Georgia Bulldogs: SO Not Ready for Prime Time

OK friends, first let’s get the it’s-not-the-end-of-the-world stuff out of the way, because the standard reaction around these parts to a loss like this is to jump in one’s car and go careening straight off the nearest cliff just like the ending of Thelma and Louise (kids:  Youtube), or the alternative for those who live on the coastal plains or in the southerly reaches of our fair state where there is a paucity of cliffs suitable for careening a car off of, to punch out one’s TV screen (Georgia Bulldogs:  Leading the nation by a mile in the punched-out-TV-screen department).  Now is not the time for any of that.

We still clinched the SEC East.

We’re still going to Atlanta to play for the SEC championship in a couple of weeks.

If we win the rest of our regular-season games, we will take an 11-1 record into the SEC championship.

If we win the SEC championship, we’re going to the playoff.

But oh, how we were exposed.

As the #1 team in the nation, we went on the road and got lit up like a guy smoking cigarettes at the gas station while pumping, in a big-time rivalry game before a national TV audience.

This was a reality check the size of Russia that no one saw coming.

Not only is this team which, previously, few if any thought capable of losing, capable of losing after all, but this team is also capable of being humiliated in most horrific fashion.  Look for Georgia to drop in the latest CFP poll, which drops tomorrow, like it has an anchor tied to its leg.

We couldn’t run.  We couldn’t pass.  We couldn’t stop anything Auburn was doing defensively.  We were completely and totally overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball.  Receivers seldom got open, and when they did, Jake Fromm couldn’t get the ball to them because he was running for his life or else getting sacked.  For the first time this season, Fromm looked like a true freshman who had never played a collegiate down in his entire earthly existence and was completely and totally overwhelmed by the moment and the experience.

The opening possession foretold none of this.  Georgia took the ball and drove with ruthless efficiency, 70 yards in eight plays in the first 3:39 of the game, to an easy touchdown.  Jake Fromm found Javon Wims for a 28-yard gain on a key third down.  Nick Chubb punched it in from 1 yard out.  The previously raucous Auburn crowd was stunned into silence.  We all thought this was the beginning of a great afternoon for Georgia.

But then the old Georgia showed up.  Not as in “OMG, there goes Herschel again!!!!!”, but as in “OMG, seriously, we just did that again!!!!!?!?!?!”.

There were mental mistakes and discipline issues of the kind we had all grown accustomed to in big games during the waning years of the Mark Richt era but which had thus far been absent this season.  Dumb penalties.  Horrific special teams miscues.  Wrap the fuse around your big toe.  Push the plunger.  Blow it all to smithereens.  Rinse.  Repeat.

There were three–three!!!!!!!!!–15-yard penalties in the second quarter alone.  #1:  Malkom Parrish hit an Auburn receiver out of bounds.  This set up a field goal that would put Auburn ahead for good, 9-7.  #2:  Jayson Stanley was called for interference on a punt, giving Auburn a nice jump on its next possession.  #3:  Auburn would punt on that possession, but D’Andre Walker was called for “leaping” over a blocker toward the punter.  That is not allowed.  The penalty gave Auburn a first down at its 46.  Too many of these gifts led to the inevitable:  Jarrett Stidham threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton, extending the Auburn lead to 16-7.

Still, the game was close.

Then came a strange sequence to end the half.  A nice punt return by Mecole Hardman gave Georgia a first down at the Auburn 26 with 22 seconds remaining.  We had no timeouts left, Kirby Smart having spent them all on defense prior to this (as he should have).  So in an obvious passing situation, the play call was Sony Michel over left guard (why?????).  He lost a yard.  After Fromm spiked the ball to stop the clock, our bespectacled hipster placekicker and viral hero Rodrigo Blankenship came out to try a 42-yard field goal.  It was no good.  The score remained 16-7.

Still, the game was close.

It would not be close for much longer.

Auburn got the ball to start the second half.  An apparent third-down conversion was reversed by replay and Auburn was forced to punt.  We would get the ball with a chance to pull within one score.  Except that we didn’t get the ball.  Mecole Hardman muffed the punt.  Auburn recovered.  Four plays later it was 23-7 Auburn.

It would get worse.

Sony Michel, a usually cool-headed senior, lost his cool and pushed an Auburn player to the ground while in punt coverage.  Dumb penalty:  personal foul.  Two plays later, Jarrett Stidham threw a 32-yard touchdown pass and it was 30-7 Auburn.

Checkmate.

