Bill Shanks

Maybe Georgia needed the wakeup call

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart looks on in the second half of Saturday’s game against Nicholls State.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart looks on in the second half of Saturday’s game against Nicholls State. AP

Kirby Smart knew his team was likely not as good as it pretended to be last week against North Carolina. We found out why Saturday in his home debut as Georgia’s new head coach.

Smart said he lost sleep after watching the tape, as he saw how lucky his team was against the Tar Heels. He might lose more than that after he watches Saturday’s tape. He might lose his lunch.

Georgia did not show up Saturday to play Nicholls State, a team that was a 50-plus-point underdog. The Colonels have won only nine games in the past five seasons, but they were two points away from shocking the world.

It didn’t happen. Georgia won. As scary as it was, particularly in the third quarter when Georgia was actually losing for a few minutes, it was still a win. And it might be the most beneficial game for the Bulldogs’ program in some time.

It was easy to get a little excited about Georgia after last week. They kept a supposed high-octane offense to 315 yards, and the comeback was a good sign. Their star running back, Nick Chubb, proved he was Nick Chubb again.

Plus, their two main competitors in the SEC East were not overly impressive. Tennessee struggled against Appalachian State, while Florida had issues at home against Massachusetts. Then the pollsters gave Georgia love, making people believe the Bulldogs might be the ninth-best team in the country.

Oh, well. So much for that optimism. Everyone was brought back down to planet Earth on Saturday in Athens.

“We didn’t play with the intangibles, the enthusiasm, the passion or the relentless energy that we expect,” the disappointed Smart said.

Smart admitted he wondered what was to come when his team had a bad practice Wednesday. Maybe the team did let the rankings go to its head.

“I didn’t see it coming, but I felt it,” Smart said. “I didn’t feel these guys were giving everything they had to give in practice.”

Smart can now use this. “See what happens when you don’t practice well,” is a line likely to be used this week. It will probably be delivered loudly.

Maybe this is what Georgia needed. Smart has warned us for nine months his program was not where it needs to be. He said the lines of scrimmage needed work, and he found out Saturday how much work is really needed.

“We won the game because we controlled the line of scrimmage against North Carolina, and we almost lost this game because we didn’t do that offensively,” he said.

Nicholls pushed Georgia around too much. If a team like this can do it, what will happen in two weeks when Georgia plays Mississippi, or in three weeks when Tennessee comes to Athens?

Georgia can’t add talent in the middle of the season. As Smart noted, there’s no free agent pickups to bring in for help. The coaches have to get this team better.

This game can be used as a teaching tool. There’s a ton of work to be done. To think it all might have been fixed in one week, one win was foolish. This is a process, to use a word Smart’s former boss Nick Saban utters occasionally. This is going to take time.

And if they play like they did Saturday against the tougher SEC opponents, this is going to be a longer season than we may have believed. Maybe Georgia’s players needed to know that. Maybe this wakeup call was exactly what was needed.

Saturday’s game against Nicholls likely killed any chance of Georgia overlooking any opponent again this year. This team needs work, a lot of work. At least now they know it.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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