MEMPHIS – Mark Richt says he is disappointed. He says he has to make changes. He says the Georgia football program is not where it needs to be, and when a once-respectable SEC program ends its season by failing to score a touchdown against a team from Conference USA, nobody is going to dispute that.
Here’s the only matter up for debate: Does anybody believe Mark Richt can still get it done?
It didn’t look like it this season, when the Bulldogs finished with a losing record (6-7) for the first time in 14 years. It didn’t look like it at Mississippi State or Colorado or in Jacksonville (again).
It didn’t look like it Friday night, because if the average Georgia fan considers it humiliating having to win in the final week of the season just to become bowl eligible — and then get stuck with the Liberty Bowl — what do you call it when the Bulldogs lose to Central Florida, 10-6?
This is what it looks like: Mark Richt has lost control of this program.
At the very least, he has lost the benefit of the doubt. The win totals in the last four seasons: 11, 10, eight, six.
Before Georgia’s game against Tech, I stated that Richt’s early success in Athens (two SEC titles in five seasons) earned him another year and the right to fix the problems. A part of me still believes that. But there’s mounting evidence that’s not going to happen.
The Dogs open next season against Boise State. Is there any part of you right now that says Georgia will win that game?
Ten days before Auburn will play in the BCS championship game, four days before Arkansas is in the Sugar Bowl and on the same afternoon a story broke that new Florida coach Will Muschamp is on the verge of hiring Charlie Weis as the Gators’ offensive coordinator, Georgia lost a bottom-tier bowl game to a team from Conference USA, which is a hiccup ahead of the Sun Belt.
If the damage from this was limited, it’s only because Uga VIII stayed home with a stomach virus.
Hopefully, the dog wasn’t watching on TV when Richt sent the worst possible message to his team on their opening possession. The offense had just driven from their own one-yard line to the UCF three. But on fourth-and-1 — and in the first quarter of the Liberty Bowl — Richt opted for the field goal. He defended the decision afterward.
Is that how Richt now defines finishing the drill?
The Dogs didn’t necessarily look emotionless. They just looked pointless.
Central Florida, coached by the familiar George O’Leary, smacked them in the mouth. Georgia didn’t look equipped to smack back. They couldn’t run the ball. They couldn’t get tough yards. They couldn’t make a big play when they needed one. They were 3 for 14 on third-down conversions.
Aaron Murray completed his first seven passes. Then he went 14 for 31 with two interceptions. A.J. Green had eight catches but they covered only 77 yards (9.6 average, well below his 15.7 season average).
Say goodbye to A.J.: He didn’t make it official afterward that his next catch will be in the NFL but logic says that Liberty Bowl humiliation won’t be enough to keep him in college.
This is worse than Starkville, even worse than Boulder. It came at the end of a season, after a month of preparation, when Georgia should have worked out some of its problems.
Also, Colorado doesn’t play in a conference made by Fisher-Price.
In his typical postgame monotone delivery, Richt said: “We’re all disappointed. We didn’t want to finish with a loss. We didn’t want to finish with a losing record. Nobody would’ve predicted that. But it is what it is. There’s reasons why we ended up the way we did. We have to make changes. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future. We have to change how we go about our business. We’re going to improve. We’re going to get Georgia where it belongs.”
Do you believe him? Because from here, it looks like Georgia just turned into Kentucky – a school looking forward to basketball season.
Georgia loses almost annually to Florida. Now it loses to Central Florida. Get ready for 2012: Florida Atlantic is on the schedule.
Don’t laugh. It’s not that big of a step down. And things are headed in that direction.
– By Jeff Schultz