So what do we make of Georgia now?  Was this an aberration, or was this the real Georgia?  Was our 9-0 up-from-nowhere run merely a function of scheduling and being fortunate enough to be a pretty-good team in the toxic waste dump that is the SEC East?  Apart from Notre Dame and–maybe–Mississippi State, have we really beaten anybody this year?  (Answer:  No)  Sure it felt good (at the time) to run it up on the remains of Florida and Tennessee, but those programs are no longer yardsticks and have not been for years.

There’s a chance we could see Auburn again in Atlanta when we play for the SEC championship.  Of course Auburn would have to beat Alabama in order for that to happen.  But Alabama is suddenly looking a little less invincible after a not-so-convincing 24-10 win over LSU and after barely escaping Starkville with a 31-24 win over Mississippi State.  And Auburn just wiped their asses with the team ranked ahead of Alabama.

Had we lost honorably, the prospect of a rematch with Auburn in front of a 50-50 crowd in the climate-controlled confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium would be very inviting.  But this was a completely and totally dishonorable loss.  Never in a million years should the #1 team in the nation have lost like this to a team that couldn’t score a touchdown in one Death Valley and couldn’t hold a 20-point lead in the other.

As for me, I am rooting like hell for Alabama to win the Iron Bowl.  I never want to see Auburn again for as long as I live.

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A Win That Felt Like an Exorcism

The scoreboard showed win, but this was more than that.  This was an exorcism, in which all the demons accumulated over 27 years of near-complete futility in Jacksonville were cast out in one afternoon.

Being favored by two touchdowns back in 2014 only to lose by three (touchdowns, that is):  Gone.

Being on the wrong end of a 49-10 thumping back in 2008 and seeing Urban Meyer call timeout in the final seconds to prolong the agony, the image of him and Tebow chillaxing and cutting up on the sideline going out to all the watching world:  Gone.

The 38-7 bodyslam that started this shit, all the way back in 1990, Steve Spurrier’s first year at Florida:  Gone.

The next year, when we all froze to death while watching Georgia get beat by a similarly egregious margin:  Gone.

The 1993 game, in which we endured the monsoon to watch the winning touchdown taken off the board and Florida given a timeout, then saw that drive finally die at the 2 yard line as time expired:  Gone.

The fashion fail of 1998–red jerseys, black pants, and another 38-7 beatdown:  Gone.

2002 and 2003, in which Ron Zook, one of the worst coaches ever to grace the Florida sideline, somehow Clouseau-ed his way into back-to-back wins:  Gone.

Georgia beat Florida this week, and came within 2:42 of a shutout as the second-string defense annoyingly gave up a touchdown in the closing minutes (no doubt Kirby Smart had some choice words for them at Monday’s practice).  Still, this was the largest margin of victory for Georgia in Jacksonville since 1982, the height of the Herschel Walker era.  When you have to go all the way back to Herschel Walker to find a point of reference, it’s been a while.

Florida fired its coach Jim McElwain on Monday.  This marked a seismic shift in the rivalry:  For as long as I can remember we had always been wanting to be Florida.  Even as recently as 2015 and 2016 we were wanting to be Florida (“Florida changed coaches and won the SEC East twice in a row.  We changed coaches and–lost to Vanderbilt???”).  Don’t look now, but Florida is changing coaches because they want to be us.

(To be sure, McElwain likely hastened his own departure.  The week before the game he made ill-advised comments about players receiving death threats, then declined to elaborate when requested to do so by the media and by school administrators.  He then attempted to backtrack by saying he would provide more information if/when the situation became unmanageable, but only succeeded in digging the hole even deeper.  This likely pushed an already strained relationship with school administrators to the breaking point.)

This was just one game.  We’ve been here before, coming off a big win in Jacksonville and thinking the rivalry has shifted, only to find in the coming years that it hasn’t shifted at all.  But somehow this feels different.  We will know for sure in the years to come, but this feels as if the rivalry has shifted, as if all the demons of past futility in Jacksonville are now gone.

Florida-Georgia Angst Week: It’s Almost Here

This is the Isaiah D. Hart Bridge, which you have to cross to get to EverBank Field, which sits on the banks of the St. John’s River in downtown Jacksonville.

For Georgia fans, this is a bridge to nowhere.  A bridge to broken dreams.  A bridge to unmitigated futility.  A bridge to a horrific place where so many Bulldog dreams have come to die over the years.

When Vegas first issued a line for today’s game back in June, they listed Florida as a 1-point favorite.

That line shifted slightly in the interim.  To Georgia.  By 13 1/2.

It is believed that the bookie who set the original line back in June has since found a new gig, as a plant operator in the factory that makes those colored cellophane strips that go on the end of deli toothpicks.

But perhaps that bookie was onto something.

