JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Kirby Smart has not taken a decent team and made it better. Because right now, Georgia looks more like it was hit by a sledgehammer. The Dogs resemble some indecipherable pile of cinder block, wood and metal, with no clear sense of what this structure looked like a couple of months ago or any sense of when it might take a palatable form again.
“We are 4-4. That’s a fact. That’s reality.” Smart said Saturday. “What can we do about it? We can get our butts ready to play Kentucky.”
Yes, Kentucky. That would be next week’s opponent and a probable favorite.
Kentucky, the team with a record of 4-2 in the SEC, something 2-4 Georgia looks upon with envy.
Kentucky, the team that ranks ahead of Georgia in so many offensive categories because … why, exactly?
The Bulldogs lost to Florida 24-10. I think. After a while, many dozed off, even with the loud sounds of grinding gears from their offense.
They didn’t just lose. They set new standards for futility.
They were held to 21 yards rushing. They gained 1.1 yard per carry. You can usually fall forward for more than that.
They totaled 164 yards in offense. They went scoreless on their last 10 possessions. They went three-and-out or four-and-out nine times.
From offensive lineman Greg Pyke: “I thought we got better during the bye week.”
Smart’s counter: “It might’ve had something to do with who we played.”
In other words, Florida was a lot better than who Georgia practiced against.
The Dogs are off to their worst start since 2010, a Mark Richt team that went 6-7 and finished with a Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida. The 2-4 SEC record is their worst six-game mark since the 1996 Jim Donnan team that finished 3-5 in the conference and 5-6 overall.
These were not expected to be reference points in 2016.
Maybe the future is bright. Maybe this will prove to be an aberration in the Smart regimen and he goes on to build a program that wins SEC championships and competes on the national level, just as Georgia imagined when they hired their former safety and the Nick Saban disciple.
But that’s not what the Dogs look like today. Georgia is not getting better. The mediocrity just seems to morph into a different form from week to week.
The Dogs had a bye week after losing to Vanderbilt and they looked the same lost, outclassed, outpunched bunch that lost to the Commodores and almost lost to Nicholls State and very well may lose to Kentucky.
Smart was asked what he tells his defense after holding the Gators to 231 yards.
“You tell them, ‘Stop ‘em on third down.’ You tell them, ‘Get a turnover.’ You tell then, ‘You do what you have to do to win.’ And we didn’t do that. So we’re not patting anybody on the back.”
Is he stunned that the offense is in such sad shape eight weeks into the season?
“Stunned? No. I see our offense every day going against our defense. Disappointed? Yeah.”
The problems extend beyond an offensive line that looks like it’s trying to push oak trees, a freshman quarterback and a weak receiving corps. The play-calling of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has been unimaginative and predictable. Chaney seems to be getting some rope because of what he has to work with, but when so many possessions are starting run-run-pass and even sportswriters know what’s coming, do you think opposing players and coaches are fooled?
Who knew the Dogs could come so close to last year’s misery in Jacksonville? This was the game that got Mark Richt fired a year ago. His exit wasn’t confirmed until after the regular season finale but nothing short of an implausible conference title run was going to save his job. Richt fumbled the team’s already messy quarterback situation by deciding to start Faton Bauta, a natural option quarterback, against the Gators and compounded that regrettable decision by having him run the Dogs’ pro style offense.
Square peg … round hole … doom. Bauta went 15 for 33 with four interceptions. Georgia lost 27-3. It was an embarrassing low point for Richt, who had an offensive background and a strong history of developing quarterbacks.
There was no unexpected quarterback decision this time. The biggest question was whether freshman Jacob Eason could make enough plays when the Gators overloaded to stop the run. He couldn’t. He led a touchdown drive early in the second quarter but otherwise he was often under pressure, got hit a lot and Florida dared him to throw. Receivers seldom got open.
Florida was well short of brilliance on offense. But it wasn’t going to take much this game to look like the better half.
The Gators likely will go on to play for the SEC title. Georgia needs two more wins just to ensure a bowl game. That’s no certainty. And even rebuilding projects shouldn’t look this bad.