Photo: USA Today Sports
On Saturday between the Hedges, a banged up Georgia team fell to Missouri 41-26. Georgia came into the game at 4-1, having beaten two top ten teams, and maintained hopes of a National Championship after coming up four yards short in the SEC Championship Game last season. After falling behind, 28-10 at half-time, Georgia rallied furiously to pull to within 28-26 before Missouri put them away with two late touchdowns. Georgia's National Championship hopes are dashed and Aaron Murray's Heisman hopes have faded. What now for Georgia?
What's directly ahead of Georgia is a road trip to Nashville to face Vanderbilt and then an off-week before the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (yeah, I refuse to call it anything else). More importantly, what's in store for this team long-term? Can they still win the SEC East? Can they get back to a BCS Bowl game? The answer to that question is yes and yes but it's not going to be easy and it's going to take some key players getting healthy and some hard work.
Getting past a Vandy team that tends to be pesky at home is the first test. Georgia rolled Vandy last year 48-3 but the year before they won a nail biter by only five points. If Georgia gets past Vandy, which they should, the biggest game of the season is the November 2nd game against Florida. Florida, depending on the outcome of their game against LSU, and Missouri are the only teams that now completely control their own destiny in the SEC East. Missouri still has to play Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M. I think it's likely they lose at least two games in conference this season. If that happens, then that leaves Florida/Georgia as the key game in the SEC East. If Georgia can win that game, that can still go back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
The return of RB Todd Gurley and WR Michael Bennett will be vital if Georgia is to get back on track to Atlanta this season. Georgia still has weapons and players like Rantavious Wooten, Brendan Douglas and JJ Green have stepped up after the injuries but their weapons are fewer and farther between.
For Georgia's National Title hopes, with this defense it simply wasn't meant to be. The Georgia defense has talent and guys like Josh Harvey-Clemons, Ray Drew and Leonard Floyd are starting to make plays but the defense just isn't playing well consistently as a group. The major issue for Georgia right now, along with missed tackles and bad angles, seems to be the secondary. Damian Swann and Corey Moore have struggled mightily in recent weeks and while the front seven seems to be improving, the pass defense is still a work in progress (to put it nicely).
Georgia has 14 under-classmen on their defensive two deep depth chart and they are going to continue taking their lumps this year. This Georgia defense seems primed to make a move in a year or two but is Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham the man to run that defense? That's a popular question among the fanbase as Grantham has replaced Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo as the coach on the "hot seat". With Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell all set to return in 2014, and a much easier schedule (at least on paper) awaiting the Dawgs, it might be 2014 that is the year of the Dawgs.
As for the Heisman trophy, we had Aaron Murray tied for third in our first two polls this year. For Georgia and Murray this year was never about him winning a Heisman Trophy but it's always a nice consolation prize for a team to see their player bring that prestigious trophy back to campus if the team doesn't reach their ultimate goals. Murray isn't going to win the Heisman, but I still think he made the right decision in coming back for his senior season. If nothing else, he got the monkey off his back of "not being able to win the big one" as he beat both LSU and South Carolina this year between the hedges.
Georgia's season is far from over, but goals will need to be re-set and the Dawgs will need some help now to get back to Atlanta as they build for the future in Athens and try to weather the injury storm of 2013.