ATHENS — We’re past the halfway point of the season but, let’s face it, Georgia’s season really will be defined over these next three weeks. The Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2 SEC) have to beat No. 11 Florida (6-1, 4-1) on Saturday in Jacksonville, then get past Kentucky (4-3, 2-3) and Auburn (4-3, 1-3) in the next two games to win the Eastern Division and return to the SEC Championship game for the first time since 2012.
Here’s a breakdown of how they’ve done so far:
For all the grousing there has been about Georgia’s offense, the Bulldogs have actually remained fairly productive on that side of the ball. They’re averaging 429.43 yards per game and remain sixth in the league in scoring (33.1 ppg), though that’s down significantly from a year ago. Considering they’re playing with a first-year transfer at quarterback in Greyson Lambert and without starting tailback Nick Chubb (knee injury), that’s not too bad. Lambert hasn’t been great but he can’t be pointed to as the reason UGA has struggled. He’s actually fourth among SEC quarterbacks in QBR with a 64 percent completion percentage with 9 TDs and 2 INTs. The offensive line has been somewhat disappointing considering the preseason expectations. To be successful going forward, Georgia has to show improvement on third down (33 percent, 108th NCAA) and in the red zone (80.8%, 92nd).
Georgia hasn’t been great on defense, but it has been good enough to win more than it has. While the Gators come into Saturday’s game with the better defensive reputation, the Bulldogs actually are ahead of them in total defense (307.9 ypg) with a No. 15 national ranking, behind only Alabama and Missouri. Georgia’s also 27th nationally against the score (19.4 ppg) and second in the league in the red zone (73.7 percent). Where the Bulldogs are coming up short is creating turnovers and putting pressure on the quarterback, both of which were thought to be team strengths coming into the season. Nowhere has there been a bigger disappointment than at outside linebacker, where the confidence was so high with Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy that they gave themselves a nickname. But “The Wolfpack” hasn’t had much to howl about as Jenkins leads the team with only three sacks. Inconsistent pass coverage is also an issue but an understandable considering as many as three true freshmen at a time have been having to start.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Georgia’s kicking in general hasn’t been as good as usual as senior Marshall Morgan already has four misses on the season and Collin Barber is carrying an abysmal mark in net punting at 33.64 yards. The Bulldogs have been very much hit-and-miss in the returns game as well. While they’re 16th nationally and only one spot behind Tennessee in the SEC in punt returns (14.55 ypr, 2 TDs), they’re 125th in kickoff returns (15.5), or third worst in the country. And they haven’t been very proficient at covering kicks either, dragging a No. 92 ranking in both kickoff (22.44 ypr) and punt coverage (10.18 ypr) into Saturday’s game. This is the area in which the Bulldogs can show the most improvement.
It hasn’t been a particularly good year on the offensive side of the ball, pretty good on defense and it has been downright crappy on special teams. But there hasn’t really been any head-scratching moments the likes of which we saw last season with squib-kicks and such. The two biggest turns in the season came on special teams breakdowns (blocked punt TD vs. Bama, fumbled kickoff return vs. Tennessee). Brian Schottenheimer’s play-calling has curiously conservative, but that might say more about the situation he inherited at quarterback. And defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s group has performed well despite the inordinate amount of first-year players having to contribute.
In the grand scheme of things, the Bulldogs aren’t markedly better or worse than we expected them to be at this point in the season. At the outset, the expectation was Georgia would enter a crossroads when it got to the Alabama-Tennessee intersection. The hope was that the Dogs would exit 2-0, the expectation was that they’d be 1-1 and the reality was they were 0-2. But through it all, Georgia arrives at the ninth week of the season with only its college football playoff aspirations off the table. Beat Florida on Saturday and it can still get to Atlanta.