Everything about today’s game screams rout.  Our opponent is 3-3 and lucky to be that–just a Hail Mary at 0:00 and a late-game Kentucky collapse away from being 1-5.  They have the worst offense in the country.  Their defense, which has been their saving grace all decade, is trending down this year.  Their coach just can’t seem to find the right quarterback, though he has tried several over the 2 1/2 years he has been in place.  The discontent in their fan base has risen to a heretofore unfathomed level, eclipsing all the good vibes from consecutive division titles in the previous two years.

If it were any other team in the country, I would say we win by at least three touchdowns.

So why am I expecting a ginormous corpsid Freddie-Krueger-esque hand to suddenly punch through the field and grab Kirby Smart, Nick Chubb, Uga, plus a few cheerleaders and Redcoat Band members for good measure, and drag them all down kicking and screaming to the underworld?

Because that is what always seems to happen in Jacksonville.  This is Florida.

The last time Georgia was favored by two touchdowns over Florida was in 2014.  We lost by three.  Touchdowns, that is.  Give or take a flattened five-star recruit or two.

The next year there was Mark Richt’s oh-so-regrettable decision to start Faton Bauta, a third-string quarterback who had never played a collegiate down in his entire earthly existence, in the season’s biggest game.  That went about as well as could be expected.  Down went Georgia, 27-3.  That decision likely sealed Richt’s fate at Georgia.

Last year it was offense.  Or lack thereof.  The offense was so inoffensive it was offensive:  164 yards total offense, 21 rushing (1.1 per carry), nine three-and-out or four-and-out series in the final 10 possessions.  Down went Georgia, 24-10.

But the misery and futility extend back much further and deeper than just the last three years.  As noted above, the line for today’s game is 13 1/2.  Georgia hasn’t beaten Florida by 13 1/2 or more since 1997 (37-17).  Georgia has only beaten Florida by any margin six times in the last 27 years.  Sometimes this was expected.  Sometimes not, as was the case in 2014.  The last two Georgia teams to win the SEC championship (2002 and 2005) each had to absorb a loss to Florida in order to accomplish that feat.  This year every other team in the SEC East now has at least two conference losses, which means we have enough margin to absorb a loss to Florida and still remain in control of the East.  Hopefully that will not be necessary.  But this is Florida.

So please forgive me for being less than fully optimistic about today’s game.  On paper, everything screams rout.  Georgia has the more talented players, the better resume, and more to play for.  Yet for some reason, Boris Karloff always seems to show up for the opening coin flip and things go off the rails from there.

I want to believe that things will be different this year, that this will finally be the year in which that trip across the Isaiah D. Hart Bridge does not end in futility.  But I have been waiting on that for 27 years.  So I am not believing it until the final play of the game is whistled dead and the scoreboard shows more points for Georgia than for Florida.

Florida-Georgia Reflections: Appleby to Washington

As you know, Florida-Georgia Angst Week is now well underway.  The angst arises from the fact that Florida has owned Georgia for almost all of the past three decades, with no regard for how good or bad the teams may be in any given year.

But believe it or not, there was once a time when the shoe was on the other foot and it was the Florida fans who were feeling the angst this week.  (I know.  I would not have believed it had I not Googled it.)  That angst was fueled in large measure by plays and games like the one we are going to look at today.  So in order to get to that time, we will jump into the time machine and go back…back…back….

Disco.  Shag carpets.  Pet rocks.  Polyester suits.  Saturday Night Fever.  Yes, all of this and more was very much a thing because it was the 70’s, baby!!!!!  The year was 1975, right smack in the middle of this Age of Aquarius.  And on a glorious Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville in early November, Florida and Georgia teed it up one more time.

Florida entered the game 7-1 and ranked #11, a record which included big wins over LSU, Florida State, and Auburn.  The only blemish was a road loss to N. C. State in the season’s second game.  Georgia, meanwhile, was unranked and 6-2 with wins over South Carolina, Clemson, Kentucky, and Richmond.  Their losses were to Pitt in the season opener and Ole Miss in Oxford.  Georgia entered the game as a 10-point underdog.

The game itself was a defensive slugfest.  Florida scored a first-quarter touchdown but was held scoreless thereafter.  Georgia could not manage anything offensively except a second-quarter Allan Leavitt field goal that cut the Florida lead to 7-3.  With a little over three minutes left in the game, Georgia had the ball at its own 20.  And then this happened.  (This is Larry Munson’s call.  The play itself is at 0:43.)

The resulting touchdown put Georgia ahead 10-7, a lead they would not relinquish.

