Georgia's Playoff Hopes Take Critical Hit After Stunning Loss to South Carolina

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystOctober 12, 2019

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart
Georgia head coach Kirby SmartKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It took seven weeks, but our old friend Captain Chaos made its long-awaited debut Saturday in the form of unranked South Carolina's 20-17 double-overtime road win over the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs.

No one gave the Gamecocks a legitimate chance of winning this game. They were 21-point underdogs, and justifiably so following losses by at least 20-point margins to both Alabama and Missouri. Georgia had not (and still hasn't) allowed a rushing touchdown this season, and South Carolina's passing attack had already been held below 150 yards twice by defenses much less formidable than Georgia's.

Even as the Gamecocks held a 17-10 lead in the second half, it only felt like a matter of time before the Bulldogswho had outscored their first five opponents 51-7 in the fourth quartermade their surge to victory.

After all, the Gamecocks lost four-year starting quarterback Jake Bentley to a foot injury one week into the season, and they lost second-string quarterback Ryan Hilinski to a knee injury midway through the third quarter of this game. That left third-stringer Dakereon Joynerplaying in a pivotal moment for the first time in his college careerin the unenviable position of trying to hang on to a seven-point lead for 24 minutes on the road against one of the country's top teams.

But in a turn of events no one could have seen coming, Joyner played a mistake-free second half, while it was Georgia's quarterback who looked like a redshirt freshman trying to tread water in a hostile environment.

Georgia QB Jake Fromm
Georgia QB Jake FrommKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Jake Fromm entered the week as one of the top 10 candidates to win the Heisman Trophy, but you can throw that out the window after he fumbled once inside the South Carolina 30 and threw three interceptions—each one to Israel Mukuamu, including a pick-six late in the second quarter.

In moments you might expect one of the top prospects in the 2020 NFL draft class to play with poise and confidence, Fromm was as shaken as a James Bond martini.

The pick-six was the first clear indication that Fromm was out of his comfort zone. With a little over a minute remaining in the second quarter and Georgia facing a 2nd-and-4 from midfield, South Carolina brought pressure up the middle, forcing Fromm to retreat and throw the ball off his back foot. In an obvious throw-away situation, the veteran game manager who rarely makes back-breaking mistakes threw a lame duck right into Mukuamu's hands.

Before that pass attempt, he had a rather typical line of 12-of-17 for 98 yards with no interceptions. But it looked like he didn't trust himself the rest of the way, missing his receiver on 18 of his final 34 passes.

Toward the end of Georgia's game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, Fromm threw three consecutive incompletions that were nowhere near the mark. A defensive holding penalty bailed him out on the fourth-down play, but the referees probably could have ruled the pass uncatchable, considering he threw it out the back of the end zone.

Fromm proceeded to go 0-of-3 with an interception in the two overtime periods—although Tyler Simmons should have caught the pass that went for a pick. Fromm was given a second life after the interception, though, and he couldn't even move the ball on a drive that would have given the Bulldogs the win.

That set up a surprising miss from one of the best kickers in college football history, Rodrigo Blankenship:

So what now?

Well, on the plus side, South Carolina has a pulse again in bowl projections. The Gamecocks entered the week at 2-3 with games remaining against Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and Clemson. There was no path to 6-6 without a colossal upset, but they just got one. Beat Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Appalachian State in Weeks 9 through 11 and they're bowl-bound for the 11th time in 12 seasons.

Of course, that's not the postseason projection anyone outside Columbia is concerned with. The big question is: Can Georgia still make the College Football Playoff?

The Dawgs will plummet in the polls and are all but certain to drop outside the AP Top 7 for the first time since September 23, 2017. If they're still in the Top 10 come Sunday, they'll be lucky.

But much to the chagrin of the SEC haters out there, it's feasible Georgia could recover from this embarrassing misstep and still make the CFP.

Heck, the Dawgs could still play their way into the No. 1 seed, considering they have already beaten Notre Dame and would add victories over Florida (neutral), Missouri (home), Auburn (road), Texas A&M (home) and either Alabama or LSU (neutral in SEC championship) if they were to win out. The only team that could have a better resume would be an undefeated Big Ten champion.

The problem with buying into that scenario is Georgia simply hasn't looked good since it blew out Arkansas State a month ago.

Georgia RB D'Andre Swift
Georgia RB D'Andre SwiftJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

The Bulldogs were supposed to run all over Notre Dame's mediocre front seven, but they needed some second-half heroics and a late defensive stand to survive that home game. Two weeks later, they eventually cruised to victory over Tennessee, but only after digging themselves an early hole against true freshman quarterback Brian Maurerwho is 8-of-20 for 105 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions against non-Georgia opponents this season.

Factor in this home defeat to a three-loss team with a third-string quarterback, and those must-have wins away from home against Florida, Auburn and Alabama/LSU seem like a pipe-dream, at best.

The one silver lining to cling to is that this defense is still excellent.

This was the first time Georgia had allowed more than 17 points this season, and South Carolina only got to 20 because of the defensive touchdown and two extra periods to add a field goal. South Carolina didn't even reach 300 yards of total offense. And as previously mentioned, the Bulldogs still have not allowed a rushing touchdown in 2019.

With neither LSU nor Alabama on the regular-season docket, that defense might be enough to get them through the next six games and into the SEC championship. There simply aren't any offensive juggernauts waiting for them until December. Neither Florida, Auburn nor Texas A&M entered Week 7 averaging better than 34 points or 430 yards per game.

However, sooner or later, Georgia will need Fromm and/or D'Andre Swift to carry the offense. And it doesn't bode well that neither one could manage that against the Gamecocks.

There is still a path to the playoff, but the odds that Georgia will win its next seven games aren't much better than South Carolina's odds were to win this one.

              

Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.

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