ATHENS — If Kirby Smart was shopping for a Halloween costume for his football team, it would be appropriate to purchase a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde outfit.
No team has been more hot and cold than the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs, who have played two of the most putrid first halves of football in recent Georgia memory only to come storming back in wins over Arkansas and Tennessee.
Smart has taken his team to task over the offensive inconsistency, well-aware that a poor start in Saturday’s game at Alabama (TV: CBS, 8 p.m) might not be as easy to overcome.
“We’ve got to show a lot of improvement in a lot of areas and just disappointed in our start to the game,” Smart said of last Saturday’s 44-21 win over the Vols, a game UGA trailed 21-17 at halftime.
The Bulldogs outscored Tennessee 24-0 in the second half, the defense forcing turnovers on the Vols’ first two possessions of the third quarter.
The offense, however, could not move the football and settled for field goals. It allowed Tennessee to stay within striking distance even as Georgia had double the offensive yardage.
“We had a chance to put somebody away, that’s what good teams do, man,” Smart said. “They get momentum, and they just run with it, and we didn’t do that.”
Georgia has outscored its opponents 69-3 in the second halves of games: 32-3 at Arkansas; 3-3 vs. Auburn and 24-0 vs. Tennessee.
The Bulldogs have not been as dominant in the first halves, outscoring the competition 46-31: 5-7 at Arkansas, 24-3 vs. Auburn and 17-21 against Tennessee.
Which Georgia team shows up in the first half at Alabama will be key, as will the answers to these 3 questions:
1. What’s wrong with George Pickens?
The Bulldogs have not been able to get their most talented skill position player involved in the offense, either because of what the defense is doing or the failings of the UGA scheme.
The glass half-full is that Kearis Jackson has 19 catches for 300 yards, the benefit of Stetson Bennett’s short game.
Pickens, whose Sugar Bowl MVP performance (12 catches, 175 yards) seems like a lifetime ago, has just 8 catches (on 15 targets) for 87 yards this season.
Veteran Jake Fromm rifled shots downfield to Pickens, at times in tight windows, to ensure the Bulldogs’ most talented receiver was optimized.
The new Georgia offense, featuring Air Raid principles, encourages the quarterback to spray the ball around and find receivers running into open space.
Pickens, like any other receiver, is at his best and most focused when he’s involved in the offense.
2. Competition in the backfield?
UGA assistant coach Dell McGee makes no secret of his respect for Zamir White, and everything the former No. 1-rated tailback has been through to overcome ACL injuries in each of his knees.
The Bulldogs feed the ball to White almost exclusively when the team gets near the goal line; he has 4 rushing touchdowns, the other backs none.
White has had issues in short yardage this season, stopped on third-and-2 and fourth-and-1 in the red zone at Arkansas, and Saturday against Tennessee falling short on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 at the 1-yard line at the end of the half.
There’s more to the position than running the ball, and the coaches see all the practices, but this seems to be a position to watch.
3. Are center issues fixed?
Georgia spotted Tennessee quick 7-0 lead when Trey Hill air-mailed a shotgun snap over the diminutive Stetson Bennett, the ball tricking into the end zone and recovered by the Vols.
It was reminiscent of the snap issues Georgia had in its opener at Arkansas, victimizing first-time starter D’Wan Mathis has he tried to settle in.
Mathis made athletic plays to save a few errant snaps, but Smart said the snaps interrupted the timing in the pass game and spacing in the run, to the extent the new quarterback could not settle the offense.
Bennett came in and made the most of his opportunity, and Georgia has used Warren Ericson in relief of Hill at center, including the second half of the Tennessee game.
Do the Bulldogs Hill will be steady at the start of the Alabama game, or does the team play it safe with Ericson?