There’s managing expectations in Year 1 as a head coach, and then there’s torpedoing expectations, which has so far been Kirby Smart’s path at Georgia. This isn’t what the Bulldogs signed up for when they canned a coach who averaged almost 10 wins a season.
That they lost to SEC East-leading Florida on Saturday is not, in a vacuum, all that bad. That it was Georgia’s fourth loss in the last five games, on the heels of an upset defeat at the hands of Vanderbilt, is quite bad.
The way this one happened, without so much as a flicker of offense, was worse. Smart’s Bulldogs (4-4, 2-4 SEC) rushed for just 21 yards, 1.1 per carry, against the Gators. During its television broadcast, CBS noted that no team has run for fewer yards against Florida since 1960.
And look, the Gators have a terrific defense – they came in ranked second nationally in total yards allowed – but that’s inexcusable when you have Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, a pair of future NFL running backs. Tennessee ran for 171 yards on Florida, Vanderbilt got 144 and hapless Missouri rumbled for 265.
But Georgia inexplicably decided (again) to put this one on the shoulders of a true freshman quarterback. Jacob Eason threw it 33 times and managed all of 143 yards. It seemed an odd plan against the Gators’ elite secondary, which had allowed opposing QBs to complete just 37.9 percent of their passes for 4 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
What in the world was offensive coordinator Jim Chaney thinking? And what was Smart thinking when he hired him?
Chaney underwhelmed as coordinator at Tennessee (one top-25 offense in four years), Arkansas (ranked 63rd and 100th in two years) and Pittsburgh (82nd last season). So, should we be shocked that he decided to throw it 73 times with the freshman the last two games while giving Chubb and Michel a combined 41 carries?
To be fair, the offensive line is fairly terrible, and a good bit of the blame for that belongs to previous coach Mark Richt. Recruiting misses and attrition decimated the position. But Smart hired former Arkansas line coach Sam Pittman, who is considered a guru of the big uglies, to whip that group into shape. It hasn’t happened.
So, one of the most talented backfields in America has gone underutilized and unproductive. Chubb rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 consecutive games across his freshman and sophomore seasons at Georgia; he has 100-plus just twice this year. What a waste.
And about those expectations …
Suddenly, Georgia’s trip to Lexington next week looks perilous, as Kentucky (5-3, 4-2) has reeled off five wins in the last six games. The Wildcats’ much-improved defense has allowed an average of just 324.5 yards in its last four SEC games against teams not named Alabama.
Kentucky is getting from its backfield what the Bulldogs should from theirs: Junior Boom Williams and freshman Benny Snell combined for 374 rushing yards in a win over Missouri on Saturday. Lose that game and Georgia, which won 49 games in Richt’s final five seasons, has to start worrying about bowl eligibility.
Dangerous Auburn and Georgia Tech, with a theoretical gimme against Louisiana-Lafayette in between, still loom. If the Bulldogs can’t find a way to move the ball with a pair of pros in the backfield, some tough questions will soon demand answers.