Georgia wasted a terrific performance by Sony Michel against Tech on possibly his last day playing in Athens. (John Paul Van Wert / UGA)

Kirby Smart’s UGA program takes another wrong turn on its road to glory

Did the Georgia Bulldogs’ coaching staff outsmart itself Saturday with its plan to try and kill the clock in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech? And what does the Dawgs’ third disappointing home loss of the season mean in the larger picture?

Well, how you viewed Saturday’s battle between the Dawgs and Jackets likely differed with your perspective.

Nationally, this particular Rivalry Day grudge match easily could be dismissed as one mediocre team defeating another mediocre team. Ho-hum.

If you are a fan of Georgia Tech, where this rivalry still looms large, you no doubt felt vindicated that “the Genius” and his program once again got to grab victorious handfuls of the famed Sanford Stadium hedges.

As for Bulldogs fans, your short-term reaction to the 28-27 loss to the Yellow Jackets likely depends on just how solidly you’ve bought into the Kirby Smart legend-that-would-be.

Jacob Eason and the Dawgs passing attack had another inconsistent day. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)

The Dawgs ended up with an underwhelming 7-5 record in his inaugural season as UGA head coach, which included another beatdown by Florida and a home loss to Vandy. Despite that, if you still see Smart as the homegrown savior who just needs time to lure a bunch of five-star recruits to Athens and get his version of the Nick Saban-inspired “Process” up and running, you may be somewhat sanguine about this loss. Just a hiccup on the red-and-black brick road to UGA joining Smart’s former employer among college football’s elite, you might say.

Wait till next year. Or, maybe, the year after.

If, on the other hand, you’re among those Georgia fans who are not completely sold on the coaching team Smart has assembled — and, yes, I’m thinking primarily of Jim Chaney here — you might be more than a bit concerned with the lack of progress Georgia’s offense showed this season and the way the Dawgs wasted a terrific performance by Sony Michel in possibly his last game in Athens, letting yet another game Between the Hedges slip away from their grasp.

It’s true you can’t lay it all on Chaney. The Georgia defense run by Mel Tucker (and Smart) faltered in the fourth quarter, after earlier seeming to get a handle on Paul Johnson’s triple-option, holding Tech to just 21 yards on offense in the third quarter. However, when Tech was backed up in the shadow of its own goalposts midway through the fourth quarter, you might have been like me and the folks around me at Sanford Stadium and figured Johnson would have QB Justin Thomas throw the ball. You’d have been right.

Georgia’s defense faltered in the fourth quarter against Tech. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)

Unfortunately, this development apparently caught the Bulldogs defense, which seemed to think the game already was won, by surprise. Wham, a couple of long pass plays to wide-open receivers quickly brought the Jackets downfield to narrow the gap to 27-21.

As might be expected with a Georgia loss, special teams also played a part, with a missed field goal that could have ended up making the difference.

But, despite that miss, and the defense reverting to first-quarter form and letting Tech into the end zone again after a Georgia turnover, this particular loss mainly should be laid at the door of Chaney, who once again showed that the best way to lose a game is to try sitting on a lead, especially if your play-calling is mind-numbingly predictable.

While still shaky in the red zone, as it has been all year, Georgia’s offense played a pretty decent game in the first three quarters, thanks largely to Michel running for 170 yards, with Nick Chubb adding another 88.

But, rather than try to pad Georgia’s 13-point advantage in the fourth quarter with some aggressive or creative calls, Chaney elected instead to go ultra-conservative on offense with 11:58 remaining in the game. It’s tough to kill the clock when you can’t make first downs because everyone in the stadium, including the Jackets defense, knows what you’re going to do.

It also didn’t help that Georgia still was having false starts in its regular season finale, had to burn a valuable second-half timeout because a disorganized sideline and still-struggling freshman QB couldn’t get their signals straight, or that the Dawgs’ air attack again had another inconsistent day.

While a scrambling Jacob Eason hit Isaac Nauta for a key 35-yard completion on Georgia’s first scoring drive and had a 38-yard completion to Terry Godwin in the third quarter and a touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie,  the Dawgs’ quarterback suffered from a couple of passes dropped by his underperforming receiving corps, was off-target a couple of times when he had open receivers, had other throws batted down, and saw a poorly thrown pass bounce off the hands of Godwin and get picked off by a Tech defender to set up the Jacket’s winning drive. When you’re outgained through the air by a Paul Johnson team, you know your passing game needs work.

Isaiah McKenzie had a touchdown catch, but Georgia’s receivers overall didn’t have a good game. (David Barnes / AJC)

But, dropped passes and the Dawgs’ continued problems at punching it into the end zone aren’t what bothered me most about Georgia’s offense Saturday. No, more troubling was the lack of progress I saw this season offensively and Chaney’s continued stubbornness in trying to run off-tackle when Georgia didn’t have a very good offensive line, his insistence on having Eason play mostly under center when he’s quite obviously more comfortable (and more effective) in the shotgun, and the unimaginative play calls he came up with when the Dawgs needed to keep the ball away from the Jackets.

Having watched a young Mike Bobo grow into a confident, imaginative play-caller during his time as Georgia’s offensive coordinator, it’s frustrating to see a veteran like Chaney seemingly refusing to adapt to the cards he’s been dealt.

Of course, maybe we were expecting too much. It’s not like this guy has been a raving success everywhere he’s guided offenses. Having “helped develop Drew Brees” on your resume can only carry you so far.

In his postgame remarks, Smart said, “We as coaches have to do a better job, and that starts with me. I’m the leader of the organization. And I’m the one held responsible for it.”

Yes, he is. But, whether Smart has the right people around him, particularly on offense, to do a better job remains the big questionmark.

(If there’s something you want to discuss, or you have a question, email me at junkyardblawg@gmail.com, or connect with me on Facebook or via Twitter. And don’t forget to check out past entries of the Junkyard Blawg.)

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