In the wake of the latest Jacksonville debacle, Dawgs fans have an awful lot of questions about where the UGA football program is headed and — aside from the vocal and growing fire-everyone faction — no real answers.
Of course, we don’t get paid $4 million a year to solve such problems.
Mark Richt does, but, unfortunately, judging from the strategic flailing about that we saw in advance of the Florida game, Georgia’s head coach doesn’t really know what to do about the almost complete systemic failure of his offense, either.
Frankly, the decision to insert the Dawgs’ third-string quarterback as starter in possibly the season’s most important conference game reeked of a desperation reminiscent of the black-helmets ploy tried by Richt in the 2009 Georgia-Florida game — and was just as spectacularly unsuccessful.
A week ago, when a number of fans suggested they’d like to see Faton Bauta given a chance against the Gators, I agreed that, in theory, his reputation as Georgia’s most mobile QB might represent the sort of change of pace that could disrupt the planning of an opposing defense. But, I noted, Bauta had very little game experience and also didn’t have the arm to worry defenses about a downfield threat.
Certainly, the Gators weren’t worried Saturday, as they frequently loaded the line of scrimmage with up to eight players, shutting the suddenly anemic Georgia running game down completely and defiantly daring Bauta, who had gotten few reps with the first string prior to game week, to throw against a secondary that includes probably the nation’s best defensive back.
To compound the problem, Bauta additionally was hamstrung by a mind-boggling Brian Schottenheimer game plan that took Georgia’s “running” quarterback and instead asked him to suddenly morph into a pinpoint passer.
What, two weeks wasn’t enough time to come up with some packages that actually took into account the relative strengths and weaknesses of the guy you want to start at quarterback?!
Of course, the entire QB scenario for this game had disaster written all over it from the start. As a friend put it when word of the Bauta move first leaked out a few days before kickoff: “This brings back memories of when Ray Goff ‘surprised’ Alabama by starting Hines Ward, even though he hadn’t played QB in over a year. (We got crushed 31-0.) We decide the guy who’s been third-string all season, and hasn’t earned a snap even against the cupcakes, is No. 1 during FLORIDA week? This is nuts. Even if it works out (I’m extremely doubtful), what does it say about our evaluation process?”
Exactly. The unsuccessful gamble with Bauta on top of the decision to bring in a graduate transfer QB, the continuing inability to score touchdowns and the alarmingly abrupt decline of Georgia’s running game, is just one more indication that the hiring of Schottenheimer, a journeyman NFL signal-caller who apparently has little understanding of the college game, can be safely judged an abject failure, and one more black mark on Richt’s record.
The Bulldogs’ offense has become a national embarrassment. Against Florida, the veteran (which doesn’t necessarily mean good) offensive line couldn’t open any holes for the running backs. Thus, the ground game almost ceased to be a factor, which took away the play-action passing game.
So, you ended up with an inexperienced QB throwing four picks and an unimaginative, impotent Bulldogs offense that seemed incapable of getting 1 yard even when it had two or three tries.
Speaking of the latter, Schottenheimer may have come to UGA billed as a run-oriented playcaller, but approaching third-and-1 by sending the tailback up the middle without a fullback even in the game to lead the way shows an alarming lack of understanding about what SEC defenses are like.
Also, who runs a toss sweep without blockers?
And I’d love to know why Keith Marshall didn’t get the ball more, despite gaining an impressive 16 yards in his measly three carries. It’s not like the on-field performance of Brendan Douglas, who amassed just 4 yards in his three carries (and who played a role in two of the interceptions Bauta threw) was exactly demanding more playing time for him in relief of Sony Michel, who played with a broken hand (but doesn’t have Nick Chubb’s ability to find holes amid poor blocking even when healthy).
All of that meant that a young Georgia defense had to stay on the field way too long, with the resulting occasional coverage breakdowns marring what otherwise would have been a not-awful effort on their part.
Throw in the usual special teams catastrophe that has become the hallmark of the Richt era at UGA, plus a fake punt that had quarterback-in-exile-turned-punter Brice Ramsey inexplicably trying to throw a pass to a linebacker, and you wind up with another Georgia team getting blown out in Jacksonville.
Which brings us to the question that a number of fans, including my daughter, have asked me since the end of Saturday’s game: Do I think it’s finally time for Georgia and Richt to part ways?
First, I should note that, at this point, no matter what the fan base demands, I don’t think the head coach’s job is in serious jeopardy … yet. However, if things get worse this season, including another loss to the in-state rival, that could change.
I will say that, for the first time in Richt’s tenure at UGA, I’m no longer convinced he has what it takes to do better than a 10-win season every two or three years. I’ll wait until the season’s end before weighing in on whether that is reason enough to make a change at the top.
As for what lies ahead this season, while none of the four opponents remaining on the Dawgs’ schedule are playing at Florida’s level, they can score points.
And, in the absence of a Georgia offense that is capable of making a single yard when needed, let alone touchdowns, Bulldogs fans can be excused for fearing that an already ugly season could, in fact, get much, much uglier.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.