ATHENS – On the same day Georgia commemorated the 30th anniversary of the 1980 national championship team, the current incarnation of the Bulldogs had to embrace something significantly south of that: bowl life.
When a team starts 1-4, even Birmingham starts to look like the promised land.
But forget Birmingham or Nashville or Memphis. There’s an opportunity for the Dogs to celebrate something far more significant a third-tier bowl game — and certainly more tantalizing than Saturday’s 55-7 win over a Division I-AA punching bag, Idaho State.
“I know we’ve got a chance to win,” A.J. Green said Saturday. “I feel like they haven’t faced anybody else like me and [quarterback] Aaron [Murray] with our offense. We’re really going to show them. We’re going to shock a lot of people.”
This might be the first time in recorded history a player on a 5-5 team has thrown down the gauntlet against potentially the best team in country. But you’ve got to admire the spunk.
Georgia’s quest this season has long since been reduced to that of a spoiler. Embracing that is the Dogs’ best chance for mental and physical survival.
Last week’s overtime loss to Florida hit this team hard emotionally.
Green: “I still carry it with me.”
It was a foregone conclusion they would beat Idaho State. The Bengals are bad even by I-AA standards, having now lost eight straight and 33 of their past 36. Put it this way: Idaho State (No. 206 in Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings) entered the week ranked lower than even Georgia State’s opponent (Lamar at 204), and lower than the first-year Panthers (185).
Idaho State accepted a $525,000 payment in exchange for the likelihood of getting pounded. That’s precisely what happened.
Upsetting Auburn (10-0) wouldn’t nearly make up for losses in Starkville and Boulder and every other headache associated with this season. But it would ease the pain of the big picture. Imagine being jobless and then hitting a $10,000 scratch-off lottery ticket..
Green again: “A lot of people are probably going to favor them. But that’s just talk.”
“They’re going to be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation, and we haven’t beaten a ranked team all year,” Murray said. “Our last two games [against Auburn and Georgia Tech] are against teams with winning records. We can still salvage a lot.”
Murray threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Green caught two of those scores and finished with six receptions for over 100 yards. Each played only one possession in the second half.
The Dogs, however, were not without some early hiccups. They started this game like their heads were somewhere else. Jacksonville, probably.
Georgia’s first three offensive possessions produced only two field goals and a punt. Some fans booed, particularly when coach Mark Richt chose to go for three points on fourth-and-2 from the Idaho State 20 on the opening possession.
The score was only 6-0 after the first quarter. I’m not sure, but I think I saw Todd Grantham give Mike Bobo a choke sign.
But any sense of drama left the building in a 35-point second quarter. A partially blocked punt set up the Dogs at the Idaho State 43. Six plays later, Caleb King ran in from 3 yards out. Bacarri Rambo had an interception and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown soon after. Then came another interception, this by Brandon Boykin, and one play later Murray threw a 3-yard scoring pass to Green. Georgia scored 21 points in 2:15. The rout was on.
Here’s the big picture in the SEC: Seven teams are bowl eligible. Georgia isn’t one of them. An upset of Auburn would change that. It also would give the Dogs something significant this season: a highlight.
It’s an obvious long shot. But a team clings to what it can.