5 reasons Georgia can still win the SEC East
After a complete 45-14 loss Saturday at Ole Miss, it feels as though Georgia is a distant third in the SEC East division race. All is not lost for Bulldogs fans, however, as there are a few things that could help them not only get back into the mix but end up on top.
Georgia needs to capitalize on this Saturday’s home game with Tennessee in order to get 2016 back on track, but looking at the bigger picture, there is hope for Kirby Smart’s team.
Here are five reasons the Bulldogs can still win the SEC East.
Its biggest games are still ahead of it: Entering the season, there were four toss-up games Georgia fans had circled. So far, the Bulldogs are 1-1 in those games, with a solid win against North Carolina and an embarrassing loss at Ole Miss.
Fortunately, it’s the final two against Tennessee and Florida that really matter. Although last Saturday’s loss was certainly deflating, it ultimately won’t matter if the team can regroup to win at home against the Volunteers. If Georgia manages to knock of a Tennessee team fresh off a major symbolic victory, it will hold the tiebreaker over the Vols and sit atop the division standings.
With visions of the lackluster 45-14 loss still fresh in Bulldogs fans’ minds, a win might seem improbable. But each game is played for a reason, and anything can happen on any given weekend. Georgia suffered its first loss, but it wasn’t a dooming one for its division chances.
The schedule is very favorable: Outside of the games against the Vols and Gators, the Bulldogs have one of the division’s best schedules. As of now, the only other games that could even be considered tough would be against Auburn and Georgia Tech, both of which are at home.
Of course, this is assuming a lot. Those games won’t happen until much later in the season and there are a wide variety of things that could occur in the meantime: key players could get injured, other teams could start performing, there could be nothing left to play for, etc. But, right now, the schedule sets up favorably for Georgia, meaning it just needs to take care of business against Tennessee and Florida.
The same can’t be said for the Bulldogs’ main competitors. Tennessee kicked off an absolutely brutal stretch with a strong win over Florida, but it still has games at Georgia and Texas A&M, followed by a home game with Alabama waiting to finish that four-week slate.
Florida’s schedule is slightly easier and looks better now than it did before the season. Nobody knows what LSU will look like with Les Miles gone, but Arkansas and Florida State (non-conference, obviously) are looming outside of the annual meeting with Georgia in Jacksonville.
The Bulldogs have already faced the best passing teams: Ole Miss shredded the Bulldogs’ secondary, completing six passes of 20-plus yards and totaling 330 yards and 3 touchdowns. That might leave fans with a sick feeling in their stomachs, but that might be as bad as it gets.
In North Carolina, Missouri and Ole Miss, Georgia has already faced the best passing attacks it is likely to see. Each of those schools sit in the top 20 nationally for passing yards per game. The next best passing team that Georgia will face is Florida, which is ranked No. 40.
Josh Dobbs shook off a slow start with a career-day against Florida, but he’s still a greater running threat than he is through the air. That being said, Ole Miss’ bigger wide receivers gave Georgia’s defensive backs all sorts of trouble, and Tennessee has plenty of players that capable of doing the same.
Young players gaining experience: This is harder to quantify, but it’s something that should happen with a young team, and the Bulldogs are a young team.
A freshman or sophomore is first or second in total passing, rushing and receiving yards for Georgia. Defensively, the top three tacklers are sophomores, with several freshmen also playing a role. Kirby Smart has said many times that there are inexperienced players out there in crunch time, which is not promising for the present but a good thing for the future.
So far, these young players have experienced a lot. They’ve played in a neutral site, national showdown against North Carolina, had to stave off an upset bid, come from behind to steal an SEC road victory and taken it on the chin against an SEC West power. There isn’t really much left that should rattle these young Bulldogs, and players like Jacob Eason, Isaac Nauta, Brian Herrien and David Marsall should improve.
There isn’t a dominant team in the division: In the second half of the comeback win against Florida, Tennessee looked as good as any SEC East team this season. But it’s hard to ignore the games against Appalachian State and Ohio. Right now, it’s hard to say that the Vols are on par with Texas A&M and Alabama.
Florida once again has a defense capable of shutting down any opponent, but it failed to make enough plays in the second half against Tennessee. With Luke Del Rio injured for likely another week or two, the offense might struggle again. Regardless, the Gators have the ability to play at a very high level when everything is clicking, but they couldn’t do it when it mattered the most.
Right now, Georgia appears to have the most question marks of these three teams, but there isn’t one team that is head-and-shoulders above everyone else. When taking into account the remaining schedules, the Bulldogs are still very much alive in the division.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.