Georgia looks like a shaky 2-0 with its passing game

Greyson Lambert, who completed only 11 of 21 passes for 116 yards, hasn't given Georgia coaches a reason to open up the passing game. (Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com)

NASHVILLE – This might not seem like typical analysis when a team wins its first two games by a composite score of 82-28 and its starting tailback has rushed for over 300 yards and is averaging nearly nine yards per carry. But Georgia looks like a team that’s in trouble.

It’s not in trouble as in Auburn-almost-lost-to-Jacksonville-State trouble, or as in Arkansas-lost-to-Toledo trouble. But the Bulldogs haven’t exhibited any semblance of a passing threat, either in quarterback play or play-calling, and without either you might as well just stamp, “Gator Bowl” on their foreheads now.

Gator Bowl: Not on the bucket list.

Following Saturday’s slop of a 31-14 win over Vanderbilt, Georgia coach Mark Richt stated the obvious: “We didn’t throw and catch the ball well at all.”

Greyson Lambert, his starting quarterback (as of this typing), didn’t disagree, saying, “We just couldn’t find our rhythm.”

But the most blunt comments came from wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, one of this team’s playmakers (or at least when it looks like Georgia is trying to make plays).

“Teams are going to stack the box against us,” Mitchell said. “Vanderbilt stacked the box and we didn’t pass the ball, and you saw what happened. Until we get comfortable throwing the ball …”

(Pause.)

“… I hope our defense shows up.”

When asked about his level of frustration, Mitchell said, “For me, being a competitor, I see myself as one of the better athletes, and I’m not being cocky. But any time I’m singled up and it’s man on man, let me do what I do best.”

When a follow-up question came, Mitchell pumped the breaks on his venting a bit, saying, “It’s a team sport and it’s more about us winning the game than anything personal.”

Me: “That was suddenly diplomatic.”

Him: “Exactly.”

Richt and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer haven’t shown any inclination in letting Lambert fling the ball – and the junior transfer hasn’t done much to mount an argument. He failed to complete a pass in the first half (0 for 5) and for the game hit only 11 of 21 for 116 yards.

That won’t get it done against Alabama. Or possibly other conference opponents.

Lambert called the first half “a little rough.”

“We were still up 14-6. It could have been a lot of worse,” he said. “They were doing some stunts up front, bringing some cover zero blitzes that I have to see and check out of. We just couldn’t find a rhythm early on. We didn’t go up tempo as much as we’d like, which is kind of my fault, too, trying to really push it and get the plays called.”

It’s Lambert’s and Georgia’s fortune that the team’s tailbacks are providing a great safety net. Nick Chubb rushed for 189 yards. Sony Michel ran for 56, including a 31-yard touchdown in the second quarter — one play after a Vanderbilt player dropped an interception.

Georgia rushed for 281 yards. It passed for 141. Question: If Mike Bobo was still the offensive coordinator, how much would he be getting skewered for this?

Richt and Schottenheimer surprisingly gave backup quarterback Brice Ramsey only one offensive possession, in the second quarter. He completed his first two passes, had an overthrow on his third and nearly completed a deep ball to Mitchell (it was in the receiver’s hands but knocked away by a defender). If this was a real quarterback competition, Ramsey would have been given more snaps Saturday.

Not to short-change Vanderbilt’s defense. But this is a Vandy team that lost to Western Kentucky last week.

That’s even worse than losing to the big Kentucky.

Vanderbilt is a place where good things usually happen to the opponent. But Georgia seems to do its best to throw off the curve.

In 2007, the Bulldogs needed a last-second field goal to escape with a 20-17 win. In 2011 — in a game mostly known for then Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and Georgia’s combustible defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, going all WWE on us — a late-game muffed punt put Vandy in position to win at the Dogs’ 20 but the drive fizzled and the Dogs again held on (33-28). In 2013, two players were penalized for targeting and the Dogs blew a 24-14 lead and lost 31-27. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins’ neat summation of that game: “It just really sucked.”

He could have been doing a retrospective of Saturday’s game, as well. Georgia led 14-6 at halftime. But if not for a 77-yard punt return by Isaiah McKenzie and the running of Chubb and Michel, the Dogs would have been trailing. A first half of defective football included: Lambert’s lack of pocket presence or accuracy (0-for-5 with a near interception); a missed field goal; major defensive penalties for targeting (linebacker Lorenzo Carter was ejected), hands-to-the-face and interference.

It was only Georgia’s first SEC game. But this performance is not how conference titles are won.

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