“A win is a win” was the way many Georgia Bulldogs fans consoled themselves after two consecutive very shaky victories over lowly Nicholls State and an unexpectedly tough Missouri, which raises the question after Saturday’s debacle in Oxford: Is a loss a loss, or are some defeats worse than others?
If so, Georgia’s 45-14 beatdown by Ole Miss certainly must be one of them, because in what surely must rank as two of the worst quarters of football the Dawgs have played in quite a while, the full range of this team’s deficiencies were on display as the Rebels jumped out to a 31-0 lead in the first half.
Truly, Georgia seemed to take itself out of this game pretty quickly. After Ole Miss jumped out to a 10-0 lead halfway through the first quarter, I received a text that proved all too prophetic: “This is going to be ugly.”
“Ugly,” “sad,” “pathetic” — those terms were typical of the way Georgia fans summed up their team’s performance in what was the first loss of the season but seems likely not to be the last unless Kirby Smart proves to be a miracle worker.
By the time Ole Miss went up 45-0 in the third quarter, it was plainly evident that the Dawgs’ defense didn’t have any answers to Chad Kelly and the Rebels’ attack. Georgia’s flaws in pass coverage in previous games had been masked by opponents not making plays (North Carolina) or giving the ball away (Mizzou), but on this day the Dawg defensive backs plainly were outclassed by the bigger, tougher Rebel receivers, who looked like men among boys going up for those touchdown passes. It didn’t help that, as defensive back Juwan Briscoe noted, at times some of the Georgia players weren’t playing the same defensive scheme.
It wasn’t all on the secondary, though. The lack of a Georgia pass rush at times gave Kelly a ridiculous amount of time to search out open receivers.
As for the Georgia offense, it stirred slightly in the latter part of the game, putting together two touchdown drives mainly on the running of freshmen Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield, but that was after Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze had emptied the bench.
Garbage time, they call it, so there’s not much solace there, though it was good to see Holyfield get some action, especially since Nick Chubb’s availability may be questionable after he missed the second half with a sprained ankle.
Even so, it was another day when Georgia’s lack of a running game (which is still amazing, considering Chubb and Sony Michel are on this team) made the offense punchless most of the time, converting only four times out of 16 attempts on third down. (And before Ole Miss put in the subs, the Dawgs had converted only 1 of 12 third downs.)
Which brings us back to all those Bulldogs deficiencies so starkly in evidence Saturday, the most troublesome and demoralizing of which remains the poor play of the offense line. The OL has, if anything, regressed in each game since the opening win over North Carolina. Last week against Mizzou, it was mainly a matter of them not creating any holes or room for the running game, but at least they provided decent protection for freshman quarterback Jacob Eason.
Against Ole Miss, they didn’t even do that, with the Georgia QB sacked three times, forced to hurry numerous throws under pressure and taking his first really hard hits of his college career. The results were predictably awful, as he completed just 44 percent of his passes (16 of 36) for 137 yards and one interception.
Of course, Eason may not have had a good day (he wasn’t very mobile or sure in his decision-making, threw into double coverage, didn’t see open receivers and overthrew many of his passes), but he certainly wasn’t helped by the performance of another underperforming Dawgs unit, the wide receivers, who dropped at least six passes that hit them in the hands, including one sure touchdown and another that would have been close. Georgia’s longest pass completion of the day (29 yards) was a throw from Marshall Long to Michel on a fake punt.
As Smart put it after the game: “We’ve got to take advantage of our opportunities when we get them.”
And then there’s the kicking game (or lack of it), perhaps the most alarming of the Dawgs’ weaknesses and one that seems sure to cost them a game. Georgia swapped out placekickers, going with Roddy Blankenship in place of William Ham, but the result was the same: a missed field goal that wasn’t even close. At this point, Georgia pretty much has to consider everything within the opponent’s 30 yard line to be four-down territory, with field goal attempts not really an option.
Chances are good Ole Miss still would have won the game, even if the Dawgs hadn’t dropped those TD passes or missed that field goal, but at least the score wouldn’t have been as embarrassing.
It was the kind of day where, early in the third quarter, my brother Tim spoke for many Georgia fans when he said, “I’ll be happy if we score.”
Welcome to a season of lowered expectations.
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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.