Georgia Football

October 13, 2018: The Day That Inspired, Yet Haunted, Georgia

December 31, 2018

NEW ORLEANS - Baton Rouge is home of two things to Georgia.


One: It’s the graveyard where Georgia’s national title hopes were buried after they were fatally struck by LSU in mid-October. The graveyard that the playoff committee pointed to in exclamation as Kirby Smart plead his case for UGA to earn a spot in the semi-finals.


Two: It’s the place where this Georgia team was reborn into a legitimate title contender. There, UGA was reduced to ashes. From those ashes, it was forced to go back and examine the basic building blocks that served as the foundation of Smart and his team.


The two things are on opposite sides of the spectrum, though they are not mutually exclusive. If you change that loss to a win, Georgia is very likely in the playoffs. It’s that simple. But without that loss, the Bulldogs wouldn’t have gotten the jolt it used to beat three straight ranked opponents in the following weeks.  


Had Georgia scraped by in a rugged game on its last trip to Lousiana, it might not have caused the jumpstart that UGA desperately needed.


Prior to its matchup against LSU, Georgia was “sleepwalking,” according to Elijah Holyfield. The team was 6-0 and had won each game by double digits, but Georgia wasn’t clicking. Each game looked solid enough on paper, though was underwhelming when put to the eyeball test.


A big part of it was the lackluster offense. At Missouri, Jim Chaney and company needed two non-offensive touchdowns to bail them out. Against Tennessee, it was a sluggish looking offense that couldn’t bust long runs and that failed to throw for a touchdown, marking the only game Jake Fromm has ever played in without throwing for a score.


The Bulldogs were the second-ranked team in the nation, but they didn’t look the part. The notorious Georgia run-game hardly mustered more than 100 yards on the ground. Fromm posted the lowest single-game efficiency rating of his entire career. It was just straight sloppy.


Immediately after the game, it’s hard to say where each individual player’s and staff member’s minds were at. It did do one thing to everyone, though. It was a very real “Come to Jesus” moment for the team.


“It opened our eyes,” Chaney said on the mid-season loss.


“It showed us where we were at,” Fromm said on the topic. “We weren’t quite as good as we thought we were.”


It began the road to rebuild an offensive identity that Georgia had lost and desperately needed. The first part of the reconstruction: Introspection, both into themselves and their team’s mentality. It began with Chaney, who admitted that he didn’t do a great job calling plays against the Tigers.


“When success doesn't come your way, you have to reflect,” Chaney said. “I do that a lot. Look at myself. I don't think I called a particularly good football game. I don't think we particularly played a very good football game. And I think we all had to come to grips with that.”


Chaney thought on his own. The team’s self-evaluation came in the form of a players-only meeting, something that Fromm said wasn’t the “rah rah” pump up talk we would see in “Remember the Titans.” Still, it was something that still resonated strongly with the team.


“Guys spoke their minds, I spoke my mind,” Fromm said. “I think the biggest part of that was, ‘Hey, let’s go to work.’ I think guys bought into that. That’s what we did during that bye week. That’s what we’ve continued to do every week since then.


Before they got on that grind though, Georgia had to figure out what it wanted to be on offense, something that was relatively easy.


“We went back to work and tried to really figure out what we were really about,” D’Andre Swift said. “That’s being physical and playing bully ball.”


Setting the goal is the easy part. Achieving it is where the difficulty lies. The Bulldogs had to begin implementing certain things in practice to get there. Chaney thought the solution was to start from square one. With the bye week sandwiched between the LSU and Florida games, Georgia used that time to practice as they did in fall camp before the season—no focus on other teams, only the minute details of UGA’s own game and the fundamentals of football.


“We started focusing on the little things,” Swift said. “We had periods in practice that would focus on completing deep balls, third-down conversions, stuff like that. Small stuff that will make the whole game completely different.”


It wasn’t a pleasant week of practice. To Georgia, it was as if the first half of the season didn’t even happen. The team had to hit that week harder than usual to get things back on track.


When the Florida game came around, the Bulldogs looked vastly improved. Fromm had one of the best games of his career, throwing three touchdowns with 240 yards on 17-of-24 to pair with 104 yards from Swift and 71 from Holyfield. It was in that game where Georgia found their identity. After LSU, Georgia put up six straight games with 400 yards of total offense, including 707 yards against UMass and 516 yards against Auburn.


“[The hardwork] paid off,” Chaney said. “And, when you can reap the benefits and you can actually see, ‘oh, when I work hard, good things come my way,’ that's the key to the deal.”


And the offense was churning at a new level. By the time Georgia had reached Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs looked like a completely new team. They had grown, learned from their embarrassment in Tiger Stadium. That wake-up call was almost hailed as a good thing.


“It was intense, but it’s what we needed,” one UGA staffer said. “People were more focused again.”


But once Georgia fell to the Crimson Tide, the LSU game was no longer the ghost pushing Georgia to grow. It became the demon of times past, there to haunt the Bulldogs and cut their playoff aspirations.


Yet, when Georgia players talked about it in New Orleans, they all still viewed that game as the turning point in the season.


“We just changed our mindset,” Andrew Thomas said. “We said if we want to reach our goals… we had to make some adjustments.”


Baton Rouge was where the death of any hope of a national title for Georgia occurred. No one will argue that. But it’s also where the team that looked dominant against a proclaimed-invincible Alabama team was formed.


Yes, reverse that loss and Georgia is in a vastly better position. But without it, that sleepwalking Georgia team that Holyfield mentioned might have suffered different fates in places like Jacksonville or Lexington.

Tags: Football, Georgia
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