COLUMBIA, S.C. — Having proven in consecutive weeks that it’s capable of being both bludgeoned (45-14 by Ole Miss) and at the losing end of the sudden whims of evil football gods (Tennessee’s Hail Mary), Georgia wasn’t mandating dominance this week.
Simply affirming it was not about to circle the drain would be sufficient progress.
“I was interested to see how we would respond in practice,” coach Kirby Smart said. “We practiced well. It was spirited. I really think at this point of the season, some teams get better and some teams get worse. I’m trying to make sure that we’re in that upper half of getting better.”
It could be argued the Bulldogs didn’t prove much Sunday, other than showing they could beat South Carolina, which only puts them in the majority. But, well, baby steps.
The good: They rushed for 326 yards behind offensive line dominance and a trio of rushers. The bad: freshman Jacob Eason had the worst game of his half-career season (5 for 17 for 29 yards).
The good: They jumped out to a 14-0 lead. That bad: They stumbled across the finish line, failing to take advantage of a wounded team that turned the ball over 3 times, securing a 28-14 win only after Terry Godwin returned an onside kick 43 yards for a touchdown, like Columbia slapstick.
“We certainly made it more interesting than it needed to be,” Smart said.
No argument. But let’s just assume this will be the norm for the season.
Georgia scrambled to beat Nicholls State by 2 points and pulled out another win at Missouri by 1. It lost last week to Tennessee on the final fling. Really, the only game the Dogs have played that lacked drama was two weeks ago, when they were body slammed at Ole Miss.
But the Dogs did respond — winning a conference road game, following two losses, following the heartbreak against Tennessee, after having this game postponed a day because of Hurricane Matthew.
What we saw against South Carolina was something far short of dominance but far better than a team that looked like it had given up hope.
“Last week was over with, we couldn’t dwell on the past,” said linebacker Davin Bellamy. “We had to fight.”
Smart wasn’t thrilled with a lot of things he saw Sunday, but he said of the past week in practice, “This was the first week where I had sophomores telling guys to run off the field between sets. They had never done that. I was almost taken aback. It made me feel better about where we were headed.”
Is it too late to make something of this season? No.
Think about it. The Dogs (4-2, 2-2) don’t resemble a run-the-table kind of team. But they’re certainly capable of beating every opponent left on their SEC schedule. Wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky should be a given. That leaves a home game against Auburn and Florida in Jacksonville. Should Georgia win both, and Tennessee loses to Alabama as expected next week, the Dogs would need the Volunteers to lose only one more conference game (opponents: South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt) to win the SEC East.
Hey, stranger things have happened. Like an SEC game being played on a Sunday.
“Everybody has aspirations to play on Sunday,” Bellamy cracked. “The only difference is we have to go to school tomorrow. We were the only college game on TV today so we had to put on a show.”
They didn’t quite do that. The win-out portion of Georgia’s dream scenario won’t happen if Eason is overthrowing receivers on short- and medium-range passes, as he did against the Gamecocks. A 6-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie in the fourth quarter (thanks partly to a great block on a blitz pickup by Nick Chubb) was one of the few exceptions. Eason doesn’t have to be great when Chubb is rushing for 121 yards and two touchdowns, Sony Michel for 133 yards and Brian Herrien for 82. But he can’t smother potential scoring drives, either.
Smart reiterated that Eason is progressing in many areas. He suggested the wind might’ve affected a few throws.
However, when asked if his young quarterback ever showed frustration, Smart said, “I felt like he was with his feet, his actions, but not his composure. He got a little happy feet at times. It’s a growing process.”
Not just for the quarterback but for the team. After consecutive losses, any win has to be considered growth.
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