There’s a reasonable case to be made that Georgia could lose to South Carolina on Saturday and still have a fruitful season. Trouble is, a loss to South Carolina will render reason inoperative. For the Bulldogs to fall to 0-2 after an offseason of brave talk could turn kneejerk reaction — “He’s lost his first two, so Mark Richt is a goner” — into a feeds-on-itself reality.
Georgia was outcoached and outclassed by a team from the Mountain West on Saturday night, and this happened not on the Boise blue rug but under the off-white roof of the Georgia Dome. Richt’s Dream Team freshmen were presented an object lesson on how a Real Team handles itself under duress: Down 7-0 in hostile environs, Boise State took a deep breath, willed itself to be precise and scored the next 28 points.
As for Georgia … well, I’m not sure what it was trying to do. Contrary to popular belief, Mike Bobo isn’t the world’s worst offensive coordinator — but you wouldn’t have known it Saturday. The Bulldogs would throw a deep incompletion on first down and then run up the middle on second-and-10. (If you’re going to throw on first down, you’d better be ready to throw on second, too.) The offensive line could not block the Broncos’ front. Todd Grantham’s defense got blocked all game.
(No sacks for the vaunted 3-4? Said cornerback/returner/wingback Brandon Boykin: “With the scheme we run, we thought we’d get a little more pressure.”)
And the worst part was that none of this was new. I admit it: I expected a team transformed, and I didn’t even see a team tweaked. (Except for the Power Ranger uniforms, about which we need not speak again.) Georgia was flagged for three penalties on its first possession and four false starts in all. Aaron Murray was sacked six times. The offense sustained nothing: The Bulldogs never ran a play inside the Boise 20 and mustered only 13 first downs.
Two moments were telling. Grantham was forced to call timeout not three minutes into the second half because his defenders were fatigued from the Boise hurry-up. So much for “halftime adjustments,” eh? And so much for Joe Tereshinski’s conditioning methods.
The other came 3 1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter. Boise had scored to re-establish its 21-point lead, and a goodly portion of Georgia fans got up and left. Think about that. You’ve waited all summer for this night, you’ve paid for tickets and parking and food and hydration … and you leave with 11:37 remaining?
More than just an acknowledgment of the score, this retreat was born of utter deflation. These folks had convinced themselves to believe again, and now they felt betrayed.
(Asked if it was disappointing to see the Dome 40 percent empty with more than 10 minutes left, Boykin said: “A little bit, honestly. But it’s our job to play.”)
Richt knew the risk in scheduling an opponent of Boise’s worth but felt the possible reward offset it. Had Georgia lost on a last-second field goal, his constituency could have taken consolation in the effort. This result offered only growing conviction that Georgia’s woes aren’t a function of personnel or bad breaks. One uninspired night dashed nearly all the good will the assemblage of the Dream Team had wrought. What’s the point of having good players if they aren’t put in position to play well?
That said … South Carolina was always going to be the bigger of the two games. Beating Boise might have put Georgia back on the map, but beating Carolina could put the Bulldogs back in the Dome. It’s hard to envision the disjointed team we saw Saturday finishing atop the SEC East, but Virginia Tech lost its first two games last season — the first to Boise, the second to James Madison — and wound up in the Orange Bowl as ACC champs.
As numbing as Saturday was, other Saturdays await. Beat South Carolina and those folks who left early will be disgruntled no more. (At least not for the next seven days.) Lose and the peals of discord among his constituency could become a bell this coach cannot unring. This might not be the biggest game of Richt’s career — the one at Auburn in 2002 was mighty large — but it’s in the top two.
By Mark Bradley