Report Card: After bombing midterm exam, Georgia Bulldogs seek perfection rest of way

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Georgia could not match the strength and toughness of quarterback Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers on Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

BATON ROUGE — No need to do any grading after Georgia’s humiliating loss to LSU. Coach Kirby Smart did it for us.

Smart’s postgame remarks made in the Southeast Tunnel of Tiger Stadium in the wake of the Bulldogs’ 36-16 loss to LSU were full of critical assessments and self-reflection. As well they should have been. Saturday’s humbling defeat was the type that lends itself to serious contemplation.

Some examples:

  • On Georgia playing as poorly as it did Saturday — “We haven’t gotten out of this team what we need to get out of them and that’s on me, the leader, us as the coaches.”
  • On Georgia’s style of play — “Right now, we’re not as physical as we need to be. I can promise you that. We practice physical; we try to play tough. I think our offensive line is physical a lot of times, but defensively we haven’t been able to sustain that.”
  • On what that means — “We’ve got to get better. That’s where we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and say OK, who are we? Is this who we are? We’ve consistently not played as physical as we need to on the defensive line and we haven’t been as consistent as we need to be offensively. So, if that’s if who we are, we’ve got to get better.”
  • On the takeaway from Saturday: “We still have a good football team. We still have an opportunity to do everything we want to do. Every opportunity that we had before this game is still in front of us. The margin of error is just smaller.”

There are a lot of different ways to spin it, but it all comes back to this: LSU thoroughly whipped the Bulldogs in all three phases of the game, plus coaching.

Smart is right about the fact that none of that eliminates Georgia’s goals of repeating as SEC champions and returning to the College Football Playoff. ESPN reported that its data showed the Bulldogs’ probability of making the playoffs was reduced only from 56 percent to 35 percent by Saturday’s loss. Conversely, LSU’s win increased theirs only to 3 percent.

So there’s that. But then there’s the psychological realities of knowing you have been dominated at your own game.

“I think that’s easily said,” Smart agreed. “Look at the stats line. They played more physical than we did. They attacked us. They did a good job. They created turnovers. We didn’t do that. We didn’t protect the ball as well as we have. … We’re going to look at a lot of things, how we can get better. But, at the end of the day, if you don’t win the line of scrimmage in this league, you will not win the football game.”

The most telling stat was this one: Georgia came in with a plus-6 in turnover margin with only three on the year and none converted into points. Saturday, the Bulldogs committed four and LSU turned them into 13 points.

So Georgia didn’t rate well when it came to protecting the football. Here’s how it did in other areas:

OFFENSE: D

Georgia, which prides itself on “imposing its will” on defenses, opened the game throwing on four of the first five downs, then ran the ball on 11 straight plays on the next possession, then passed on three straight the next time out, then went run, run, pass and run, run, pass on back-to-back three and outs.

Not coincidentally, the Bulldogs never seemed to be able to establish an offensive rhythm. So a team that came in averaging 42.8 points per game, had none at the half for the first time since 2016 and finished with 16, its fewest since losing to Vanderbilt 17-16 that same season. The Bulldogs’ offense was limited to 124 yards on 32 plays in the first half and abandoned a run game that had been effective as soon as they fell behind by two scores.

Quarterback Jake Fromm had his worst outing of the season, throwing more incompletions (18) than completions (16) and more interceptions (2) than touchdowns (1). Georgia brought in freshman backup Justin Fields for single plays four different times, all of them runs, and just once by him.

DEFENSE: D

After Georgia forced LSU to punt on its first drive, the Tigers the gained 247 yards on the next 42 plays and scored on four straight possessions in the first half (one TD, three field goals). They finished with 475 yards on 81 plays and scored 3 TDs and 5 FGs. After Georgia’s botched fake field goal in the first quarter, the defense gave up its longest scoring drive of the season — 12 plays for 84 yards and a TD.

For the first time all season, the Bulldogs didn’t force a turnover. They did register three more sacks, including another one by team leader D’Andre Walker, giving him five. Tyler Clark and Keyon Richardson split one and freshman Robert Beal Jr. got his first. Freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell led the Bulldogs with 11 tackles, but that was because LSU was successfully picking on him in coverage.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

A failed fake field goal in the first quarter changed the entire complexion of the game. Holder Jake Camarda flipped the ball backward over his head to kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who was to run it around right end. Only, the call came on third-and-nine — a lot to ask of a kicker — and after Georgia had established offensive dominance of the line of scrimmage, and was thoroughly sniffed out by LSU safety Grant Delpit. He tackled Blankenship for a two-yard loss and forced a fumble.

That was one of two special teams “disasters.” Mecole Hardman unwisely brought the ball out from four yards deep in the end zone, was stopped inside the 15 and then fumbled the ball away at the 12. LSU converted that into a quick field goal, which turned a close game into a blowout.

Freshman punter Jake Camarda continued to struggle with consistency. He hit two shanks and finished with a 35.5-yard average.

“We probably lost the kicking game for the first time,” Smart said, and he was right.

COACHING: F

Just because a trend was discovered in film study and everyone is certain a play will work against a certain “look” doesn’t mean you call it automatically. Time, score and situation has to be considered before attempting a trick play, especially one on special teams. Smart’s decision to attempt a fake field goal they’d worked on all week “to create momentum” did just that — but for the wrong team. Not only did it inspire LSU, it also sent n inferred message to the Bulldogs that Saturday’s game might carry more importance and require more risk to win.

Georgia’s defense was overmatched and its offense lacked identity and evidence of a firm plan. On that front, the Bulldogs’ “no plan” approach to the quarterback rotation just looks more silly every week. Georgia is bringing in Fields only to run the zone-read option and doing so on arbitrary downs in the middle of possessions. It is neither fooling opposing defenses nor building confidence in either quarterback. In fact, the opposite could be true.

Said Smart: “We didn’t play our best football game today. That responsibility starts and falls with me.” It does and Georgia didn’t.

OVERALL: D

In the grand scheme of things, Saturday’s loss might not be as devastating as it seems. Yes, the chance to run the table and be assured of a College Football Playoff spot is eliminated. But the scenario is now exactly like it was in November last year when the Bulldogs fell to Auburn in miserable fashion. If Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) can clean up its offensive and defensive messes, it can get its season back on track with a win over Florida (6-1, 4-1) in Jacksonville in two weeks.

Smart normally doesn’t like a bye week, especially one that comes on the heels of a loss. But he’s all for the respite it will provide this time, as Georgia incurred more injuries and desperately awaits several dinged up players to make their way back.

“From a beat-up, physical standpoint, injuries, we got a lot of guys dinged up during the game,” Smart said. “We had three or four guys hurting there. It’s a physical game. We had guys dropping like flies; they did, too. It’s the SEC guys. It’s physical, it’s tough. We’ve got to bounce back from it.”

 

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