Looking lousy against Boise State was one thing. Looking good but losing anyway was, in its way, worse. After the Georgia Bulldogs congratulated themselves on their Great Effort against South Carolina, the thought occurred:
Does Nick Saban congratulate himself after losses?
There are two ways to regard the bizarre doings of Saturday night. Mark Richt’s sunny-side-up stance was to speak of his team having “all the ingredients” and just needing “to tweak a couple of things.” The burnt-toast way is to reference the scoreboard and note that, once again, Richt’s team did whatever it took to lose.
You don’t go from losing half of your past 30 games to winning championships by tweaking. If anyone should know, it’s Richt. The march to the 2002 SEC championship was fueled by the desire — Richt’s words — to knock the lid off Georgia football. (The Bulldogs had gone two decades without a title.) Knocking implies force. Tweaking implies rather less. For contemporary Georgia football, less cannot yield more.
Optimists among us will point to Isaiah Crowell and Malcolm Mitchell and Aaron Murray and Orson Charles and laud, as Richt did Saturday night, Georgia’s “talent base.” But the Bulldogs haven’t lacked for talent — not under Richt, not under Jim Donnan, not even under Ray Goff. At issue is whether Georgia again can learn to win, and that’s a whole ‘nother matter.
There’s a troubling label for what Georgia has become, and that label is “South Carolina.” For more than a century the Gamecocks would try very hard and stir deep passion but never quite get it right. How many times did Carolina play the Bulldogs off their feet and lose at the end? It happened in 2002, the David Pollack sack/snatch game that also featured two Gamecock fumbles on the goal line; happened in 2004, when Carolina led 16-0 but lost 20-16; happened in 2009, when it outgained Georgia by 119 yards but lost because Brandon Boykin returned a kickoff to score and because DeAngelo Tyson blocked a tying PAT.
There was no reason for Georgia to lose Saturday. Indeed, losing required real doing. More than just being fooled on a fake punt, Georgia couldn’t intercept a defensive end as he thundered 68 yards to a touchdown. It was bad enough that nobody blocked Jadeveon Clowney, far worse that Murray waved the ball and left it unsecured, thereby turning a sack into a sack, strip and score.
“We’re going to shake off the mistakes and become a very good football team,” Richt said, and maybe Georgia will. But I’m more skeptical after South Carolina than after Boise State. More and more, Richt bears the look of one of those coaches who can take his’n and lose to your’n and vice versa.
Did the coach order Murray and Crowell to botch a handoff at a time when Georgia was poised to take a 27-14 lead? Of course not. But the worst possible play at the worst possible moment has become a Bulldog signature. Georgia should have beaten Colorado last season, but Caleb King fumbled. Georgia could have beaten Florida, but Murray threw into a throng in overtime.
Mathematically speaking, Richt was correct in saying: “We’re still in the Eastern Division race.” Having watched Richt’s team contrive to lose a game that would have been far easier to win, I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for math.
Sure, it’s possible Georgia could win the next 10 games and take the East. It’s possible Richt could not only keep his seat but cement himself in place. It’s also possible Georgia will continue to do as Georgia now does — lose most every close game — and Dan Mullen will be tapped to coach the Bulldogs in 2012.
Speaking of Boise, Richt had said: “When you play a team that’s used to winning and that knows how to win, it’s hard.” Georgia has become the kind of team that’s easy to play. An opponent needn’t do all that much — just hang around long enough for the Bulldogs to mess up.
By Mark Bradley