Bulldogs' offense a question mark down the stretch

It's funny. Georgia's in the Top 10. Auburn just lost to Mississippi at the end of the game, can't throw the ball, is inconsistent on defense and in running the ball and on defense. And one hears a consistent murmur of worry in Bulldog Nation.

Here's No. 7 Georgia at 7-2, with losses to ranked teams away from home by a total of 10 points, and the Bulldogs having a chance in the final minutes of both. Georgia, today, could be sitting at No. 2 or 3 in the Bowl Championship Series.

Just as odd is that the worry has some merit.

Georgia is still a little overranked when you look at the facts:

Didn't look good, sharp, or overly prepared in eventually pulling away from Vanderbilt.

Didn't look good, sharp, or overly prepared in barely squeaking by UAB.

Looked better, but not impressive, in losing to a Florida team that was only a little better.

Looked rather mediocre in losing to LSU, which was only a little less mediocre.

Sure, there was the blowout at Clemson, of South Carolina, and at Tennessee. But aren't they countered somewhat by those rugged performances - on the field and from the sidelines - against sub-par teams?

Georgia's an odd team. The expected offensive variety has failed to materialize on a consistent basis, yet the formerly no-name defensive coordinator has a juggernaut going. The fate of the Bulldogs the rest of this season - as well as next year, when they're a legitimate national championship contender - rests on the former catching up to the latter more than every so often.

Obviously, one can't ignore Georgia's youth on offense. Contrary to what those in front of microphones say, football success emanates from the offensive line. Georgia's line has teased some this year, playing better than expected more often than expected.

And Georgia's had injuries at every spot on offense, including quarterback, although David Greene's knee didn't keep him out of action for any substantial time.

But the offense is still a head-scratcher. Watching it - unless, as some point out, the Bulldogs are ahead and open things up - doesn't really offer much suspense.

It seems like the passing plan is stuck to the sidelines without even glancing down the middle, where targets are fairly open. That's one reason Greene got hammered against Florida from his front side: he looked immediately to the right sideline for the first option and never saw the oncoming Gator.

Eyeballing that first option has been a problem as well, along with holding onto the ball way too long. For all the attention handed the offensive line's youth and injuries, Greene's patience - at least this year - hasn't been so much of a virtue.

Conversely, it seems insane to criticize Greene. While clearly he's not having the year expected, so high did he set the bar that it's easier to nitpick.

A media cohort suggested right before the Tennessee game that it might be time for Coach Mark Richt to ponder a true offensive coordinator, that the play-calling was worthy of some examination. The Florida game apparently has offered that thought up for greater public debate.

There is remarkably little to second-guess about what Richt has done since coming to Georgia. No question that pretty much everything he's done has been right in rebuilding the program on and off the field.

But the problems near the end zone and lack of big plays - executed and called - and true failure to throw deep or downfield on any regular basis have been fairly well discussed, and increasingly so.

It's been the problem in the losses and in the close games against inferior opponents, and it's what will hold Georgia back this week, the rest of the season, and next year when the Bulldogs open the season as a national championship contender.

Then again, perhaps that's what dances around in the back of Richt's mind, that bigger picture, the one in 2004 where Georgia has a legitimate claim to a national title challenge.

After all, even a 9-3 regular-season for Georgia is about right, whether that includes Atlanta or not. Yet we still can point to the Bulldogs being two plays away from undefeated.

That's how the whole year of college football has gone. There's no explaining anything.

And, of course, there's Richt's ability to play possum. Just when you think you have something pegged - like a sluggish offense and conservative game plan - he pulls off the surprise.

So if Georgia up and scores 40 this week - and no, take nothing for granted in College Football 2003 - then never mind.

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