JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — We’re going to copy Kirby Smart. Even though Georgia is undefeated and has won its SEC games by an average of about five touchdowns apiece, the coach manages to think of all kinds of things the Bulldogs need to improve on from one week to the next.
So, we, too, are going to grade Georgia harshly.
Like that second quarter Saturday. What was up with that, Bulldogs? No touchdowns at all in that stanza. Unbelievable! And after getting three in the first quarter. Clearly, Georgia lost focus during that 15-minute period. Or really 22. The Bulldogs went the last 7:10 of the first quarter without crossing the goal line. Nary a point that whole time!
But this is where Georgia is now, folks. The Bulldogs are in the hunt for all the marbles. They’re seeking perfection. The competition now is not just the opponent each week. It’s the game tape. It’s every play. It’s being better than that dwindling number of other teams still out there with unblemished records.
So it’s great that the Bulldogs bulldozed Florida’s defense to the tune of 292 yards rushing Saturday. But what about the passing game? Where’s the balance? Where’s the explosive special teams plays?
And don’t get me started about those second-teamers on defense. Letting the Gators’ starters score on them in the fourth quarter?
Now to the grades:
Again, what is there to complain about really? Georgia’s offense accounted for 35 points — the defense had one score — which is about what it came in averaging before the game (37.2). The Bulldogs gained 393 total yards, which is a little less than they’d been getting (454.3). But if Florida possesses anything of value, it’s defense, and that unit remains one of the better ones in the league. Georgia mainly was one-dimensional on offense mainly because it could be. Any team that can advance the ball by running it despite the opposition’s best efforts to stop it will continue to do it, as the Bulldogs did. And they got some big, explosive plays out of it. But Jake Fromm’s interception was careless and could have been costly at that moment, and generally the passing game seems strained. Georgia displays a championship defense with regularity. It needs to do the same on this side of the ball.
Smart said it himself: He has the same expectations for the second-teamers and backups as he does for the starters and regulars on defense. That’s why he and the all the members of the first-unit rotation were so upset when Florida scored its only touchdown with 2:42 remaining in the game. Had the Bulldogs reserves been able to keep the Gators out of the end zone, Georgia would have been the first team in 368 consecutive games to hold Florida scoreless. That’s an NCAA record that the Gators will carry into next week, where it surely will be sustained against a motley Missouri defense. Still, the Bulldogs starters did what they’ve done for the most part all season, keep their opponents out of the end zone while they were on the field and limit them to fewer than 300 yards overall. They also had 2 takeaways, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown. So it’s hard to downgrade the defense when it did all that.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Rodrigo Blankenship didn’t record touchbacks on all his kickoffs. He was just 4 of 7 on the afternoon. The horror! The horror! That brings him four closer to Kevin Butler’s record of 51. So now he needs 10 in the Bulldogs’ remaining games, of which there will be at least five more and perhaps a few more. Once again, Blankenship didn’t have a field-goal attempt because Georgia was 100 percent on touchdowns in the red zone again. Punter Cameron Nizialek was pretty much perfect again, averaging 46.5 yards on 4 boots. But the Bulldogs really have to get it going in the return game. They didn’t even get to bring back a kickoff and they averaged 8 yards on 3 punt returns and didn’t even score a touchdown. Almost unacceptable, but not really.
Smart credited offensive coordinator Jim Chaney for coming up with some wrinkles in the run game that resulted in some explosive plays for Sony Michel. Michel busted loose on scoring runs of 74 and 45 yards and averaged more than 22 yards a carry. Likewise, Smart said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker made some adjustments in Georgia’s blitz packages, and that helped the Bulldogs put pressure on Florida’s quarterbacks, who were sacked 5 times, half of the previous total for the whole season coming in. And halftime adjustments continue to be a UGA specialty. Opponents have scored 3 points in the third quarter all season. Meanwhile, Smart continues to do an excellent job of keeping the team focused on weekly goals and not those of the season-long variety. There’s no couching it here. Georgia’s coaches are doing excellent work.
Smart said it himself: “The mission is to play better the next time out.” And then he enumerated several ways in which they can do that. If there’s room to improve, the Bulldogs must not be playing as well as they’re capable. We’ll see if they can achieve perfection next week against South Carolina.