KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For six weeks, Georgia has been plugging holes in virtually every aspect of its game just hoping to survive. Saturday, the dam broke open.
The Bulldogs failed to find the end zone on offense, turned the ball over three times, couldn’t muster a ground game, missed numerous tackles and were thrashed on defense by one of the SEC’s most under-achieving quarterbacks. The result was a 45-19 Tennessee win.
“They played better, they coached better, and it was just very obvious their team was the better team (Saturday) by a long shot,” head coach Mark Richt said. “We’ve got a long way to go to become a good football team right now.”
Johnathan Crompton threw four touchdown passes and became the third quarterback this season to top 300 yards passing against Georgia (3-3, 2-2 SEC), while the Bulldogs’ offense remained listless for the third straight week. Georgia mustered just 89 yards on the ground, and quarterback Joe Cox threw two interceptions as Tennessee (3-3, 1-2) dominated from the outset.
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Richt was defiant in preemptively defending his team against the inevitable onslaught of criticism following its second straight loss and its worst record through six games since he became head coach in 2001.
“If you’re a leader or a player and you are brave enough to be in the arena, there’s going to be people outside the arena that want to throw things at you and say things about you,” Richt said. “But there’s honor in being in the arena, and a lot of people don’t understand it because they’ve never been in there.”
Georgia’s players found plenty to criticize themselves.
After completing his first six passes, Cox quickly fell apart. One of his interceptions came on a play when he simply lofted the ball to the sideline hoping to avoid a sack. He missed on 15 of his final 28 throws, botched a one-minute drive to end the first half and failed to lead the Bulldogs’ to a touchdown. Georgia has only reached the end zone once in its past 11 quarters of action.
“We’re not doing the things we need to do as players,” Cox said. “We practice all week, we put in a good game plan, and the plays were there to be made. We made some but nothing that did anything for us as far as putting points on the board. It was just a bad game of execution. We didn’t do much of anything right.”
While Georgia struggled to move the football, Crompton carved up the Bulldogs’ secondary, completing 20-of-27 passes for 310 yards and touchdowns — all career highs for the quarterback who entered the game 97th in the country in passer rating.
The vast majority of Crompton’s success came via the play-action pass. Tennessee ran bootlegs repeatedly, and Georgia never adjusted. The result was a bevy of wide-open receivers downfield.
“We were trying to bring pressure at times, but it seems like they were doing a great job of mixing it up,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “We weren’t able to get off the field and make plays. They outexecuted us, outcoached us and outplayed us, bottom line.”
Martinez summed up the sentiments of many of the Bulldogs. There simply wasn’t much to build on Saturday. Every aspect of the game was a disaster for Georgia, with the exception of two big plays — a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown by Brandon Boykin and an interception return for a score by safety Baccari Rambo.
But even when the momentum seemed to swing momentarily in Georgia’s favor, the Volunteers didn’t appear fazed. Crompton followed Boykin’s score with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore, and tailback Montario Hardesty answered Rambo’s interception, which had made it a five-point game with 8:21 to play in the third quarter, by capping an 80-yard drive with a long touchdown run straight down the middle of the field.
“When you’re not playing fast and disciplined, there are going to be guys open and making plays even if they’re not the best offense,” said linebacker Rennie Curran, who missed a key tackle on Moore’s touchdown catch. “You’re going to make them look good when you’re not disciplined and playing fast.”
When it was over, Georgia’s players had no more answers than they did during the game.
Asked if he thought Georgia was as bad as its 3-3 record indicated, receiver A.J. Green had few words.
“I don’t know, man,” he said. “We’re just going to have to keep fighting and see what happens.”
Asked how Georgia responds on defense, Curran didn’t know where to begin.
“It was a lot of things that added up to have us have the game we had,” he said. “It’s a huge mix of things.”
Asked what Georgia needs to fix on offense, Cox summed the problems up succinctly: “Everything.”
The Bulldogs have lost two straight games and have been outscored for the season by a 189-154 margin. They have turned over the football three times in five of six games, rank last in the SEC in rushing yards and have allowed teams to throw against them with ease.
“We didn’t play very good (Saturday), and we haven’t had a game this season where we played a really solid football game, so I’m concerned about that,” Richt said.
The concerns stretch out to the team’s leaders, too, Curran said.
The frustration is mounting with each bad play, and the explanations and solutions seem to get further from reach each week.
At practice, the team looks hungry, Curran said. On game day, things fall apart.
“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 mind.”
That process begins anew again today, and while Boykin admits that the sting of the past two losses is hard to ignore, he said the first step toward remedying the problems will be dulling the pain of Tennessee’s dominant victory.
“We’re angry and we’re disappointed at this loss, but we can either get better from it or get worse,” Boykin said. “This is the past, it’s over with. We can try to get better or we can dwell on it and keep getting embarrassed like this.”