That was a devastating, yet familiar, loss if you’re a Georgia fan.
Once again, regardless of the head coach, Georgia showed it had the more talented group of players than Georgia Tech. Yet, due to the powers that be and the juju that accompanies this rivalry, it ended up becoming too close of a game, which ended with Georgia Tech pulling out a 28-27 win.
Up 27-13 in the fourth quarter, Georgia appeared set for its second consecutive victory and 14th in the past 16 years. Instead, the Yellow Jackets put together an incredible comeback and stole the game.
This is one that will haunt Georgia for a year. Players were in disbelief afterward.
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Lorenzo Carter summed it up by calling this kind of loss the “story of our season.”
Georgia ends its regular season with a 7-5 record and will now await its bowl fate. An SEC six-pack selection would still appear likely but the Bulldogs may have to sweat it out now.
Here’s what we learned following Georgia’s loss to Georgia Tech.
Despite loss, the future’s bright on defense
OK, here it is again with the “there’s always next year” talk. But this is something I’ve been saying for the last couple of years.
Georgia’s 2017 roster could be something special, considering the number of defensive contributors expected to return.
Up front, every single defensive lineman could be back. Sure, the possibility of a transfer (or two) exists, but the only draft-eligible defensive lineman who sees a lot of reps is junior John Atkins. He has one year remaining and it would be quite the surprise if he elected to leave.
Otherwise, Trenton Thompson, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle, Julian Rochester, Tyler Clark, David Marshall, Michail Carter, Michael Barnett and Justin Young are all set to return. Barnett could still move to the offensive line as he only switched back to the defensive line after Hawkins-Muckle sustained a high ankle sprain.
But with the young talent that performed well this season returning, the defensive line could be big next year.
Inside linebackers Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith will both be back, and it’s expected for Reggie Carter to be also. In the secondary, only Quincy Mauger and Maurice Smith graduate. Dominick Sanders will have a decision to make regarding his future and whether he’ll head to the NFL draft.
The biggest names to think about are Carter and fellow outside linebacker Davin Bellamy. Carter admitted that the notion of playing with this group and seeing it through is enticing. But Bellamy has a chance, at least right now, of being a mid-round draft pick, and that could be too much to pass up.
If Georgia can somehow get both of those guys back, the defense could be one of the best in the SEC in 2017.
What about the offense?
Oh yeah, the other side of the ball was rather young too, especially at the skill position spots.
While there were plenty of growing pains on offense, there is a lot of experience returning. First, Jacob Eason will have a year in this offense under his belt. Receiver Isaiah McKenzie will more than likely return for his senior season, which will only aid fellow wideouts Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Terry Godwin, Michael Chigbu and Jayson Stanley.
At tight end, Isaac Nauta was one Eason’s favorite targets. He’ll need to work on his issues with dropping the ball but otherwise showed why he was ranked as the No. 1 tight end coming out of high school. The other four tight ends will be back too.
Nick Chubb is the most likely to turn pro, although Sony Michel has arguably had a better second half of the regular season. It’s a deep class at running back but Michel may have played his way into the upper echelon of backs, regardless of whether he’s technically the No. 2 option behind Chubb.
Even so, Georgia got freshman Brian Herrien a ton of experience this season. If both Chubb and Michel leave, Herrien would be poised to be Georgia's top back in 2017.
The biggest concern is at the offensive line, which loses three contributors in Greg Pyke, Brandon Kublanow and Tyler Catalina. While Isaiah Wynn, Dyshon Sims and Lamont Gaillard will return, there are a lot of questions as to who will play where up front.
The play-action worry came true
During the week of practice, both Dominick Sanders and Deandre Baker spoke about the importance of having eye discipline to not be fooled by the play-action fake.
But against an offense like Georgia Tech’s, that can be incredibly tough, especially if some runs break off.
Georgia keyed in on stopping the run. That’s what you want to do against an offense that doesn’t pass often. But the Paul Johnson offense, much like a pro-style attack, is predicated on the run opening up the play-action pass.
That’s exactly how Georgia Tech was able to beat Georgia. It hit too many deep balls, with quarterback Justin Thomas averaging 16.4 yards per attempt and 27.3 yards per completion. The worry turned into a truth on Saturday.
Offense left too many plays on the field
Georgia was forced to settle for three field goal tries, two of which were made. Against Georgia Tech’s defense, which hasn’t been formidable against its better opponents, that turned out to also be a key reason that contributed to the loss.
The Bulldogs proved they could run the ball fairly consistently. They ended with 263 rushing yards and two touchdowns, after all. And that’s why the loss is tough for Georgia to take. There were plenty of opportunities for the Bulldogs to seize the game and put the Yellow Jackets away.
For instance, when Georgia drove down to Georgia Tech’s 15-yard line late in the third quarter, a touchdown in that situation may have put the game away from there. Instead, the game remained a two-score contest by settling for a field goal.
Georgia’s offense has to improve in punching the ball into the end zone when it gets into the red area next season.
Special teams finally improved
It took some time but Georgia’s special teams groups finally showed improvement over the final quarter of the season.
It almost seems like the kicking issues that were present early have all but disappeared. Sure, Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 43-yard attempt. But the whole operation, from the snap to the hold to the kick was off and forced the mishap. Those things will happen on occasion.
But the fact William Ham was able to get the kickoff specialist nod and notch four touchbacks on six attempts was a positive showing. Tyrique McGhee made a nice play on one of the two kickoff returns, that helped clean up a return prior to Georgia Tech reaching the 20-yard line.
Perhaps, with bowl practices, a postseason game and a full offseason, special teams won’t be so bad to start the 2017 season.