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Georgia Football: Dawgs' Road to the SEC Title Game After Loss to South Carolina

Andrew Hall@DudeYouCrazyCorrespondent IIISeptember 14, 2014

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 13:  Head coach Mark Richt of the Georgia Bulldogs walks off the field after being defeated 38-35 by the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Tomorrow is a new day for the Georgia Bulldogs. 

And as cliché as that may sound, that’s probably the best news for Mark Richt's team following its 38-35 road loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday. 

A Bulldog effort that was plagued by glaring missteps—an inability to convert third downs, poor coverage in the secondary and two missed field—is over and done.  Now, it’s time to fix those mistakes and look forward to a host of still-achievable goals, including a trip to the SEC Championship Game.

Here’s what Georgia’s road to Atlanta for the conference title looks like.

It Is Broke, So Fix It

A big win against Clemson to open the season made it easy to overlook the flaws of the Bulldogs.  A furious second-half performance put away the Tigers and put a disguise over some underlying messes, but those inner demons flared up in a big way against South Carolina.

The problems Georgia had against the Gamecocks were mostly symptomatic of long-standing shortcomings.  Depending on one's perspective, that could be good or bad. 

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On the positive side, no new chinks in Georgia’s armor were exposed.  Georgia missed a couple of big-play threats in its passing game and struggled to convert third downs. But everyone knew wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley would be out for the contest. 

The secondary struggled mightily, but that was expected under first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. It's reasonable for Georgia fans to anticipate the unit improving as the season progresses.  Special teams play—much to the chagrin of Bulldogs fans—has long been a problem for Georgia.  In that regard, two critical missed field goals was no surprise.

Nothing new popped up for Georgia, and that's a good thing.

On the negative side, however, it is fair to wonder when these issues will be resolved.

Any shortcomings of the offense should look better when star receivers get back on the field.  And to be clear, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has still moved the ball well.  Even against South Carolina, the Dawgs found success both through the air and on the ground.

Defensively, time is the reactive element in the improvement equation.  Pruitt, talented as he may be as a young defensive mind, is not a miracle worker.  It’s unfair to expect him to be one.  What he is, however, is an educator.  It takes time to teach young players.  Accordingly, it would be off base to think this defense—especially the secondary—won’t improve.

Special teams mistakes remain a mystery.  Over the summer, coaching duties were divvied up between linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and tight ends coach John Lilly.  In Week 1, special teams play (namely, a Todd Gurley kickoff return) stole the show.  On Saturday, special teams cost Georgia the game.  But much like the defense, this is still a work in progress.  And to be fair to kicker Marshall Morgan, his struggles against South Carolina were atypical.

The season is young.  The beauty for the Bulldogs is that even with all of these ugly mistakes, they still had a chance to win.  The talent is there.  The coaching is there.  If those two components continue to complement each other, the results will also be there.

Tactical Attack

As far as the schedule is concerned, Georgia is hardly out of the chase in the SEC East.  South Carolina has a conference loss on its resume as well, and the Gamecocks have the more difficult remaining schedule thanks to road games against Florida and Auburn.  Coach Steve Spurrier’s squad looked much improved on Saturday, but it would be ill advised to crown them as the division champ this early.  Another loss is certainly a possibility for South Carolina.

As for Florida, the other favorite in the division, nothing has changed—at least not relative to Georgia.  Beating the Gators in Jacksonville will give the Dawgs the advantage over the Gators, and Will Muschamp is 0-3 against Georgia since becoming Florida’s head coach.

Other contenders, like Missouri and Tennessee, may yet stake a claim to the division crown, but Georgia still has an opportunity to dethrone both the Tigers and the Volunteers.

Georgia's Remaining Schedule
DateOpponentLocation
September 20TroyAthens, Georgia
September 27TennesseeAthens, Georgia
October 4VanderbiltAthens, Georgia
October 11MissouriColumbia, Missouri
October 18ArkansasLittle Rock, Arkansas
November 1FloridaJacksonville, Florida
November 8KentuckyLexington, Kentucky
November 15AuburnAthens, Georgia
November 22Charleston SouthernAthens, Georgia
November 29Georgia TechAthens, Georgia
GeorgiaDogs.com

If Georgia quickly rectifies its deficiencies, winning out is a feasible outcome for this team.  Doing so would most likely mean punching a ticket to the SEC Championship Game.

Learn and Move On

After the game, head coach Mark Richt was, as expected, left with regrets. 

Seth Emerson @SethWEmerson

Mark Richt on first and goal from the 4 play call: "If I had to do it again I would've hammered it."

But there are worse times for such second thoughts, and Georgia could learn something from their most recent opponent, the South Carolina Gamecocks.  After two games, South Carolina seemed down and out of SEC contention.  Now, the Gamecocks are arguably the favorite in the SEC East.

Georgia’s played only two games.  As South Carolina showed, a lot can change game to game and week to week.  If the Bulldogs can take strides forward on a practice-by-practice basis, the SEC Championship Game may still be in the cards.

Unless otherwise notes, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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