The Georgia Bulldogs now find themselves in an all too familiar place following a 38-35 road loss to the Clemson Tigers on Saturday night.
Specifically, Mark Richt’s squad must rally from a disappointing early season loss in order to achieve the success that has become customary in Athens.
Georgia’s defense proved every bit as young and inexperienced as anticipated. Tajh Boyd produced five touchdowns and rolled the prolific Clemson offense to more than 450 total yards. The Tigers scored early and often. They scored on big plays like Sammy Watkins’ 77-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, and they scored on longer methodical drives. They moved the ball effectively through the air, and Roderick MaDowell had a breakout game with 132 rushing yards.
The Georgia defense certainly showed its youth, but to an extent that was expected against a high-powered offense led by a senior quarterback. Most did not expect Georgia’s offense to be so vastly limited by on-field mistakes.
It’s hard for a team that loses the turnover battle, commits more penalties and loses several key players to injury to steal a victory. Those odds become even more insurmountable when playing on the road at a hostile environment like Clemson’s memorial field. And of course, it didn’t help that Dabo Swinney’s team appeared to be in mid-season form.
Aaron Murray committed two costly turnovers, one a fumble setting up a short 16-yard touchdown drive for the Tigers, the other being an interception that gave away Georgia’s best starting field position of the night. The offensive line struggled to protect Murray from a front seven that was expected to be pedestrian at best. And even the highlight of the night, Todd Gurley’s 75-yard run on his first carry, was marred by the Malcolm Mitchell’s season-ending knee injury that came during the play’s celebration.
Mitchell’s injury was not the only setback Georgia suffered from a personnel standpoint. Gurley missed the bulk of the first half with a leg injury.
The Bulldogs have been in this situation before, and it almost seems trite to say that all is not lost for Richt’s team. As upsetting as any loss may be, this loss was much less discouraging than some in the recent past.
Georgia’s loss to Boise State in 2011 featured a Georgia team that struggled to anything right against a Bronco team that was not as good as Saturday night’s Clemson team. Last year’s loss to South Carolina on the road was about as ugly as a football game can get.
Georgia found ways to rally following those losses, and improvement needs to be the battle cry for the Bulldogs moving forward. Although a win would have been nice on Saturday, every goal that Georgia set — whether it’s an SEC Championship or a trip to Pasadena for the National Championship — is still very much on the table. And if nothing else, Georgia’s three-point loss despite turnovers, penalties injuries and a botched snap and hold on a short field goal attempt show just how good this team could be if these issues can be corrected.
There were several bright sports for the Bulldogs, including the emergence of fullback Quayvon Hicks, but perhaps the most promising tidbit is that Georgia recognizes the errors of its way.
“Our biggest challenge was dealing with the crowd noise and penalties," Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. "We killed ourselves with penalties tonight. It's tough to convert third-and-long. Penalties are a big reason why we lost tonight.”
Let’s see if the Bulldogs can give themselves a chance this week against South Carolina.