One wonders if Kirby Smart, when he awoke Saturday and realized game day was certainly going to be a swamp thing, didn’t almost smile.
Surely the tropical rains that soaked Vince Dooley’s field would dampen all this chatter about the lack of ingenuity built into Georgia’s offense. This was weather built for mud-bogging, slobber-knocking and running the rock. This was not the kind of evening to go hunting for missing explosiveness because nobody could keep their powder dry.
Hardly the type of weather to do hunting of any kind. “It’d be tough. We’d probably be hogging or duck hunting in this,” said noted outdoorsman and quarterback Jake Fromm.
In other words, this was going to be Kirby Smart weather, grim and primordial.
“That was one of those parks and rec games, out there in the mud and playing for the love of the game,” Smart said, not without some fondness.
After an excruciating first half, the Georgia Way of imposing its will and its superior physical presence paid off in a less than aesthetically uplifting victory. They had to endure some unrest from the civilian population early, but the result remained a much-required 21-0 victory.
As if to prove some point – what that was escapes me – the Bulldogs sealed this win with Fromm throwing - and completing – one little pass the entire second half. It was a fourth-down conversion in the fourth quarter, so even if it was a lonely pass attempt, it was an effective one.
It was a wet thumb in the eye to everyone who has weighed in on just how staid and predictable the Bulldogs’ offense can be.
“Handing it to a guy is a hell of a lot easier under those conditions,” Smart said.
We have lived to see a day when the Georgia Tech punter threw one more touchdown pass than Georgia’s vaunted Fromm. That is amazing, even if the Bulldogs had been playing in the midst of a bomb cyclone rather than just a steady rain.
Fromm finished with the most Buck Belue-vian line of his life: 9-of-12 passing for 35 yards (by contrast, the once ground-bound Yellow Jackets attempted 19 passes in Miami Saturday).
The splendid runner D’Andre Swift made all this possible, breaking Kentucky with 179 rushing yards, 98 of them in the second half, where both his touchdowns lived.
The keep-it-basic approach wasn’t working quite so well in the first half. What happens when that much ballyhooed Bulldogs offensive line, the one that blots out the sun whenever its does reemerge, doesn’t live up to its reputation?
This is what happens: The Bulldogs find themselves playing in their first scoreless half since 1991; they don’t cross midfield the entirety of that first half; they fail on fourth-and-less-than-one at the 50. Even lined up in an extreme pachyderm package, with 6-foot-6, 318-pound Cade Mays in the backfield, they can’t create enough push to get Fromm that fraction of a yard up the gut.
Oh, Georgia would win, because eventually somebody had to score something and that never was going to be Kentucky, playing with an improvisation where a quarterback should be.
Saturday was meant to be a big bounce-back from the shock of losing at home and losing to someone not from the SEC’s western frontier. It was made to flush the frustrations of that South Carolina defeat through the sublime simplicity of owning the line of scrimmage and running over and through Kentucky on a wet track.
Before any of that occurred, the evening took an odd turn or two.
For it seemed it was a wet and restless audience that greeted the Bulldogs’ seventh game of the year here Saturday evening.
And it was a sodden and initially uninspiring team that showed up to face the Wildcats one week after suffering a kick to the nether regions of its psyche.
“When you play in those kind of games, you have to be extremely patient. Patient as a defensive coach. Patient as a player. Patient as an offensive coordinator. You can get frustrated very easily and magnify the mistakes,” Smart said.
But impatience lived in the stands. Georgia was met by this odd serenade from the seats before even the first quarter was done. Following the second consecutive three-and-out series, with still nearly three minutes to go in the quarter, a distinct cascade of wet, and possibly alcohol-aided boos broke out. It wasn’t the last time displeasure would sound in the seats. Going in at halftime with the score 0-0, the Bulldogs heard another ugly refrain on their way to the locker room.
To what effect, exactly?
“No effect. I had headphones on,” Smart said.
Expanding on that, he said, “We’re trying to make the best decisions that give us the best chance. The fans, that’s what they pay their money for, to give their opinion. They’re entitled to that, I respect that. At the end of the day our job is to put our kids in the most successful situation and allow them to be successful. You don’t make decisions based on that.
“You make decisions based on patience, the weather, field position. And all those decisions involved in that were calculated.”
Somewhere in that explanation lives this coach’s north star. Certainly Smart will talk about wanting more explosive plays, but he’ll never brag on his wide receivers more than he did Saturday when he extolled the virtues of their downfield blocking. This is who he is, the coach who might love rainy days and running-based slugfests.
The mood changed with a 15-yard Kentucky punt with 6:31 left in the third quarter that finally gave the Bulldogs the kind of field position they couldn’t waste, starting on the Wildcats’ 39. Swift broke free on the first play from there and quickly broke the scoreless deadlock. It was fashionable once more to cheer the home team.
A fumble on the Wildcats’ next possession set up Georgia even more advantageously, at the Kentucky 32. With the goal line in sight, the Bulldogs began to establish some rhythm on the run. And this time it was Brian Herrien’s turn to own the edge and score from eight yards out.
Finally the Bulldogs were running downhill, and they kept it up for as long as time was left.
In the end, this probably wasn’t the day to pick up on the play-calling criticisms due to the elements. Hold the James Coley complaints for a better day. But even if you should persist, know that nobody who can do anything about it is listening.
Give them this: The Bulldogs did a fine job of cutting back on the turnovers that had so plagued them against South Carolina. As in, committing none of them even with a wet football in hands. “Our offense did a TERR-mendous job of protecting the ball. To play in those conditions and not lose a turnover was big for us,” Smart said.
They did what was necessary to just get through this night. But hard to imagine anyone leaving here in a particularly good mood after sitting through this mess.
“It’s hard to judge anything today,” Smart said.
Nevertheless, I’ll venture this: They will have to be better, be more diverse regardless of the conditions and be a good deal pushier up front in two weeks, when Florida’s on the other side.
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