COLUMBIA, S.C. - Sanders Commings, standing outside the visiting locker room on Saturday night, wouldn't quite let go of the Miami dream. But I suspect even Commings and the Bulldogs know that the once-realistic shot of making the BCS championship is now gone.
The hopes of reaching Atlanta, however, aren't gone yet - and I don't mean the Chik-fil-A Bowl. Georgia clearly isn't a better team than South Carolina right now, and if it played Florida tomorrow the Gators would be favored. But the schedule still favors the Bulldogs, who are looking at just one more conference game in which they won't be big favorites: Florida, in three weeks.
Between now and then, South Carolina will have played at LSU and Florida. So as bad as things seem for the Bulldogs the morning after the rout in Columbia, you never know what the landscape could look like later this month.
Before the showdown in Jacksonville, which likely amounts to a last stand for Georgia to salvage a great season, the Bulldogs have a bye week and a trip to Kentucky, which on paper looks like a walkover. Here is what stands out most about the Bulldogs in Columbia, and how much of a problem it is going forward:
1. OFFENSIVE LINE
The problems on offense all came back to this. Entering the season, the front five was expected to be the top concern, and for five games the young, inexperienced unit had managed to be decent. It also helped that the coaches wisely gameplanned around the blocking concerns. But the feel-good story ended on Saturday, as the group was severely overmatched by Jadeveon Clowney and company. Aaron Murray rarely had much time to throw, and when he did he tended to rush his passes. The running lanes weren't there for Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. It was expected that Georgia's O-line would see a slip on Saturday, but the level that it struggled was quite stark.
Can it be fixed: They can't go out and trade for anybody. They just have to hope John Theus and David Andrews can continue to develop, and the unit gradually improves, the way it did last year. Will Friend also might consider some personnel changes: Kenarious Gates hasn't been a lock-down left tackle. The guards have had issues, and were just dominated on Saturday. The only good news for the Bulldogs is they just faced the best defensive line they'll see all season, unless they face LSU or Alabama - and even then you could still make an argument for the Gamecocks being better.
So much for a lock-down defense that carries the team. This unit has instead regressed, and is close to its 2010 form, when it was undone by big plays. What's the problem? Is it cohesion after the suspensions to start the season? That seems too simplistic an answer. But safety Bacarri Rambo has struggled, being victimized for deep balls. Fellow safety Shawn Williams hasn't missed a game, but has been pretty quiet. Alec Ogletree has been very good since his return, but it also resulted in Mike Gilliard spending less time on the field, and Amarlo Herrera learning a new position. Herrera and Ogletree hardly played together until the past couple weeks.The run defense is still too inconsistent, and the pass rush, with some exceptions, isn't getting a consistent push. You also can't leave Todd Grantham blameless: The defensive coordinator has made some good in-game adjustments, but when you have to keep adjusting, that means you were out-schemed to start the game.
Can it be fixed: You would think so, considering all the talent out there. The pro scouts salivate over Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and John Jenkins, and pretty much every other starter has a chance to be drafted too. The bye week comes at a good time for the defense, which needs to use the time for some self-examination. Schematically, they have to figure out how to deal with Jones being focused on by the offense, and getting the other edge rushers - namely Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones - involved.
3. AARON MURRAY
Saturday was the poorest game of his career at Georgia, and while much of it wasn't his fault, it was another missed opportunity for a signature win. Fair or not, it only lends credence to the theory that he can't perform in big games or against stiff competition. Murray wasn't helped by dropped passes on Saturday, adding to the difficulty of throwing under pressure. But he also pressed: On his very first pass, he was determined to fire the ball into Arthur Lynch, and the result was a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage that was picked off.
Can it be fixed: Yes, because Murray is still a very good quarterback, and he may have just faced the best defense he'll see this season. If he can lead Georgia to a win against Florida in a few weeks, much will be forgiven,
4. MICHAEL BENNETT
It did seem the Bulldogs missed their sophomore receiver, who tore his ACL on Tuesday. While the team is deep at the position, Bennett made the type of tough catches the team could have used in key spots on Saturday. Some of those short slants were going to Rantavious Wooten instead, and Wooten is a guy you get the ball on screens or deep balls, not over the middle. Malcolm Mitchell was expected to take on a bigger role and essentially replace Bennett, and he did have the team's biggest catch of the game. But Mitchell and Bennett on the field together would have given the Gameccks much more to worry about.
Can it be fixed: Mitchell has to be more involved in the passing game, and undoubtedly he will. It's hindsight, clearly, but looking back you have to wonder if the Mitchell-on-defense experiment ended up stunting the development of the secondary, which is now playing without Mitchell, and kept Mitchell from getting truly in sync with the offense on Saturday night, when it needed him most. Still, if Murray has more time to pass in future games, he still has plenty of weapons at receiver to make plays and win games.
5. SPECIAL TEAMS
Once again, there was a glaring breakdown for the Bulldogs, who saw Ace Sanders return a punt 69 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. On the bright side for Georgia, everything else went pretty well on special teams, and Marshall Morgan's one extra point try went through.
Can it be fixed: If the special-teams troubles were always isolated on one unit, then you'd say yes. But Mark Richt, in defending the overall performance of the special teams, last week pointed to the punt coverage being strong. And then ... you have that happen. So at this point the Bulldogs just have to keep tweaking and hope for the best.