Last year’s loss by Georgia in Columbia, S.C., was perhaps the worst of Mark Richt’s coaching career in Athens. It was embarrassing, as the Bulldogs were manhandled from start to finish.
Last week’s loss by Georgia in Clemson, S.C., was not a shock. Everyone knew it was going to be tough. Everyone knew the young defense was going to give up points. Everyone did not know, however, the offense would struggle with execution and cause problems.
So now the questions about this Georgia team roll over into the game Saturday in Athens against South Carolina. Can it learn lessons from both last season and last week to rebound and save the season?
Yes, save the season. A loss by Georgia means the season is over. The Bulldogs won’t be so fortunate this year to win the division if they lose to South Carolina. It has happened two years in a row, but the luck might run out this season.
That’s why this week’s game means everything. Don’t let clichés you might hear from the coaches or players fool you. They can talk about how it’s just another game, but it’s not. Steve Spurrier smells blood in the water after watching the Bulldogs’ game with Clemson. And everyone knows the South Carolina head coach loves beating Georgia more than any other opponent.
It has been 11 months since South Carolina brought Georgia back down to Earth with the 35-7 clubbing in Columbia. You have to wonder how much Georgia coaches have thought about that game as they prepared for this season. How can they stop defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney and not make him a factor in this game?
Clowney dominated the Bulldogs’ offensive line last year, and then you look at last week’s game against Clemson and what happened then? The line of scrimmage did not play well. Sure, Georgia racked up 545 yards on Clemson, so the line should get a little bit of credit. But stupid penalties and poor pass protection and a steady rotation of players in and out of the lineup caused too many issues for Georgia’s offense to be consistent.
But it wasn’t just the offensive line. There were a number of questionable play calls by offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. The injury to wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell hurt, and Todd Gurley being out for a while did not help, either, but there were still issues. Why did it take 57 minutes for Georgia to target tight end Arthur Lynch? Why didn’t the Bulldogs run out of the I-formation more when it was obvious they’ve found a beast at fullback in Quayvon Hicks?
And Aaron Murray cannot shake the reputation of not coming through in big games. His two turnovers in the second quarter against Clemson were huge. The Tigers scored after the Murray fumble, and when Murray threw an interception after Clemson had fumbled a punt, Georgia blew a great opportunity to take the lead going into halftime.
Murray must have the game of his life against South Carolina. He’s a senior. He has been there five years now. He has lost to South Carolina all three seasons he has been the starter. This is his one chance to wipe away all of that -- and last week -- and get this team on track for another division title.
But it’s natural to wonder, after what Georgia did last week, if South Carolina is going to repeat what it did last season. Sure, being at home should help the Bulldogs this week, but don’t you think Spurrier and Clowney will see how the Georgia offensive line struggled against Clemson and lick their chops?
Murray must be a leader and do his best Shawn Williams imitation this week. Remember how Williams called out the Georgia defense right before last year’s Florida game? Well, Murray has to rally this team so that it can forget about last week’s loss and realize a 0-2 start would simply be unacceptable. But it’ll start with Murray eliminating big mistakes that could be costly to Georgia’s chances.
We’ve seen the Bulldogs battle back before from early season losses, but this week will be a bigger challenge. There’s a beast on his way to Athens, and if Georgia doesn’t learn lessons from previous games, Clowney will once again have his way with Murray and the rest of the Bulldogs.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.