Two years ago, Georgia made news with a team-wide celebration in the end zone. In retrospect, maybe the team should’ve pitched a tent there. The program hasn’t had a signature win since.
“I’m trying to think,” Mark Richt said Wednesday night. “Did we win any big ones last year?” And then he laughed, that little oh-jeez, has-it-been-that-long, kind of laugh.
It hasn’t been an easy season for Richt. The Bulldogs are 4-3. They’re given little chance of upsetting No. 1 ranked Florida. Bowl prospects include words like “Independence” and “Liberty,” which would be fine if this was something minor like a revolution, not college football in the S0uth.
Georgia still has five games left in the regular season, but it’s fighting a perception problem. Teams are defined, to some degree, by “signature” wins. Within the SEC, the Dogs have come up dry since beating Florida in 2007. They are 9-4 in conference games since the start of last season, and those nine wins have come over (in order): South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU, Kentucky, Auburn, South Carolina (again), Arkansas and Vanderbilt (again). The LSU win looked big at the time, but the Tigers went on to finish only 3-5 in the conference. In fact, every win came over a team that finished with a losing or .500 record in the SEC, save the current South Carolina team (which is 3-2).
Meanwhile, the four losses came to Florida (7-1), Alabama (8-1), LSU (4-1) and Tennessee (1-3).
Fans cling to hope, and perception feeds into that hope. But when the mind has to travel too far back to think of a high point, hope deteriorates. Beating Vanderbilt a week ago after getting whacked by Tennessee didn’t build hope. All that did was prevent Butts-Mehre from being turned into the Russian front.
Georgia needs a win over Florida because the program has done nothing to affirm it belongs with the conference elite since that day in Jacksonville two years ago. There is no opponent left on the schedule, Georgia Tech included, that could send out such a positive signal.
Asked if he believes in the “signature” win concept Richt said, “I don’t think you can talk about them prior to any game. I think you can look back and say, ‘That was a signature win.’ Usually a signature win is a win that propels you into something very meaningful as far as a championship, or maybe helps define your problem. When we beat Auburn and that got us into the SEC championship game [in 2002] for the first time ever, that was a signature victory. But I don’t know if you can say when you’re 4-3 and you get a win, it’s a signature win.”
When asked what he felt was Georgia’s last signature win, Richt said, “I’d have to think about that. What do you think?” Told Florida, he responded, “Yeah, that was a big game. That helped propel us into a streak where we ended up finishing No. 2 in the AP.”
He referenced a win at Alabama in 2007. He even referenced a last-second desperation win at Vanderbilt a few weeks later because it stopped the bleeding following a loss to Tennessee, set up a seven-win finishing kick and the enabled the Bulldogs to end at 11-2.
Similarly, one huge upset Saturday changes a lot. “It could erase a lot of negativity,” defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. “We’re pretty much down in the hole.”
What was Georgia’s last big win? “To me, it’s Florida,” he said. “A lot of people would probably look at beating an undefeated Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl. But to me, it’s Florida.”
Two years ago, they had a dog pile in the end zone. Some thought that was a problem. Turns out, that was the high point.