Photo Credit: Kristin M. Bradshaw/UGA Athletics
“We played sloppy, and I was disappointed with the way we played,” Kirby Smart said after beating Vandy by 28.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows UGA football or college football in general that Georgia dismantled Vanderbilt 41–13 on Saturday. It should also come as no surprise that, despite a thoroughly dominant performance, the score could have been much worse.
Georgia has scored at least 38 points in all six games this season. The defense has given up more than 17 points only once. This is also the first time the Dawgs have started 6–0 in consecutive seasons in program history. By all accounts, this is one of the hottest first halves of a season any Georgia football team has ever had. But there's still so much untapped potential in this edition of the Bulldogs that you can't help but feel a twinge of disappointment about their performance.
These lackluster-yet-dominant showings are both a blessing and a curse—a blessing because we know that if and when the Dawgs do put it all together this season, the sky is the limit; a curse because they're about to enter the toughest stretch of their schedule with four consecutive games against teams that are currently ranked in the top 25. Over the next month or so, Georgia will either prove just how good it is and run away with the SEC East or fall under the weight of an unexpectedly tough run of games.
Over the next five weeks, Georgia has LSU in a highly-anticipated trip to Baton Rouge, a bye week, a Florida side looking much improved over their early-season form in the WLOCP, an away game in Lexington against the upstart Kentucky Wildcats and the third game in the span of a year against Auburn. At the start of the season, LSU and Auburn seemed to be the only challenges in this stretch. But as the season has unfolded, Florida and Kentucky have also played much better than most thought.
Many Georgia fans circled the LSU game the day it was put on the schedule. And although there will still be thousands of Georgia fans down in the Bayou enjoying one of the best tailgating scenes in the country, the matchup lost a lot of its luster last week when the Tigers lost to Florida on Saturday. (Don't overlook LSU, though. It's still one of the most talented teams Georgia will face, and Death Valley will still be rocking as they look to rebound.)
At the same time, though, it makes the Florida game a much, much more important contest than we once assumed. When gaming out the SEC East race, many, including me, projected a Florida loss to LSU, which would have given the Gators two SEC losses and effectively ended their chances to win the East. But with an LSU win on their schedule, the Gators are an upset of Georgia away from stealing the East. I know we were all hoping for an easy, drama-free Cocktail Party this season, but that ain't happening, folks.
Kentucky was the dark-horse challenger of the SEC East before last week, and in many ways they still are, but the Cats took a big hit with a loss to Texas A&M in College Station. But at 5–1 with its only current SEC loss coming from the West, Kentucky still has an outsider's shot in the East and the ability to give Georgia a lot of heartburn in Lexington.
Then there's Auburn, which lost its first game of the season, falling 23–9 to Mississippi State. It's a disappointing setback for the Tigers that pretty much ruins any chance they had in West. But, like LSU, Auburn is one of the few teams that can match up with Georgia athletically. And depending on how things shake out, the Dawgs could be attempting to clinch the East against its toughest opponent of the regular season.
So be prepared for the next month. It'll be the most stressful stretch of the season by far. But maybe a little stress is just what Georgia needs to tap into some of that untapped potential and finally play the way we know it's capable of playing. Because it'll need to if it's gonna go make it through the next month unscathed.