A last-second victory over the football version of the Kentucky Wildcats might have had UGA fans grumbling in the past, but, in the current Bizarro World SEC, where Big Blue was mere seconds away from taking sole possession of first place in the East, Rodrigo Blankenship’s field goal was a pretty big deal.
Welcome to the world of reduced expectations that is Dawgs football 2016. As clunky as it was, Saturday night’s close call in Lexington gave Bulldog Nation hope that this might not be a totally lost season after all.
Not that the Kentucky win provided a cure-all for the many ailments that had Bulldogs fans wondering when (or if) they might see another win this season.
The running game that had been nonexistent in Jacksonville returned, but was inconsistent, with blitzing Wildcat defenders routinely penetrating the UGA backfield; turnovers were both Georgia’s friend and foe, with a couple of the Dawgs’ playmakers among the culprits; the aerial attack remained plagued by dropped passes and quarterback Jacob Eason’s accuracy problems with downfield throws; the defensive front appeared unable to handle the Wildcats’ wildcat formation, even when it was the same play over and over and over and over; and, with the exception of placekicking, special teams play remains a crapshoot.
Still, you take your triumphs, however small, where you can, and that final drive leading up to Blankenship’s fourth field goal of the night, eating up the final 2:47 on the clock, was a good one by any season’s standards, with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney (apparently revived by being newly relocated to the coaches’ box upstairs) deftly mixing short passes and runs with the sort of balance he apparently dreams of at night, and the freshman Eason showing considerable cool.
Speaking of Blankenship, it’s been years since the Dawgs have had such an unlikely hero. Earlier this season, when Georgia couldn’t figure out whether it even had a placekicker, and Kirby Smart was tending to go for it on fourth down rather than try a field goal, the odds of Georgia winning a game in the fashion it did at Commonwealth Stadium seemed impossible.
But there the bearded kid in the goggle-like horn-rim glasses was after the game, doing the postgame interview usually reserved for quarterbacks, tailbacks and such. The extremely well-spoken young man, a nonscholarship walk-on, was so unused to such attention that he didn’t even know to take off his helmet while being interviewed on TV, which was kind of endearing.
Maybe the UGA Spike Squad should think about adding those Buddy Holly-style spectacles to its look for the coming game against Auburn!
Speaking of the team from the Plains. It almost fell victim Saturday to a deceptively tough Vanderbilt team that earlier had ruined the Dawgs’ season, they’re probably eagerly anticipating getting back on track with their own dynamic running attack taking on a Georgia run defense that had such trouble with Kentucky. Certainly, a renewed emphasis on finishing off tackles would be advisable for Georgia’s defensive staff in practice this week.
Another takeaway from the Kentucky game: Sony Michel was the more effective of Georgia’s two tailbacks on a night when Nick Chubb had trouble holding onto the ball. Michel has earned the starting tailback spot, I think.
Also, keeping Chaney up above the fray seems a good idea, but there’s still room for improvement in his play-calling. Auburn’s defensive front will present much more of a challenge than did Kentucky’s, so let’s hope Chaney makes greater use of those shotgun spread pages of his playbook that seem to have appeared lately only when he’s running a 2-minute offense.
As for Eason, he’s a work in progress, but seems most effective with the shorter passing game we saw on that last drive. And maybe Chaney should school him a bit more on checking off a play or having a man in motion block when defensive backs creep up on the line.
Also, Javon Wims and tight end Isaac Nauta should be Eason’s primary targets, as Riley Ridley appears to have joined the list of Georgia receivers with a penchant for dropped balls. As for Isaiah McKenzie, he’s still a dangerous weapon in the passing game (his opening score against Kentucky showed off his terrific speed) but his decision-making remains troublesome. He lost a key first down on a catch Saturday night after running backwards, resulting in Georgia having to settle for a field goal, and as a punt receiver he has become more of a liability than a weapon. It may be time to see Mecole Hardman back there.
Clock management is still a challenge for Georgia’s sideline, too. (Delay of game on third-and-18?)
Overall, though, in a season where Georgia is out of the race in an SEC East where teams seem to be playing hot potato with the division lead, any win is worth celebrating, and the way the Bulldogs closed out against Kentucky was encouraging.
When Chuck Dowdle interviewed Smart after the game on the Bulldog Sports Network, he noted in his trademark avuncular style that the young men on the team really needed this win.
Responded Smart: “I needed this! They needed this! This university needed this!”
We certainly did, Coach.
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