It was a good news/bad news kind of day in Lexington.
As rock legend and college football commentator Ringo Starr put it, “you know, it don’t come easy.”
The Red and Black played a frustrating but ultimately effective game this afternoon to down a physical Kentucky squad 16-6.
It was uniformly unsatisfying, but largely because it could have been better. The Bulldogs had trouble getting the Wildcats off the field in the first half, with Big Blue holding a 16:40 to 13:20 lead in time of possession. On the bright side, the Dawgs didn’t surrender any points despite that disadvantage. That lopsided time of possession battle meant that Georgia only got three first half possessions. On the bright side, they scored on each of them. Downside? The Classic City Canines misfired in the red zone and came away with only 9 points themselves.
It would have been nice if the Bulldogs came out of the halftime locker room and marched toward the end zone. It looked like they would, running the ball 4 times for 25 yards….before deciding to put the ball in the air and throwing an ugly interception.
After stopping the Kentucky threat the Bulldogs sensibly went back to the ground, running on seven of eight plays on the way to a touchdown that extended the lead to 16-0. After getting another defensive stop the UGA offense went back to the ground…and got stopped on 3rd or 4th and 1 on their next three possessions, any of which could probably have put a stake in the nascent Kentucky comeback.
In short, the problem for Georgia in this one wasn’t that they couldn’t find anything that worked. It was that nothing worked consistently. On the stat sheet Georgia did some good things. The Bulldogs were even (1 to 1) in the turnover battle for the first time in four games. They ran for 247 yards on 46 attempts, the highest total since the Auburn game. Kenny McIntosh had a career high 143 yards rushing on 19 carries. Kendall Milton (6 rushes for 31 yards) also looked pretty effective.
Stetson Bennett (13 of 19, 116 yards) made some decent throws, but it was pretty clear that the plan was never going to be to air the ball out. Still, the fact that the Red and Black weren’t able to get tough yards when they needed them most, and that the playcalling to get those yards seemed pretty unimaginative, will be what Bulldog fans remember from this one.
Defensively, the ‘Dawgs also did good things…except when they didn’t. They held the Bluegrass Felines to 89 yards on 25 carries, 30 yards below their season average. But they did make QB Will Levis, who has struggled for much of this season, look as good as he has in weeks. Levis ended up completing 20 of 31 throws for 201 yards. That looks good….until you consider that almost half those yards came in a pair of late throws to Barion Brown for 42 and 47 yards apiece. In short, the Bulldogs stymied the potential first round draft pick, until they didn’t. Had the offense taken care of business on any of those three late ineffectual drives, Levis’s late heroics would be even less noteworthy.
When Kentucky looked like a top 15 team early in the year Georgia fans probably would have been reasonably pleased to escape Lexington with a ten point victory. But this Kentucky team was coming off a loss to Vanderbilt. Viewed in that light, this one looks a little more like a game in which a very good football team played less than its best against a team that is better than their record, but nonetheless prevailed.
That sort of thing is okay….until it isn’t. Kirby Smart’s biggest challenge this season remains keeping his team mentally invested in games which everyone expects them to win handily. This game was one of those, and the ‘Dawgs were invested…until they weren’t.
The good news is that with the exception of next week’s iteration of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate, there are no more chances for mental letdowns. My worry is whether the Bulldogs will put together the clean, focused efforts we’ve seen against Oregon and Tennessee or the sloppy ones of Kent State and Missouri.
At a certain point you can’t keep flipping the switch and cruising away from opponents. Or you go to flip the switch and the lights don’t come on. I’m not worried about this team, but this game gave keen observers some things to worry about under the right circumstances. Georgia remains perfect on the ledger, but the imperfections are there if the right team can exploit them. It remains to be seen if that right team is out there, at least for now. Until later…