It was an awful loss, but it wasn’t the end of UGA’s ascent

It wasn't the greatest homecoming for Aaron Murray, was it? (AP photo)

It wasn't the greatest homecoming for Georgia's Aaron Murray, was it? (AP photo)

Tampa — This was a bad loss, OK? This was a really bad loss by a team that had positioned itself to win by two touchdowns until its quarterback began throwing the ball to the wrong team. But in the grand scheme — and by “grand” I mean a distance of Grand Canyon dimensions — losing to Michigan State might be a good thing for the Georgia Bulldogs.

A year and two days ago, Georgia was wondering how how long it would take to rise from 6-7. To the Bulldogs’ credit, they rose to 10-2 and to the SEC East title in the span of 11 months. In its final two games, Georgia proved its transformation from underachiever to champion is not yet complete.

In the SEC championship game, Georgia led LSU 10-0 but lost 42-10. In the Outback Bowl here Monday, the Bulldogs led Michigan State 16-0 and had outgained the Spartans 217 yards to 81 when, four minutes into the third quarter, Aaron Murray scrambled to his right and saw Tavarres King near midfield. Murray thought King would backtrack. Instead King ran deeper. Murray’s pass, directed where King wasn’t, was intercepted. With that, a game Georgia had dominated began to unspool.

Said Mark Richt, Georgia’s coach: “Aaron had plenty of space. He was being pressured, but he wasn’t under duress.”

Had Murray scrambled for a modest gain, had he flung the ball out of bounds, Georgia might well have won this game breezing. The interception gave the Spartans a lift they hadn’t really earned, and therein hangs a lesson.

Said Todd Grantham, Georgia’s defensive coordinator: “Good teams are always going to make plays. You have to learn to put teams away, and there’s a learning curve for that. You’ve got to educate yourself. You’ve got to go through things.”

What Georgia went through the rest of this excruciating day was a crash course in comeuppance. Ahead and in control, the Bulldogs blew that 16-point lead, surged back ahead inside the final seven minutes, saw Michigan State tie it with 19 seconds left in regulation and managed to mess up three overtimes as badly as three overtimes can be messed up. It was as if the Football Fates said, “Yeah, you’re young and you’re talented, but you’re not there yet.”

Bacarri Rambo intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass at the beginning of overtime, and that should have been that. But Richt, choosing to err on the side of extreme caution, opted to have Blair Walsh try a field goal on third down from the 25, which is where you get the ball to start an overtime. Sure enough, Walsh missed. (A low snap contributed.) Two more overtimes would follow, and finally it ended with a Walsh kick being blocked.

Georgia’s offensive yield in the three OTs: Eight plays for minus-4 yards. Indeed, Michigan State — which managed two first downs in the first 35 minutes — would outgain the Bulldogs 391 yards to 339. Georgia couldn’t run a lick, and 20 Murray completions were offset by two interceptions, a lost fumble and four sacks.

The second Murray interception was returned for a touchdown, the fourth time this season a Murray throw yielded six opposing points. Three of those came in losses. As superb as Murray can be, there’s still a bit of the wild point guard in him: He can keep both teams in the game.

Said Mike Bobo, the offensive coordinator: “We’ve just got to do a better job as a team of protecting the football.”

Said Richt: “You’ve got to respect the ball.”

Somehow Georgia contrived to lose on a day when Brandon Boykin, ostensibly a defender, scored three times (tackle for safety, punt return, pass reception). Somehow the champ of the SEC East lost to the champ of the Big Ten Legends Division, and we all know the SEC shouldn’t be losing to the Big Ten in a bowl game. That said …

This ugly loss does not — repeat, does not — invalidate the 10 games Georgia won in 2011. This game is not — repeat, is not — proof that these Bulldogs will never win anything big under Richt.  Yeah, it was a wretched ending to a turnaround season, but the turnaround stands.

Said Boykin, a senior who was the game’s MVP: “We made huge strides from 6-7, but great teams finish when they’re supposed to. The LSUs and Alabamas — there’s a reason they’re going to the national championship game. We held LSU to 12 yards in the first half and didn’t finish. We had the lead today and didn’t finish. Once they figure out how to pound a team and not give up anything, Georgia can be special.”

Said Richt: “At the moment, this one hurts. But in time it will heal.”

Some of you might consider those empty words. But we need recall another bowl loss, the Music City defeat by a Boston College team of no special distinction, that capped Richt’s first season. It was easy that day in Nashville to claim that Georgia was still the same old Georgia, but soon it wasn’t. The next year the Bulldogs went 13-1 and won Georgia’s first SEC title in two decades.

By Mark Bradley

1,128 comments Add your comment

On the verge!!

