JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s not that Georgia started Faton Bauta at quarterback with the SEC East on the line. It’s that Georgia felt it had to start Faton Bauta at quarterback with the SEC East on the line. The team that was the landslide choice to win its division; the team ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll as of 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 … that team today looks like no team at all.
After winning here Saturday, Florida will almost certainly take the division. It can play defense, but its offense is pedestrian – it’s likewise working with a backup quarterback — and it cannot kick a field goal to save its life. It will be the weakest SEC East winner ever. It was 24 points better than Georgia.
There hasn’t been a Georgia team this helpless under Mark Richt. Even the 6-7 assemblage of 2010 could do a little something – it pushed Florida and Urban Meyer to overtime and led Cam Newton’s Auburn, which would win the BCS title, by two touchdowns – and it had a quarterback. (Aaron Murray, then a freshman.) This team doesn’t have a quarterback. This team doesn’t have much of anything.
If you removed the signature silver britches and put these players in generic gray, you’d never guess these were the Georgia Bulldogs, famed for their Signing Day windfalls. As Steve Spurrier said 24 years ago in this city: “Georgia gets all these recruits; I don’t know what happens to them.” Where’d all Richt’s players go?
Nick Chubb we understand. He’s great and he’s hurt. But Georgia still has Sony Michel and Keith Marshall, both mega-recruits. You’re free to credit the defense for not letting Florida run wild, but the Gators managed 413 yards and 27 points despite missing a field goal and a PAT and failing on fourth-and-9 from the 11 because Jim McElwain had seen enough of his kickers.
Special teams? Awful again. There was a failed fake punt – Brice Ramsey, the new No. 3 quarterback and now the No. 1 punter, missed his target – and Reggie Davis muffed a punt he shouldn’t have tried to field. That gifted Florida a touchdown. Had the Gators’ offense not scored, Georgia still would have lost.
Which brings us to Bauta, who hadn’t taken a significant snap in three-plus seasons as a Bulldog but who was deployed as a starter – and who played the entire game, throwing four predictable interceptions – because Richt decided he gave Georgia its best chance to win. If this was Georgia’s best chance, what would have been its worst?
And that, yet again, brings us to Richt. His team has scored three offensive touchdowns in its past four games, one in the past 10 quarters. That Richt turned to Bauta in the season’s biggest game was an admission of desperation, and here we ask: Why should Georgia ever be desperate? Georgia with its bountiful recruiting; Georgia with its tradition; Georgia with its hallowed hedges … heck, Georgia with its coming-soon indoor practice facility. Why should such a program ever run out of ideas?
It happened against Alabama, which is admittedly a cut above, and it happened against Florida, which shouldn’t be. Fifty weeks ago, the Gators fired their coach. In the spring, McElwain described his inherited talent as “insufficient.” On Saturday, that talent appeared to dwarf Georgia’s.
And that brings us, as night follows day, to coaching. Georgia bears the stamp of a poorly coached team. Brian Schottenheimer has been a bust as offensive coordinator. The Bulldogs actually threw the ball better against Florida than they ran it. (Only 69 yards on 22 runs.) When you’re working behind a career backup making his first start, how does that happen? Jeremy Pruitt has become a program power broker, but when has his defense held fast against anybody any good?
I’ve said this before – said it after favored Georgia was blown out by the ghost-ship Gators here a year ago – but here it is again: I no longer believe in Mark Richt. I no longer believe he can take Georgia where it needs to go. And here’s the most chilling part of another sobering day: The Gators in Year 1 under McElwain were 24 points better than the Bulldogs in Year 15 under Richt.