ATHENS — I’ve witnessed this kind of misery before from Georgia. Often it has come at the hands of Vanderbilt.
Saturday’s 17-16 loss to the Commodores felt a lot like that one did in 2006 when the Bulldogs fell 24-22. Georgia opened the second half with a turnover and Vanderbilt kicked a field goal with two seconds remaining.
There might not have ever been one worse than 1994, when the Commodores ran the ball down the Bulldogs’ throats on the way to a stunning 43-30 upset that spelled the beginning of the end for head coach Ray Goff. That 27-25 loss in Nashville in 1991 was tough to take as well.
But it hasn’t just been Vandy. Retrospectively, Georgia’s 38-35 loss to South Carolina in 2014 was pretty bad. It was one of only three SEC games the Gamecocks won that year. Still, that wasn’t as bad as when South Carolina beat the Bulldogs 16-12 in 2007 between the hedges. That Georgia team finished No. 2 in nation and the Gamecocks finished 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the league. There were others, such as the 2009 loss to Kentucky, 2006 to Tennessee and 2001 to Auburn.
Saturday’s game had one thing in common with all those others: The best team didn’t win. But in most of those other cases, the opponent played above its head that particular day, which caught the Bulldogs off guard.
Vanderbilt didn’t play particularly great Saturday, and that’s the chief concern here. Georgia was clearly a much better team. The Bulldogs had better personnel and they dominated most of the game.
Except for the very beginning and end, and that’s critical. Vandy’s 95-yard kickoff return to open the game and fourth-down stand to end it gave it what it needed to win. Pretty much everything in between was controlled by Georgia, just not capitalized on.
The Bulldogs gained two and a half times the yardage that Vanderbilt did, 421 to 171. They had nearly three times the first downs (23 to 9) and possessed the ball more than 10 minutes longer. It shouldn’t have been close, much less in jeopardy of being a loss.
That’s the same sort of scenario Georgia encountered over at South Carolina this past Sunday. The Bulldogs ran roughshod over the Gamecocks to the tune of 326 yards rushing, yet had to defend an onsides kick in the final seconds just to ensure victory.
Same thing here. Georgia played stalwart defense throughout the game. But finally staked to the lead and needing a stop in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs gave a up a third-down conversion that allowed Vandy to go 75 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
It continued a pattern of wild inconsistency for Georgia, especially on offense. In seven games, it has rushed for more yards in three and passed for more in four. Its only real identity is that it doesn’t have one. And it’s getting kind of late to get one.
Kirby Smart wants the Bulldogs to be “a tough and physical team” that dominates every team it plays on the line of scrimmage. Only they can’t. But he seems bent on trying to do that at all costs.
Special teams continue to be “a comedy of errors.” That’s Smart’s words. It’s also his job that they not be. While he has a so-called special teams coordinator in Shane Beamer, he takes a self-professed special interest in in overseeing them. Yet Georgia remains among the worst few teams in the country at kick coverage, a stat that won’t improve after Saturday’s proceedings.
Look, bad losses happen and upsets occur every weekend in college football. But the only thing Georgia has been consistent about is playing down to the level of its opponent.
Perhaps it’s the aftershock effect. That is, there are tremors still running through the team from the seismic event that was a coaching change after last season and a culture change during this one. There’s evidence of such instability occurring in year one of new coach, going from Ray Goff to Jim Donnan, from Donnan to Mark Richt and now Richt to Smart.
And a lot of folks on social media Saturday were pointing out Nick Saban’s 7-6 record in Year One at Alabama following Mike Shula. But there were NCAA sanctions and scholarship limitations and all kinds of external factors influencing that season. There’s nothing of the sort here.
This one was supposed to be a smooth transition from a 10-win team to something greater. We know now there won’t be anything greater about the Bulldogs in 2016. Right now, I think we’d all just take smooth.