Florida and Georgia went on to finish second and third in the SEC respectively, behind #3 Alabama.  Georgia was ranked #19.  Florida finished 9-2 and went on to the Gator Bowl, where they lost to Maryland 13-0.  Georgia also finished 9-2 and went on to the Cotton Bowl, where they lost to Arkansas 31-10.

Welcome to Florida-Georgia Angst Week

Fellow Georgia fans:  Welcome to Florida-Georgia Angst Week.

This is an annual phenomenon which always recurs during the last week in October, the week leading up to the big showdown in Jacksonville, a place where so many Georgia championship dreams have died horrific deaths over the years.

This year’s opponent is a 3-3 team that is lucky to be that.  They blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead on Tennessee, a team we beat by 41, and needed a Hail Mary at 0:00 to escape with the win.  They beat Kentucky not by virtue of any greatness on their part but by virtue of Kentucky being Kentucky–they neglected to cover a receiver at the goal line and then got a holding penalty on a running play to back themselves out of field goal range on their final possession.  But for those two escapes this team would be 1-5 right now.  Their offense is the worst in the country and has been for most of the decade.  Their saving grace has been their defense, which has been in the top 10 for much of the decade, but even that is trending down this year.  (Georgia’s defense is No. 3 so far.)

If it were any other team in the country, I’d say there’s no way in hell we win by anything less than 3 touchdowns.

But this is Florida.

Florida has owned Georgia for almost all of the past 3 decades, winning 21 of 27 going all the way back to 1990.  Florida has beaten great Georgia teams–both of the last two Georgia teams to win the SEC championship lost to Florida–and Florida has beaten not-so-great Georgia teams.  Florida has beaten Georgia with great teams–this run encompasses the careers of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer–and Florida has beaten Georgia with not-so-great teams (Ron Zook, a terrible coach by Florida standards, had a winning record against Georgia.  As does Jim McElwain, who is no great shakes either).  Each of the previous 4 Georgia coaches, including the current one, holds a losing record against Florida:  Ray Goof (1-6), Jim Donnan (1-4), Mark Richt (5-10) who also holds the dubious distinction of holding losing records against four different Florida coaches:  Steve Spurrier (0-1), Ron Zook (1-2), Urban Meyer (1-5), and Jim McElwain (0-1).  Kirby Smart is 0-1.  The one constant in all of this is that Florida has beaten Georgia.

They could take cadavers out of the Jacksonville morgue, dress them up in Florida uniforms and set them up on tackling dummies, and the cadavers would somehow find a way to steal the game.

This year’s Georgia team looks for real and it certainly looks as if they are on a collision course with Alabama in the SEC championship.  But first they have to get past Florida.  Easier said than done.  Even when Florida is 3-3 and lucky not to be 1-5.  I want to believe that things will be different this year, but I’ve been waiting on that for 27 years.  I’m still waiting.  I will not believe it until the final play of the game is whistled dead and the scoreboard shows more points for Georgia than for Florida.

Could This Georgia Team Be For Real?

The script is nauseatingly familiar to all Georgia fans:  Raise expectations to the stratosphere with a convincing win (or two) that captures the attention of the entire nation.  Bring it all crashing back down to earth with a sickening thud.  Rinse.  Repeat.

In its first two SEC games, Georgia has won by a combined score of 72-3.  That includes a 41-0 win in Neyland Stadium, which in recent years had come to resemble a bowl filled with flesh-eating bacteria, goalposts, and a team from Athens, GA.

The nation is impressed.  Georgia moved up to No. 5 this week, its highest ranking since 2012.  The air is very thin up here; better look around for something to hold on to.

So now we come to a stretch with easily winnable games against SEC East bottom-feeders Vanderbilt and Missouri before heading down to Jacksonville and the first thought that comes to mind is:  At what point do we start to crumble under the weight of expectations?  At what point do we wrap the fuse around our leg and blow the whole thing sky high?

Please forgive me and try to be patient with me if my optimism for Georgia’s prospects moving forward is less than completely and totally unfettered.  It’s just that I, along with the rest of the Georgia fan base, have been burned too many times in the past, especially during the waning years of the Mark Richt era.

Watching a promising Georgia season such as this one unfold is just like having a crush on a girl.  Crushes suck, but there’s a payoff:  You have this beautiful young woman on the horizon of your world, motivating you to be the very best you that you can possibly be because she’s oh so worth it, and today–any day–could be the day she says “YES!!!!!!!!!  I’M YOURS, TAKE ME AWAY!!!!!!!!!”  Crushes usually don’t end well (they never have for me; your mileage may vary), but it’s a very enjoyable ride while it lasts.

