The morning after: What now?

semerson@macon.comOctober 13, 2013 

Some more thoughts a day after Georgia's 41-26 loss to Missouri:

- Time may tell a different story, but you don’t get the sense that this loss is the one costing Georgia a national title shot. Instead, it probably just stamped what should already have been apparent: This was not going to be The Year. The injuries and the struggling defense are too much for a national championship-caliber team to overcome. The stirring victories may have given hope, but when you lose that many players to injury, losing a game like this is only a matter of time. In fact it might’ve happened without the injuries. The offense can only carry the team for so long. Then came the injuries, and the loss came right away.

- So what now for Georgia? Well, it needs to get out of Nashville with a win, then heal up over the bye week. Maybe Todd Gurley can play, but it looks questionable right now. The Bulldogs may be able to get by with J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas. The same goes for Tray Matthews in the secondary, though if he can go it would help to get him another good game of experience. Then, it would be very helpful if Michael Bennett can indeed be healthy enough to play against Florida. Because …

- That game in Jacksonville is shaping up to be the key one for Georgia in the division race. Missouri is now alone in first, but it is likely without its star quarterback the rest of the way, and it has a tough remaining schedule: Florida and South Carolina at home the next two weeks, at Ole Miss and home against Texas A&M in November. South Carolina has the easiest remaining schedule, but has to host Florida. Right now, Georgia’s toughest remaining games appear to be Florida and at Auburn. The Bulldogs could still be the favorite in the division if Gurley and Bennett return soon, and the defense starts showing at least some improvement.

- Deservedly, the focus is on the offense committing four turnovers. (The last of which was inconsequential.) But how about the defense forcing a turnover? This is how bad it is: Georgia only has five turnovers gained this year, ranking third-worst nationally, ahead of only Temple (which is 0-6) and Troy (4-3). The inability to force turnovers would seem to step from that lack of aggressiveness that’s been so apparent on Georgia’s defense. Players just aren’t around the ball very much before it’s too late.

- Georgia now ranks 105th nationally in scoring defense, at 33.7 per game. If you took out the special teams and offensive touchdowns, it would still be tied for 84th nationally at 29.0 points per game. Georgia's defense is tied for 65th nationally in yards allowed, at 399 yards per game.

- The offense ranks 11th nationally in total yardage, at 517.3 yards per game. The Bulldogs are 27th nationally in scoring, at 37.5 per game. (And that's pretty much all offense, with no special-teams or defensive touchdowns.)

- The relative disappearance of Jordan Jenkins and the struggles of Damian Swann are an underplayed aspect of the defensive struggles. The focus has been on how young Georgia is, and I’ve mentioned it often myself. But those are two veterans who were supposed to be pillars of the defense, and they haven’t come through.

- Georgia’s offensive line had its worst performance since the Clemson game, but it wasn’t a horrible game. The running game was still pretty solid, as two true freshmen combined for 157 yards on 26 carries. Murray was “only” sacked twice. (Franklin was sacked four times.) But the blocking was inconsistent, and the busts came at critical times. The blocking in the previous four games was good enough that it doesn’t call for any major changes, though Will Friend could choose to tinker.

- There were positives out of this, namely J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas. The freshmen continue to be a solid tandem in place of Gurley and Marshall, though Douglas’ fumble loomed large. The pair were also pretty good receiving options. As Mark Richt and Mike Bobo said afterwards, they’re good backs. But everyone also knows that Gurley is at another level, a game-changer, and the offense is different with him in there.

- One more bright spot: Marshall Morgan. The sophomore kicker is now 8-for-10 on field goals this year, and perfect on PATs. His kickoffs still aren't perfect, but his touchback rate (now 12 of 26 this season) is getting better.

- Collin Barber was replaced as punter after two punts that averaged 32 yards, and Adam Erickson averaged 40.5 yards. But Barber may have had the lingering effects of the concussion, and didn’t practice until later in the week. Plus there was a low snap on each of his punts.

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