Here’s where I step in my contrarian’s corner and say — please hold all hoots until the end of this sentence, at which point you’re free to ROFL — that I kind of like where the Georgia Bulldogs are right now.
(We pause for your scoffs. Take your time. I’m going nowhere.)
(All done? Good. We proceed.)
I don’t like the way Georgia is playing. Its loss to South Carolina was among the worst I’ve seen. Its halting victory over Kentucky was a function of the Wildcats being unable to complete one of those newfangled things called a forward pass. Even so, the Bulldogs didn’t score until 6:20 remained in the third quarter. If they’d been playing anybody any good, they’d again have been in trouble.
Which brings us to this: From here until Georgia Tech, they won’t play an opponent that isn’t halfway decent. The next four games are against Florida, 7-1; Auburn, 6-1; Missouri, 5-2, and Texas A&M, 4-3. Georgia has faced one opponent currently above .500. That was Notre Dame, which led at halftime in Sanford Stadium and had a chance to win at the end. Three weeks later, South Carolina led for the final 31 minutes of regulation and won in double overtime.
There was angst after Georgia lost 40-17 at Auburn in 2017, more angst after the Bulldogs were beaten 36-16 at LSU last October. Those games were against strong SEC teams on the road. This Georgia has played only one worthwhile opponent. Yes, it beat Notre Dame, but it didn’t dominate the Fighting Irish the way Clemson had in December. Indeed, Brian Kelly had reason to feel better about his team after its night in Athens than did Kirby Smart.
Since then, Georgia has won at Tennessee, which Georgia State had already managed. Then the Bulldogs lost to South Carolina as a 20.5-point favorite. Then they slogged past Kentucky on a night when Jake Fromm completed nine of 12 passes for a whopping 35 yards. This served to stoke a cauldron already a-boil: That by choosing Fromm over Justin Fields, who’s tripping the light fantastic at Ohio State, Smart had made the greatest error since Decca Records told an auditioning band named the Beatles, “Sorry, but guitar groups are on the way out.”
And now you’re saying, “Doesn’t what you’ve just typed make a better case for Georgia not being in such a good place?” And here’s where I say: Thanks for reading so closely, but please keep reading.
The belief here that Georgia is better than it has played. If what we’ve seen so far is the best these Bulldogs can do, they’re not winning a national championship. They probably won’t win the SEC East. But I – and perhaps I alone – think they’ll do better. I think they’ll use the off-week before Jacksonville to great advantage. They’ll self-scout, to use the industry phrase. They’ll see that they’ve been all over the map when it comes to Fromm, who is, ahem, their best player.
Their offensive line hasn’t been as good as advertised, as evidenced when the Bulldogs couldn’t pound South Carolina into submission. They wind up asking Fromm to move the chains on third-and-6, but then they go right back to running on first and second down. They need to let this guy sling the pig. They’ve done it before, and the world hasn’t ended. They played for the national title when he was a freshman and almost made the playoff when he was a sophomore. He’s as seasoned as any quarterback in the land. He’s more than capable of taking this team where it needs to go.
As hard-headed as Smart can be, even he must know the way Georgia is playing isn’t how it needs to play if intends to do more than beat Vandy and Tennessee. He gets two weeks to ready for Florida and what’s beyond Florida. That’s enough time to make a mid-course correction. Not to say Fromm should go all Air Raid on the world, but his coaches — who should know him better than anyone — need to play to their strengths.
After South Carolina, Smart identified those strengths as the O-line and his running backs. He was wrong — part of being Kirby Smart is never admitting you’re wrong — on both counts. Georgia can’t go anywhere worth going if Fromm doesn’t take it there. I get that Georgia didn’t throw more against Kentucky because Smart didn’t want to risk losing via the vagaries of a wet ball on a wretched night. Maybe you call that savvy coaching. I’d deem it overcoaching. You’ve got to let your quarterback be a quarterback.
Georgia can’t win its next four games just by running the ball. These four opponents are all better at defending the run than South Carolina, which Smart conceded beat Georgia at the line of scrimmage. The good news is that the Bulldogs have a quarterback who can make any receivers look good. It borders on unbelievable that this program would need reminding that it has Fromm on its roster, here’s the wake-up call. It’s time to let him work.
For all the gloom and doom, the Bulldogs haven’t lost anything yet. If they win the rest of their regular-season games, they’ll take the East. If they win the SEC title, they’ll make the playoff. They’re where they were a year ago headed to Jax and, then as now, the schedule beyond Florida wasn’t a bunny. There was Kentucky, which was unusually good, on the road, then Auburn in Athens. They handled it. There’s thought now that this Georgia is a lesser Georgia, but how mighty did last year’s team seem coming off a 20-point loss in Baton Rouge?
You knew this already, but I’m weird. I tend to like talented teams that have been marked down if not written off. The Georgia of October hasn’t played like a champion. Last I checked, they don’t hand out titles before Halloween.
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