ATHENS — Kirby Smart has said several times that changing a football program’s mindset and implementing his blueprint can take time — it’s like turning a battleship. But seven games into the season, it’s clear there are two problem with that soundbite:
- This battleship won 10 games last season.
This battleship looks like it’s trying to turn in a bathtub.
Georgia just lost to Vanderbilt. At home. On homecoming.
So here’s the update on Georgia’s attempt to get back in the SEC East race. It now loses the division tiebreaker to Vanderbilt. It lost to a team that last week lost to Kentucky. It lost to a coach (Derek Mason) who had never won an SEC road game (1-9) and was 2-17 in the conference and was working with a vanishing career lifeline.
This battleship is a dinghy.
This battleship almost lost to Nicholls State in game two and got its doors blown off by Ole Miss in game four and lost at home to Vanderbilt in game seven for the first time since 2006.
This battleship is now 2-3 in the SEC. Here’s one reason why: Before even the first play from scrimmage Saturday, the Bulldogs had already allowed a 95-yard kickoff return and had been penalized twice — once for being offside on the kickoff, the other for an illegal substitution.
So Vanderbilt’s offense actually had to gain all of one yard for the game’s first touchdown … which, for a while, looked like it might hold up.
“We didn’t play very well. We didn’t coach very well. We didn’t come out with very good passion and energy,” Smart said after the 17-16 loss.
“It all starts with me.”
No argument there. Georgia’s makeover looks more like a decline.
Throw out the excuse of playing in a short week. Throw out the special teams blunders (“a comedy of errors,” said Smart). Throw out the let’s-credit-the-opponent talking points like, “That’s a tough, physical defense.” Georgia should not lose to Vanderbilt, not at home, not on homecoming, not ever. Homecoming opponents aren’t scheduled to win, they’re scheduled to create memories.
“We talked about it this morning. We talked about doing something epic,” said Mason.
Actually, Derek, I meant the other team.
The Bulldogs will get another shot at Vanderbilt next season in Nashville. Maybe the Commodores will schedule them for homecoming.
“I’m still pretty numb,” tight end Jeb Blazevich said. “What we need to do is just sit and feel the pain.”
They’ve got two weeks of pain. Then they play Florida, the team people usually expect you to lose to.
The Bulldogs struggled to run the ball (a week after rushing for 326 yards at South Carolina). They committed too many penalties. They twice were held to field goals in the red zone. Their last hope fizzled with one minute left when, on fourth-and-1 from the Vandy 41, the Dogs tried to get the first down with a toss sweep to Isaiah McKenzie. In other words, they chose not to give the ball to one of the best running backs in the country, Nick Chubb, or even Sony Michel.
Because … why?
Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney believed Vanderbilt read an inside run, which hadn’t worked most of the game, and that their play call to the outside with McKenzie was correct.
“We felt really good about it,” said Smart. “The guy came off his block.”
Actually, not really. “The guy,” inside linebacker Zach Cunningham, never got blocked because he – and clearly the Commodores’ defense – knew exactly what was coming. Cunningham read the play, cut to the left – before center Brandon Kublanow could ever get to him — and dragged down McKenzie short of the first down.
“I never saw him coming,” McKenzie said.
Chubb was asked if he was surprised to not get the ball on fourth-and-1.
“Coach’s decision,” he said.
Vanderbilt drove 75 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 9:43 left. But don’t put this on the Bulldogs’ defense. They held the Commodores to 85 yards in offense through three quarters – and yet, Georgia led only 13-10.
In addition to rushing problems — Chubb was held to 40 yards and 2.5 per carry — the Dogs did too many dumb things. There was the poor coverage on the opening kickoff. There was Isaiah McKenzie foolishly chasing down a bouncing punt behind him, bobbling it, then getting hammered. There was Reggie Davis picking up a kickoff that was headed out of bounds, then stepping out himself at the Bulldogs’ three-yard line.
Net loss: Vanderbilt scored 10 points on “short” fields, gaining only nine yards of those two possessions.
Fans booed at halftime. In the second half, they mostly grumbled.
Oh well. Nick Saban went only 7-6 in his first season at Alabama in 2007. That included a loss to Louisiana-Monroe and a four-game losing streak. So maybe this is all a precursor to Georgia winning four national championships in the next eight years.
Or maybe not.
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