In the first half, everything that could go wrong for the Georgia Bulldogs did go wrong.
Heading into Saturday’s game ranked No. 12, Georgia had a chance to prove itself.
It proved something — but not anything good.
The roof fell in on the Dawgs, who trailed 31-0 at halftime to Ole Miss. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason had thrown an interception for a touchdown, freshman kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a field goal, and on fourth and eight from the Mississippi 29, Isaiah McKenzie dropped a ball in the end zone — one of a handful of big drops the Bulldogs suffered on the afternoon.
To make things worse, all-world running back Nick Chubb suffered an injury on a routine run with just under four minutes to go in the second quarter. Chubb never returned to the game, and Georgia never bounced back.
The Bulldogs did put 14 points on the board thanks to Brian Herrien’s two rushing touchdowns in the second half, but it was way too little too late for UGA. Ole Miss scored 14 points of its own in the second half, basically nullifying any comeback the Bulldogs were trying to make.
The final score was 45-14, but even that doesn’t do justice to the decisive nature of the loss.
“Well obviously I am very disappointed in our performance. I am in charge of the organization, the entire team and the coaching staff. We did not do very good job today,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said after the game. “You’ve got to give Ole Miss credit first. They came out ready to play. I thought their quarterback did really well. He had some big plays, hit some big throws and we didn’t make some plays early and it snowballed from there after the pick six. It was tough sledding.”
Tough sledding is right. The numbers paint a bad picture for the Bulldogs.
UGA gave up 510 yards to the Rebels, including 330 through the air. Smart mentioned Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, but three players threw the ball for the Rebels, including wideout Markell Pack on a 36-yard trick-play strike.
Georgia never did have an answer for Kelly, who tore the Bulldogs up for 282 yards and two touchdowns — the pass below exemplifying Georgia’s defensive struggles on the day:
Chad Kelly is on fire today. 24-0 Rebels pic.twitter.com/AJExBNI8CC
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) September 24, 2016
Kelly also led Ole Miss in rushing with four carries for 53 yards and a touchdown.
The Rebels unleashed an offensive fireworks display, and Smart will have to address his defense after a pathetic showing. The UGA offense was once again concerning, though. The Bulldogs did put up 396 yards, but Eason completed only 16-of-36 passes for 137 yards no touchdowns and the pick-six. He was sacked three times and had a quarterback rating of 4.6. His longest throw of the day was 29 yards — to running back Sony Michel — and the Georgia offense as a whole could never get anything going.
Yes, UGA did run for 230 yards, but outside of Herrien’s two touchdowns, they were mostly empty yards. Michel ran for 66 yards on 11 carries and Chubb ran for 57 yards on 12. Perhaps he would have been able to do more had he not gotten injured, and that’s another issue for UGA to deal with looking ahead to next week’s game against Tennessee.
It’s not going to get any easier for the Bulldogs, and if they don’t have Chubb back or close to 100-percent that’s going to put a lot more pressure on the freshman quarterback.
Sure, Michel is a more than adequate replacement and Herrien showed on Saturday that he can be a player, but Chubb is still the headliner of this offense and the piece that makes UGA an SEC contender right now.
“Nick has an ankle sprain, don’t know the severity yet. Could not come back in the game. If he could have come back, I know he wanted to, but he could not come back,” Smart said. “We will see how that goes the next couple of days”
Georgia can’t rely on Eason to be the main superstar on this team. As good as he is, freshmen are bound to make mistakes. That was apparent against Ole Miss.
— Jake Reuse (@ReuseRecruiting) September 24, 2016
The health of Chubb is vital to this team, but so is having players who can step make plays when the opportunity arises. Georgia was plagued by drops against Ole Miss, and that’s an easy way to kill a young quarterback’s confidence. Whether it is McKenzie, Michel or even Herrien for the second week in a row, somebody has to step up for UGA’s offense. Obviously getting Chubb back on the field would be preferable, but with his history of injury, the Dawgs can’t depend on that possibility.
When push comes to shove, Georgia is still 3-1 (1-1 SEC), so there’s some perspective on the loss — it’s not a season-killing event. Still, Georgia’s struggles against Ole Miss illuminated several concerning issues Smart must address.
The SEC schedule is unforgiving, and the expectations are too high in Athens to have a poor performance like this again.
“It is disappointing to be in a big game like this and have a let down,” Smart said. “We’ve got to put our lids in a better situation to be successful. That is offensive coaches, defensive coaches and me, the head coach. How can our team be successful? We got to figure that out.”