Jacksonville — The game was a total loss, but the lesson imparted need not be. After yet another lost Saturday in Duval County, this much is beyond dispute: Georgia is no longer a major player in its division, let alone the nation.
Mark Richt began his somber media briefing by saying, “Well, here we are again.” And there they were, lopsided losers. It was 49-10 last season and 41-17 this time, and for all the good work Richt did in the early part of this decade, he and his program have been lapped by Urban Meyer. And Richt, once so clever and driven, seems to have run out of ideas.
He tried the color-scheme gimmick Saturday, presenting his players with black helmets after they’d warmed up in the usual red headgear. The upshot of this was to make Georgia look like an Arena league team and to cow the nation’s No. 1 team not one whit. After 11 1/2 minutes, the guys in the orange hats led the guys in the black hats 14-0.
“It’s not the helmet,” safety Reshad Jones said. “It’s what inside the helmet.”
Well, yes. With an extra week to prepare, Willie Martinez seemed even more witless than usual. As bad as the Gators’ first two touchdowns were, the third was an affront to everything Red and Black. Facing third-and-3 at the Georgia 23 with 1:32 left in the half, Florida ran a simple option. Tim Tebow faked a handoff and burst up the middle. He scored the touchdown that put him ahead of the hallowed Herschel Walker without being touched.
“They’re a good team,” said defensive end Justin Houston. “But it seemed like every time we made a bad play, they capitalized on it.”
In the first half Georgia had eight penalties. In the second it had four interceptions. If it was to have any chance against the Gators, it had to play a clean game. Instead it authored another in a series of messes.
If we’re to believe recruiting rankings, the gulf between Georgia and Florida shouldn’t be so pronounced. But Saturday was another installment of men against boys, and it called to mind the barb Steve Spurrier sunk into Ray Goff in this stadium 18 years ago: “Georgia gets all these players — I don’t know what happens to them.”
Players go to Florida and get, to invoke another Spurrier-ism, coached up. Players come to Georgia and are left to their own devices. Martinez is a substandard defensive coordinator, and no other position coach can be said to have done fabulous work. (Unless you count Kevin Butler, who isn’t a coach but who did sire the prodigious punter Drew Butler.)
Said Richt: “We’re 4-4 this season. I don’t think it’s an indictment of the program. I think it’s an indictment of where we are this year.”
Except Georgia has underachieved three times in the past four seasons, and as Richt himself noted Saturday: “There’s no guarantee of a bowl. The question is, will we play a game when we don’t do something that hinders us from being the best we can be?”
The Bulldogs have never lost more than four games under Richt, but they’ve never been 4-4 under this coach, either. Regarding possible changes, he said: “It’s not good to make decisions within minutes of an emotional game. You’ve got to settle your mind and settle your spirit, and then see where you are.”
As darkness fell on Halloween 2009, Georgia was again where it has been too often. The program that has all the resources was left to wonder why it has fallen so far behind Florida. And the ugly truth has never been more apparent: Florida might or might not have better players, but it absolutely has better coaches.