ATHENS — Nobody is interested in moral victories, Georgia’s Kirby Smart least of all. But hidden in the gut-punch that was Tennessee’s 34-31 Hail Mary win Saturday night was some fairly significant overall improvement for the Bulldogs.
But it won’t undo the done. With the loss, No. 25 Georgia falls to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in SEC play. The Bulldogs will face South Carolina next Saturday night at 7:30 in Columbia. The Gamecocks (2-3, 1-3) lost to Texas A&M 24-13 on Saturday.
Here’s how Georgia performed versus Tennessee:
Considering how poorly the Bulldogs played the week before at Missouri, this represents a marked improvement. Georgia accumulated 392 total yards against the Vols, not as much as Virginia Tech (400) or Florida (402) but enough to win the game. The Bulldogs’ three primary ball-carriers — Sony Michel, Brian Herrien and Isaiah McKenzie — averaged better than 5 yards an attempt. And quarterback Jacob Eason continued to show his steely resolve, connecting with Riley Ridley for what should have been the game-winning TD and freshman tight end Isaac Nauta five times for 83 yards and a TD. But pass protection remains balky, as Eason was sacked again three more times. The last ended in a devastating, go-ahead TD fumble recovery for the Vols. Trending up, though.
There are a lot of people who might say this should be a D, as in poor, based on the final game-losing play alone. Georgia had seven defenders in the end zone and six surrounding Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings when he hauled in Josh Dobbs’ high-arcing aerial on the game’s last play. But the Bulldogs actually had held the Vols’ run game in check all night and had kept their long and lean receiver corps largely in front of them until the end. Ultimately they had no answer for Dobbs, who extended plays and made losing ones into winning ones, all the way to the end.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Based on Kirby Smart’s postgame comments, he clearly would have given the Bulldogs an F in this area. But a closer look reveals there was actually some good here. Georgia showed improvement in returns, with Reggie Davis taking one kickoff 46 yards and finishing with 60 and Isaiah McKenzie getting 13 yards on his only punt return. And Rodrigo Blankenship was good on his only field-goal try, albeit 27 yards. But Tennessee had 120 yards in kickoff returns and another 50 on punts, so there was a lot of hidden yardage there. And the “sky kick” Smart called for at the end of the game was mismanaged from beginning to end, with another offsides call and kicking it to the returner Georgia was seeking to avoid. Still a work in progress.
There are arguments to be made both for this being a very good coaching job by Smart and his staff and a bad one. At the end of it, Smart harped about his being an undisciplined team and, ultimately, it’s the charge of a coach to instill that in his team or work it out of them. And we certainly can question the decision to kick high and short from Georgia’s 20 after stunningly stealing the lead late. But placed in the context of what this game actually was — a very good UT football team playing a young and transitioning one — Georgia got just about all it could have expected out of this group.
We’re heading toward the halfway point in the season, and we’re starting to see Georgia for what it is. That is, an average but determined football team that might sneak up on some folks but can’t take any opponent lightly. The Bulldogs are fully capable of blowing out South Carolina next week in Columbia, and quite capable of losing to the Gamecocks as well.
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