Bobo does not deserve lion’s share of blame for UGA loss to South Carolina

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Sony Michel scored his first career touchdown against South Carolina. (John Kelley / UGA)
Isaiah McKenzie showed what he can do on Georgia's first quick scoring drive of the night. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Isaiah McKenzie showed what he can do on Georgia’s first quick scoring drive of the night. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

A few more thoughts and observations from Saturday night’s disappointing game in Columbia …

Georgia’s defense was wretched most of the game against South Carolina. But, despite all the positive declarations after the second-half shutdown of Clemson, perhaps that’s what we expected all along. Maybe Dogs fans have come to accept as a given that Georgia’s defense is a liability. Call it the Grantham Effect, which appears to live on even after he’s gone.

How else do you explain the fact that on the blogs, on social media and on the call-in shows late Saturday and Sunday Georgia fans by a large margin pinned the blame for the loss to the Gamecocks not on a defense that for most of the night couldn’t stop the pass or the run, but on the man calling Georgia’s offensive plays.

More specifically, one particular offensive play: the muffed bootleg pass attempt on first-and-goal at the Gamecock 4-yard line.

A text I received from one of my brothers Saturday night pretty well summed up overall fan reaction. It read: “One word: Bobo!”

Granted, as I discussed in my post-game Blawg, the call on that play was a bad one. In retrospect, even Mark Richt conceded that much.

Sony Michel scored his first career touchdown against South Carolina. (John Kelley / UGA)

Sony Michel scored his first career touchdown against South Carolina. (John Kelley / UGA)

But Mike Bobo also was the engineer of an offensive game plan that hung 35 points on South Carolina in the unfriendly environs of Williams-Brice Stadium. And if it hadn’t been for some ill-timed penalties and mistakes by Georgia’s offensive line (plus one questionable call by an official), there could have been another two touchdowns added to that total.

This is not to say that Bobo called one of his best games. Georgia was pretty bad on third-down conversions, whiffing on the first four, making only one of the first seven and finishing the evening having converted on five of eight attempts. This, coupled with drive-derailing penalties, resulted in the Dogs bogging down too often in the red zone and having to attempt too many field goals.

Still, Bobo did have his superlative moments, especially on Georgia’s first drive, when the Dogs opened with a 35-yard pass to freshman speedster Isaiah McKenzie and then scored on the very next play with a very nice 33-yard screen to freshman running back Sony Michel (who was sprung by a great block by David Andrews).

However, what was most puzzling about Bobo’s play calls after that (besides the infamous first-and-dumb) was that we didn’t see more of that wide-open offensive approach during the rest of the game.

Sure, when you’ve got running backs like Todd Gurley, Michel and Nick Chubb, a run-first philosophy is not only to be expected, it’s practically demanded. But while Bobo mixed in the passing game thereafter, it was mostly short throws to his wide receivers and tight ends (what a great one-handed catch by freshman Jeb Blazevich in the second quarter!) rather than to players like McKenzie and Michel who have the capability of breaking a game wide open.

Which brings to mind Georgia’s apparent abandonment of the downfield vertical passing game until whenever Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley return, and, along those lines, a good-natured debate that erupted between hosts Jeff Dantzler and Kevin Butler on Sunday’s edition of “Bulldog Brunch” on the Georgia football radio network.

Dantzler was maintaining that Bobo not attempting the long passes makes sense while Mitchell and Scott-Wesley are unavailable, while Butler was insisting that, with the likes of McKenzie on the team, Georgia still has the speed to threaten deep and ought to be doing it more often.

I take Kevin’s side in this discussion. I realize that Georgia’s offensive line is still playing inconsistently and perhaps it’s fear of giving up a sack that has Bobo calling mostly the quick, shorter passes. But, as he did on the first series against South Carolina, he doesn’t have to have Hutson Mason stand back there waiting to throw deep in order to get the ball into the hands of players with the speed to burn an opposing defense. I just don’t understand why Georgia didn’t try that more often Saturday night.

Gamecocks wide receiver Pharoh Cooper had Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Dominick Sanders beat, but he couldn't come up with this catch in the end zone. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Gamecocks wide receiver Pharoh Cooper had Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Dominick Sanders beat, but he couldn’t come up with this catch in the end zone. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

As for the lamentable showing by the defense in the first year of Jeremy Pruitt’s reclamation project amid the rubble Todd Grantham left behind, a big factor there is lack of talent. Yes, some of the players from last year no longer on Georgia’s defense needed to be gone, but there’s no denying the defensive backs left in their place have a long, long way to go. It’s a combination of inexperience on the part of the newcomers and the rather limited ability of some of the returnees.

Compound that with the almost total lack of an effective pass rush from the defensive front against the Gamecocks (the key difference between this game and the second half of the Clemson game) and you wind up with what we saw Saturday night, as South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson threw to uncovered receivers wide open in the DMZ between the Dogs’ linebackers and safeties, who at times seemed almost unaware of what was happening in front of them.

As senior LB Ramik Wilson put it: “We couldn’t get a pass rush and we didn’t have any safety help.”

Steve Spurrier was being uncharacteristically charitable when he said after the game: “Georgia’s defense was pretty good at times, and other times they weren’t quite as good.”

Of course, when the Dogs’ defense did rise to the occasion with Damian Swann’s fourth-quarter interception … well, in Richt’s words: “We didn’t seize the moment that we had created.”

Completing the trifecta of underperformance, Georgia’s special teams followed up their superb game against Clemson with an inconsistent effort in Columbia.

Marshall Morgan started out the game strong, making his first two field goal attempts and booming his first four kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Then came the two missed field goals, and for some reason on his second half kickoffs Morgan went high but not into the end zone, resulting in returnable kicks. Those returns were helped by the Dogs overrunning their coverage.

On the other side, as expected, the Gamecocks did their best to deny Gurley the opportunity to return a kickoff. And the one time he did get the chance, a miscommunication between him and one of the up backs resulted in a near disaster. Looks like there’s still more work to be done in that area of the game.

So, plenty of blame to go around.

Go Dogs!

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