The Georgia Bulldogs went into Stillwater on Saturday and did precisely what everyone outside of the Bulldog Nation thought they would do: Lose.
Prior to this week, there was a ton of talk about the poise and leadership that Joe Cox would bring, the excellent running of Richard Samuel, the emergence of the defense as a force to be reckoned with, etc., etc.
However, the team that showed up in Stillwater to take on the 9th ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, was little more than a shell of a team with a long way to go to be taken seriously in the SEC, much less the FBS.
So, what went wrong? Keep reading...
The Quarterback Play:
Joe Cox was not effective as a passer or as a leader. For all the talk about his poise in the pocket and his rah-rah approach to the game, he did little to help himself in keeping his job as the head signal-caller.
Flu-like symptoms or not, this is college football: if you show up with the uni on, then you better come to play. There is no sympathy for playing at less than 100%, you are better off on the sidelines if that's going to be the case.
That said, Cox looked lost after the first series. He missed long on a couple throws and never found his rhythm after that opening drive.
Did the Oklahoma State defense have something to do with that? Definitely. However, there were a number of plays where Cox had plenty of time to get the ball off and make a play, he just couldn't get the job done.
Richard Samuel was effective against the OSU defensive front, he broke a couple of nice runs early on and made his presence felt but, inexplicably, the offense went back to passing the ball. Why?
Samuel ended with 87-yards on 20 carries, but wasn't utilized nearly enough; it is painfully clear that the Dawgs will need to rely on the run game if they expect to win or compete in the SEC this season.
Further, Carlton Thomas is not going to cut it as a big time running back. He looked good as a pass catcher in the flat, but lined up in the backfield, he was suspect. His small stature leaves him vulnerable to the jarring hit and a potential fumble.
Georgia will need to use Thomas in plays that best suit his ability—that being to get out in space and bust it open for a nice gain. Otherwise, he's not going to be as useful for the Dawgs in spelling Samuel.
AJ Green, Michael Moore, and Aron White were Cox's main targets. All were able to do something good when they had an opportunity, but again, the Georgia offense was anemic.
Green looked good on the first series, despite a potential touchdown drop in the end zone, but was essentially not a factor in the game as Perrish Cox, Patrick Lavine, and the rest of the Cowboy secondary locked him down.
On the occasions where receivers did appear to get open, none could make a play, Aron White let a key pass bounce off his fingertips on a 2nd & 11 in the fourth-quarter. A.J. Green bounced a reception off his fingers in the end zone in the first.
Neither play might have made a difference, but they are the plays you have to make.
The defense showed up and played just as they were supposed to play; Dez Bryant nor Kendall Hunter were a factor in the first-quarter of the game. Zac Robinson was contained and struggled to find his rhythm early.
The defensive line held strong against the Cowboys and their high-powered offense for three quarters, allowing only 17-points, one touchdown, and keeping the trio of Robinson, Bryant, and Hunter from lighting up the scoreboard.
By game's end Zac Robinson only had 135-passing yards on 11/22 passing. Kendall Hunter was held to 75-yards rushing and zero touchdowns. Dez Bryant went scoreless in both the first and the third quarters.
By all accounts, if you looked at the box score, the Cowboys should have lost this contest easily. The defense did it's job. The offense, on the other hand, did not.
Keys to the Loss
Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers. Georgia had three while OSU had none.
Branden Smith made some bad decisions on special teams when he chose to run out of the end zone where a knee would have been the smarter choice and then late in the second, he interfered with Prince Miller on a punt—causing a touchback as opposed to having the Cowboys starting in the shadow of their own goal line.
Lastly, it's still a head-scratcher as to why the Dawgs abandoned the run so early when it was clearly the strength of their opening scoring drive; offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo, will need to make some adjustments to their playcalling.
Aside from some stellar play by the defense, the special teams was phenomenal. Kickoff and punt return coverage was pretty good, aside from a couple nice returns from Perrish Cox.
Both Blair Walsh and Drew Butler looked to be in midseason form already. The latter having a 57.0 punt average and the former booting a 53-yard field goal with room to spare.
Overall, the Dawgs came out flat offensively and will need to find another answer at the quarterback position and may need to find a more effective number two to run behind Richard Samuel as Thomas is not yet built to take the hit that a between the tackles runner is going to have to take.
Give credit to the Cowboys for showing up to play big in their season debut. They played well and made it hard for the Dawgs to get anything going through the air on Saturday.
South Carolina is up next and there are plenty of questions to answer prior to that game, hopefully Mike Bobo and company are already on their way to getting them answered.