UGA players and fans must come to grips with cold reality

Another game in Jacksonville, another day for the Bulldogs to console each other. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Those in Bulldog Nation who had hoped the Kirby Smart era instantly would launch Georgia football into the stratosphere occupied by former boss Nick Saban’s teams might have been a bit delusional, but the reality of this season is proving frustrating for even those fans who had much more modest expectations.

Saturday’s game — different coaching staff, same result: another loss in Jacksonville — probably wasn’t enough to prompt UGA fandom to check out of this season on a wholesale basis just yet (though a loss next week at Kentucky likely will). However, the continued flat-lining of the Dawgs’ offensive efforts certainly makes it difficult to muster any short-term optimism.

“It’s hard any time the [other] teams make you one-dimensional,” Smart said after the 24-10 defeat by the Gators.

Georgia’s only sustained drive came when Jacob Eason scrambled to make something out of nothing. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Actually, coach, your offense wasn’t just one-dimensional; it was none-dimensional, with the exception of the one sustained drive where quarterback Jacob Eason was scrambling and improvising after offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s ineffective play calls broke down.

Smart said he was disappointed the Dawgs defenders allowed the Gators to convert some third-and-longs, and their red zone work obviously leaves much to be desired. Still, overall Georgia’s young defense played well enough to win against a Florida offense that was merely adequate.

On the other hand, even given the fact that the Gators are pretty terrific on defense, coming into the game ranked No. 2 in the country, the Bulldog offense’s showing was pathetic.

The Dawgs had a net 21 yards rushing against Florida (averaging 1.1 yards per run) and only 47 yards of total offense in the second half. They had no rushing first downs. At all. And almost half of Georgia’s entire offensive production in the game came on that one drive when Eason was rolling out and buying time until he could find an open receiver and make something out of nothing. (Which raises the question of why we didn’t see more of that approach on ensuing drives?)

No, Eason didn’t have a great day, and the learning process for the true freshman continues (one lesson hopefully learned Saturday: When you keep the ball and run, don’t slide if you haven’t yet reached the first-down marker). But the only time Georgia’s offense showed any life at all was when he freelanced to make plays, and he showed a really nice touch on his one touchdown throw.

The considerable litany of Georgia offensive woes is topped by an absolutely wretched line that hasn’t shown any improvement this season. Against Florida, not only could they not create any holes for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the running game, they also couldn’t protect Eason, who was constantly backpedaling with Gators in his face when he tried to pass.

Asked what went wrong, center Brandon Kublanow stated the obvious: “I’m not sure. We have a lot of things to work on.”

Indeed. Besides the very weak offensive line, the lack of a downfield threat in Georgia’s undersized and inconsistent receiving corps allowed Florida’s defense to smother the short-passing game.

Jim Chaney’s play calling has left Georgia fans puzzled and frustrated. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

And Chaney’s play-calling again was unimaginative, predictable and obtusely stubborn. He and Smart know what they have (and don’t have) and yet refuse to adjust, insisting on trying to establish a power-running game up the middle in the name of “balance,” even when it’s obvious they don’t have the manpower up front to do it. Down after down was wasted on futile attempts to run up the middle.

Instead of putting Eason back in the shotgun (where he’s most comfortable) in more of a spread attack and letting him unload quick passes before the rush can get to him, perhaps loosening up defenses enough to create some alleys for the running game, they insist on trying to use the run to set up a play-action passing attack. But play-action only works if you can run the ball.

Smart’s excuse after Saturday’s game was that the Florida defense is too talented at defending spread attacks. Even if that’s the case, trying that approach certainly couldn’t have fared any worse than the string of three-and-outs Georgia’s more traditional offense was producing.

Top off that toxic combination of offensive deficiencies with the Dawgs’ continued poor special teams play — punters Marshall Long and Brice Ramsey both averaged a mere 32 yards per kick (to the Gators’ 47.8), giving Florida a field position advantage all day — and the fact that the Gators won by a mere 14 points tells you this wasn’t a great Florida team the Dawgs were facing, even if they are likely to win the SEC East.

Looking ahead, Georgia fans can keep adjusting their goals downward (“If only we can beat two of our three rivals,” “If only we can beat Tech,” “If only we can qualify for a bowl game”), but the bottom line is that there’s a very good chance this will be the Dawgs’ most disappointing season since the 2010 team had a losing record of 6-7.

Said Chubb after the game: “Every year you have expectations of coming in, doing good and eventually being undefeated. We’re not that, so we have to accept who we are and continue to play.”

Remember back in the Mark Richt days when Georgia fans fretted about the program being merely good, not great?

Merely good looks awfully nice right about now.

(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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