KNOXVILLE — The problems just became big picture.
This isn’t just about the quarterback looking overmatched or the coordinators looking lost. It’s not about the schedule or the injuries or maybe some conspiracy theories about SEC referees having an agenda because the team got too excited with an end-zone celebration in Jacksonville two years ago.
Plug in, folks. Georgia just lost to Tennessee like no team should lose to Tennessee (45-19). The offense didn’t score a touchdown. The defense just made Jonathan Crompton look like Jonathan Unitas. Lane Kiffin just schooled Mark Richt.
Six games and they’re going backward. Six games and they’re 3-3, their worst start in 13 years. And you begin to realize: If not for those late wins over South Carolina and Arizona State and surviving mayhem against Arkansas, we could be talking scorched earth at midseason.
This is when you wonder about direction. The same coach who two years ago we were toasting for finishing the season with a No. 2 ranking is now walking off the field and into news conferences looking like toast.
On Saturday, Richt was asked a question one never could have imagined two Januarys ago: “Are you worried about the state of the program?”
His answer: “We didn’t play very good today. We haven’t had a game this season where we played a really solid football game. So I’m concerned about that.”
Is it just me, or did he not completely shoot down the premise of the question?
Let’s make this clear. This is not a “Fire Mark Richt” column. His body of work speaks for itself. But Florida and LSU and Alabama have boat-raced Georgia in the SEC, and of maybe even greater concern is the lack of separation between the Bulldogs and everybody else.
This isn’t a former No. 2-ranked team that has maintained its level of excellence. It’s a program that has regressed. Significantly. Whatever Richt was doing before is not working now. Either the wrong players are being recruited, or the right players are being coached the wrong way.
Blame Mike Bobo for the offense. Blame Willie Martinez for the defense. Blame Stacy Searels, the vaunted offensive line coach, who, by the way, hasn’t done bupkis. Blame anybody you want.
But it starts with Richt. It’s his program. He sets the tone and establishes direction. He is the one coaching at a school that hadn’t started a season so poorly since Jim Donnan’s first year in 1996 (3-5 on the way to 5-6). Richt is the one whose team committed three more turnovers against Tennessee and ranks as the worst in the conference and among the dregs nationally with 16 giveaways and a minus-11 turnover ratio.
Volunteers quarterback Jonathan Crompton threw touchdown passes on three consecutive possessions in the second quarter and finished with four. He had been largely lampooned in Knoxville and had never thrown more than two in his career. Well, with one exception. He threw five against Western Kentucky.
So that’s where Georgia’s defense belongs: in the Sun Belt.
Asked what he would think if he was a Georgia fan watching this game on television, Martinez said: “Well, I am a Georgia fan. I’m not happy. We just got whipped.”
Things are no better on offense. The Bulldogs have failed to score an offensive touchdown in 10 of the past 11 quarters. Against Tennessee, the offense (field goal) was outscored by special teams (nine points, off a kickoff return and a blocked punt for a safety) and the defense (interception return).
Didn’t Richt make his bones in offense at Florida State?
He somewhat came to Bobo’s defense: “I like his play calling.”
When asked if he felt quarterback Joe Cox was regressing, he said: “I’ve got to look at the film before I start making comments like that.”
Just as well. This isn’t the time to be throwing anybody else under the bus.
“We’ve got a long way to go before we become a good football team,” Richt said.
And he should know. He’s the one driving the bus.