Georgia's two-touchdown loss to a perennial SEC bottom-feeder has put more than the season on life support -- the future employment prospects of the entire coaching staff have now been brought into question, and it's no longer just the unstable message-board crazies shouting those questions, either. Here are the ominous takeaways from an ugly, ugly night in Starkville.
1. The offensive coaching staff is officially out of ideas. Carlton Thomas, whom you may know as Georgia's third-string running back, stands 5-foot-7 and weighs in at 185 pounds after a particularly filling meal. For some reason, Mike Bobo decided to fling him up against an MSU D-line averaging 285 pounds four times in the fourth quarter alone, when Georgia's need to score was at its most desperate -- despite the fact that our offensive line had spent the entire game up to that point proving they still don't know how to run-block. Swing passes? None that I saw. Touches for any of our tight ends? Well, Orson Charles did get one midway through the third quarter, a 12-yard reception that gave Georgia 1st-and-10 close to midfield -- and he was never heard from again. For a team that led the conference in scoring in SEC games last season, this lack of imagination is truly astounding. Did they just plan on waiting for A.J. Green to come back before they opened up the playbook? Or is this what we can expect for the rest of the season?
2. Opponents are going to run, run, run on Georgia as much as they can for the remainder of 2010 . . . and there may not be much we can do about it. Anyone who watched the debacle in Starkville can bear witness to the previously moribund Mississippi State offense grinding the Georgia defensive front into a pulp in the second half. QB Chris Relf ended up with 97 net yards on 21 carries; RB Vick Ballard, a first-year starter, tore off 77 yards at a rate of five and a half per carry. But while all that was going on on Fox Sports South, you probably missed the action on ESPN, where South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore -- the undisputed MVP of the USC-UGA game with 182 rushing yards -- was held to just 33 yards by an Auburn run defense that ranked third-worst in the SEC last year. We all knew the UGA front seven was going to struggle in their very first year under Todd Grantham's 3-4, but at this point it might be even worse than even the most Eeyorish among us predicted -- and it doesn't offer any clear signals that it's getting better.
3. The "Mark Richt is on the hot seat" meme just became very, very legit. Coming into the season, declarations of Mark Richt being on the hot seat by media pot-stirrers such as Paul Finebaum met mostly with eye rolls and "Yeah, whatever"s from the Georgia faithful. An 0-3 SEC start and a team that actually seems to look worse with each passing week, though, have started the clock ticking very loudly on Richt's career in Athens. If this were just one isolated rebuilding season, that'd be one thing, but it comes right on the heels of a five-loss campaign universally considered the worst of Richt's tenure up to that point, which itself followed a defensive collapse (and humiliating loss to Georgia Tech) in a season that the Dawgs started at #1 in the country. The trend lines are clear as day, and even Richt's most ardent supporters -- which quite recently included Yours Truly -- are coming up empty in their attempts to find any indication that they'll soon turn around.
Overall impressions: What more is there to say, really? The defense held Mississippi State to a merely satisfactory day but couldn't get off the field to save their lives in the second half, despite plenty of favorable opportunities; the offensive game plan continued to show minimal confidence in the offensive skill-position guys to make big plays, yet paradoxically seemed to expect them to make something out of nothing on numerous occasions. Case in point: After Aaron Murray only got to throw 21 passes in a frustrating but competitive loss to South Carolina, Richt promised that they'd take the training wheels off their freshman quarterback and let him open it up some. Their idea of "opening it up": 27 passes against Arkansas, 31 against MSU, a substantial portion of which came in fourth-quarter desperate-catch-up mode. In three SEC games, our vaunted TE corps has six receptions combined.
Something has gone horribly wrong with this team's game plan, and while both Richt and Bobo paid lip service to shouldering the blame and "look[ing] within" to find the reasons for the team's poor performance, we've heard that more than a few times before. And it already looks like it may be too late to make a turnaround of the magnitude it would take just to lift this team to 7-5 caliber.
Right now, this looks like a 3-9 team, one that should beat Idaho State and might get by Vanderbilt in a couple weeks. The return of A.J. Green might be worth another win or two, but even if it is, Georgia's fan base must now pull their life jackets from under their seats, get into crash position, and prepare for the very real possibility that their beloved Dawgs are headed for their first losing season since 1996.
Player of the game: It's starting to sound like a broken record, but despite the so-so line protection and inexplicable play-calling, Aaron Murray did just about everything he could to string together some offensive drives and drag Georgia back into a position to win (final line: 18-of-31, 274 yards, one TD, no picks). That may be one of the saddest things about this whole situation -- the fact that a poised, talented kid who could be one of the most dynamic passers at UGA in years is being so completely hung out to dry by so many people around him.
Stat of the game: 7,240 -- the number of days since the last time the Dawgs held a three-game losing streak. (They actually ended the 1990 season on a four-game streak -- Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, and eventual national co-champion Georgia Tech.) That team finished the season with a 4-7 record, 2-5 in the SEC -- eighth out of 10 teams.