How concerned should Georgia fans be after up-and-down Week 1 performance?
In a world gone whacky amid the things we’ve dealt with this year, the ultimate import of context is often forgotten.
A deep dive into the reasons — tribalism, politicization, the inability to engage in healthy conflict and conversation, to name a few — are far beyond the scope of an SEC football site. But sports have this weirdly awesome — or is it awesomely weird? — way of mirroring, providing parables that speak to developments far greater than what happens on Saturdays.
Context requires discipline. And energy. And a thorough review of the facts. When applied properly, it helps us see the big picture. Not just the “what” followed by an instant reaction informed by habitual insights and confirmation bias, but an objective analysis that leads to an informed opinion.
But how do you establish meaningful context during such an unprecedented time?
That question is relevant when looking at Georgia’s season, which already feels like it’s at a crossroads.
Can you be at a crossroads after 1 game? In 2020, anything’s possible.
The SEC’s shortened schedule means a razor-thin margin for error. From a tough debut for D’Wan Mathis to misaligned snaps to defensive breakdowns that coach Kirby Smart says Arkansas “didn’t expose,” there were plenty of gaffes in the Dawgs’ 37-10 win in Saturday’s season-opener.
“You can’t always expect things to go 100 percent,” said tight end John FitzPatrick, who caught a touchdown pass in the second half to extend Georgia’s lead. “You always want perfection in everything you do, but at the same time realizing that’s not practical. That’s not going to happen. Things are going to happen. Things aren’t going to go your way, and it’s just how you respond to that.”
Fellow East Division contender Florida, meanwhile, rolled Ole Miss with apparent ease. Kyle Trask put Heisman candidate-like numbers.
In a normal year, you’d likely chalk up some of Georgia’s deficiencies to season-opening rust. While its 11 penalties for 98 yards in the first half are alarming numbers, it’s not that uncommon for even some of the best teams to have some miscues after an 8-month layoff from competitive major college football.
But the Bulldogs don’t have a Week 2 reprieve against an FCS foe. They’re playing in prime time Saturday in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. College GameDay will be in town. And if Georgia doesn’t shore some things up, its hopes for challenging Florida in the East and Alabama for the conference could be dashed in a flash.
“The expectation of the fan base and the expectation of you guys is not what I’m trying to please,” Smart said. “I’m trying to please these young men, and I want to do the best job for them. As a staff, I want to put them in the best place to be successful. For me, that’s what we’re measured on; do we get the most out of these kids that we can, and do we grow them? I’m really not into the perception or the outside world what they think, which probably doesn’t matter at the end of the day. There’s so many naysayers.
“I’m worried about getting our team better. It’s never as good as it seems, and it’s never as bad as it seems.”
So is there reason to panic? How do you even answer that question during such a strange juncture?
You look at the facts.
Mathis’ struggles were tough to watch. You hope the freshman, who had a cyst removed from his brain last year, can recover. He has talent.
So does Stetson Bennett, who replaced him Saturday and rallied the troops to victory. And JT Daniels, who was cleared to play following offseason knee surgery and might be the best of the bunch.
There are a lot more positives than negatives in that trio, at least today. And during a year when any player can be sidelined by coronavirus in an instant, quarterback competition and fluidity might actually be a good problem to have.
The center-exchange issue is real. We’ve seen entire games get derailed when the timing’s off from the jump. First-year offensive line coach Matt Luke better get that fixed in a hurry.
What about that ground game at “RBU,” which accounted for just 2.9 yards per carry against a defense that ranked 122nd nationally against the run last year? Despite a poor showing, you can see flashes from both the line and the backs, particularly Zamir White. He could be something special.
But he better not wait long. The same goes for the big boys up front.
Defensively, Georgia’s going to be more than fine. Two interceptions of Feleipe Franks helped ensure a lopsided final tally Saturday. There’s too much talent on that side of the ball to reach any Defcon levels at this point.
Might Bo Nix and the Auburn offense have something to say about that? We’ll find out.
Special teams should continue to be a strong suit, too. The Dawgs blocked a punt and were effective in pinning the Razorbacks deep on Saturday.
There are your data points. And don’t forget, this all comes against the backdrop of COVID-19 — fewer fans in the stands, highly-altered training regimens, and the threat of players falling ill at any time mean any program’s state of health is a fickle thing.
So, should UGA fans be pressing the eject button? The simple answer is, not yet. There’s not enough supporting evidence to say this season’s going to be a bust. At least not today.
Ask again late Saturday night, and the answer could be a lot different.