ATHENS — Georgia football made history at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, but it was the wrong kind
This was the first Bulldogs team ranked No. 3 or higher to lose to an unranked opponent at home since the start of the AP poll in 1936.
It was that much of a meltdown in the 20-17 double-overtime loss to South Carolina.
The Gamecocks came to Athens as more than a three-touchdown underdog facing a UGA program that had won 16 straight at home dating back to 2016.
Will Muschamp stared down Kirby Smart and beat him at his own conservative game, not committing a turnover, having the more disciplined and tougher team.
Smart didn’t come right out and say the Georgia game plan was inadequate, but he hinted at it more than once.
“We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror as coaches, as staff and do a better job,” Smart said. “We’ve got to help our kids out. I just told everyone in the locker room, you can’t hang your head. They’ve got to go get better. We’ve got to help them get better.”
Smart will look in the mirror and see a coach who has believed he has enough talent and depth to play not to lose — rather than playing to win — these first two months of the season.
Notre Dame nearly proved him wrong, and Smart vowed to trigger an offense that would throw the ball downfield more and put QB Jake Fromm in control of more play calls.
Flip a switch with Fromm, and all is well, it seemed.
South Carolina’s sticky press coverage and an injury that sidelined go-to receiver Lawrence Cager negated that notion.
Smart’s version of “chopping wood” didn’t work either. The Bulldogs ran the ball consecutively on first and second down on nine occasions, but South Carolina’s defense showed no signs of wear in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Smart sounded as surprised as anyone when reviewing his run game’s inability to break off a play longer than 14 yards against the Gamecocks.
“We had some rushing yards in there, but it wasn’t the dominant performance, it wasn’t controlling the line of scrimmage that we like to have,” Smart said. “Everybody likes to talk about our offensive line being a dominating offensive line. I’d love to talk about that, but they’ve got to do it.
“We’ve got to go out there and occupy the line of scrimmage and win the line of scrimmage, over and over.”
Georgia has also got to get more imaginative and proactive with its play calling on offense earlier in the game.
Can new offensive coordinator James Coley scheme up an easy touchdown? Where a receiver, or back, or tight end, breaks free and exploits a scheme?
The Bulldogs won’t need to do much more than handoff against a watered-down Kentucky next Saturday.
But a November slate with Florida, Missouri, Auburn and Texas A&M will require Coley to put Georgia’s abundance of 5-star players into motion.
The Bulldogs’ defense isn’t off the hook, either.
For all the talk about quality depth and no drop off, that’s simply not been the case.
Georgia greatly misses cornerback Tyson Campbell, and whoever designed Saturday’s coverage plan for South Carolina star Bryan Edwards had at lease one miscue.
It’s hard to imagine how safety Divaad Wilson got matched up with Edwards on the 46-yard TD catch, and more surprising safety Richard LeCounte would be late coming over in support.
Smart talked at the beginning of the season about having experienced safeties, but there has been a missed opportunity for every big play J.R. Reed and LeCounte have made.
The safety duo, once thought by some to be the best in the SEC, have just one interception each through six games and came up empty when needed against the Gamecocks.
No turnovers forced, no sacks, no QB hurries and just two pass break-ups.
It was as much of a complete team loss as the Sugar Bowl. Then, like Saturday, a healthy Deandre Baker was in attendance but not playing.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that this Georgia team was supposed to be be better. A deeper and more well-groomed version in Smart’s fourth year leading the program.
These Bulldogs may be all those things, but they were not the hungrier team on the field or on the sideline and the coaching box on Saturday.
Teams are showing up to beat Georgia, playing to win, while Smart is coaching not to lose.
The reason the Bulldogs keep taking the opponents’ best punch is because that seems to be part of the game plan. See what the opponent has got, then adjust and counter-punch.
“Attack the Day” needs to become “Attack the Opponent.”
It’s a safe bet Georgia will attack the film room, but the biggest change needs to be philosophical.
The Bulldogs talk about treating every game and opponent the same. But at some point it needs to become personal, and for all the necessary poise, there needs to be passion.
The one positive to take out of Saturday’s loss is the Bulldogs still control their own destiny, in terms of winning out and making the College Football Playoff as SEC champions.
But there will need to be changes made, from the top down.
For now, this Georgia teams joins the select company of the 1967 Bulldogs as the only UGA program ranked No. 3 or higher to lose to an unranked opponent since the advent of facemasks.
But that Vince Dooley-coached team lost to Ole Miss in Jackson, 29-20, and this one did it at home on Vince Dooley Field.
Georgia-South Carolina Game coverage