Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s homecoming is off to a miserable start.
Vanderbilt stuffed Georgia on a fourth-and-1 play with a minute left and held on for a 17-16 win at Georgia. Not only is it Georgia’s third loss of the season, the win was Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason’s first SEC road win. Mason entered the game 0-9 on the road in conference play as a head coach.
Georgia called a timeout to set up its fourth-down play, which involved Nick Chubb lined up in the fullback spot behind quarterback Jacob Eason. Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie motioned behind Chubb into the tailback spot, and Vanderbilt called timeout to set up its defense.
After the Vandy timeout, Georgia didn’t waver from its playcall. Chubb lined up in the same spot and McKenzie again appeared in the backfield. The play was a toss to the right for McKenzie, who was tackled by Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham short of the first down. It was Cunningham’s 19th tackle of the game.
Goergia made the move to fire Mark Richt after the Bulldogs went 9-3 in the regular season in 2015 and had gone 10-3 in 2014. Smart, then Alabama’s defensive coordinator and a former Georgia player, was the target from the start of the coaching search, and the hope was that an alum with ties to SEC king Nick Saban would be the boost Georgia needed to be a perennial attendee in the SEC championship game.
That title game appearance isn’t happening this season. All three of Georgia’s losses have come in the SEC, while Tennessee and Florida both have just one conference loss. Meanwhile, Richt’s Miami — his alma mater — is one of the best in the ACC at the halfway point of the season and looks like the favorite to win the ACC Coastal.
It’s not entirely surprising to see Georgia struggle. The gig is Smart’s first as a head coach and the team is breaking in a true freshman quarterback in Jacob Eason. But the ways in which Georgia has floundered so far this season are pretty stunning. The special teams have been a mess and the run game isn’t what it was in 2015, even without Chubb for much of the season after a devastating knee injury.
Chubb had 16 carries for 40 yards against Vandy while the rest of the team didn’t fare much better. Georgia finished with 35 carries for 75 rushing yards, perhaps a reason why the team deemed it was a good idea to run a toss to a wide receiver on the most important play of the game.
It’s also not crazy to think things may get worse before they get better in Athens. Georgia has Florida and Auburn in two of its next three games, though there’s no excuse for the Bulldogs to miss out on a bowl game.
But as all Georgia fans who wanted Richt out after last year know, simple bowl appearances aren’t a good barometer of success.
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