It had been billed by some as the second-biggest game of Mark Richt’s entire coaching career at Georgia. The biggest: On a cold and blustery November day on The Plains in 2002, Georgia played Auburn in a game that would decide the SEC East.
Today, Georgia was playing for…what? A modicum of job security for its embattled coach? A leg up in the SEC East race? Bragging rights in a border rivalry that really wasn’t much of a rivalry until the Evil Genius arrived at South Carolina a few years back? Bragging rights on that same Evil Genius, who hasn’t seemed quite so evil since taking over at South Carolina?
At any rate, about that Auburn game. Georgia won. Nobody was expecting it. Auburn had been beating Georgia soundly all night long, but there Georgia was with fourth-and-15 and only 19 yards to go for the winning score. They made a play. They got the winning score. That play lives on even to this day in the annals of Bulldog lore as “70X Takeoff”.
That victory got us our first SEC championship in 20 years, and it made us believe that this coach and this team could win any game.
Alas, how times have changed.
And with the same coach in place, too.
Like that Auburn game nine years ago (almost), this one came down to one last drive. One last chance to move down the field and score and win it right there at the end. You just knew it was going to happen.
Here’s what happened instead: Nobody blocked Jadeveon Clowney. He ran right up the middle untouched, knocked Aaron Murray onto his backside, knocked the ball loose, and watched while his teammate Melvin Ingram scooped it up and ran in untouched to give South Carolina a 10-point lead with 3:12 to play.
Game, set, and match: South Carolina.
More would happen. Georgia would score a quick touchdown to pull within 45-42. Richt would botch the calling of his second timeout on South Carolina’s last series, allowing them to run the clock out.
But that fumble-and-touchdown was it.
Given the chance to make a drive and win the game, this team couldn’t even make a play.
Once upon a time, this team used to make such plays. They used to win such games. (I am remembering that correctly, aren’t I? Or is it the aftereffects of whatever was in the brownies I ate for dessert on Labor Day weekend?)
Now, they don’t make winning plays anymore.
Aaron Murray is a great quarterback, make no mistake about it. Isaiah Crowell is showing a great deal of promise at running back. They made a great deal of inspired plays this evening. They will make many more inspired plays over the course of this season.
But will Aaron Murray or Isaiah Crowell ever make another P-44 Haynes or 70X Takeoff or anything equivalent? Does this program even have any such plays left in the tank?
I don’t think so.
Nowadays, when Georgia has the ball at the end of a tight game with a chance to make a play to win the game, that play goes unmade. The other team makes the plays that need to be made. Georgia fights valiantly in tight games like this, but always perishes at the end.
Count on it.
That was a problem through all of the 2010 season, and it is continuing to be a problem in 2011.
So much had gone right today. The defense was playing much better than last week. The offensive line was actually blocking. Aaron Murray was making plays, and Isaiah Crowell was having a big night: 118 yards in just his second collegiate game ever.
If nobody had kept score, it would have been a GREAT game.
But this is big-time collegiate football. They keep score in these games. Somebody did, and we lost.
In the postgame press conference, Mark Richt said that this is “going to be a fine football team”. Would somebody please tell Coach Richt that the time for moral victories is past? That sort of statement would be perfectly OK for a first- or second-year coach trying to rebuild a program that hasn’t played championship caliber football in decades. But there once was a time–only a few years ago, if my memory serves me correctly–when this coach did not need to traffic in moral victories. Because this coach would actually go out and WIN those games!!!!!!!!!
Steve Spurrier at the postgame press conference: “Georgia outplayed us, but we won the game. Sometimes it happens like that.”
Sometimes it does happen like that. Alas, it never happens like that for Georgia. Not anymore, at least. This program has all the talent and all the resources it could possibly need, yet it has lost exactly half of its last 30 games, going back to the end of 2008.
A telling sequence near the end of the first half: Georgia scored to go up 13-7, and then Richt ordered up an onside kick. Brilliant move on his part. And it worked. Almost. Bacarri Rambo was called for being just a hair offside. South Carolina got the ball, and then the Georgia defense stuck it to them and forced them to punt. Almost. The Evil Genius called for a fake punt, and Melvin Ingram took it to the house. 14-13, South Carolina.
As Ingram was flying up the sideline, Richt flung his playcards and headset a good 10 yards out onto the field in exasperation. All week long Richt played coy with the media, trying to evade the question as to whether or not this game was a must-win for him. But when the game was slipping away out of his grasp, he gave the answer by his actions.
Yes, this was a must-win for him.
Richt certainly isn’t going to be fired tomorrow. He will certainly stay around until the end of this season, and possibly the end of next season.
There will be other must-wins. Richt may actually win some of those. He may win enough of those to hang on for another year or two or even longer.
But when he doesn’t, it becomes abundantly clear that this is the new normal at Georgia. The old Mark Richt, who famously Finished the Drill back in the early 00’s, is now but a distant memory. Alas, this team and this coach haven’t finished much of anything lately.
This is a team and a program that should win big. It certainly doesn’t lack for the necessary resources. Alas, it has forgotten how.