So it is with this season:  Trying not to think too hard about what the future will bring, just trying to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Yet something about this team feels different.  Suddenly a Georgia team defined, especially during the waning years of the Richt era, by an inability to finish in big games, is finishing.  And finishing emphatically.

Both of Georgia’s conference wins this year followed the typical Alabama script:  Make like an anaconda and smother the life out of the opponent, on both sides of the ball.  We have had way too many losses to Alabama over the years that have followed that script; it is nice to be on the other side of that for a change.

This is exactly what Kirby Smart was hired for.

As to whether things are truly different, whether this team is truly for real:  We will know a lot more a month from now, on the other side of Jacksonville.  That has issues all its own, but we won’t talk about that just yet.  For now, just hold on and enjoy the ride while it lasts.

A New Level of Disgrace for Atlanta: This Is Who We Are and This Is What We Do

consThey say champions are forged in the crucible of pain.

But this was beyond pain.

This was beyond a necessary learning experience.

This was Atlanta through and through.

ICYMI:  Super Bowl 51 was played last night.  The Atlanta Falcons, the local NFL franchise, was one of the participating teams.  They led 28-3 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.  They led 28-9 with 9 minutes left in the game.  They lost 34-28.

In 50 prior years of the Super Bowl’s existence, no team had ever led by more than 10 points and lost.  No team had ever lost after leading by more than 16 points in the fourth quarter of any NFL postseason game.

Said Dan Quinn, the Falcons’ head coach:  “This is a hard one for us….There’s no place to put that one.”

That’s right.  And there never will be.

This is who we are, and this is what we do.

The city of Atlanta has acquired the nickname “Loserville” because of our wretched professional sports scene, which has been a wasteland of disgrace and infamy over the years.  There was Mark Wohlers to Jim Leyritz in Game 6, the turning point of the 1996 World series, a loss so horrible that it has been 21 years and the Braves still have not recovered.  There was Game 6 against the Boston Celtics in 1986 (I think), where the Crocks (the local basketball franchise) choked at the end and have not caught even a whiff of a championship since.

But this is a new level of disgrace for the city of Atlanta.

This is a new level of disgrace for the Falcons, who like the rest of our city’s professional sports scene, have been no strangers to disgrace and infamy over the years.

There was the cartoon-esque appearance against the Denver Broncos 18 years ago the only other time the Falcons ever graced (or perhaps I should say “disgraced”) a Super Bowl.  There were epic postseason collapses against Dallas in 1980 and Green Bay in 2010.  Thirteen last-place finishes and 38 non-playoff finishes and a starting quarterback jailed for dogfighting and the journey through professional sports hell that was Bobby Petrino’s tenure.

In one exhilarating season the Falcons made us forget all of that.  A magical offense, a young and improving defense, a new direction seemingly affirmed, all brought us to the doorstep of greatness.  But more than any of that, this season will be remembered for how it ended–with a resounding SPLAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Once again, our city’s team and its fan base are left doubled over.  Nobody’s wind is coming back anytime soon.

Even against Bill Belichek, the best in the business, and Tom Brady, proud owner of five Super Bowl rings, this had “EPIC FAIL” written all over it.

It was 28-3 with two minutes left in the third quarter.  At that point ESPN had given the Falcons a 99.6 percent chance of winning the game.

It was 28-9 with less than 10 minutes remaining.

Even after New England scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to pull within 28-20 with 6 minutes left, a miraculous catch by Julio Jones put the Falcons well within field goal range.  A field goal would have likely put this game to bed.

The.  Game.  Was.  Over.

So what happened?  Tom Brady certainly had a part to play.  So did Mike Shanahan, the Falcons’ young-ish offensive coordinator who is now on his way to San Francisco, who got a little too smart for his own good and likely cost us the game at the end.

But this isn’t all on him.  The Falcons all had greatness within their reach and let it turn to shit.

This is on all of us.  We couldn’t see this coming, but we should have.

Because this is Atlanta.  This is who we are, and this is what we do.

Said defensive back Robert Alford, who returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown in the first half:  “God says things happen for a reason.  So there’s a reason this happened.  I don’t know.”

Hey Robert:  I know the reason.

It’s because we are Atlanta.  This is who we are, and this is what we do.

It Was Time to Pull the Band-Aid Off

Before I go any further, let me make one thing excruciatingly clear:  No one is talking about firing Kirby Smart.  No one is calling for Greg McGarity to get rid of the coach he just hired.  I certainly am not.

It was time for Richt to go.  He was an excellent coach with a proven track record, but his program had peaked years ago and was in a state of noticeable decline, though still competing at a high level.

