My first thought was how shockingly unprepared this team was to play today. Except it’s hardly a shock anymore, is it…
Kyle makes an excellent point when he writes
… This was Georgia’s 19th loss in Mark Richt’s six-and-a-half-year tenure with the Bulldogs. In his first 11 setbacks, the Red and Black D surrendered 14, 24, 24, 20, 20, 17, 16, 34, 19, 24, and 14 points, respectively. The only honest-to-goodness skunking suffered by the ‘Dawgs during that period came in the 2003 S.E.C. championship game against the eventual national champs.
Since the 2005 Cocktail Party, though, Mark Richt has lost eight games, in which the opposing team has scored 31, 38, 51, 24, 21, 24, 16, and 35 points in succession…
And keep in mind that even in the four games in the middle of that stretch where the other team scored less than 25 points in the game, there were key periods in each game where the defense was unable to stop the opponent at crunch time (although admittedly it’s tough to beat anyone when your offense only scores 12 points). There’s a general sense that the defense is not making the same contribution to the success of the program that it did earlier in Richt’s tenure.
Why the steady decline? I honestly do not believe Georgia is lacking in talent. Tennessee is not a substantively more talented team that the one that was soundly beaten today. Rather, I think talent has been a crutch for Georgia to get through some games where preparation, execution, scheme and/or focus have been lacking (see, for example, the recent Ole Miss game). The problem with that approach is reflected in the team’s recent losing streak against the SEC East – there aren’t that many truly deficient teams on the schedule any more.
Salvaging a season in the ditch, as occurred in ’06, is nice. And you can brush off the occasional slip, such as the S. Carolina loss earlier this year, if it’s an anomaly.
But it looks like that’s not the case anymore. It’s getting hard to remember the last time this team played four solid quarters on both sides of the ball in a meaningful conference game. And that’s not something you expect from a program that wants to hold itself out as one of the elites. That “king of the road” stuff the hack CBS announcers kept reciting over and over again is looking like nothing more than living in the past.
Complacency is a bitch. With this loss today, though, I don’t think Georgia has any laurels left to rest on. The shot at the East title is gone. There won’t be a top 25 ranking for this team for a while, if at all, this season. There isn’t a team left on Georgia’s schedule that the Dawgs can’t lose to. The program, in other words, is likely to be irrelevant to everyone except its fan base for the rest of this season. That’s not where anyone wants things to be, obviously.
Richt has to scrutinize what’s caused the fall off. The symptoms – lack of consistent playmaking on the part of the wide receivers, a linebacking corps that is frequently out of position, soft zone play on defense that often goes crucial periods without challenging a competent offense, erratic line play, inconsistent fundamentals, to name some – are obvious; the causes may not be so obvious. But something is clearly wrong. The $64,000 question is how quickly what’s wrong can be fixed.
Let’s hope that’s the only question that has to be answered.
UPDATE: Well, knock me over with a feather. Georgia remains ranked in both the AP and coaches polls.