Mark Richt should be glad that the season extends another six weeks because the Bulldogs’ results thus far have been uninspiring.
Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Rantavious Wooten (17) misses a pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter as the Arkansas Razorbacks beat the Georgia Bulldogs 31-24 at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, September 18, 2010 in Athens, Ga.
Georgia (2-4, 1-3 in the Southeastern Conference) started the season under the cloud of A.J. Green’s NCAA-imposed suspension and went downhill from there.
Four straight losses, three on the road, started a fire under Richt’s chair that probably won’t go away for the duration of the season. But Georgia managed to win the games people are most likely to remember – the first one and the last one.
Between those two wins, the Bulldogs produced unsatisfactory results. They didn’t get blown out. They didn’t get humiliated. But they lost – four straight times.
The second half of the season has not been written yet and Georgia showed some improvement in last week’s 41-14 win against Tennessee. Georgia’s next two SEC games are against schools known more for their basketball prowess than football – Vanderbilt and Kentucky – so Georgia has a chance to create some momentum going into the Florida game.
Whether the Bulldogs will take advantage is another issue.
Even with a rookie quarterback and Green on the sideline for the first month, Georgia’s passing offense has prospered.
Redshirt freshman Aaron Murray is third in the SEC in passing yardage. He has completed 97 of 157 passes for 1,366 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. What makes that start even more impressive is he worked without his top pass-catching threat the first four games.
Murray has shown good scrambling instincts coupled with a tendency to hang onto the ball in the pocket too long.
But he has rarely forced passes and has mostly avoided glaring rookie mistakes.
Green made up for lost time in the last two weeks (13 catches, 215 yards, three touchdowns). His one-handed touchdown catch in Colorado has become as much of a YouTube sensation as Knowshon Moreno’s 2008 hurdle of a Central Michigan defender.
He’s made catches. He’s made opposing teams adjust their defense. In short, he’s been as good as advertised.
Georgia seemingly had all the ingredients for an overpowering running game at the beginning – experienced backs running behind a veteran line.
But this team averages 136.8 yards a game, which is third-worst in the SEC. Only overmatched Tennessee and indifferent Arkansas put up more anemic rushing numbers. That’s inexcusable considering the amount of experience and talent that returned from last year.
Georgia brought back its top two rushers, Caleb King and Washaun Ealey. But they’ve spent as much time in jail (two combined arrests) as in the end zone (two combined touchdowns). They’ve also each produced second-half fumbles that could have changed the outcomes of games at South Carolina and Colorado.
Richt suspended King for two games after his arrest early Monday morning for not taking care of a speeding ticket. Ealey’s fumble problems have been so distressing that Richt could burn freshman Ken Malcome’s redshirt as soon as Saturday.
The offensive line has been in constant flux because of injuries to Chris Davis and Ben Jones along with Cordy Glenn’s preseason bout with mononucleosis. But that’s still not an excuse for the team’s 4.0 yards per carry and the fact that the quarterback has scored twice as many touchdowns (four) as King and Ealey combined (two).
Georgia has lost four games, but could have (not should have) won all four if not for second-half collapses.
Although outplayed for the entire day at South Carolina, Georgia drove for a potential game-tying touchdown when Ealey fumbled near the end zone late in the third quarter. Despite the turnover, Georgia stayed within one score until a late field goal by South Carolina produced the final 17-6 score.
The next week against Arkansas, Georgia trailed 24-10 going into the fourth quarter, but rallied with two touchdowns to tie the game 24-24 with 3:55 left. Arkansas eventually won on a 40-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining.
Mississippi State led Georgia 7-6 entering the fourth quarter, but put the game away with a 17-6 run in the final period to win 24-12.
Two weeks ago at Colorado, Georgia seemed to be closing in on position to kick a game-winning field goal when King fumbled at the Colorado 30-yard line with 1:55 left and lost 29-27.
Despite the four losses, Georgia has shown marginal defensive improvement over last season with one glaring exception, third-down conversions. Georgia is worst in the SEC in allowing third-down conversions at 43.4 percent.
“We know third-and-long has especially been our Achilles’ heel,” Richt said. “You fight so hard to get them in third-and-long. We’ve had a bunch of teams in third-and-long and we’ve had a bunch of teams get a first down.”
The second half of the season includes some tough road dates and the Bulldogs have not won away from Sanford Stadium all year – at Kentucky (Oct. 23), vs. Florida at Jacksonville (Oct. 30) and at Auburn (Nov. 13).
• Roger Clarkson is a sports writer for the Banner-Herald. Phone: 706-208-2237. E-mail: email@example.com.