Georgia football: 4 reasons the sky isn't falling on the Bulldogs
Yes, Georgia’s humbling loss to Florida in the de facto SEC East title game was painful. Yes, the earlier loss to Alabama also was disappointing. But here’s the thing: With little to stop Georgia from completing an 8-2 season, Bulldogs fans need to realize that while 2020 is a disappointment, it’s not a major step back for the UGA program.
In fact, it’s kind of a fluke. Not convinced? Well, here are 4 reasons that the sky is not falling for the Georgia Bulldogs.
1. It’s COVID
It’s an overplayed excuse, sure. But nothing about the 2020 season has been routine. COVID has messed with schedules, with preparation and practices routines, and even with personnel (a little more on that later). Georgia certainly could have benefitted from a couple of games against UMass or Eastern Michigan to figure out some of the finer details of its offense. Not in 2020. Obviously, COVID was an issue for Alabama and Florida, too. (Of course, Florida lost to Texas A&M). But there’s such a one-off element with the pandemic and the unpredictable issues arising from it that on some level, the season is practically begging for a mulligan.
2. The QB situation
Yes, Stetson Bennett finally bogged down and D’Wan Mathis hasn’t been able to carry the offense, either. Weird things happen deep into a team’s QB depth chart.
Virtually any program in the SEC would be in bad shape if they were relying on their preseason 4th QB to run their offense.
We went through an offseason of hearing about how Jamie Newman was going to lead Georgia to the CFP. Only for him to opt out. We heard plenty about JT Daniels. Still waiting to see if any of it is actually true.
Mathis wasn’t ready — or at least, wasn’t ready in this conference-only, COVID-condensed season. Mathis might have been fine with a couple of games against Southeastern College for Typing under his belt. Which leads us to Bennett … who is perfectly serviceable against teams that aren’t Alabama or Florida. The good news is there are none of those left on the schedule. The position where Georgia had the biggest need ended up on option No. 4, and the Bulldogs will still finish in the nation’s top 10-15 teams.
3. Horrible injury luck
Everything else aside, possibly the biggest factor in Georgia’s decline has been all-time level injury issues.
To wit: the current starting QB, the power running back, the preseason No. 1 and 2 players at one receiver spot, about half the 2-deep defensive line, and the team’s leading defensive back are all out for injuries.
And that’s really been pretty typical. Guys like George Pickens and Richard LeCounte are bedrock players for Georgia to do well. Without the beef up front, Georgia couldn’t get together enough impact plays to disrupt the Florida offense. Injuries are a part of the game, sure.
Remember last year? Alabama got hammered with players who were out or hobbled and fell short of all of its preseason goals. The sky cleared up pretty nicely for the Tide this season, though.
Right now, Georgia lists a dozen players (most of them critical) on the injury list, while Alabama lists 5.
4. Consider the big picture
The biggest fear at Georgia, given the 4-decade title drought, isn’t being awful.
It’s being only good.
That was the takeaway of the Mark Richt era.
Richt annually had a good Georgia team, but either never had a great one or found a way to lose a few games with what should have been great ones. Kirby Smart is not Richt.
Part of the reason that Richt couldn’t get Georgia over the hump is that he didn’t stay at the level of the top handful of teams.
For all the "Kirby Smart is Mark Richt 2.0" arguments, here's something that gets lost in the shuffle:
On Saturday, Smart will snap a streak of 45 consecutive games played as a top-10 team.
In Richt's 15 years at UGA, his longest such streak was 14 games.
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) November 10, 2020
At the root, the CFP is not at all different from the Final Four in basketball. The challenge is getting there and putting yourself in position to make a run. Once you do that, there’s a lot of luck and happenstance in finishing the deal.
This will be Smart’s worst season at Georgia (unless you count the 8-5 first season that was basically a warm-up) — very possibly a 9-2 season that ends in the lower echelon of the top 10. Those aren’t the seasons that hurt you.
The seasons that hurt you are the 8-5 dropped in the middle of what looked like a promising run that creates a down recruiting year that turns into a 9-4 year the next season.
Smart is not taking Georgia to the Independence or Liberty Bowl this year (two places Richt did take them).
The 2020 season looks more like a bump in the road than a massive detour from Georgia’s road back to that elusive title.