January 2nd, 2012
7:15 pm

Ga’s on the verge of greatness! richt says so—give him a raise and long-term contract!

Rosezeee

January 2nd, 2012
7:18 pm

Richt opts to put it all on shoulders of a kicker who has struggled all year to make a long fg. Richt nice guy & gutless too.

SpartyBob

January 2nd, 2012
7:18 pm

Mark,
You can say stuff such as “The interception gave the Spartans a lift they hadn’t really earned”. In the big ten we are tired about hearing the SEC speed. I am proud of the MSU team that it played a fantastic defense against a SEC team, ehich was supposed to be a blow out at half time.

Thomas Dimitroff is a moron

January 2nd, 2012
7:19 pm

When was last time that Richt’s team won a game because they outcoached an opponent?!?!!

With 3 turnovers, Murray is the most celebrated QB without a signature win ever!

Did Richt know his FG kicker had missed 12 this year?!?!?

We played 4 good teams all year… Lost them all!!!

Denver Dog

January 2nd, 2012
7:20 pm

Onky reason why it’s was a good season was that the Dawgs didn’t play anybody worth a crap, the teams they did, Boise, USC and Mi St, they LOST

SouthgaDawg

January 2nd, 2012
7:20 pm

Bobo oh Bobo you did it again.
Three straight plays where the RB went sideways instead of north and south.You could have iced the game but nooooo…… And of course the soft zone prevent….. prevented us from winning the game. If a fan can see the other teams tendencies why can’t these friggin’ coaches and playcallers ?

JackDennis

January 2nd, 2012
7:20 pm

Knock, knock, knockin…..bwahahahaha

Murray to the NFL!

January 2nd, 2012
7:21 pm

murray’s looking for big nfl money—he may not come back! Ga needs a new QB–quick!

D

January 2nd, 2012
7:22 pm

“Richt & Murray are 0-9 vs. top 20 ranked teams.”

But AJC and all of Dawg Nation will be talking about how great UGA is come Fall after they win 9 or 10 games with their cake schedule, only to feel exactly the way they do now after they get slaughtered to whichever superior SEC West team in the SECCG and possibly lose next year’s bowl game.

Lather/Rinse/Repeat…how many years now have we heard that this team is rebuilding? UGA is a good team. Not a great team. If they want to get better they need to play better teams. That means teams like LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida (when they were good), every year. Not 1 great team. not 2, they need to be playing 4, 5, 6 great teams every year. Not “let’s play mediocre teams to get to the SECCG only to expose ourselves as not even a little bit close to that elite level.”

vesaversa

January 2nd, 2012
7:22 pm

Wait until next year ? Hahahaha it was a terrible year for the Georgia Bull Dawgs there is no other way to spin it .

2012 is the year

January 2nd, 2012
7:22 pm

Ga will be a lot better in 2012—and should win the SEC. alabama and lsu will be way down and fla will suck bigtime again. Ga will play in the BCS next year—book it!

Hairy Dawg

January 2nd, 2012
7:22 pm

The Spartans earned and deserved that victory. We were borderline awful throughout the second half (and downright god-awful in OT) and paid the price for it.

Ralph

January 2nd, 2012
7:23 pm

What a gutless performance by the coaching staff, especially Richt and Bobo, It is a shame that that will return and we will live through this same trash next year. For a new play I suggest that on first down we run poor Carlton Thomas straight up the gut. Oh….wait….we did that. Result: -2.

Kick on 3rd down!

January 2nd, 2012
7:24 pm

That’s courage! Good job richt!

DP

January 2nd, 2012
7:24 pm

That is a seriously pathetic column. Could Mark Bradley possibly be any more in the bag for Mark Richt. All Georgia proved this year was that it had enough athletes to beat bad to mediocre teams. Georgia has lost what, it’s last 10 games or so against top 25 teams, many in routs? And Bradley acts like future championships are inevitable for Richt. How is that? Is Florida going to stay down long? Is Spurrier retiring? Are Saban, Miles and Petrino going away?

bilbo799

January 2nd, 2012
7:25 pm

Mark,

How can you not mention BOBO’s playcalling? Runs up the middle didn’t work all game — BOBO was the only person who didn’t understand that.

BS Patrol

January 2nd, 2012
7:25 pm

Just wait until next year. Right Brad?

kerryb

January 2nd, 2012
7:25 pm

SpartyBob, don’t get so full of yourself. This was more about UGA screwing up a game than Sparty beating them.

Another Ralph

January 2nd, 2012
7:26 pm

Richt must have learned from Johnson on how to unsuccessfully try to run out the clock with predicted runs. BOTH deserved to lose.

vesaversa

January 2nd, 2012
7:26 pm

If Murray think he’s NFL qualified which i seriously dough then let him leave .The Ga program would be better off without him . And take Riech with you .

