It wasn't Georgia's day, but it can still be Georgia's year
Take a deep breath. Actually, take three.
Put down the phone. Resist the urge to fire off a hot take about Georgia “not being so good after all.” Don’t fool yourself into thinking that Georgia is anything less than a national title contender.
That’s not an easy thing to do after Saturday’s blowout loss at Auburn. Georgia — for the first time all year — faltered.
Let me rephrase that. Georgia — for the first time all year — was punished.
It was a stunning sight for those who have watched the Dawgs this season. The offensive line didn’t get a push, the running game couldn’t get going, the passing game struggled all afternoon, All-Americans missed tackles left and right, and the final scoreboard showed all of it.
Kirby Smart, who has a Nick Saban-like obsession with perfection, watched his team be anything but perfect on Saturday. The previously-unbeaten Dawgs didn’t get a dose of reality. They got a whole tub of it at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
But reality isn’t that the 2017 Dawgs are suddenly the Mark Richt-led Dawgs. You know, the ones who notoriously choked in big games. Saturday might’ve been a trip down memory lane, but Georgia didn’t transform into its former self.
One horrible, terrible, no good, very bad afternoon shouldn’t change what we saw the first 10 weeks of the season.
Anybody tossing Georgia from the Playoff conversation hasn’t been paying attention to the 2017 season. Saturday was a complete and total beatdown, but the Dawgs’ Playoff chances were not dependent on margin of victory in one game.
Don’t forget that before Saturday, Georgia hadn’t trailed in an SEC game all year. It’s the second weekend of November, by the way.
Don’t forget that before Saturday, Georgia had the most impressive victory of the 2017 season. That was why the selection committee had Kirby Smart’s squad at No. 1, and not Alabama.
Don’t forget that before and after Saturday, Georgia had a chance to beat Alabama on a neutral site and win a conference title.
All of that is still in front of Georgia. What isn’t still a possibility? Well, the loser of the SEC Championship might not exactly be in position to earn a Playoff bid anymore. That’s the case for Georgia and Alabama.
And that regular season mulligan? That’s gone for Georgia, too. Lay an egg against Georgia Tech’s triple option, and the Dawgs won’t even have a Playoff spot to play for in Atlanta.
But for all we know, Auburn did Georgia a favor in the long run. You know that if the Dawgs go on to win the SEC Championship and earn a Playoff bid, they’ll look back on the Auburn game as something they “needed to happen.”
Despite its record, Georgia was not a perfect team. The Tigers just happened to expose all of those weaknesses.
What would Georgia look like when it couldn’t get anything going in the running game? Not very good. What would Georgia look like when it committed bonehead penalties against a good team on the road? Not very good. What would Georgia look like when it couldn’t string defensive stops together? Not very good.
Smart is going to have plenty to pick apart with his team. Adjustments are needed. Duh. Nobody loses a game by 23 points and assumes things are business as usual, especially not Smart.
With the exception of that first drive, nothing about that game was the way Georgia drew it up. That’s the first time that the Dawgs had to deal with things when they weren’t going their way. Every team needs to experience that. I’m a believer that it can be a long-term benefit to deal with actual in-game adversity.
I’m not talking about Smart laying into Jake Fromm when he doesn’t get a first down in the third quarter of a blowout.
Now, we find out what Georgia is really made of. Let’s see if this team can put Saturday in its back pocket. We all know Alabama has been able to put regular-season losses in its back pocket and still win national titles.
That’s still a realistic goal. Really, it’s the only goal.
The beauty of the Playoff system is that a team like Georgia can have a bad day, though it can’t have two (I’m still not buying Auburn’s Playoff chances). Saturday was that day. Nobody will argue that.
But put down the phone, and don’t sell low on Georgia.