As noted previously, he was 14-23 against Top 25 opponents and 5-12 against the Top 10 from 2008 to 2015 after being 24-13 against the Top 25 from 2001 to 2007.  What’s more, there were only 4 losses by a margin greater than two touchdowns between 2001 and 2007.  From 2008 to 2015, there was at least one such loss every season and some seasons had multiple.  Not only were the losses to quality opposition becoming more frequent, they were becoming more emphatic as well.

There were cracks in the foundation last season.  Though we managed 10 wins, the vast majority of those were unimpressive wins against underwhelming opposition.  There was the Vanderbilt game where we needed not one but two late interceptions in or near the end zone before the game was in hand.  There was the 9-6 snorefest in which we managed to beat Missouri without scoring a single touchdown.  There were 7 and 6-point wins over Auburn and Georgia Tech respectively, who would both finish dead last in their respective divisions.  And don’t forget we got taken to overtime by Georgia Southern.

There were only two games in which we actually looked good:  South Carolina and Southern.  And even in the Southern game we didn’t look that great in the first half, and we only led 20-6 at halftime.

It was time to pull the Band-Aid off.

Coaching changes always come with risk.  There is always the risk that the new coach will be no better than, or even worse than, the coach he is replacing.  But Kirby Smart in 2015 was in the exact same position as Mark Richt in 2000–the long-tenured No. 1 assistant at the nation’s premier program–so any risk involved in hiring Kirby Smart was a well-considered risk.

Did we make a mistake in firing Mark Richt?  It is possible that we would have been better off with him this year.  But not by much.  As noted above, Richt had peaked several years ago.  There was not another championship in the foreseeable future, perhaps not even another division title.

It was time to pull the Band-Aid off.

Now I cannot and will not defend Kirby Smart’s performance over his first eight games as Georgia’s coach.  I expected more.  I expected better.  Kirby Smart’s first Georgia team is 4-4 against an underwhelming schedule, and that bothers me.

Florida is positioned to win the SEC East for a second consecutive year, but they still have Arkansas and LSU to come so don’t hold your breath.  Even the most obnoxious jean-short-sporting Gator fan will not dare to claim that Jim McElwain has yet brought their team back to greatness.  Tennessee, anointed as the new class of the SEC East, has lost 3 straight and is dealing with the sudden departure of Jalen Hurd, and whatever honor there may have been in losing to Tennessee is quickly slipping away.  Don’t look now, but Ole Miss, which wiped their asses with Georgia in Oxford last month, now has 4 losses.  And Vanderbilt–there is no honor in losing to Vanderbilt at any time, by any score, but you knew that already.

I have heard it said that the talent level in Athens is currently at a generational low.  Given what we are presently seeing, I believe it.  But help may be on the way.  Rivals has Georgia’s 2017 recruiting class ranked No. 5 based on commitments to date; ESPN has them at #3.  If in fact the talent level in Athens is at a generational low, the only cure for that is a string of huge recruiting hauls.

But even if we stipulate that, this team still has Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield, Jacob Eason at quarterback, and Lorenzo Carter and Isaiah McKenzie in the receiving corps.  There is no excuse for the offensive futility we have seen to this point.  And there is certainly no excuse for losing to Vanderbilt.

At this point it is safe to assume that Kirby Smart’s debut season at Georgia is officially tanked.  But there will be other seasons.  If Georgia under Kirby Smart never gets better than Kirby Smart will not last long.  But if they do get better then we can forget that this awful season ever happened and write it off to transition.  Criticizing Kirby Smart’s performance to this point is not the same as saying that Georgia was wrong to hire him or wrong to fire Richt.  Kirby Smart has time to grow into the job.  But the clock is ticking.

Rebuilding Projects Shouldn’t Look This Bad

In 2013 Auburn changed coaches and came within 14 seconds of a national championship.

In 2015 Florida changed coaches and won the SEC East.

In 2016 Georgia changed coaches and…

Wait for it…

Lost to Vanderbilt.

With the loss, a program in a state of gradual decline though still pretty good, suddenly morphed into a laughingstock.  Vanderbilt is the laughingstock of the SEC; you don’t lose to Vanderbilt without becoming a laughingstock yourself.  Vanderbilt was Georgia’s homecoming opponent; all of Georgia’s 2017 and 2018 road opponents are now moving to make Georgia their homecoming game.

Given an off week to lick their wounds, Georgia then went down to Jacksonville where far too many Georgia hopes and dreams have died horrific deaths (that’s 21 losses in 27 years now, for those of you still keeping count), and brought the program to an embarrassing, mortifying low.

Why does it seem as if I have typed that phrase a million times over the past few years?