Rationale

January 2nd, 2012
7:27 pm

I realize Aaron Murray is a good QB, but I hope we have a better one for next year. He has absolutely no field presence, no maturity on the field and is not likely to improve. Yet, he thinks he will play in the NFL. Enough said.

GA's on the verge of "greatness" b/c....

January 2nd, 2012
7:27 pm

McGarity has hampster balls ….

the guy’s OOC schedules are nothing more than scrimmages that count. Checkout his OOC scheduling while he was AD at UF. And I remember many a GA fan b*tching about them.

His 2012 OOC schedule is a JOKE!

So yes, b/c GA’s SEC schedule is so weak again in 2012, and their OOC schedule only has ONE remote, and I mean REMOTE, possibility of an L (GT) the Dawgs are setup for “greatness”.

And, not as if the Dawgs need it, they won’t lose to GT in 2012 b/c Hampster boy put GA Southern (same offense as GT) the week before the Jackets visit Athens. Same offense, 2 weeks in row, late November, at home. If GA does lose to GT in 2012, don’t let Ricth in the locker room to say farewell to the team. It would be his worst loss in 12 seasons at UGA (b/c of the GA game the week before).

kerryb

January 2nd, 2012
7:27 pm

DP, I don’t think Mark is in the bag for CMR. If I remember right he is a Kentucky fan. He just writing about his observations of the game.

01HAWK

January 2nd, 2012
7:27 pm

Would not be surprised if MURRAY declares for NFL DRAFT.

Football Guy

January 2nd, 2012
7:27 pm

Here come all the calls to can Richt!

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
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Thomas Dimitroff is a moron

January 2nd, 2012
7:27 pm

Bradley’s column is fine, but I really want to know:

When was last time that Richt’s team won a game because they outcoached an opponent?!?!!

Seriously, does anyone have an answer?

HateYankees

January 2nd, 2012
7:28 pm

Murry lost it for us, AGAIN! Hey, ticks, you lost too, brahhhhaahhhhaaaa. Yankees go home.

Flat Tire on I-95 in Jacksonville

January 2nd, 2012
7:28 pm

Altamaha Dawg

Where are you

Snoop Dawg

January 2nd, 2012
7:28 pm

We know that Mark Richt receive an NCAA sanction for illegally giving money to his assistants. He makes far more money than he really earns: something like three million a year. Newspaper columniststs are not famous for thier high salaries. Is it possible that Mark Richt is paying columnists for writing favorable articles? Richt, by his actions, has shown that he is receiving enough salary so that he has a large disposable income. Mark Bradley’s article about Richt, the game today, and the future of UGA football is not consistent or believable.

BullDawg Rick

January 2nd, 2012
7:29 pm

Gotta open the QB competition next year… Christian LeMay will beat out Murray if given a level playing field… Too many boneheaded pick 6’s… Fumbles too.. He needs to be rolled out either way to be effective…

Bobo is a very bad OC!!!

D was stellar until 1:55 to go…

Blair Walsh went from a 6-7 rounder last season to not siffing the inside of an NFL locker room…

Good season…

stendek

January 2nd, 2012
7:29 pm

After that comment I would like to crack Saint Mark over the head with a chair! Darkest day in UGA football history Mark. Never thought you would imbibe kool aid. Very sad. :(

Trey

January 2nd, 2012
7:29 pm

The Turnaround?? UGA played one of the weakest schedules in recent memory and did not beat one ranked team. Explain to me how that is a turnaround? Aaron Murray is average and the defense collapsed. If UGA would have played the big three in the west Richt and Bobo would be without jobs. If you can’t win with Stafford, Green, and Moreno what makes anyone think next year will be any different. If anything, this loss once again proves its not the 80’s and that UGA is one of the most overrated PROGRAMS in CFB.

smiba81

January 2nd, 2012
7:29 pm

Mark my words folks… as long as Richt and BoBO are still calling plays, ga will NEVER win the National Championship.. Same old plays, not much creativity, or makeing changes as the game unfolds. No way would i give Richt a contract extention rt now.. Lets wait and see how next yr turns out..

kerryb

January 2nd, 2012
7:29 pm

Thomas Dimitroff is a moron
January 2nd, 2012
7:27 pm

Bradley’s column is fine, but I really want to know:

When was last time that Richt’s team won a game because they outcoached an opponent?!?!!

Seriously, does anyone have an answer?

___________________________________________________________________-

The Tech game this year

Horrible Call

January 2nd, 2012
7:29 pm

I was sure that you would write a column about how horrible of a decision Richt made by kneeling for a 42 yd field goal with a below avg kicker. UGA needs a new coach. Period. UGA won 10 games because we played 10 avg to poor teams.

