Georgia ‘not demoralized’ after 41-24 loss to No. 2 Alabama

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett addresses critical turnovers against Alabama and the inability to score touchdowns in final quarters.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

The sting of Georgia’s previous two losses to Alabama lasted a while. You could even say they lingered, with one coming in the national championship game and the other for the SEC title.

It appears the Bulldogs might get over this latest one pretty quickly. Not only was the 41-24 loss Saturday night in Tuscaloosa a rare regular-season affair for these two powerhouse programs, but the Bulldogs feel like they didn’t play particularly well, can play much better and will get another crack at the Crimson Tide.

Since it was a cross-divisional tilt, the Bulldogs still control their own destiny to win the East and earn a fourth consecutive trip to the SEC Championship. If they do, Alabama very likely would await them.

“Our destiny is still controlled by us, which is how you want it,” quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “If we win out, we’ll probably see those guys again. Everything we want is still ahead of us.”

Indeed, everything is. But so are Kentucky and Florida. Because of the SEC’s COVID-induced reshuffle, the Bulldogs have next Saturday off and can use this week to shore up deficiencies. But then there will be back-to-back road games, the first against the Wildcats, who unraveled Tennessee 34-7 in Knoxville on Saturday, and then Florida without the benefit of the usual bye week beforehand.

The Bulldogs are walking into that unfazed.

“Oh, man, we’ve got a great team,” senior safety Richard LeCounte said. “You know, the team that played better tonight won. But it’s not really a demoralizing thing. We’re going back to the drawing board where we’ll fix what we messed up tonight and be able to finish up our season. We’re good, man. It’s just a little bump in our road. We’re here to learn of this experience and get better.”

Here are some things we learned from the Bulldogs fall-from-ahead loss to the Tide:

Stetson is human

The uplifting story of Stetson Bennett’s rise from Georgia walk-on to starting quarterback encountered some reality checks. Not only did he throw three interceptions against Alabama and completed only 45% of his passes, but five line-of-scrimmage bat-downs and 10 pass-breakups overall illustrated how his 5-foot-11 frame can sometimes be a liability.

After throwing for 177 yards in the first half, Bennett managed only 92 yards through the air in the second half. He finished 269 yards passing and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs had with 414 yards of total offense on 70 plays.

“Gotta figure out how to not get batted balls, gotta figure out how to not throw interceptions, gotta figure out how to score points in the second half,” Bennett said afterward.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart defended his quarterback after and said a lot of the shortcomings were not necessarily Bennett’s fault. He said one of his interceptions should’ve been caught and another was a fortuitous swat by an Alabama defensive lineman. The third, he said, “was a bonehead mistake.”

But Smart gave no indication of considering a change at quarterback, during the game or going forward.

“I think Stetson’s gotten better,” Smart said. “When the level of competition changes, you don’t change your evaluation. You just have to grow and get better. The experience he gained tonight will be invaluable for him for the rest of the run. He’s a work in progress, just like our team is.”

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia coach Kirby Smart addresses Stetson Bennet's play against Alabama, and Nick Saban's COVID tests and his health.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Secondary exposed or victimized?

Two receivers accounted for 78.7 percent of Alabama’s 417 passing yards Saturday night. That was star wideouts DeVonta Smith (11-167-2) and Jaylen Waddle (6-161-1). Seventeen of quarterback Mac Jones' 24 completions went to them.

“We’ve got to play better as a secondary,” said LeCounte, who recorded his third interception of the season on Alabama’s first offensive play from scrimmage. “We gave up some big plays. They were able to capitalize on it. Perfect throws, perfect catches. We were playing a great ballclub in Alabama.”

Making it even more frustrating is the Bulldogs were in position to make a lot of plays. However, they were flagged on at least three occasions for either holding or pass interference, and they came at awful times.

Cornerback Eric Stokes was called for pass interference defending Smith in the end zone, which turned what would’ve been a fourth-down, field-goal situation into first-and-goal at the Georgia 2. Najee Harris then scored the first rushing touchdown by a running back on the Bulldogs' defense his year.

“Penalties, man, they get you beat,” LeCounte said. “We’ve got to do better in the secondary. They made more plays than us. But they have a great wide receiver crew, great quarterback, great team.”

Burton breaks out

A new favorite target emerged for Bennett Saturday night. Jermaine Burton, a 6-foot, 195-pound freshman from Calabasas, Calif., caught four passes for 58 yards and a touchdown and was targeted a team-high eight times. He hauled in the first TD of his college career on a five-yard play with 23 seconds remaining in the half.

George Pickens caught the most passes with 5 for 58 and was targeted seven times. Kearis Jackson, Georgia’s leading receiver, finished with only 2 catches for 28 yards.

“They were bracketing the inside guys most of the game,” Bennett said. “So, I don’t know if that was their scheme, (but) the reads took me to Jermaine and I have trust in him, and we’re going to get that connection dialed in this off week.”

The best thing Georgia did was get the ball to James Cook out of the backfield. His 82-yard TD catch and run on a wheel route beat linebacker Dylan Moses on the first play of the second quarter.

“I told Cook if they run a linebacker on you I’m going to throw you the ball, so as soon as they did, I knew it,” Bennett said.

Kenny Milton emerging

Zamir White was again Georgia’s leading ball carrier with 10 attempts for 57 yards and the Bulldogs' only rushing TD. But the Bulldogs ran a bunch of backs in the game. Freshman Kendall Milton had the next most carries with 6 and averaged 7.3 yards on them, including a 24-yard run. Kenny McIntosh (2-12) and Cook (5-16) also had totes.

“I think we’re getting better at the running the football,” Smart said. “They had a guy out on their defensive line, but I thought we ran the ball well. We tried to keep them off balance. … We just didn’t make enough plays.”

Georgia running back James Cook (4) reached the end zone for a score against the Crimson Tide Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.. (Skylar Lien)

Special players

With the exception of the 35-yard missed field goal — and that’s a big exception — Georgia turned in another dominant performance on special teams.

While Jack Podlesny missed the aforementioned short kick, he made a 50 yarder after converting from 51 yards last week. Don’t brush off the three made PATs. With them, Georgia has now made a record 306 in a row dating back to 2014.

The Bulldogs always kick the ball well. Junior Jake Camarda, who came in ranked first in the nation in both punting average (51.4 yards) and net punting (47.7), averaged 49 yards on four punts Saturday, two of which were downed inside the 20. Camarda also took over kickoff duties in this game.

But the real difference in Georgia’s special teams this year is in the returns area. The Bulldogs returned six kickoffs for 161 yards between Jackson (2-56), McIntosh (2-47) and White (2-58). They continue to lead the SEC at 33.2 yards per return.

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