ATHENS — Georgia has a 24-hour policy when it comes to the last game it played. That is, the players have 24 hours to celebrate a win or brood over a loss.
The trouble is, the coaches utilize Monday afternoons to review the game video with the players and correct whatever mistakes were made. And in the case of the Bulldogs’ harrowingly close 26-24 win over Nicholls State this past Saturday, that assessment had the potential to bleed over into Tuesday.
In a nutshell, Georgia struggled to block, run, pass and secure the football. Mostly, though, the Bulldogs believe they failed to focus.
“I think we may have gotten a little relaxed last week,” senior center Brandon Kublanow said during the Bulldogs’ weekly news conference Monday. “But it won’t happen again.”
Focus shouldn’t be a problem this week. The 16th-ranked Bulldogs (2-0) open SEC play on the road at night against Missouri (1-1). And while they entered the week as a touchdown favorite, Georgia will embark on that journey to Columbia, Mo., a humbled team.
Coach Kirby Smart said last week he was concerned about how the Bulldogs might react to their sudden rise to ninth in the weekly polls. Now he’s got to wonder about his team’s confidence level after it logged the worst performance in school history against an FCS opponent, which precipitated a seven-place drop.
“Being honest is my best quality with my team, and I’m going to be honest today when I tell them that we didn’t play with energy and enthusiasm,” Smart said Monday. “We started out really good and then I think everybody relaxed. When you go out and you have a score on the first possession and then you have a turnover on defense, and then everybody just relaxed.”
The emotional aspects of the game should take care of themselves with a conference road game up next. But there were some real fundamental issues exposed this past Saturday. Namely, what does a team that prides itself on being stronger and tougher than its opponents do when its neither stronger nor tougher against an FCS opponent?
As Smart said after Saturday’s game, there’s no free agency in college football, so you have to compete with the players you have. On Monday at the Bulldogs’ practice, there were no obvious changes in personnel. At least during the brief media observation window, it was status quo with the No. 1 offensive line. And there were no clear lines of demarcation between quarterbacks Jacob Eason and Greyson Lambert. Both were continuing to rep with the first offense.
The freshman Eason started and played most of the last game, while the fifth-year season Lambert started the first one and finished both contests. It was Lambert at the controls when the Bulldogs executed their win-clinching drive that ran out the last 3:42 of the game clock.
“Greyson has the experience. He can command in the huddle and he just knows exactly where everybody is supposed to be,” tight end Jeb Blazevich observed. “He’s been in that spot numerous times, so he’s used to it and he’s comfortable with it. Jacob is still developing, as we all are, but he’s doing a tremendous job. He is continuing to progress.”
Smart said the Bulldogs hope a heavier dose of Sony Michel into the offensive plans will help alleviate some of the pressure off Nick Chubb and the straight-ahead running game. In his first action since breaking his left forearm on July 3, Michel got on the field for just five plays against the Colonels but will figure more into Georgia’s plans this weekend.
Defensively, Georgia can expect a challenge more along the lines of what it encountered against North Carolina in the opener. That is, the Tigers run a pass-oriented, up-tempo spread offense that averages 554.5 total yards and 379.5 yards passing. In two games, quarterback Drew Lock has already attempted 88 passes and has completed them to 14 different targets. They’re coming off a 61-21 win over Eastern Michigan in which they threw for 477 yards and five touchdowns.
Georgia is holding its own defensively so far. They’re third in the SEC in total defense at 275.5 yards per game and second against the pass at 133.5 ypg. UGA led the nation in pass defense a year ago.
“They’re throwing the ball a lot,” junior safety Dominick Sanders said. “The quarterback has got an arm. He sees his targets and he’s not afraid to take shots down the field. As a secondary guy and as a leader, I’ve got to keep my guys focused and let them know that the ball will be in the air.”
That kind of player-oriented leadership is something Smart touched on Monday and it is obviously a message that is being communicated within the locker rooms and meeting rooms this week.
The Bulldogs believe a little constructive criticism might be in order this week, and they believe they have the type of internal leadership that can provide it.
“Something that may have been missing is guys that’ll provide (criticism),” Kublanow said Monday. “So I think that’s something I’ll be able to provide today. … You can only be positive so much. You need to rip into someone.”
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