ATHENS — Georgia football got a reality check from Alabama that’s in line with one of Kirby Smart’s team slogans: “It takes what it takes.”
The Bulldogs players learned it will take more than what they put on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night, and what they’ve be putting into their practices and preparations.
The Georgia coaches also realized it will take better development and/or players than what they have been recruiting or putting on the field through the first four games.
Some difficult decisions are ahead for the Bulldogs, and there will likely be collateral damage when those changes go down.
When teams are winning it’s a lot easier to overlook mistakes on the field, in the coaching booth and on the lineup card.
The 41-24 defeat at the hands of the Crimson Tide was a necessary catalyst for the sorts of changes Kirby Smart needs to make in order to transform his 2020 team into a championship squad.
Smart has said before, “if it ain’t broke, make it better,” but he hadn’t really applied that to this team yet.
In fairness to the offense, it’s still evolving and the Georgia head coach probably wants to make sure he sees what he has before the Bulldogs start tinkering.
That makes this an important off week, as Smart and his offensive coaches either will or won’t make changes in the offensive skill position hierarchy.
The offensive line performed well enough to beat Alabama, but Georgia needs better play at quarterback, running back and receiver.
Defensively, Smart realized postgame the Bulldogs need to bring even more pressure. As it was, UGA brought as much pressure as it usually does, but it didn’t get home nearly as often because of the Tide’s elite offensive line.
Alabama’s offense was actually a tougher matchup for Georgia than last year’s historically good LSU offense because its offensive line was superior to the Tigers, and Najee Harris is a better running back than Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Here are three other takeaways on the Georgia-Alabama game
Stetson Bennett IV beat two ranked SEC opponents and held a 24-20 lead on the No. 2 Crimson Tide at halftime on the road playing with the same limitations that will ultimately lead to a quarterback change.
Bennett can’t change his height or his arm strength, and while he can and will get better now that his coaching staff is giving him valuable reps, those physical attributes limit some dimensions of the pass game.
Five batted balls at the line of scrimmage served as evidence shorter QBs are more challenged to find pass lanes. A lack of arm strength limits the deep out throws that stretch the field, which in turn enables defenses to creep safeties closer to the line of scrimmage and crowd the run game and intermediate passes.
JT Daniels was winning the original quarterback competition, and that’s why Jamie Newman left after the first scrimmage. D’Wan Mathis is ultra-talented, but he’s essentially a first-year player learning the college game while Bennett is a traveled fourth-year veteran.
Daniels’ knee is cleared, but he has not yet been deemed ready to take over the offense. If Daniels is elevated on the depth chart, there’s a chance Mathis could leave Georgia. You can bet other teams have been checking in on the Metro Detroit product, and finding a new home is what some talented quarterbacks do amid transfer-friendly times.
Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning doesn’t miss much, and to be fair Alabama is a tough assignment with what appears to be a bulletproof offensive line that pushes as well as it protects.
It was strength on strength Saturday night, and the Tide’s offensive strength was superior to the Bulldogs’ defensive strength. Alabama’s skill players were too much for Georgia’s linebackers and defensive backs to handle.
Lanning and Smart have plenty to take from the game, and more importantly, enough film to convince the UGA defensive players they need to operate with more of a sense of urgency. Those paying close attention will recall Smart saying the practice efforts have not been consistent enough this season.
Georgia will have a different plan the next time it plays Alabama (assuming an SEC Championship Game rematch) and be willing to be more aggressive with blitz calls if the offense has not matured enough to hold serve.
The Tide, meanwhile, will need to walk the SEC season schedule tight rope and keep its relatively immobile quarterback upright, it’s gifted running back hitting on all cylinders and both dynamic receivers at their top end speed.
Staying healthy is not easy in this physical league, Dec. 19 in a long ways off, and Alabama fans have recent evidence (2018) of how a dynamic regular season no longer translates to championships.
It’s amazing, and predictable, how many experts emerged after halftime to declare how Kirby Smart has fallen short as a head coach now that he’s dropped to 9-5 against Top 10 teams. Many of today’s new critics were predicting a Georgia win and in denial of the team’s offensive limitations through the first three games.
To reset Saturday night: Georgia was beating Alabama 24-20 at halftime in Tuscaloosa with …
• a former walk-on quarterback
• an offensive line replacing four starters from last season
• a receiving corps that had just two players coming back with more than 10 career catches
Oh, and Georgia has an entirely new offensive scheme that did not have the benefit of spring drills.
The clock struck 12 at halftime, and the offense turned into a pumpkin when the Alabama defense dialed in on the offense’s vulnerabilities.
Georgia could run, but it couldn’t hide its pass deficiencies. Once new coordinator Todd Monken ran out of gadgets and “answer” plays, it was checkmate.
The front-loaded schedule was always going to be a challenge for a young and new offense that was in need of development, a fact compounded by COVID wiping out spring drills and the preseason QB merry-go-round.
The Kentucky game being delayed until Halloween is surely an inconvenience for fans, but it’s a blessing for this football team.
Georgia football will get better, but only after a few numbers change in the starting lineup and some position coaches accept the challenges they put before their players every day to be better at what they do.