Rewind to a year ago at this time:  With the SEC East title on the line, Mark Richt made the regrettable decision to start Faton Bauta, a freshman quarterback with zero game experience whatsoever, in Georgia’s biggest game of the season.  He then compounded this egregious error by having Bauta, a natural option quarterback, attempt to run the exact same drop-back, pro-style offense he had been running all season long.  Square peg, meet round hole.

You can imagine how that went:  15 for 33 with four interceptions.  Down went Georgia, 27-3.  The game was a mortifying low for Georgia under Richt, who has a strong history of developing quarterbacks.  In all likelihood it was this game that sealed his fate, though his exit was not confirmed until four weeks later, after the season finale against Georgia Tech.

Don’t forget that the program was in a state of decline.  The numbers bear this out:  Richt was 14-23 against Top 25 opponents, 5-12 against the Top 10, from 2008 to 2015.  Compare this with 24-13 against ranked opponents from 2001 to 2007.

Like many of you, I was wishing and hoping that Richt could get it together and find a way to bring back the Richt of old, the Richt who gave us P-44 Haynes and 70X Takeoff and 2 SEC championships and 3 BCS bowl appearances in his first seven years.  But by that point, it had become abundantly clear that the Richt of old was dead and gone and all the wishing and hoping in the world was not going to bring him back.

It was time to pull the Band-Aid off.  Greg McGarity was right to make that decision.  But with the Band-Aid removed, it is as if the whole program has collapsed into an unrecognizable mass of bent steel, broken wood and crumbled concrete, with no indication whatsoever as to when anything remotely resembling a recognizable shape might rise from the wreckage.

Which brings us to this year’s game.  This time there was no bad quarterback decision.  Just an embarrassing, mortifying (there’s that word again) display of futility all around but especially on offense.

They were held to 21 yards rushing.  1.1 yards per carry.  You can usually fall forward and gain more yardage than that.

They were held to 164 yards total offense.  They were held scoreless on their last ten possessions.  They went three-and-out or four-and-out nine times.

For a team with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in its backfield, Jacob Eason at quarterback, and Lorenzo Carter and Isaiah McKenzie in its receiving corps, this was an embarrassing, mortifying display of offensive ineptitude.

With the Florida defense overloaded to stop the run and daring Eason to beat them through the air, the question was whether he could make enough throws.  He couldn’t.  Except for one frantic series early in the second quarter where he made enough throws to score a touchdown, Eason was running for his life all afternoon and got hit a lot.  Receivers seldom got open.

Yet the problems run deeper than an offensive line that looks as if it’s trying to move oak trees, a freshman quarterback and undersized receivers who can’t get open.  The playcalling of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has been unimaginative and predictable.  Among Chaney’s main selling points were his use of multiple offensive systems over his career and supposed willingness to adapt his scheme to the talent on hand, yet here we are.  Chaney has apparently been given some rope, given the talent (or lack thereof) that he has to work with, but with almost every offensive sequence these days beginning run-run-pass, even the sportscasters can predict what play is coming next.  How much more the other team.

Florida is not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, as evidenced by the fact that Georgia held them to 24 points and 231 yards total offense.  Yet they were good enough to wipe their asses with Georgia for a third consecutive year, and we will probably be seeing them in Atlanta on the first weekend of December for a second consecutive year.

Georgia had a bye week to prepare for this, as noted above, yet came out looking like the exact same listless, clueless, outmanned, overwhelmed bunch that lost to Vanderbilt, almost lost to Nicholls State, and might lose all their remaining games this year.

Georgia now has to win two of their next four games just to get bowl eligible.  Can you find two wins on the schedule?  Let’s have a look:

Kentucky:  They have won three straight and are now 4-2 in SEC play, something Georgia would give their very lives for.  The game is at night so fans will be loud.  This is a very dangerous game which Georgia could very likely lose.

Auburn:  Auburn has been prone to late-season collapses the last couple of years but after a 1-2 start they are much improved.  They have won four straight and will probably destroy Georgia.

USL:  Georgia will likely be favored against this Sun Belt opponent.  But after 1-AA punchline Nicholls State came to Athens and almost beat Georgia, can we assume anything?

Georgia Tech:  Georgia should be favored but Georgia Tech has the better record and this is a rivalry game and weird things happen.  Again, can we assume anything?

How many wins do you see there?  One, maybe.  Two at the absolute most.  Any more than that and you are positively delusional.

Georgia may not win another game this year.

