Curtis Compton/AJC
Auburn manhandled Georgia on both lines of scrimmage during the Tigers dominating win on Saturday.

3 problems Georgia football must address after loss to Auburn

Cy Brown

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3 flaws Georgia must fix

We will get into why Georgia’s 40-17 loss to Auburn that undid the Bulldogs’ perfect season Saturday isn’t the end of the world and why Georgia can still achieve everything it set out to achieve this season (and more) later in the week. But now is not the time for all that. Now is the time for licking wounds and assessing what went wrong.

A lot went wrong in this one, folks. But you don’t have the time and I don’t have the inclination to recount every mistake the Bulldogs made against Auburn. So here are three flaws Georgia displayed Saturday that must be fixed if it is going to have any chance of winning the SEC and qualifying for the College Football Playoff.

1. Dumb penalties

Georgia constantly put itself in a hole with penalties. The Bulldogs committed 7 of them for 75 yards. Two in particular, both 15-yard personal fouls, stood out. D’Andre Walker leapt over the Auburn wall to extend the Tigers’ drive in the first half and Sony Michel got one following a Georgia punt to give the Tigers terrific field position. Auburn scored touchdowns after each.

“Just being undisciplined,” Michel said, according to Seth Emerson of DawgNation. “I guess that passion mixed with emotion. Our team plays with a lot of passion, plays with a lot of emotion. I guess you can’t get caught up in the game; you’ve got to stay poised. That’s something we’ve got to fix.”

2. Conservative play-calling

Of all the issues that arose in this game, Kirby Smart and Jim Chaney’s conservative play-calling at the end of the first half was perhaps the most maddening. Smart showed off his best clock management all season to get the ball back with time winding down in the first. He used his timeouts to get the ball back, then a great punt return from Mecole Hardman put the Dawgs on Auburn’s 26 with 17 seconds left. There was plenty of time to throw the ball once, maybe even twice. Georgia hadn’t been able to run the ball all night, and Auburn was getting into scoring position nearly every time it took possession. At one point or another, the Dawgs would need touchdowns, not field goals, to win this game.

So instead of trying to put seven on the board, Smart chose to let Michel carry the ball, and he was stuffed at the line. Georgia still had time for the field goal, which Rodrigo Blankenship missed. A perfect opportunity to rob Auburn of momentum before halftime was wasted because of an ill-advised decision to run the ball because Smart was afraid of being sacked and taken out of field goal range. In the end, Georgia didn’t get the field goal, and it didn’t get a chance to score a touchdown either. It got a whole lot of nothing.

“Not a good decision there. Probably a mistake,” Smart said, according to Chip Towers of DawgNation. “If we had it to do over there, we would’ve probably thrown the ball. The thinking was that we didn’t want to get knocked out of field goal range, but we should’ve thrown the ball, no doubt.”

3. Lack of physicality in the trenches

This is the big one and the one that ultimately cost Georgia the game. The Bulldogs were manhandled and bullied all afternoon on both lines of scrimmage. Auburn put up 237 rushing yards to Georgia’s 46. Auburn stuffed Georgia at the line, put it in third-and-long, then had its rushers pin their ears back and get after Jake Fromm. The Tigers racked up 4 sacks and 6 QB hurries. Meanwhile. Kerryon Johnson was making a case for himself as the best tailback in the SEC, putting up 167 yards on the ground.

You can point to dozens of mistakes Georgia made, but it lost because it couldn’t run the ball or stop the run, two hallmarks of this squad before Saturday.

“They out-physicaled us on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Smart said, according to Emerson. “Every SEC game I’ve ever been in, if you lose the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball you don’t have a great chance of a good outcome.”

Top Dawgs

After every Georgia game, I rank the five players who played best. That task is a bit more difficult after a loss, and somewhat counterintuitive after a 23-point dismantling at the hands of Auburn. But I’m going to do it because, if nothing else, it illustrates the dearth of top individual performances from the Bulldogs this week, as well as the positions in which Georgia got beat bad. Just because these were the five best doesn’t necessarily mean they were all that good.

5. Mecole Hardman — It’s hard to put Hardman’s muffed punt out of your mind since it killed all the momentum to start the second half and led to Auburn getting a 16-point lead, which pretty much spelled the end of any comeback chance. But he also had 142 kick return and 43 punt return yards. The fact that his performance, including the fumble, was the fifth best on the team should tell you just how bad Georgia was Saturday.

4. Aaron Davis — Davis was able to get from the secondary to the backfield on a few occasions, finishing the game with 7 total tackles as well as a sack and 2 tackles for loss.

3. J.R. Reed — Reed was run over by Johnson on a few occasions, but Reed constantly was swarming to the ball. He finished the game with 11 total tackles, 4 solo, and a tackle for loss. A couple of open field tackles in the first quarter saved touchdowns and prevented Auburn from breaking the game open well before it did.

2. Roquan Smith — As he always does, Smith flew to the ball Saturday. He led the team with 12 total tackles, 8 solo, and 1 1/2 tackles for loss. His pass breakup in the end zone in the first half showed why he’s the best player on this team and why he’ll be playing on Sundays, perhaps as early as next season.

1. Javon Wims — Wims was Georgia’s only offensive threat in this game. He caught 3 passes for 96 yards and helped get the offense going on the first drive of the game, the only drive that Georgia effectively moved the ball. But his biggest play was the one he didn’t make. Wims found himself wide open down the middle in the first. He could have walked into the end zone, but Fromm overthrew him and he couldn’t stretch to make the catch. Had he made the play, it could have changed the game. At the very least, the margin of defeat might not have been as wide.

‘This team will be defined by how they respond’

Yeah, this loss sucks, but the season isn’t over. There are still at least four, maybe five, left to be played. Which is to say, the story of this season is still being written. This game could be remembered as the loss that broke Georgia and derailed its season, or it could be remembered as the loss that helped the Bulldogs get their minds right for the stretch run of what could still be a legendary season. It all depends on how Georgia responds and plays over the next month. That starts this Saturday with Kentucky.

Smart summed it up best.

“This team will be defined by how they respond, not by what they did [Saturday],” he said, according to Towers. “Kentucky’s not going to feel sorry for us. We can’t let Auburn beat us twice.”

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