From OnlineAthens.com
October 17th, 2016 10:52 AM

When Georgia and Florida next take the field on Oct. 29 in Jacksonville, the game will pit two former Alabama coordinators whose teams are trending in different directions.
Jim McElwain’s Gators are ranked No. 15 and in contention for a second straight trip to the SEC championship game. His record as a first-year head coach at Colorado State was 4-8 in 2012.
After nine years as an assistant coach at Alabama, including four national titles as a defensive coordinator, Smart is 4-3 at Georgia in his first season as a head coach after being upset 17-16 at home to Vanderbilt Saturday.
“That all starts with me,” Smart said. “That responsibility falls on me and I told the players that. We’ve got to improve as a team in order to beat teams like that. We’ve got to get better.”
Smart’s rookie head coaching season is coming on the biggest of stages in the SEC, not in the Mountain West Conference. He was tapped quickly by Georgia and athletic director Greg McGarity to replace a coach, Mark Richt, who averaged 9.7 wins a year during 15 seasons.
Richt is now at Miami and has lost two straight home games to Florida State and North Carolina after a 4-0 start. That’s the same North Carolina team that Smart began his head coaching career by beating 33-24.
It has been anything but smooth sailing since then.
FCS Nicholls State fell just short of an upset in a 26-24 Bulldogs home win.
Georgia needed a fourth-and-10 Jacob Eason touchdown pass of 20 yards to get by Missouri, the same Tigers team that’s been throttled by LSU 42-7 and Florida 40-14 the past two games.
The Bulldogs were hammered by Ole Miss 45-14, a game it trailed 45-0. Georgia lost on a Hail Mary at home to Tennessee a week later.
The largest margin of victory was 28-14 at South Carolina, but the Bulldogs led by just seven before an onsides kickoff return for touchdown with 1:33 to go.
“We’ve faced adversity of all kinds this season,” tight end Jeb Blazevich said.
Georgia was ranked No. 18 in the preseason but is 50th in the latest Sagarin ratings, five spots below Georgia Tech and ninth among SEC teams.
Now the adversity will come in trying to fix things and there is plenty to address. Among them:
--Georgia wants to be a physical running team and rely on play-action but the Bulldogs are inconsistent on the ground. They averaged 2.1 yards per carry against Vanderbilt after an average of 6.5 against South Carolina.
Georgia is 92nd nationally and 10th in the SEC in scoring offense at 25.1 points per game. That comes in a year when scoring at 30.5 is on pace to set an FBS record nationally, according to CBSSports.com.
On a pivotal fourth-and-1 at the Commodores 41-yard line, Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney went with a toss sweep to 5-foot-8, 175-pound wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie and had tailback Nick Chubb as a fullback. Chubb didn’t find Zach Cunningham who dropped McKenzie short of the first down marker.
--Special teams issues. Georgia has surrendered two of the top 17 longest kickoff returns in FBS this year of 95 yards by both Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims and North Carolina’s T.J. Logan.
Fielding a punt was a challenge Saturday against Vanderbilt’s rugby style. Isaiah McKenzie misread a line drive that bounced at the 33 and rolled 12 yards past him. The next punt went from the Georgia 38 all the way to the 11. McKenzie bobbled another punt for a five yard loss. Terry Godwin had a punt sail over his head but the play was wiped out by penalty.
“We’re getting field position nightmare,” Smart said.
Smart is one of 19 first-year head coaches in the FBS this year (18 if you don’t include former NFL head coach Lovie Smith at Illinois), according to CBSSports.com.
Smart is tied with four others for the fifth best overall record of that group, but 11 took over programs with losing records last season. Georgia went 10-3 in 2015.
Three of the previous four Georgia coaches also had their first head coaching job with the Bulldogs.
Richt had on the job training with clock management in his first season. Just like Smart who called not getting a timeout before the half at South Carolina a “debacle.”
Richt went 8-4 in 2001 after the Bulldogs went 8-4 in 2000 in Jim Donnan’s final season.
Ray Goff was 6-6 in 1989 after Georgia was 9-3 in Vince Dooley’s final season.
Dooley went 7-3-1 in his first season in 1964 after taking over a program coming off a 4-5-1 season.
Unless Georgia runs the table the rest of the season, the Bulldogs overall record will decline in Smart's first season. Bulldog fans can only hope the losses don’t keep piling up in a finishing stretch and look forward to tapping into a 2017 recruiting class currently ranked No. 5 in the nation by Rivals.com.
McElwain followed up that four win season--a one win improvement from when he took over--in his first head coaching season by going 8-6 and 10-2 at Colorado State and was 10-4 in his first Florida season.
"There are certain things you can do to build shortcuts when you're building a foundation, and maybe some things will happen a little sooner,” McElwan said before his second Colorado State season. “Obviously I want it to happen as soon as possible, yet at the same time, when you take shortcuts sometimes, there might be early results, but in the end that foundation crumbles. I think we've done an outstanding job of staying the course, not panicking and building for what we are going to do here.”
Smart’s timeline at Georgia is different and he knows he and his staff will be expected to fix things.
“As a leader,” he said, “this is on me.”


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