ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia football still controls it’s own destiny, in terms of the opportunity to win the SEC East Division and play in the league title game, but there’s plenty of work to be done in the bye week.
The Bulldogs’ 36-16 loss to LSU dropped Georgia to No. 8 in the AP Top 25 poll, but more than that, it exposed shortcomings that had surfaced sporadically during the 6-0 start.
The struggles in the downfield pass game, a suspect front seven and the general lack of identity.
Yes, Georgia has the youngest program in the SEC (68 percent freshman and sophomores), but there’s also plenty of talent and a celebrated coaching staff.
So what happened against LSU, and where do the Bulldogs go from here?
Here are 7 snappy answers to the most asked questions entering the off week:
1. Why didn’t Kirby Smart pull Jake Fromm at halftime and play Justin Fields?
For the same reason you prefer the airline pilot with eight bars on his sleeve on a stormy day instead of the honor graduate out of last year’s flight school class — experience.
Fields is an incredible talent who Georgia has been bringing along, but he has thrown exactly one pass in an SEC road environment, and the 16-0 deficit dictated a pass-heavy attack in the second half.
Fromm is a proven commodity, having led the Bulldogs from behind at Notre Dame and in the Rose Bowl, while Fields is still evolving.
2. Why didn’t Georgia go back to the run game after the second drive?
The Bulldogs had nine carries for 60 yards on that second drive and looked good doing it, but LSU took note and adjusted.
Suddenly, the same pre-snap reads and run lanes weren’t there, and three consecutive three-and-out series ensued as UGA’s five remaining rush attempts of the first half netted 8 yards.
Quite simply, Georgia wasn’t running into the same Tigers’ defense, and the pre-snap reads dictated Fromm throw the football.
3. Why are the Bulldogs struggling to throw the football?
The pass game has been slow starting and lacked rhythm all season, perhaps a byproduct of the quarterbacks splitting reps in practice and a heavy receiver rotation. More moving pieces mean a more challenging quest for timing and synchronization.
Throw in the UGA breakdowns in protections and receivers running the wrong routes, along with defenses not committing as much to stopping the UGA run with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb moved on to the NFL, and you have your recipe for Saturday’s result.
Fromm has faced third-and-9 or greater 20 times this season — three times, Georgia has converted for a first down. But on those 17 plays where the Bulldogs haven’t, Fromm has been intercepted three times and sacked on four others.
4. So what does Georgia need to do on offense?
Shorten the receiver and running backs rotation and stick with who and what is working.
Elijah Holyfield was clearly the most effective back at LSU, so it was puzzling not to see him out there in the fourth quarter with the game in the balance. There are times D’Andre Swift has appeared most effective — ride the hot hand in the backfield.
The receiver rotation has so many players going in and out it’s hard to keep track, and the rule restricting teams to 20-hour practice weeks prevents quarterbacks and receivers from finding the same level of timing as what we see on NFL Sunday.
Find a go-to receiver — or two, maybe three — and go to them when it counts. There have been too many miscommunications, and it’s clear Fromm doesn’t have the same trust level going downfield as a season ago.
5. Is offensive solution to simplify?
It’s great Georgia can change its play package from week to week, and allow Fromm to change plays at the line of scrimmage. It’s a chameleon-like offense.
But at the end of the day, what’s the bread-and-butter play? Who’s the go-to receiver? What route can Fromm throw — and complete — in the dark?
In trying to do everything, this Bulldogs’ offense has yet to master anything.
6. What’s trust the process mean now?
This is more about the locker room than the fan base, some of whom have forgotten how quickly Smart has transformed Georgia into an annual title contender and recruiting powerhouse.
Smart relates well to players with his unique mix of game day enthusiasm and poise. Much like the two-time All-SEC safety he was with the Bulldogs, Smart can be the most intelligent guy on the field but still get crazy enough to get the players’ attention, just as he once took on backs and tight ends 40 pounds heavier than him.
Smart will huddle with offensive guru Jim Chaney and the reliable Mel Tucker, and the coaches will evaluate the first seven games of the season and make some hard personnel decisions and plot the best course to win the SEC with wins over Florida and Kentucky.
The players came into the season trusting their coaches to make the best personnel decisions, and a tough day at the office at LSU shouldn’t rattle their faith in them.
7. What’s fun got to do with it?
This Georgia football team has been focused throughout fall camp and from week to week to week, working hard to stay in line with Smart’s championship doctrine and not overlook any opponent.
The LSU loss surely took some air out of the balloon, but part of the goal during bye week should be for Smart and his staff to infuse some energy and happiness back into the team.
After all, this is the youngest roster in the SEC, and the best football teams have fun playing the game.
Execution and success have a lot to do with that, and Smart will likely bring a “back to basics” approach to the practices and work on Georgia fixing Georgia.
But the Bulldogs need to have some fun along the way and enjoy the game they love.