On Oct. 27, 2007, Knowshon Moreno scored to give Georgia a 7-0 lead against Florida, prompting the Bulldogs’ semi-planned and twice-penalized on-field celebration. What you knew: Georgia won that day 42-30, marking the only time Mark Richt’s team has beaten Urban Meyer’s.
What you didn’t know: The day of the Gator Stomp marked the first and last time — in six tries, mind you — a Richt team has taken a lead on Meyer’s.
As disheartening as Richt being 1-5 against Meyer is, the repeated failure to nose ahead even 3-0 is more alarming. It’s a direct reflection of coaching, or the lack thereof. Rule 1 in the Coaching Manual: Get your team ready to play. Sad to say, the Bulldogs under Richt are rarely ready.
Say what you will about Meyer, but the man can coach. His work against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz., in January 2007 was the greatest coaching performance the BCS title game has ever seen, and his work against Georgia on Saturday was no less inspired. In Jacksonville he took the demonstrably lesser team — anybody see an A.J. Green or a Justin Houston or even an Aaron Murray or an Orson Charles among Gators? — and wrung 450 yards and 34 points from it. Meyer tried everything. Richt’s team tried running the ball on second-and-10 in overtime.
The best you can say about Richt’s coaching is that his players didn’t quit when they fell behind. That’s surely because they’ve had so much practice: Georgia hasn’t led in any of its four SEC losses. South Carolina and Arkansas took the ball first and drove to touchdowns. Georgia took the ball against Mississippi State and went three-and0ut; on Saturday Murray threw an interception on the first snap.
We once considered Richt a splendid gameday coach, but that time is gone. Georgia was 52-13 in Richt’s first five season, reaching the SEC title game three times and winning it twice. It’s 42-19 since. Not coincidentally, Richt’s decline dovetails with Meyer’s rise. (Although it must be noted that Richt has a losing record against three Florida coaches: He was 0-1 against Steve Spurrier, 1-2 against Ron Zook.)
There’s still great talent at Georgia — the old Spurrier knock on Ray Goff now attaches itself to this coach: “Georgia gets all these players; I don’t know what happens to them” — but the coaching has fallen below SEC standards. If we’re looking for the sea-change game, we need underscore Sept. 27, 2008, the night Nick Saban and Alabama came to Athens and not only jumped ahead but led by 31 points after 30 minutes.
Back to Saturday: The Bulldogs got the ball to start overtime, which means the worst they should have done was gain no yards and let Blair Walsh try a 42-yard field goal to put them ahead. Instead Murray threw the ball into stacked coverage and saw the Gators nearly end the game without having to play offense. Murray has had a terrific freshman season and had a fabulous second half, but in the season’s biggest moment he made the one play a quarterback cannot make.
That’s what Georgia under Richt has come to do: It makes the one play to lose a game, as opposed to David Greene throwing to Verron Haynes in Knoxville or to Michael Johnson in Auburn. (Or even Matthew Stafford throwing to Mikey Henderson in Tuscaloosa.) Georgia under Richt has become the toothless tiger — the team everyone respects but nobody fears.
Richt’s 10-year body of work stands as a mighty argument for administrative patience. More current events suggest the Richt of 2010 isn’t the Richt of yesteryear. It took four full seasons under this coach and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder for Georgia to lose 10 games. The Bulldogs lost five times last year, changed defensive coordinators and have already lost five times this.
And now Richt’s gifted Bulldogs have fallen to the worst Florida team Meyer has fielded. In a year where the SEC East was ripe for a young team to rise up and march to the Georgia Dome, that team will not be Mark Richt’s. He’s no longer a championship coach. Dating back to Nov. 29, 2008, his Bulldogs are 13-11, which means he’s barely even a winning coach.