(UPDATED: 9:20 p.m.)
This is when all involved with the Georgia program will tell themselves, “Well, we got here.”
They will cling to the fact an inspired defense allowed LSU only 12 yards and zero first downs in the first half. They will bang their heads against the fiberglass Uga’s throughout downtown Athens over the what-might-have-beens, if two dropped touchdown passes on their first two possessions hadn’t left the team with only a field goal. They will grit their teeth as they mold toy Honey Badgers out of Play-Doh, then crush them with their fists.
But in the end, the Bulldogs’ return to the SEC Championship game after six years resulted in an ugly tilt on the scoreboard. The final: LSU 42, Georgia 10.
That might not tell the whole story. But it reaffirms what we sort of knew: Despite the season’s 10-game winning streak and the remarkable resiliency we witnessed after a 0-2 start, the Bulldogs just aren’t there yet.
“It doesn’t seem real right now that our momentum stopped,” said tight end Aron White, whose first-quarter touchdown gave the Dogs a 10-0 lead. “It really catches you off-guard when all of a sudden the accolades and the wins stop. It’s definitely going to take a while to get over. But at the end of the day, I don’t think a loss to the No. 1 team in America from the best conference in America is going to take away from the season we’ve had. We can’t say we’re the best, but we can say we were pretty damn good.”
Hard to believe, the Dogs led 10-0. They would have rejoiced more if they didn’t believe that it should have been 21-0, the residue of dropped touchdown passes by Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell. They will wonder how a game in which they once held a 134-7 advantage in totals so completely spun out of control.
“Basically we lost the momentum, they gained it and we couldn’t slow it down,” coach Mark Richt said.
Three months ago, the Bulldogs left the Georgia Dome after a 35-21 loss to Boise State, leaving most wondering about their direction, their resilience and, most of all, Richt.
That shouldn’t be the case any more. But the sting of 42-10 losses tend to sting a while.
Following White’s touchdown, the Dogs’ next 10 possessions resulted in seven punts and three turnovers (all leading to LSU touchdowns). The Bulldogs saw a game that they were implausibly dominating get turned around by a gravity-defying punt returner known in the swamplands as the “Honey Badger.” Sophomore Tyrann Mathieu returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to give LSU what the offense couldn’t: points. Then he brought back another one 47 yards early in third quarter – unofficially breaking seven tackles along the way. That set up a second touchdown and gave the Tigers a 14-10 lead.
Richt on Mathieu: “I’ll be honest: I enjoy watching the guy play football, other than when he plays against us.”
Soon, it was like somebody pulled the stopper out of the bathtub.
A fumble by quarterback Aaron Murray led to another touchdown. The Dogs’ wore down on both lines. LSU then ran them into the ground. The SEC championship was theirs, and the Dogs’ 10-game winning streak was over.
By midway through the fourth quarter, a Dome crowd that was two-thirds Georgia fans was two-thirds empty with a decidedly purple-and-gold tilt.
The Dogs will have a few weeks off before their bowl game. They’ll need it to recover — mentally moreso than physically.
About the what-might-have-beens: The Bulldogs’ defense forced six straight three-and-outs. But that success didn’t carry over to the offense. King dropped a third-down pass in the end zone on the first drive, forcing the Dogs to settle for a 40-yard field goal by Blair Walsh. Malcolm Mitchell dropped a third-down pass at the LSU 5-yard-line on the second drive, seemingly preoccupied with turning to run into the end zone. This time, Walsh missed from 45 yards.
A 10-0 lead against No. 1 just isn’t good enough when it should be 21-0.
“We wanted to have a better show then we ended up showing for 60 minutes,” Richt said.
It was a good show for a short while.
By Jeff Schultz