I hear all you Richt supporters out there saying “We told you so!!!!!”  But again I remind you:  This program was in decline, though still pretty good.  The numbers bear this out, as I have mentioned already:  Richt was 14-23 against Top 25 opponents, 5-12 against the Top 10, from 2008 to 2015.  Compare this with 24-13 against ranked opponents from 2001 to 2007.

And even as Richt was winning four straight after the Jacksonville train wreck of 2015, there were cracks in the foundation which we now see in retrospect:  Three of those wins were unimpressive wins over unassuming opponents:  20-13 and 13-7 over Auburn and Georgia Tech respectively, opponents that would finish sixth out of seven teams in their respective divisions.  And let us not forget that we were taken to overtime by Georgia Southern.  That backdrop provides at least a little bit of context for what is happening in 2016.

It was time to pull the Band-Aid off.

But Kirby Smart was hired to change all that.  I still hold out hope that this will prove to be an aberration and in years to come he will go on to build a program that wins SEC championships and becomes relevant at the national level, just as we envisioned when we hired him away from Alabama.  I still hold out hope that he will make idiots out of all of us doubters.

But as the losses mount up and the embarrassment and mortification build with each successive week, I find myself feeling increasingly delusional, just like those who insist to their dying breath that Donald Trump would make a good president.

So what do we do now?  Change coaches again?

Nope.  Tried that already.

This Should Have Been Easy

This should have been easy.  Georgia was playing a punchline.

By the end of the afternoon, Georgia was the punchline.

Georgia played Nicholls State yesterday.  Georgia barely hung on to win, 26-24.

There is no way to spin this.  Nicholls State was the worst opponent to set foot on the field at Sanford Stadium in decades.  Nicholls State was paid $525,000 to come to Athens and take a beating.  They were a 49 1/2 to 55 1/2 point underdog, depending upon who in Vegas had a bigger sense of humor.

Nicholls State was not just a 1-AA opponent–they were a 1-AA opponent that didn’t win a single game in all of 2014 and only won three games in all of 2015.  This was a team that had lost last year to Northeast Louisiana, McNeese State, Sam Houston State, and Colorado by a combined score of 169-14.

This is a team that lives to be as good as Lamar.

There is no way in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, that such a team is good enough to go on the road and come within two points of beating a major SEC power.  This is entirely on us.

We couldn’t block.  We couldn’t run.  We couldn’t put away a team that most people can’t even place in the correct state.  (Louisiana, by the way.)

The game started well enough:  Georgia went 67 yards in five plays on the opening drive, with Eason completing passes of 12 and 36 yards on his first two attempts and Chubb taking it in from the 6, and the rout was on.

Until it wasn’t.

Georgia managed a 90-yard drive that stalled at the Nicholls State 13 and resulted in a field goal.  Except for that, they netted 22 yards and two first downs on five other possessions.  They let a woefully overmatched opponent hang around and before you know it, said woefully overmatched opponent was winning 14-13 midway through the third quarter.

Isaiah McKenzie gave Georgia the lead back with a reception over the middle that he busted for a 66-yard touchdown.  Georgia would build the lead to 26-14, then almost blow it at the end.

Jacob Eason played well in his first start, but not nearly well enough to settle the quarterback controversy.  Though he played most of the game, Kirby Smart had so little confidence in him by the end that he inserted Greyson Lambert for the final two series.  It was Lambert who probably saved the game with a frantic 9-yard completion to Michael Chigbu on third-and-7 from the Georgia 10 with less than three minutes left.

And herein lies the problem:  When you’re talking about a frantic third-down completion with less than three minutes remaining–a play which could easily have resulted in a sack or possibly a sack-and-fumble–as the play that saved the game–against a 50-plus point underdog from Division 1-AA–that’s a problem.

By the end of the Richt administration, Georgia had devolved into a fragile power–a team that looks great until it doesn’t and then you’d better avert your eyes.  Horrible losses to Alabama, Tennessee and Florida in 2015 and Florida the year before showed cracks in the foundation of this team’s psyche.  “Finish The Drill” was the catchphrase of the Richt administration, but way too many drills were left unfinished, especially in the final years.

When Georgia goes up against a team it is projected to beat by seven to eight touchdowns and is lucky to stumble across the finish and escape with the win, it reaffirms that the problems continue to run deep.  There are intractable issues with the psyche of this program which set in during the final years of the Richt era, and it is going to take Kirby Smart a long time to fix them.

This should have been easy.  Georgia was playing a punchline.  But by the end of the afternoon Georgia had become the punchline.  Though the ranking said ninth, the performance said Liberty Bowl.

Yep:  They’re still Georgia.  They’re still SOOOOOOO Georgia.

Kirby Smart has his work cut out for him.  And it is going to take a long time.