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Matt Stamey/SEC
Kirby Smart and Georgia lost to Florida on Saturday.

Georgia football championship dreams on hold until nightmare quarterback situation is solved

The first two times Georgia wide receiver Kearis Jackson was asked about the passing game and its struggles following a 44-28 loss to Florida, he deferred to let Kirby Smart answer those questions.

And after the performance Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis put on, Smart is only going to continue to get questions about quarterback play.

The position and quagmire Georgia seems to routinely find itself in now define Smart and the Georgia program.

“I can’t wish myself into an explosive offense,” Smart said. “We have to work ourselves into that. We’ve got to execute our offense and complete more passes, be more accurate.”

“We’ve got to get guys open, but when we do, we’ve got to hit them. I want to win. I want to win games.”

Bennett and Mathis combined to complete 9 of their 29 pass attempts for 112 yards. The pair tossed three interceptions compared to two touchdowns. Contrasted to Kyle Trask throwing for 474 yards and 4 touchdowns, the issue is only further driven home.

Until Georgia’s quarterbacks play more like Trask and look less like the quarterbacks the Jacksonville Jaguars start, the Bulldogs are going to continue to come up short of factoring into the national title conversation.

It didn’t help the Georgia passing attack that the Bulldogs were without George Pickens at wide receiver or that Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, his replacement, left the game with what was almost assuredly a season-ending injury.

But Smart made it clear that guys were open. The quarterbacks just couldn’t find them.

“Anybody with an open eye could say, ‘Well they did have some guys open,'” Smart said. “We did protect the quarterback pretty well early on. We’ve got to be able to throw and catch it. And they did. So that was the difference in the game.”

For the first time since the 2016 season, Georgia no longer controls its own destiny in terms of getting to the SEC championship game in Atlanta. Smart said afterward that he wasn’t worried about the motivation of the team going forward.

Jackson seemed to be in lock-step with Smart as far as that messaging.

“We’re not going to give up. We’re just going to keep fighting,” Jackson said. “Keep motivating each other, keep going to work and keep working.”

Georgia’s goal isn’t to play in the Peach Bowl though. That’s not why Smart replaced Mark Richt. Smart came to Georgia to win championships. Since getting Georgia within a 2nd-and-26 away from one in his second year, the Georgia program feels like it’s getting farther away from the elusive title.

Georgia’s 2020 championship dreams definitively died on Saturday night against Florida. Now the Bulldogs must figure out what comes next — both for this season but more importantly for 2021 and beyond

Does that mean more Mathis or Bennett? The latter suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder on the second drive of the game,  and it was revealed after the game as an AC joint injury. But his 5-of-16 performance felt like it was rock bottom, punctuated by an interception on his final pass before getting pulled.

Either way, it should say plenty about how Georgia feels about Mathis, as Bennett remained in the game until the third quarter with the injury.

As for JT Daniels, the high-profile USC transfer who arrived over the summer, he’s still yet to take a snap. Many thought he would propel the program forward following Jamie Newman’s decision to opt-out of the 2020 season and declare for the NFL draft. A knee injury kept him from being ready at the start of the season, but he was cleared before the Auburn game.

In Smart’s eyes, Bennett and Mathis still give Georgia a better shot at a victory.

“I think he’s still growing and getting better in the offense, but obviously right now, with where we are, we feel they give us the best shot.”

Related: Kirby Smart explains Georgia QB rotation in 44-28 loss to Florida

Smart added that the knee injury isn’t a concern with Daniels going forward, and that when he came to Georgia, it wasn’t to be a backup.

The Bulldogs also have 5-star quarterback Brock Vandagriff committed as a member of the 2021 recruiting class. He’s set to arrive in January, though some probably wish he would get to Georgia sooner.

Hanging over all of this mess with Georgia is the fact that Justin Fields continues to look like one of the best quarterbacks in the country. The problem is that the former Georgia quarterback is doing so for Ohio State. He somehow looks even better this year than when he threw for 41 touchdowns a season ago.

Smart has built a very good program. He’s recruited better than almost anyone in the country. He’s shown he can develop players into top draft picks and All-American level players.

The one thing that the Bulldogs haven’t had in his time at Georgia is truly great quarterback play. Jake Fromm was often good but he never looked as good as Trask did on Saturday. The final result shows Georgia doesn’t have that and doesn’t seem all that close to finding it.

Georgia will very likely be favored to win its remaining games. It should win all four of them, regardless of who is playing quarterback.

But none of those results will help Georgia win a national title. And until Smart starts getting better play out of the quarterback position, this reputation and stigma will continue to dog him.

“We’ve got to get better and that starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job, and we’re going to do a better job, but I’m not frustrated with the plight we’re in. We made our bed.”

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart talks quarterback play

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