Posted: 6:10 pm Saturday, October 15th, 2016
By Jay Black
ATHENS — “I’ll be honest with you,” says a guy in a UGA visor moments after the worst loss on this field in a decade, “I’m sick to my stomach. I’m embarrassed by the performance.”
That could be any UGA fan (with a few more expletives). That quote could come from any Georgia player.
Or it could come from the man responsible. For better or worse.
“I’m the leader of the organization and I take full responsibility,” says Kirby Smart on the UGA radio network.
Kirby Smart sets the tone for the next 800 words of this column, the next two weeks in Athens and maybe the rest of the season.
This was bad. Really bad.
“Those guys over there played harder than us and that’s the most disappointing thing,” said Smart.
I generally roll my eyes at those people that play up the “players weren’t ready to play” and “Coach Smart needs to have them motivated and prepared for kickoff” narrative. When you only get 12 games, you don’t take a “personal health day.” Players like this are ready to play.
But if you want to file that argument, I won’t stop you. I don’t know if Sunday’s game was that big of a factor or the Bulldogs kept waiting for their talent to rise to the top, or what.
There’s not many ways to explain why a loss like this happens. This game has stumped the band.
The score and the stats certainly don’t compute. UGA out gained Vanderbilt by 250 yards. Its offense put up a cool 421 and its quarterback threw for a career high 346.
It should have been a 28 point win. Instead it’s a 17-16 loss. On homecoming. Home. Coming.
Vanderbilt had 171 total yards and nine first downs. This was the 13th time since 2002 a UGA defense has held an opponent to that many yards. Believe it or not, this was the first one UGA didn’t win.
“We aren’t going to sit back and pat ourselves on the back because of stats,” said Smart. “We should have held them to less than 100 yards the whole game because our defense was better than that offense.”
I’m not smart enough to figure out why a team like this gets beat by a team like that, but I can tell you how.
A special teams collapse to start the game. A special teams screw-up to start the second half and a pitiful rushing performance from beginning to end.
If you’re a “not ready to play” guy, those are your exhibits.
I said in my Friday column that “Georgia was 4-2 and looks like a 4-2 team. It’s good. Not great.” That’s not true anymore. But the reasons they were just good have been magnified. This young squad is too inconsistent.
It still doesn’t have a weapon to go to when it needs it the most.
Georgia runs all over Tennessee and South Carolina, but can’t get around Vanderbilt and Nicholls State. It’s freshman quarterback looks like a fifth grader one game and a Heisman trophy winner the next.
Rebuilding is tough, but now Kirby’s job just got a lot tougher.
Now the questions start. Now the doubt creeps in. Bulldog Nation isn’t all in anymore and the finger pointing is well underway.
Play calling, offensive coordinators, special teams coaches. The questions are coming and we’ve all heard them before.
There’s going to be serious blood-causing head-scratching as to why the smallest guy on the field got a pitch on the most important 4-and-1 of the game, with the best runner in this state playing fullback.
That play typifies this game, doesn’t it? Just when you think Georgia’s superior talent will take over and Isaiah McKenzie has a clear path to the first down, Vanderbilt makes a better play. McKenzie had it. Then Zach Cunningham said “no way. Not today.”
There’s no way Georgia’s going to lose this game. They’ll take over eventually. It never happened.
Mark Richt lost to Vanderbilt too on homecoming 10 years ago, but that was the year after he won his second SEC title. He had a little bit of wiggle room.
Kirby Smart’s honeymoon is certainly over now. He’s dealt with the blow out and the heart breaker. Now comes the worst defeat of all. The upset.
Starting over is hard, but nobody in Bulldog Nation noticed “homecoming loss” as one of the side effects. A lot of rookie coaches — even those that go on to be great — screw up somewhere when they are just starting out.
Here we are.
It’s still way too early for judgment about if the right guy is here, but it’s not too early for judgment about today. When you lose to Vanderbilt, all parties are to blame.
Including the guy at the top.
Kirby Smart says “this is on me.” So at least he knows what to say, but that’s easy.
The hard part is, does he know how to fix it?