Georgia football loss isn’t a season-ender, but it could be season-defining

Georgia football-South Carolina-loss
Jake Fromm was sacked three times on Saturday.

ATHENS — Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has never missed an extra point in his Georgia career. He made a rather clutch one in the closing minutes of the Georgia-South Carolina to tie the contest at 17.

But as Georgia was finishing warmups prior to the game, Blankenship doinked an extra point. It was the last thing Georgia did before heading into the locker room prior to the start of the game.

Knowing the final result, that probably should’ve been a sign that Georgia was in trouble on Saturday.

The Bulldogs dropped their first game of the season, losing to South Carolina 20-17 in double overtime. It’s the first home loss for Georgia since 2016. It’s also the first loss to an SEC East foe since Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens.

The game was filled with errors and miscues. The Bulldogs turned the ball over four times. The offensive line — which had given up only one sack all season to this point — gave up three. Even Blankenship was off, as he missed two field goals after having made his first 11 to start the season.

Related: WATCH: Rodrigo Blankenship on missed field goals in upset loss to South Carolina

“We should never be in a situation like that. We’re better than that,” D’Andre Swift said. “We practice and I think we can beat every team we play, we just didn’t play to the standard today.”

And yet despite all those mistakes, Georgia still nearly pulled off a victory it probably didn’t deserve. The Georgia defense once again stood tall on Saturday, as it gave up only one touchdown and held South Carolina scoreless in the second half. The Bulldogs didn’t force a turnover or a sack, but it put the Georgia offense in plenty of positions to succeed.

And the Georgia offense repeatedly shot itself in the foot.

Coming into the game, Fromm hadn’t turned the ball over at all. He did it four times on Saturday, three times via interception and once by way of a fumbled snap.

“That’s a big part of my game is protect the ball,” Fromm said. “When the ball gets in the other team’s hands, that’s not characteristic of me, not characteristic of our team and our offense, and that’s on me.”

None of the turnovers proved more costly than the pick-6 he threw minutes before halftime. It ended up being South Carolina’s final score of regulation.

Fromm threw the ball 51 times, a career-high. It was the fifth time in his Georgia career he’s thrown the ball more than 30 times in a game. Georgia has yet to win a single one of those contests.

But Saturday wasn’t all on Fromm. The Georgia offensive line struggled in both pass protection and in opening holes. Georgia ran for 187 yards, but it had a season-worst 4.02 yards per carry. Demetris Robertson and George Pickens statistically had nice games, but the Georgia wide receivers struggled to get open for most of the night.

For all the nitpicking about what Georgia’s players and coaches could’ve done better, Georgia coach Kirby Smart made it his thoughts very clear as to why the Bulldogs lost as a three-touchdown favorite.

“You can’t turn the ball over four times and win. There’s a lot of things we can clean up,” Smart said. “There’s a lot of things we can get better at as coaches, and we’re going to do that … but to turn the ball over and not get any back. We get two back, it cancels some of that out.”

Georgia came into this game as the nation’s No. 3 team in the country. It had — and still has — national title aspirations. This loss doesn’t completely dash those hopes. In 2014, Ohio State lost at home to a Virginia Tech team that went 7-6. The Buckeyes won a national title. In 2016, Clemson lost to a Pitt team quarterbacked by Nathan Peterman. The Tigers ended the season by beating Alabama in the national championship game. In 2017 Oklahoma lost to Iowa State at home and then ended up making the College Football Playoff anyway.

And for what it’s worth, just about every Georgia player did feel confident that Georgia would be able to turn it around.

“We definitely going to bounce back,” Swift said. “We didn’t play to the standard we needed to play to and that’s what happens.”

The Bulldogs can do that starting next, as they host Kentucky.

It’s clear now that Georgia isn’t going to be able to overwhelm teams with its talent. Georgia’s wide receivers were roughed up by South Carolina players who weren’t as highly-touted as recruits. The offensive line — arguably Georgia’s deepest position group — has yet to find its best combination of players as it has battled injuries and inconstancy.

And while the defense mostly shined on Saturday, the group failed to create the disruptive plays that the Gamecocks were able to. That’s even with Georgia going up against a third-string quarterback for most of the second half.

But most importantly, Georgia needs Fromm to play better. A year ago this weekend, Fromm played his worst game of the season and the Bulldogs were steamrolled by LSU. He bounced back against Florida, and the Bulldogs ended up getting to the SEC championship game.

It’s clear that this Georgia team needs Fromm to play like the quarterback we saw in the first five games of the season if it’s going to even have a chance of winning just the SEC East, let alone the SEC or even a College Football Playoff game.

“I believe in Jake Fromm. Jake Fromm is a leader of men,” Smart said. “He gives tremendous effort week in and week out. He tried to throw the ball away and didn’t get enough on it to get it of bounds and the kid picked it off. We fumbled the snap. That rarely happens with our guys.”

Saturday could just be a blip on Georgia’s season. It will be just that if the players and coaching staff bounce back and clean up the many mistakes made on Saturday. But if tweaks and improvements aren’t addressed, Georgia’s championship dreams are going to end up in a flaming dumpster headed for one of those middle-tier Florida bowl games.

For players to exit Sanford Stadium after a game, they have to walk to the far side of the field, enter the bowels of Sanford Stadium and climb up a dimly lit tunnel. After the loss, Fromm was still pretty clearly wearing his disappointment on his face as he began to make the trek up the tunnel. He knows he played a pretty poor game, and to his credit acknowledged afterward, he has to play better.

It’s a perfect metaphor for where Georgia’s season is right: Saturday was objectively terrible but there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel that Georgia can chase. It’s going to take a total team effort to get to the end of the tunnel, and Fromm is going to have to be the guy that leads them there.

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart

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