NEW ORLEANS — Whether it was due to distractions, post-SEC Championship disappointments or simply running into a superior opponent, Georgia coach Kirby Smart was not at pleased with the way his team played Tuesday night against Texas in the Sugar Bowl, nor were his players.
“These guys aren’t happy nor am I with the performance we had,” Smart said following the 28-21 loss in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. “We did not come out and play the way we are capable of. But I certainly want to thank the people of New Orleans for hosting us, and I want to congratulate Texas. Tom [Herman] did a great job with his team and with his program. They have gotten better throughout the season. They played more physical than us, and it showed to me that they wanted it more, so you have to give them credit for that.”
Georgia players insisted they weren’t distracted by unfolding postseason dramas, which included quarterback Justin Fields decision to enter the NCAA’s transfer pool and a half-dozen contemplating the draft.
But there is evidence that the No. 5 Bulldogs may have entered the game overconfident. They came in as a 13-point favorite over a 9-4 Texas squad carrying a No. 15 ranking. Meanwhile, several players tweeted after the Saturday’s semifinals that it should’ve been them playing in the College Football Playoffs rather the two losing teams, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.
“I feel like we had the big head and didn’t come out focused,” sophomore guard Solomon Kindley told reporters after the game. “We took Texas lightly, even though they were a very good team.”
There’s nothing Georgia can do about all that now. The season is over, and it ends at 11-3. If the Sugar Bowl was indeed the first game of 2019 season, as some of the Bulldogs alluded beforehand, then they have some loose ends to tighten up between now and September.
Here’s how it went down Tuesday:
It was Georgia’s fewest yards total offense (296) and fewest rushing yards (72) of the season. The previous lows came against LSU, a game the Bulldogs also lost, 36-16.
Not coincidentally, it was the most pressure Jake Fromm has encountered since that mid-October game. Fromm was sacked twice but forced out of the pocket five other times. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs’ couldn’t generate anything out of their vaunted run game, which led the SEC this season. Including 19 yards in lost-yardage plays, they averaged 2.4 yards per rush and possessed the ball for 10 minutes less than their opponent.
D’Andre Swift fumbled twice, losing one deep in Georgia territory, which led to a Texas score. Lamont Gaillard recovered his other fumble, bailing out Swift. He had 8 carries for 12 yards on the ground. Swift did have 5 catches for 30 yards and a touchdown.
Fromm was off much of the game, resulting in 14 incompletions, his most since the loss at LSU. He also had an interception on a bad underthrow on the first drive of the second half. He was not helped by his receiving corps, which had several drops. A poor day across the board.
The Bulldogs entered the contest hamstrung, as they were missing three starters — All-American cornerback Deandre Baker, sack-leading outside linebacker D’Andre Walker and nose guard Jordan Davis. It showed, early and often.
Mobile Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger was the biggest problem. When they got pressure on him, he usually eluded it and when he ran the football, he usually got what he needed. The sophomore was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player tying a four-decades old Sugar Bowl record for rushing TDs by a quarterback with 3 and completing 19 of 27 passes for 169 yards.
Yes, the Longhorns were gifted with good field position a few times. But they also had three scoring drives of 10 or more plays. Led by Tre Watson’s 91 yards, they rushed for 178 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Jake Camarda knee’s hit the ground before unleashing a punt that the Bulldogs downed at the 6. That was determined after video replay review and resulted in a 67-yard swap of field position as Texas took over at the Georgia 27. The freshman followed that with an 11-yard shank.
The rest of the game, he delivered serviceable kicks — including two over 50 yards and two that were downed inside the 20 — but the early miscues helped contribute to an early 17-0 deficit the Bulldogs could never overcome.
Mecole Hardman managed to return one of the Longhorns’ kickoffs for 28 yards. Once again, Rodrigo Blankenship didn’t get an opportunity for any field goal attempts but delivered with all touchbacks on kickoffs as usual.
Georgia fell behind 17-0 in the game’s first 15:07, and it could’ve been worse. That indicates that the Bulldogs weren’t able to do what they expected to do and weren’t expecting a lot of what the Longhorns were doing. Several players talked about not being ready for what they saw from Texas.
Georgia had to expend two timeouts when it could not get personnel on the field in time. The halftime adjustments that we’ve been accustomed to seeing were missing, as the Bulldogs were scoreless in the third quarter. Texas coach Tom Herman talked about visiting UGA with some of his coaches in the spring to “pick their brains.” Perhaps that helped the Longhorns more than they might’ve expected then.
This was one of the most unfocused efforts the Bulldogs have turned in since a loss to UCF in the 2010 Liberty Bowl. Perhaps they can be forgiven here in the playoff era, which effectively renders all other bowl games meaningless. But after thumping their chests that they belonged among the top four teams and players proclaiming as much in the hours after the semifinals were completed, Georgia had no reason to be anything but completely focused on the task at hand, which was to beat a 9-4 team from the Big 12.