too hard on Mike Bobo all these years; Bobo is gone but UGA is still up to its same old sour tricks.)
- Continuing to get special teams wrong. (Time outs to ice your own field goal kickers? Punt protection formations that block no one? Sigh.)
- Worst of all, completely failing to prepare their kids for yet another big game. (Of everyone in the stadium before kickoff, no one seemed more confident in a UGA victory than the UGA players. That swagger sure disappeared in a hurry once they went down by one touchdown!)
Let this be known as the game that finally destroyed my faith in Mark Richt. I mean, I still like the guy. I think he's good for the University and its student athletes. I certainly don't want him to be fired. (Some things, like academic performance and ethics, are more important than wins and SEC Championships.) LSU in 2011? Alabama in 2012? Vanderbilt in 2013? Florida in 2014? Alabama in 2015? I just need to accept that we're never going to win any "big games" while he's the head football coach.
I admit that I didn't go to last week's game. I was sick with a cold and didn't want to endure the rain just to see UGA beat up on an inferior opponent like Southern University. I regret that decision now. If I want to see UGA win, those are the only games I should go to. Inferior opponents are the only ones we can beat.
A full house showed up for this evening game. We were hoping for a win. I doubt any of us were expecting a blow out. Final score: South Carolina 20, UGA 52.
Losing to South Carolina last year derailed our season, so it was especially delicious taking the wood to Steve Spurrier's 2015 team. That they appeared light on talent was the usual problem for USC. That they were also undisciplined was less common for a Spurrier team. Is this year an aberration, or is Spurrier losing his touch? I guess we'll find out when we meet in 2016.
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