A.J. Green returns . . . and the Dawgs still manage to find another rock bottom just the same.
Each week, it seems like things can't get any worse for the Dawgs . . . and yet each week they do. The latest new low: a loss to a mediocre Big 12 team whose own coach was occupying the hottest of hot seats. Thus Georgia's first three-game losing streak since 1990 has turned into its first four-game losing streak since 1990, and there's ample evidence that it could still get worse.
1. Without A.J. Green, this team is nothing. In all my years of following college football I don't know that I've ever seen a team that was so completely dependent on one player. With Green on the field and a part of the game plan, the offense rocketed down the field with authority and confidence; without him, it was the same morass of O-line breakdowns and futile runs up the middle that we've been seeing for weeks now. Even the defense seemed to play with more swagger when they knew Green would soon be back on the field (Colorado averaged only three yards a play when A.J. was in the game plan, nearly eight and a half when he wasn't). Obviously, any player as dynamic as Green is going to draw more attention from opposing defenses, thus freeing up opportunities for players elsewhere in the formation, but is there any excuse for a team this talented to be so psychologically dependent on one guy?
2. Even with A.J., this team isn't that good. Despite the physical and psychological lift provided by Green's return, Georgia still managed to display the same mental errors and head-slapping play-calling that have plagued them nearly all year long. Thanks to a turnover and a couple terrific returns on special teams, the Dawgs started three drives deep inside Colorado territory, but came away with only 10 points. And, of course, there was Caleb King's game-icing fumble with less than two minutes left while the Dawgs were driving nicely down the field for a potential game-winning score. It's starting to look like this team is equally ill-equipped to handle success or adversity, and that's something that one player alone can't be expected to change.
3. For the first time in 14 years, there will be no bowl for the Dawgs this season. OK, technically the Dawgs could still earn a postseason invite if they go at least 5-2 the rest of the season, but . . . where are the wins going to come from? Wins over Florida and Auburn away from home seem like virtual impossibilities at this point; Georgia Tech has struggled but is still doing well enough on offense to hold on to a winning record; even a win over the struggling Tennessee Volunteers this weekend looks like a steep climb uphill. The Dawgs had a three-hour flight home from Colorado to stew over being 1-4, and nobody should be surprised if they return home in a very precarious psychological position.
Overall impressions: Remember how grueling last season's schedule was, and remember how the 2010 slate was pointed to as a prime opportunity for a big step forward in the wins column? Yeah, at this point nobody else does, either.
The beautiful scoring drives that the Bulldogs mounted with A.J. on the field showed just how much potential there is on this young but very talented squad; their failures without him on the field, their mental miscues, and the final score show just how much that potential is being squandered. And keep in mind this is against a team whose own coach occupies one of the country's hotter seats after going 16-33 in his first four years (and who got blown off the field 52-7 by a so-so California team a couple weeks ago).
The offensive line's run-blocking shouldn't be this dependent on A.J. Green's presence. The defense shouldn't be dependent on him period. And yet it's hard to escape the feeling that even if Georgia did manage to win some games with Green back in the lineup, he'd only be papering over some glaring deficiencies in conditioning and leadership that have been nagging at this program for a while now. There's still more than half a season to be played, but every corner this team seems to have turned has been right into the path of an oncoming truck.
Player of the game: No surprise here -- A.J. Green gave the Dawgs the biggest boost they've enjoyed all season with a seven-catch, 119-yard performance that included two touchdowns, one of them an amazing one-handed grab in tight coverage that you've probably seen about a dozen times on highlight shows already. It was the kind of catch you only see made by guys who have long careers of playing on Sundays ahead of them, which Green absolutely does. (But where will that leave the Dawgs?)
Stat of the game: 9.1/2.4 -- Georgia's average yards per play with A.J. on the field and seeing the ball thrown his way, and their yards per play without him. Numbers don't get much starker than that, and they don't bode well for the program's direction after Green takes his virtually inevitable early jump to the NFL after this season.