With SEC, Playoff contenders showing cracks around it, Georgia's left to challenge its own standard
As Georgia continues to roll over SEC opponents, in the familiar East division no less, by double digit margins, the Bulldogs are left to measure themselves not by what’s on the overall scoreboard, but how it looks to the Bulldogs’ internal metrics.
The College Football Playoff rankings are set to go on a spin cycle this week below the Bulldogs as losses or near-losses (hello, Michigan State and Alabama) have created a topic of “Georgia and everyone else.” That’s fine for Georgia, which continues to measure itself with an internal scoreboard.
Case in point: The final possession for Missouri on Saturday included multiple timeouts by the Tigers as they, like Kentucky and South Carolina before, were motivated to score in the closing seconds or minutes of a game long since in hand. Georgia stopped Missouri, in part, to preserve its goal of points and touchdowns allowed. Georgia, by the way, has allowed just 5 touchdowns this season, and it didn’t want Missouri to chisel away at that number.
It is quite a statement that one of the lingering storylines with this Georgia defense is multiple opponents have used late timeouts in order to try and score a touchdown in late garbage time, likely to not be a statistic.
Consider this sequence, which included 2 timeouts at 23 seconds and 15 seconds remaining:
1st-and-goal at UGA 3
(0:24 – 4th) Tyler Macon run for 2 yds to the Geo 1
2nd-and-goal at UGA 1
(0:16 – 4th) BJ Harris run for no gain to the Geo 1
3rd-and-goal at UGA 1
(0:08 – 4th) Tyler Macon pass incomplete to Keke Chism, broken up by William Poole
4th-and-goal at UGA 1
(0:03 – 4th) Tyler Macon pass incomplete to Daniel Parker Jr.
Missouri certainly has issues on offense, and played its 2nd- and 3rd-string quarterbacks. However, the Tigers, for all of their flaws, still entered the Georgia game averaging 34.8 points per game, and had only scored less than 28 points once this season, against Texas A&M. One trouble spot for Georgia was Missouri starting quarterback Tyler Macon capitalized on several runs early in the game when he got most of his rushing yards, which was 42 for the game, and 20 on one run alone.
It’s that kind of play that has put Georgia in such a class by itself that it has taken on the Tiger Woods-or-the-field vibes about the CFP and beyond. Georgia is over here, and the field is way over there with a gaping hole in between.
In a game in which Georgia won by 37 points, Kirby Smart somehow referred to the effort as “a sub-par outing for us, in terms of execution and play style.” The internal message being that Georgia measures itself to its own standard, and not even the scoreboard, media pundits or the Playoff committee.
Every coach typically has a message, even after a win, that there are always things to “clean up,” but when Smart explains it, the players buy in and want more of the “nuggets” he talks about in preparation to digest an opponent.
The players’ attitude after the game of being disappointed with the 43-6 victory speaks to how Smart’s message has penetrated and permeated the locker room.
“It says that the players on our team certainly felt that way because it was addressed in the locker room after the game,” Smart said. “Some of those guys stood up and didn’t feel like it was our best effort. It was a little lackadaisical at times. Some of that was more defensive than it was offensive in my opinion. We didn’t run the ball the way we wanted to, but we were explosive.”
The final regular-season SEC test comes this week, and like the Stetson Bennett downfield passing questions, and the filling in the gap left by team sack leader Adam Anderson’s absence, defending the high-scoring Tennessee offense will be a question. The Vols are tied for the lead in the country with 5 plays of at least 70 yards.
It’s a something-has-to-give-game between a defense that has allowed 5 touchdowns, against a Tennessee team that has averaged 38.2 points per game.
Georgia may be tested once more ahead of the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, but don’t count on it. Smart and company will have plenty of internal motivation to maintain the standard of excellence, which so far this season is unparalleled.