ATHENS – It’s best to not get lost in the blur of “what-ifs.”
What if the first opponent was 1-AA roadkill and not a ranked team? What if Georgia had a week to work out flaws before playing Boise State? Or an easy game to prep for South Carolina? Then would they be leading the SEC East today? What if Marcus Lattimore had suddenly declared before last week’s game, “On second thought, I’m going to save my legs for equestrian. Away with you, Mr. Spurrier”?
It’s just not worth it.
Georgia dug a deep hole, and it’s going to be a while before anybody will be able to see light again. The hole didn’t get any deeper Saturday. But otherwise, we saw what we already knew: The Bulldogs are physically superior to Coastal Carolina. They rule over all Chanticleers. Say it loud, say it proud. They led 21-0 after roughly 17 seconds and 38-0 one series into the second half, when all starters headed for Barcaloungers.
They won 59-0. If they can do this to Coastal Carolina, imagine what they could do to Liberty, and Presbyterian, and Stony Brook. Big South: You are the gum under the SEC’s shoe.
“All right. We got a victory,” coach Mark Richt said.
It was the first time Richt he could use those words in a postgame news conference in nine and a half months.
Georgia had not won a game since beating Georgia Tech on Nov. 27. Since then, Athens had witnessed various forms of suffering, anguish and humiliation: A lifeless defeat to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl. A body slam by Boise State in the season opener. A woulda-coulda-shoulda loss to South Carolina.
“This probably won’t turn a lot of people’s heads,” quarterback Aaron Murray admitted.
But a win was needed for some kind of cleansing. Or exorcism. The Dogs just aren’t feeling the love these days, and they know it will take a long series of victories — or at least one in Florida — before they feel it again.
Even one of the team’s cheerleaders could be overheard as the final seconds ticked down, “Yay! We’re 1-2!” the words dripping with sarcasm.
The good? There is a pulse after an 0-2 start. A 59-0 win takes a certain level of effort and pride, even if the marquee reads: Godzilla vs. Bambi. It was the Dogs’ most lopsided victory since a 70-6 win over Northeast Louisiana in 1994. Richt can only hope it’s a greater launching pad than it was for Ray Goff 17 years ago.
But some of the negative vibes around the program also were reaffirmed. There were about 10,000 empty seats in Sanford Stadium at kickoff. Attendance (tickets distributed) was announced as 91,946, which is the first non-sellout (by 800) in the Mark Richt era. Georgia had sold out 64 straight. The last non-sellout came in Jim Donnan’s final game against Georgia Tech in 200.
We can quibble about how close the number was to listed capacity. But bottom line: When the most popular sports property in the state fails to sell out for the first time in 11 years, it’s significant.
So it was a little surprising when Richt said, “I don’t think it’s a big deal. It was just about taking care of business.”
For players, that last part is true. But externally, confidence will build again only if Georgia can string together wins over the next four weeks: at Mississippi, Mississippi State, at Tennessee and Vanderbilt. It would create some momentum going into the Florida game.
“Our goal is to go 10-0, and that started today,” Murray said.
“I’m sure most people just view this as as somebody we should have beaten,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “But a game like this, just getting the shutout, gives us confidence.”
OK: What if? What if Georgia had played Coastal Carolina first?
“I wouldn’t have wanted that,” Boykin said. “I wanted to play a tough team at the beginning of the year. That game showed us what we needed to do to get ready for South Carolina. We played better last week because we had a rough time with Boise.”
In other words, this is your team. The schedule wasn’t going to change that. Now it’s about making the headache go away. We’ll know more over the next few weeks.
By Jeff Schultz