By Jack Weatherby
The University of Georgia’s football team began this year ranked 18th in the nation in the AP Preseason Poll. Before this season started, many UGA fans and college analysts would have easily agreed with this ranking, if not argue that they deserved a higher rank. But after a shaky performance versus Nicholls State, a downright blowout versus Ole Miss and an upset loss at home to Vanderbilt, UGA now has a 4-3 record. Everyone is now beginning to rethink their view of UGA football.
Kirby Smart, the new head coach of Georgia’s football team, came in after coach Mark Richt was fired last year because of yet another disappointing season. Smart looked to bring a winning atmosphere to UGA after acquiring four national championships under Nick Saban at the University of Alabama. After their poor start this season though, many are wondering if Mark Richt was really the problem.
During Mark Richt’s tenure at Georgia, he posted a record of 145-51 (.740 win pct) over 15 years. UGA fans have been hungry for a national championship. After Richt lead UGA to another obscure bowl game last year, fans were fed up. Kirby Smart however is not appearing to be the magic answer fans were looking for.
Going into this year, Georgia appeared to have a pretty solid team. They have one of the best running backs in the nation, Nick Chubb. The true freshman Jacob Eason was the highest quarterback recruiting prospect in his class according to Rivals.com. Isaiah Mckenzie looked to be a promising receiving threat on the outside. Problems on the defensive and the offensive line have hurt their chances.
Before the game versus Nicholls State, UGA was a 55 point favorite to win. However, they barely escaped disaster only winning by two points in a 26-24 victory. At one point, Nicholls State actually led 14-13. Jacob Eason threw an interception, and Nick Chubb was held to under 100 yards rushing and just one touchdown. The previous week he carried for 222 yards and two touchdowns versus a much higher ranked North Carolina defensive front. Isaiah Mckenzie was also kept to only two receptions for 60 yards against Nicholls state, while he had six receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown versus UNC.
After the Nicholls State game, many fans were unsettled. But after the Ole Miss game, these fans were just completely ashamed. Ole Miss scored 45 straight points against UGA. When Georgia trailed 45-0 in the third quarter, the game entered the top seven of worst margins on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs were able to add two garbage-time touchdowns, with Ole Miss pulling its starters. Georgia has not lost by that margin in five years, with the final score being 45-14. Against LSU in the 2011 SEC championship game, Georgia fell to LSU 42-10, and the last regular-season game that went that way was in 2008, when Florida whipped Georgia 49-10.
This game was a real eye-opener for UGA fans and all college fans alike. The offensive line was exposed as having some real problems, and the bigger and more physical receivers that Ole Miss had man-handled UGA’s defense. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly even ran for a 41-yard touchdown, the longest of his career.
UGA performed much better in their game versus Tennessee. Tennessee scored 20 points in the final quarter, six on the final play of the game, to upend Georgia 34-31 on Saturday in yet another come-from-behind victory for the Vols. Tennessee overcame another sluggish start including two first-half turnovers for the rally. In all, three touchdowns between Tennessee and Georgia were scored in the final three minutes, and two in the final 10 seconds. It looked as though Georgia would get the win after freshman quarterback Jacob Eason hit a 47-yard, go-ahead score to Riley Ridley. However, a good Tennessee return and a Georgia defensive offsides penalty set up a final 43-yard attempt. That’s when Joshua Dobbs completed a desperation pass to Jauan Jennings for the win.
Georgia looked a little better during both this game and the game this past Saturday versus South Carolina, who they beat 28-14. South Carolina is 2-4, so it was not exactly supposed to be a close game. Some fans were beginning to believe UGA could be turning things around. They could not have been any more wrong.
This past Saturday, Vanderbilt picked up its first road SEC win under head coach Derek Mason in 10 attempts by beating Georgia 17-16. A week after gashing South Carolina for 326 rushing yards, the Bulldogs were contained to a season-low 75 yards on the ground. The Commodores (3-4, 1-3 SEC) only totaled 173 yards on offense yet came out with the victory over Georgia (4-3, 2-3), which posted 421 total yards.
At this point, UGA fans can only hope that something will stop the bleeding. They still have a tough road ahead of them. After their bye week this week, They will face a tough Florida Gators team in Jacksonville Sat., Oct. 29. Florida is ranked 15th in the nation and has a record of 5-1. It will only be a matter of time before UGA fans find out if this is just a passing phase, or a continuing problem.