I have no doubt that, had the Dawgs made the College Football Playoff, as the players (and just about everyone except the selection committee) thought they should have, Georgia would have showed up focused, ready to play, and would have made Bulldog Nation proud, even in a loss.
In other words, exactly the opposite of what happened New Year’s night in New Orleans, in what the team obviously viewed as a “consolation” bowl that didn’t merit its best effort.
Yes, the Dawgs’ defense came into the game missing three key players (two to injury and one who preferred to save himself for the NFL). The patchwork defense of very young players wasn’t the real reason the Dawgs lost, though.
That dishonor goes to the offense. There was no excuse for the poor showing of Georgia’s offense in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score would indicate.
Texas dominated both lines of scrimmage and took away the vaunted Georgia running game, which could manage only a paltry 72 yards (only 29 in the first half!) to the Longhorns’ 178 yards rushing. On a night when he fumbled twice, the celebrated D’Andre Swift ended up with a net of just 12 yards for the game.
Thus, the Dawgs were outrushed by one of the worst running teams in the country, with the absence of injured Jordan Davis particularly noticeable up the middle of the Georgia defense.
In the passing game, receivers routinely dropped passes or didn’t try hard enough to catch them, and, as the game progressed, quarterback Jake Fromm seemed rattled by the different and unexpected defensive looks Texas was giving him. The normally accurate QB launched several terrible passes, including one where he badly missed a wide-open receiver for what likely would have been a touchdown.
Coming into the Sugar Bowl, Georgia was ranked 13th nationally in scoring at 39.2 points per game, but the Dawgs were held to 21 points and 274 yards of total offense by Texas. The final TD, which made the score look a bit more respectable, came with 14 seconds left in the game.
One of the few positives Georgia fans could take from the contest was that junior tailback Elijah Holyfield finished the game with 62 yards and 1,018 yards total for the season, joining Swift in the 1,000-yard club. That gives Georgia two backs with over 1,000 yards rushing for the second consecutive season (with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel having done it last year).
It’s ironic that Holyfield made that mark on a night when the Bulldogs’ running game basically was a nonfactor.
So, how could the No. 5-ranked Dawgs, a team that many considered playoff-worthy, be embarrassed so thoroughly by a four-loss team over which it was favored by two touchdowns? That’s a question Kirby Smart and his staff can spend the offseason exploring.
After Tuesday night’s game, Smart claimed his team had practiced well (despite rumors to the contrary reported on ESPN) and that the players were excited to be playing Texas.
His explanation for the Dawgs’ low-energy face-plant in the Sugar Bowl? The Longhorns “played more physical than us,” which showed Smart “that they wanted it more than we did.”
Smart summed up the game pretty well when he noted: “They outplayed us, outcompeted us and outcoached us.”
That’s for sure. Texas controlled the game from the start while the Dawgs fumbled, dropped passes and failed to wrap up tackles, allowing way too many yards after contact. A bad snap killed one of Georgia’s punts and another one was shanked for just 11 yards. The team generally looked flat, with the exception of running back Brian Herrien, who briefly injected some bounce into the Georgia attack before returning to the sideline.
It wasn’t just the players, either. In addition to not getting the team ready to play, the Georgia coaching staff failed to adjust to what was happening on the field.
Why was the QB draw always open for Texas’ Sam Ehlinger? And why couldn’t Georgia play-caller Jim Chaney figure out what Texas coach Tom Herman spelled out to ESPN: The Longhorns were loading the box against the run, especially on first and second downs. And, yet, continually, Chaney called in vain for runs up the middle to start off most of Georgia’s offensive series. Plus, the Dawgs came out looking positively vanilla; Chaney didn’t bother to open up the offense until it was too late, and the Dawgs were in too deep a hole.
Bottom line: Texas wanted to be there; Georgia didn’t. And that tells me that, although the Dawgs might have looked worthy of making the playoff based on what they did in the regular season and against Alabama in the SEC Championship game, they obviously weren’t really one of the four best teams in the country in 2018. The best teams show up ready to play, no matter who they’re facing.
It’s true that Smart has brought the Georgia program along rapidly, to a point where playing a blueblood team like Texas in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day was seen as a disappointment because it wasn’t a playoff game.
But, in the end, the hard truth is this: Teams that pout and go through the motions because they didn’t get the bowl they wanted are not championship-caliber teams. Yes, maybe that’s the state of college football now, thanks to the playoff: the other bowls don’t really matter. That, at least, seems to be how the Dawgs viewed the Sugar Bowl.
During the week before the game, Smart had addressed the Dawgs’ “disappointment” over not making the playoffs by saying, “I think disappointment is a part of life. I think everybody in this room can say they’ve been disappointed at some time or another, they’ve been let down. But it actually makes, when you do things well, that much grander because if you just won all the time or you just had success all the time, you’d never feel the agony of that disappointment.”
Unfortunately, his team is becoming increasingly familiar with that agony.
Asked after the game what lesson he hopes his young team takes from the Sugar Bowl loss, Smart said, “I hope they learn you better show up to play every game.”
Hopefully, that will be the case. Big things are expected of Smart’s 2019 team.
Yes, Bulldog Nation can take some solace by remembering that this was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Dawgs, who lost a host of extremely talented players to the NFL after last season. Despite that, Georgia still managed to win the SEC East, won 11 games, and came close to returning to the playoffs.
Close doesn’t count, though. If there’s one conclusion that can be drawn from the two championship games against the Crimson Tide in 2018, in both of which Georgia blew leads, and the disappointing way this season ended, it’s that, under Smart, the Dawgs haven’t yet figured out how to do what his predecessor used to preach: Finish the drill.
That’s my view. What about yours? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you thought of Georgia’s showing in the Sugar Bowl, and during the 2018 season as a whole.