AUBURN, Ala. – Lorenzo Carter resisted. A sports communication staffer pleaded with him to do his duty as a senior leader and head into the interview room to answer questions in the wake of the Georgia’s 40-17 loss to Auburn on Saturday.
The senior outside linebacker wanted no part of it, stomping back into the Bulldogs’ locker room.
After some urging, he grudgingly came back out, but when he did, Carter offered only terse and clipped answers. He had no explanation for what had just happened. All he knew was he didn’t like it and didn’t want to talk about it.
Such was the scene after the Bulldogs’ 10th game. The first defeat of the season for the No. 1 Bulldogs was a tough one, and it may smart for a while. Players process such things differently. Carter was angry and didn’t want to talk. But Sony Michel and Roquan Smith tipped their helmets to No. 10 Auburn and commended them on having the better team.
It was a momentous win for the Tigers, for sure, and keeps them firmly in the College Football Playoff picture. But it only counts as one, and Georgia coach Kirby Smart emphasized the importance of not letting Saturday’s loss beat his team again. Georgia (9-1, 6-1 SEC) plays host to Kentucky on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. Its ticket to the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2 in Atlanta is already punched.
But first the Bulldogs will have to recover from the punch they took from the Tigers — and it may take awhile. Examined closely, this one might’ve looked worst in retrospect than it did live.
Here are the grades following Saturday’s loss:
Only quarterback Jake Fromm and wide receiver Javon Wims kept this from being a failing grade. The two hooked up 3 times for 96 yards, including a 38-yarder on third down during Georgia’s first possession that was the key play on a 70-yard scoring drive. Somehow, Fromm managed to pass for 184 yards, including a late, meaningless 14-yard touchdown to Riley Ridley.
Otherwise, not a lot was happening for the Bulldogs on offense. They managed just 46 yards rushing on 32 carries, a number that looks even worse because Fromm was sacked four times for a loss of 33 yards. As it was, the four Georgia running backs who got carries averaged only 2.77 yards per attempt. All those problems started up front, where the Bulldogs’ offensive line was overwhelmed by Auburn’s front seven.
Where Georgia’s defense is concerned, one has to start with where the bar was set, and the Bulldogs’ bar was set high entering the game. Auburn, however, made a mockery of that standard. The Tigers had their way with UGA’s defense, averaging 5.1 yards per rush and a gaudy 10 yards per pass completion on the way to a season high 488 yards offense against the Bulldogs.
Georgia showed some resiliency early on, limiting Auburn to field goals the first three times it moved into scoring position. But then Tigers added four touchdowns, and while a couple of their scores came on short fields, they also hit the Bulldogs with big plays. Auburn had scoring pass plays of 55, 42 and 32 yards. Kerryon Johnson added 233 all-purpose yards, including 167 yards rushing. With no forced turnovers, Georgia’s heralded defense had nothing to hang its spiked shoulder pads on in this game.
Special teams: D
This might seem a harsh grade, especially considering Mecole Hardman had 185 yards on returns and again, seemed an eyelash away from breaking free for the touchdown that has eluded him all season. Rodrigo Blankenship also had a 47-yard field goal and three more touchbacks, and Cameron Nizalek averaged 44.6 yards on eight punts, had a 58 yarder and twice pinned Auburn inside the 10.
But then you take inventory of the breakdowns that occurred, and you find yourself downgrading the Bulldogs again and again. You had Hardman’s muffed fair-catch attempt, which led to 7 points for Auburn, and Blankenship’s missed 42-yard field goal, which took 3 points off the board for the Bulldogs. Sony Michel was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of a punt, and D’Andre Walker was whistled for an illegal leap on a punt return. So, yeah, in the end, it was a poor overall performance on special teams.
Smart pointed his finger at himself when asked at the postgame news conference about the lack of discipline with which Georgia played Saturday night. The Bulldogs were flagged seven times for 75 yards, including four personal fouls, a couple of substitution violations and a handful of offsides and false start calls.
This season, the Bulldogs usually have made good in-game adjustments when things weren’t going well. Those adjustments never came Saturday as Georgia stuck with the run too long on offense and wasn’t aggressive or effective enough on defense. Whatever the game plan was for getting pressure on Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, slowing down running back Kerryon Johnson or combating Auburn’s edge rushers, it never materialized in any recognizable form.
The coaches might not just have to go back to the drawing board; they might need a new drawing board.
This was a failure of colossal proportions. Not in the context of the season — which can be salvaged — but in the context of what needed to be accomplished in this one particular game. The Bulldogs failed to achieve even a single one of their objectives Saturday.
There’s no shame in losing as the road team in a top-10 matchup, but Georgia was embarrassingly unprepared and remarkably lacked poise as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. The Bulldogs’ lack of competitiveness tarnished their image as an emerging powerhouse, damaged their status as a legitimate playoff contender and probably bruised the team’s psyche a good bit, too. There will be some psychological rebuilding to do after this one.