Dean Legge/Dawg Post

UGA Now at a Crossroads

ATHENS - Georgia’s collapse in Knoxville will go down as a program-defining moment one way or the other. Either Georgia is going to figure this out - quick - or some changes need to be made.

How did we get here? The Bulldogs pushed out to a 21-point lead before the Vols outscored them 35-7 to take away a 38-31 win. It was the third-largest comeback in Neyland Stadium history; it was the worst collapse in Mark Richt’s time as coach at Georgia. 

It comes at a time where Georgia would like to be surging towards Atlanta. But the Bulldogs are no longer control their own destiny, and will need help from LSU or someone else to return to the Georgia Dome for the first time since 2012. 

The Bulldogs will also have to beat a Florida team that - even without its starting quarterback playing for the rest of the season - has played very well on the defensive side of the ball this season and has a two-game lead over everyone in the SEC East. Any more SEC losses this season, and Georgia won’t get to Atlanta, and that’s when the real questions need to be asked; we are not there yet. 

But the failure to win in Knoxville isn’t on any one person or coach. Yes, Mark Richt gets all of the blame - and he certainly deserves some of it - when Georgia loses. But his coordinators, particularly Brian Schottenheimer, are struggling to get consistent play right now. 

The defenses of Jeremy Pruitt, who has guided his side of the ball to some pretty good showings this year, have now allowed 30 points or more in 7 of 12 (58%) SEC games since he arrived. Todd Grantham’s last two seasons in Athens produced 30+ games or more for the opposition in 9 of 17 (53%) conference games. 

That might be an apples-to-oranges comparison, but Georgia won’t consistently win by allowing 30 points or more in SEC games. Of the seven games where Georgia has given up 30 or more under Pruitt the Bulldogs have lost four. And it is starting to look like the only way Georgia will win SEC games is by the defense scoring or being totally dominant. 

But you can see signs of where Georgia is going under Pruitt. It seems like the defense is building towards something - a better future through starting younger players (Trenton Thompson, Rico McGraw, Dominick Sanders, Johnathan Abram and Malkom Parrish are sophomores or true freshmen, and all started against Tennessee). 

On the other hand, Georgia’s offense is either non-existent or has collapsed. Schottenheimer’s offense has produced only 27 points in the last two games combined - a number that, even combined, was not enough to win against Alabama or Tennessee. The sad departure of Nick Chubb for the season coupled with an impotent passing game makes me wonder how Georgia is going to score against legitimate defenses in the final half of this year. 

Sony Michel, who played outstanding besides a game-changing fumble going into the half against the Vols, will have to be the focus of the Bulldogs from here on out. Rather than being a change-up guy who can wiggle his way to the end zone, Michel will now have to produce against 8-man defensive fronts perhaps 20 times a game. That’s going to be a challenge - even for someone as special as he is. 

Greyson Lambert, who continues to short-arm passes and throw at a completion rate under 50%, needs to step up and play much better. I’m not sure how many more times that can be said. His back-to-back games under 47% passing is the worst ever back-to-back performance of a quarterback in Mark Richt’s 15 years. Those two performances were two of the worst 16 performances in terms of completion percentage in Mark Richt’s 190 games at Georgia. Lambert delivered a ball to Reggie Davis that would have tied up the game had it been caught, but it wasn’t. 

Still, singling out one play - the drop by Davis, the fumble by Michel - doesn’t appropriately take into account the reality of Georgia’s offense as it stands right now. After years of easy, quick-burst points from Aaron Murray and even last year with limited Hutson Mason as the trigger man; Georgia’s offense has officially slowed to a crawl in SEC games against teams other than South Carolina. That game is obviously a statistical outlier now. 

Against the Gamecocks, Lambert was 24 of 25 (96%) for 330 yards, three touchdowns and a lost fumble.

Against everyone else in the SEC, Lambert is 36 of 78 (46%) for 481 yards (160 yards per game average) two touchdowns, one interception and four fumbles (one lost).

The down-field passing game? Non-existent for one reason (poor accuracy) or another (deep balls are not called). The plays have been there to be made, but more often than not the long ball isn’t an option that’s dependable. Georgia’s wide receivers are limited, too. Malcolm Mitchell is playing his heart out - fighting for every ball. He seems to be about all Georgia has (or is choosing to have). But I can see him on the field, and he looks dejected at times. It seems like frustration is sinking in for the fifth-year senior. Georgia’s tight end’s have virtually disappeared - at least they have in the last two contests. 

The run game has been there, but no team can depend on one facet of the game to win a championship. And winning a championship, by the way, might be the last thing Georgia should be thinking about. As it stands right now, Georgia should be worried about getting first downs. 

The offense is dead last in the SEC and 124 of 127 schools in 3rd down conversion. Simply horrible. That statistic is an indictment of someone - you can choose who you wish to blame.

The point? 

Georgia’s offense is a wreck, and that lies squarely at the feet of Schottenheimer. Georgia’s offense can’t be depended on to move the ball consistently because it can’t convert third downs. Scoring has become a premium for a program that has gotten used to running up and down the field on foes. Georgia’s actual offense has scored over 30 points only once this season (South Carolina) in SEC games. In the other games the Bulldogs have either not scored 30 points, or have needed defensive or special teams plays to get there. 

Where has the offense gone? Did Mike Bobo really take everything with him when he left for Colorado State?

Sad stat: Georgia’s special teams and defense are responsible for 28 of the Bulldogs’ 72 points (39%) in conference games outside of the trouncing of South Carolina.

Offensive production needs to drastically rise (and that’s hard to imagine with a Heisman Trophy candidate out for the rest of the year), or changes need to be made. Something needs to jumpstart this flailing offense because right now it is not working, and that’s obvious for anyone to see.

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