Gut Check for Older Dawgs

ATHENS – There are nearly two-dozen first- or second-year players seeing significant action for Georgia this season.

But none of them threw a ball up for grabs to avoid a sack.

Saturday against Tennessee. That was senior quarterback Joe Cox who threw a killer second-half interception. None of them fielded a punt at their own 1-yard line Saturday. That was senior Prince Miller.

None of them fumbled away a reception in the fourth quarter that the Volunteers turned into a touchdown. That was senior Michael Moore.

None were burned in coverage as many times as Miller and fellow senior Bryan Evans either, as Georgia secondary allowed its third 300-yard passer of the season.

There is a lot of youth playing for the Bulldogs this season, and those players have made their share of mistakes, but as Moore said following Saturday's 45-19 thrashing at the hands of Tennessee, it's the veterans who are failing to get the job done.

"I'm trying to do my best to make the team be more successful," said Moore, who has caught two passes or fewer in four of Georgia's six games this season. "We need to get wins, and no matter what happens, I'd like to point the finger at myself first to see what I can do to get better."

In terms of leadership, Georgia's seniors provided a strong template this season, as evidenced by comeback bids against South Carolina, Arkansas and Arizona State, along with another that fell just short against LSU.

But when it comes to making the big play when it's needed most or making the smart play on a consistent basis, the veterans have failed.

Georgia has 16 turnovers this season, ranking among the worst in the nation. They Bulldogs are among the most penalized teams in the country, too. And if there was a statistic for simply making the wrong play at the wrong time – like Cox's spike with one second remaining in the first half or Miller's lack of aggression to cover a loose ball following a Georgia punt – the Bulldogs might well be near the bottom of the standings in that, too.

It's a precedent linebacker Rennie Curran is tired of seeing on game day, and it's the first step in turning around a landslide of criticism following back-to-back devastating losses for the Bulldogs.

"We can't keep on with the same mistakes and the same mentality the way things are going," Curran said. "We're working hard, but we've got to work smart, too. We've got to play hard and smart with our hearts and our minds."

Missed tackles, missed assignments and missed opportunities have been the hallmark of a defense that has now allowed 37 points or more in seven of its past 12 games.

Dropped catches, stalled drives and a one-dimensional attack are the hallmarks of an offense that has scored a touchdown in just one of its past 11 quarters.

Big plays have been made on special teams, like sophomore Brandon Boykin's 100-yard kick return against Tennessee, but many others have shifted a huge dose of momentum to the opposition. Miller's punt return Saturday proved relatively harmless, but dismal kick coverage with 1:09 left in the game against LSU a week earlier cost Georgia a win.

The young players have certainly been behind a number of Georgia's miscues, but in far too many cases, Cox said, it's been the veterans making rookie mistakes.

"These younger guys came to Georgia because they want to be part of something great," Cox said. "You don't want to feel like you let those guys down. You don't want them to feel like this is how it's supposed to be, especially a lot of the freshmen. We don't want them to be a part of a season that none of us can be proud of."

So far, there have been a number of moments for which the freshmen and sophomores can be proud.

A.J. Green has established himself as one of the top receivers in college football. Branden Smith exploded onto the scene with a 60-yard touchdown run against South Carolina. Baccari Rambo returned an interception for a touchdown against Tennessee to keep Georgia in the game. Boykin's kick return was his second 100-yard touchdown of the season. Orson Charles, Washaun Ealey, Marcus Dowtin, Blair Walsh and numerous others have had their highlights, too.

But the bottom line is that the young players are responsible for the bulk of Georgia's highlights this season, and the Bulldogs' 3-3 record speaks little of the accomplishments of the veterans.

That's not the epitaph Cox wants to his career. He spent five years waiting for his turn, and he doesn't want to leave Georgia disappointed in the effort he and his fellow seniors contributed during their final games.

Mistakes are expected from the rookies. Cox expects more from himself.

"Everybody always talks about playing for the seniors because it's their last shot, but seniors need to play for the younger guys, too, to show them the right way to do things and get them started off on the right foot," he said. "That falls in our hands, and I think we all need to have a big gut check and find out how we want to finish up this season."

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