All good things come to an end. On Saturday in Jacksonville the end came for Georgia’s three-win streak over Florida in a 44-28 beatdown. The Dawgs’ three-year reign as SEC East champs also likely came to an end along with it.
Let’s not mince words. Florida beat the bejeezus out of us. Now we’re left with nothing to play for except pride. With our fate in the SEC East out of our hands for the first time since 2016, Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens, we’ve got nothing but time to think about how it all went wrong.
What went wrong against the Gators? We lose big games against big offenses. That’s been a problem for three seasons. Although we’ve prided ourselves on our defense in that span, our defense hasn’t been enough. It’s the way of college football now. A great offense will almost always beat a great defense. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a great offense in years.
Firing James Coley and hiring Todd Monken in the offseason means Kirby Smart recognized that this was an issue. The issue. To be fair, I don’t think Monken’s scheme has been the problem. We’re seeing more big plays—like Zamir White’s 75-yard run on the first play against Florida—and receivers are often left open. The problem is execution by our quarterbacks.
Stetson Bennett’s struggles continued against Florida. He completed five of 16 passes for 78 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He got speared in his throwing shoulder on his lone touchdown pass, and Smart yanked him due to some combination of injury and poor performance. His replacement, D’Wan Mathis, was even worse, completing four of 13 passes for 34 yards, a touchdown and two picks.
Part and parcel of Smart’s failure to produce explosive offenses has been his mismanagement of quarterbacks. That criticism stems from the 2018 season, when he failed to start Justin Fields over Jake Fromm. Fields transferred to Ohio State, where he’s made a name for himself as a generational talent.
The reasoning for playing Fromm over Fields was that Fromm did nothing to lose the job, which was true. But that same season, Dabo Swinney benched Kelly Bryant, who did nothing to lose the job, for freshman Trevor Lawrence because he recognized Lawrence’s talent. Clemson won a national championship with Lawrence that season. Ohio State may do the same this season with Fields.
That original sin of not dumping Fromm for Fields is still haunting us, and Smart has been rightly criticized for it. But if we move past it and just look at this season, his QB management is more forgivable. Don’t forget, he secured the transfer of Jamie Newman, thought to be a top-five QB in the country, before the coronavirus hit the U.S. This would be a very different offense had Newman not jumped ship a month before the season began.
The past is the past, and we play the hand we’re dealt. For the rest of this season, that’s likely either Bennett or Mathis. There’s also USC transfer JT Daniels, whom Smart insists is completely healthy despite Zapruder-like footage of him limping in Jacksonville. If he is healthy, I can’t imagine how bad he must be in practice not to have garnered a snap this season. There’s also the option of breaking the glass on freshman Carson Beck, who was fairly highly rated out of high school but not among the elite of the elite QB recruits.
Five-star Georgia commitment Brock Vandagriff out of Prince Avenue Christian School is among the elite of the elite, though. With nothing to play for this season, we move into a holding pattern, waiting for Vandagriff to arrive next season. Then we have to hope he’s on the same level as Fields, Lawrence and Deshaun Watson, the last three Georgia-grown QBs who came out of high school in similar standing. No pressure, kid.
As much as it pains me to say—and my God it does pain me—Florida was the better team this season and deserved to win. Now Smart has 12 months to make sure it doesn’t happen again next time around. The clock’s ticking.
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