JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A lot of readers complained that I wasn’t being critical or harsh enough when I assigned Georgia some grades of C or D in previous losses to Alabama and Tennessee and in a win over Missouri. The reason why was, in my objective opinion, it could have been a lot worse.
Well, it got a lot worse Saturday against Florida at EverBank Field.
If you wanted to see what failing grades looked like, you saw it there. The Bulldogs (5-3, 3-3 SEC) fell to the 11th-ranked Gators (6-1, 5-1) 27-3 on Saturday night. And it wasn’t so much that they lost to a higher-ranked team, it was how they went down. All due respect to the victors, but that was not a great Florida team Georgia was facing. The miracle of this one was that the Bulldogs actually had a chance to make a game of it. But, on cue, they committed another bonehead turnover in the end zone, and that was that.
So, without further ado, here’s my grades for Saturday’s game. …
Obviously the failing here began with the decision to start a third-string quarterback with no meaningful playing time in his career in Faton Bauta. But the fact is, the entire offense seemed overwhelmed, especially the Bulldogs’ once-ballyhooed offensive line. They’ve proven second rate and over-matched against SEC defenses. What has become increasingly evident is it was Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb making the line look good and not vice-versa these last two seasons. Tailback Sony Michel can’t do the same. Bauta missed wide-open receivers at critical times, in particular when Jay Rome was running free for what would’ve been an easy touchdown on fourth-and-short. Kudos to receiver Malcolm Mitchell for making a few big-time plays against a top-notch secondary. Nothing much else positive here.
Jeremy Pruitt’s unit was the one and only bright spot in this game, but even they don’t get a pass. They gave up 413 yards and let the Gators turn seven third downs into firsts. You definitely have to give them a break from the standpoint that they were on the field an unreasonable amount of time, nearly 37 minutes (36:51). But part of the defensive challenge is in getting yourself off the field. Understandably, they appeared to run out of gas and/or willpower toward the end of the game. Twenty-six of the Gators’ 67 plays were run in the fourth quarter. Florida had a 100-yard rusher (Kelvin Taylor, 121) and a 100-yard receiver (Antonio Callaway, 110). Outside linebacker Davin Bellamy stood out with seven tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a recovery on a night when Jordan Jenkins (groin, hips) once again couldn’t go.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
Once again, Georgia committed a catastrophic special teams mistake in an important SEC game. This time it was punt returner Reggie Davis, who inexplicably attempted to field a punt inside the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line. That’s bad enough when you catch it, but Davis failed to and the ball squirted through his hands, between his legs and into the end zone where Florida recovered it as a gift-wrapped touchdown. Brice Ramsey’s 43.4-yard punt average looks nice but it is skewed as he had two poor kicks take favorable rolls, including one for 50 yards. Georgia also failed to execute on what appeared to be a well-designed fake punt. Marshall Morgan had one 27-yard field goal, Sterling Bailey blocked a point-after attempt and Davis averaged 25 yards on three kickoff returns. But it wasn’t enough to offset the single catastrophic mistake on the last play of the first quarter.
I don’t assign failing grades lightly, but this was an incredibly easy call. The foundering here began whenever Brian Schottenheimer and Mark Richt sat in a meeting room at the Butts-Mehre Complex in Athens and decided it’d be a good idea to start third-string, seldom-used quarterback in the biggest game of the year. And if the plan to spring him on the Gators as a surprise, even that failed. But the real breakdown took place with the game plan they showed up with. To switch to a more mobile quarterback and have him run the ball three times was perplexing. Georgia did nothing on offense that you couldn’t argue the more seasoned Greyson Lambert could have done just as well or better. And the play-calling, especially on second- and third-and-short, was unimaginative and downright inept.
Florida scored 20 of its points off five Georgia miscues (a muffed punt and four interceptions). That will get you beat against any opponent, much less an 11th-ranked opponent with who you’re battling for the division championship. The overall lack of poise demonstrated poor mental preparation and the offensive game plan was ill-conceived. This one will be tough to recover from.