Georgia opened its 2013 campaign in the preseason Top Five. Following a 31-27 loss to Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs come Sunday are likely out of the rankings all together. The Dawgs have fallen on some tough times, due largely to a little bit of bad luck and a lot of bad defense.
Injuries happen in football, and the Bulldogs have absorbed more than their fair share. The wide receiver position has been decimated by injuries with Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett missing time with knee problems. Only Bennett, who had arthroscopic surgery, is set to return this season.
Add Chris Conley, the leading receiver against Vanderbilt, to the mix, as he went down with an apparent leg injury at the end of the game. Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph reports that the setback is an ankle sprain of unknown severity.
Richt says he thinks Conley has an ankle sprain, doesn't know how serious.— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) October 19, 2013
At running back Todd Gurley has missed time with an ankle injury. The Dawgs are hoping to get the stud rusher back after the bye week. Keith Marshall, Gurley's backfield mate, is down for the year with a torn ACL, adding him to the list of players who will not be suiting up for the Bulldogs.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tray Matthews has missed not only practice time with a lingering hamstring issue, as reported by The Red and Black, but he missed his third straight game, sitting out against Vanderbilt. His absence has been quite noticeable in the Bulldogs secondary.
The bad luck bug didn't just hit the Bulldogs in the injury department; Saturday's game against Vanderbilt saw two highly questionable targeting calls hurt the Red and Black. The first call, a chest bump by Ray Drew against Vanderbilt's quarterback, sent the Georgia defensive lineman to the showers.
As egregious as the first flag was, the second was likely more costly. Ramik Wilson was flagged for targeting a Vanderbilt receiver, but upon review the call was overturned, allowing Wilson to remain in the game. However, the call also gave Vanderbilt a first down, as the penalty yards still stood, despite the reversal of the flag.
The Commodores, down 27-14 at the time, went from a failed fourth-down attempt on a pass broken up by Wilson's clean hit, to a first-and-ten from the Georgia 15 yard-line. The Bulldogs' bad luck extended the drive that ultimately spurred Vanderbilt's 17-0 fourth-quarter push for the victory.
Call reversed, at least as far as the ejection, so Wilson stays in the game. But Vanderbilt gets the first down. Pretty ridiculous.— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) October 19, 2013
Throw in some bad special-teams play against Vanderbilt, a botched snap and a muffed punt, and it is clear that bad luck had done a number on the Bulldogs.
But, the struggles cannot all be chalked up to bad luck, many of the Bulldogs issues can be tracked back to a defense that has had serious problems getting off the field. Georgia, for the second year running, is a team that lacks discipline and uses poor technique on the defensive side of the ball.
On a day when the offense struggled, posting just 221 yards, the Bulldogs watched a 13-point lead disappear in the fourth quarter, as the defense simply could not stop the Commodores. Coordinator Todd Grantham's defense let a backup freshman quarterback run and throw his way to 17 fourth-quarter points.
The nation's going to find out what Georgia's made of going forward, as its SEC East hopes are minimal at best, and the Dawgs face another BCS Bowl-less season. Mark Richt's team has a bye week before The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (Nov. 2 at Florida) to lick its wounds, get healthy and figure out strategies that can work on both sides of the ball.
Richt was preaching solidarity after the game, telling the Associated Press (via ESPN), "I just wanted to make sure everyone understood that at Georgia we stick together."
The bye week comes at a great time for a team that needs a break—a break to regroup, a break from the bad luck and a break to try and fix what's become of this season.