From a statistical standpoint, Saturday night was the worst performance by the Georgia defense in Kirby Smart’s time as a head coach.
Mac Jones and his wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith took a blow torch to the usually stout secondary. Jones threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Smith caught two of them while Waddle had one as well.
The Bulldogs gave up 564 total yards of offense. The last time Georgia gave up that many yards in a single game came against Auburn in 2013.
Not Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa or Baker Mayfield or any of the other great quarterbacks Georgia has seen in recent years put up a performance as good as Jones.
“Their quarterback I thought played really well. They’ve got great skill players, we knew that coming in,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We were able to contain them a little bit early. In the second half, we couldn’t’ do it. We couldn’t stop them.”
It wasn’t just Jones having an out-of-body performance against what was the top defensive unit in the SEC. Smith and Waddle both had huge games. So too did running back Najee Harris, who ran for more yards against Georgia — 152 — than the Bulldogs had given up in their first three games.
But by far the bigger, and more concerning, the storyline from Saturday was how routinely Waddle and Smith made plays against the likes of the Georgia secondary.
Smith finished with 11 catches for 167 yards. He had two touchdowns in the game, with the second being the final nail in the Bulldogs’ coffin.
WOW… NFL catch. pic.twitter.com/e9f04nL3DJ
— GEORGIA HEROES (@GeorgiaHeroes) October 18, 2020
“When you play man-to-man on those guys you’ve got to be able to get the ball out and make plays,” Smart said. “I thought DeVonta Smith played really big for them tonight. He caught a lot of 50-50 balls as well as Waddle.”
Waddle put up nearly identical production as he had 161 yards. But he needed only six catches to do so. Waddle’s third-quarter touchdown where he zoomed past Tyson Campbell gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good.
GOODBYE JAYLEN WADDLE! 90 YARDS TO THE HOUSE! pic.twitter.com/SCaA6rYY9e
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 18, 2020
“Guys weren’t able to run with Waddle, so they reached out and grabbed him instead of putting their hands on him and stopping him,” Smart said. “That was huge.”
The numbers could’ve been even better for the two wide receivers had Georgia not committed multiple penalties against each of them. One of those — a pass interference penalty against Eric Stokes — turned what would’ve been a third-down stop into a first and goal. Harris scored on the ensuing play for Alabama to push the Crimson Tide lead to 34-24.
“When we messed up, they were able to capitalize on every play,” Richard LeCounte said.
The Bulldogs also didn’t do nearly a good enough job in pressuring Jones to make some errant passes. On Alabama’s opening drive, Azeez Ojulari hit Jones as he threw, forcing an errant pass that was intercepted by LeCounte.
But that was the only interception of the night for Georgia, while Alabama picked off three Stetson Bennett passes.
It’s easy for this defeat to carry some added weight for the Bulldogs, especially when the defense had legitimately been one of the best units in the country coming into the week.
LeCounte still feels confident in what the Bulldogs have on offense. And it is for certain that Georgia won’t face another offense as dominant as Alabama’s in the regular season.
“We will go back to the drawing board where we are able to fix where we messed up tonight and finish our season out. We’re good,” LeCounte said. “It’s just a little bump in our road. We are here to learn from our experience and get better so they next time we’ll be good.”
Georgia defensive back Richard LeCounte talks defensive shortcomings against Alabama
The Georgia defense does have next week off before facing Kentucky on Oct. 31. Going forward, the defense more often than not will look like it did in the first three games as opposed to Saturday night.
But the problem is that if Georgia wants to get to where it’s going, it is probably going to see the likes of Waddle, Smith, Harris and Jones again.
So the group will have a lot of work to do to move on from literally the worst defensive performance of Smart’s tenure.
“It’s a learning experience. They got us this first time. But we’re still going to be playing ball out there.