‘Good’ day for Dawgs a result of diminished expectations

Mark Richt said it was a "good day" for his Georgia Bulldogs. (Steven Colquitt/UGA)

“It was a good day,” Mark Richt said immediately after his Bulldogs had beaten the Kentucky Wildcats in a game that wasn’t as close as the 27-3 score would imply. And Richt was right. After being rated A for awful on offense in the month of October, the Dawgs for the most part looked good Saturday.

Not very good, mind you. Certainly not great. But good enough to beat Kentucky.

Georgia’s defense had another good day. (Philip Williams/UGA)

The game never really felt in doubt, except for a brief moment after a fumble deep in Georgia territory had allowed the Cats to kick a field goal and then the Dawgs again inexplicably were unable to cover the following high, short pooch kickoff. Visions of another late first-half collapse a la Tennessee thankfully were quashed by some lovely yellow penalty flags thrown against the Cats that meant a do-over on the kick. This time, all went well.

That was about the last point at which Kentucky threatened to make a game of it. So, yeah, it was a good day for the Dawgs, if nothing to get excited about.

As my brother Tim texted right after the game: “It’s a win. I’ll take it.”

Yes, that was more a collective sigh of relief than a victory roar emanating from Bulldog Nation on Saturday afternoon. A big reason for the lack of high-fives among Dawgs fandom was because everyone realized that beating a really bad team like Kentucky is no more a sign of Georgia having fixed all of its problems than was beating a really bad team like South Carolina earlier in the season.

“Everybody wasn’t doing backflips or anything like that. Everybody felt good; everybody felt better.” That was Richt talking after the game about his players and coaches, but it applied to the fans as well.

Operating out of the Wild Dog, Terry Godwin hands off to Sony Michel. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Granted, Georgia did rediscover its running game Saturday, thanks in part to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer belatedly adding the “Wild Dog” play to his laminated call-sheet. Of course, having receiver Terry Godwin and tailback Sony Michel take direct snaps from center was mainly a way to keep from having to rely too much on the Dawgs’ underwhelming quarterbacks.

And even then Schotty couldn’t stop himself from getting too cute at times, as when on third-and-2 he went to the Wild Dog well once too often, resulting in a 10-yard loss, when a simple I-formation handoff likely would have proved much more effective.

Part of the day’s success story was due to the rejiggered offensive line looking improved blocking for the run against Kentucky, as the Dawgs racked up 300 yards on the ground. Michel had a career-high 165 yards on 24 carries, with Keith Marshall contributing another 60 yards on 13 carries. Marshall also had a really nice effort after catching a screen pass that saw him stiff-arm a defender and reach successfully for the goal line.

Georgia’s offensive line did better blocking for the running game. (John Kelley / UGA)

But the passing game, what little there was of it, suffered from the OL allowing a not-very-good Kentucky defense to apply way too much pressure on Georgia’s quarterbacks. As Richt put it, the Dawgs had too many passes “where the quarterback was either having somebody in his face or actually getting hit as he was throwing. A couple of them were guys just getting flat-out beat. It wasn’t the blitz.”

Speaking of the quarterbacks, starter Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey, who relieved him for two first-half series, were still pretty underwhelming Saturday, although their play against Kentucky didn’t merit being called “awful,” as one of the TV talking heads labeled them.

Quarterback play was at least not a problem. Lambert described his goal as “just trying to not hurt us,” and with the QBs not turning the ball over at all, that was indeed achieved.

If the Georgia offense was merely adequate rather than truly impressive against the Wildcats, rumor-magnet Jeremy Pruitt’s defense continued its gradual rise in the national rankings as it pretty much shut down the opposing offense. Dominick Sanders was particularly impressive in snagging two interceptions and making nice returns (though he ended up fumbling away the ball on the first pick).

Keith Marshall scores against the Wildcats. (John Kelley / UGA)

Yes, we should keep in mind that Kentucky wasn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut coming into its date with UGA in Athens, but overall the defensive Dawgs looked focused and, in fact, pretty ferocious, despite all the distractions swirling around them leading up to the game.

As for special teams play, aside from dodging another self-inflicted bullet in the foot on the aforementioned pooch kick and Marshall Morgan missing another field goal attempt that was well within his range, things generally went well. Georgia recovered a fumbled punt, Morgan put three of his kickoffs deep enough into the end zone to get touchbacks and the punting game was solid, with Ramsey handling all but one of them and averaging 47.7 yards per kick, with a long of 53 yards.

So, yes, it was a good day against a mediocre opponent. That’s not the same as saying that the Dawgs suddenly have become a good team, but progress was made Saturday.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

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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.

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