Elementary my Dear Watson

January 2nd, 2012
7:29 pm

Never should have been an OT game. On Dawgs last drive in regulation, you must go for the jugular. On the last drive, you must get one first down and close the sale. On the last drive, you must have the willingness and fortitude to not give the ball back. Instead, three of the most wimpiest calls I have ever seen, just to run some more clock and then punt the ball gack to MSU with 2 minutes left.. Before that last drive, Richt and coaches already conceded that they were going to run three plays and punt and let the defense win the game for them. ABC….Always Be Closing. No coffee for the coaches……coffee is for closers.

Ted

January 2nd, 2012
7:29 pm

On the bright side, Mark Richt made some very nice Ford truck commercials this year

JB

January 2nd, 2012
7:30 pm

Coaching…………..Bottom line coaching……10 years in we can run block( actually last three years). Very stale running game plan. No thinking on any D’s part to stop it. It’s just slow developing delay draws straight ahead for the most part. The game was lost lost in regulation with 3:46 left, we had the ball, first and 10 at our 35,,,,,,And Richt decides to basically take a knee and punt. And the coach on the other side had a set, and showed them To Richt. He wanted to win. Not in his mind, but with his actions. Good for MSU.

UGA 74 grad

January 2nd, 2012
7:30 pm

Irony is a wonderful thing. Tech loses its bowl game in OT because its coach, who usually plays to win, decides to go the conservative route for a change.

A few days later, Georgia loses in OT because its coach, who believes in the play-not-to-lose philosophy as devoutly as be believes in his religion, does what we all knew he would do and got the outcome we all knew was coming.

Richt is an absolutely gutless decision maker when a game is on the line. He does not want a Grantham-type as Offensive Coordinator, because that would conflict with his play not to lose mindset.

Actually, Georgia’s pansy play-calling was a factor before OT. Knowing there was no chance the team could run the ball 3 times and pick up a first down to run out the clock, Richt and his loyal puppet in the booth refused to throw, because thet were scared to death that something bad might happen.

Just like they were scared to death that something bad might happen if they did anything other than sit on the ball after Rambo’s INT.

Considering the decision making by the Bulldogs’ “brain trust,” Georgia deserved to lose to Michigan State and that’s exactly what happend.

Given the year he’s had, how does a coach tell his struggling place kicker to go kick a 42-yarder and win the game, instead of trying to win it first.

Congratulations Mark Richt. This loss is almost entirely on you. Lucky for you, local scribes like Mr. Bradley are not going to call you out on it.

GT Fan

January 2nd, 2012
7:30 pm

Kerryb,

I’m saying the same to you then for GA wins over GT in 2010, and at least twice under Gailey. GA only won b/c GT screwed up.

Thomas Dimitroff is a moron

January 2nd, 2012
7:30 pm

P.S. I went to that Music City Bowl loss… Since then, I’ve been in the doubting camp about Richt

While y’all are thinking of the last time Richt outcoached an opponent, someone tell me turnover king Murray’s best victory?

Snoop Dawg

January 2nd, 2012
7:30 pm

UGA needs a clean sweep with a new coaching staff and new players. The current culture is a loser. The head coach sets the culture.

TigerinGA

January 2nd, 2012
7:30 pm

HA…someone said LSU will be down next year. LSU is hardly loosing anyone and will gain a couple real QB’s. We will be even better in 2012 so don’t be counting on winning the SEC championship for the next several years puppies.

Boom Boom

January 2nd, 2012
7:30 pm

PAUL JOHNSON called an wants his OT playbook back!

george

January 2nd, 2012
7:31 pm

fire richt, crown him coach of the year and give him an extension, and fire richt again. Will yall please make up your damn minds!! The uga program is a joke. Have not had a significant victory in 5 years, lost 4 (not 6 or 7) AGAIN only because you had one of if not the easiest schedules in the SEC. But with all that the chants of “we are a year or two away” will be stronger than ever this year.

Buzz 2011

January 2nd, 2012
7:31 pm

Bradley in the bag to Richt?? I get the idea he is on the UGA payroll. I am not sure who he reports to>>..

kerryb

January 2nd, 2012
7:31 pm

BullDawg Rick
January 2nd, 2012
7:29 pm

Gotta open the QB competition next year… Christian LeMay will beat out Murray if given a level playing field… Too many boneheaded pick 6’s… Fumbles too.. He needs to be rolled out either way to be effective…

Bobo is a very bad OC!!!

D was stellar until 1:55 to go…

Blair Walsh went from a 6-7 rounder last season to not siffing the inside of an NFL locker room…

Good season…

_____________________________________________________________

I love it when people post that someone that hasn’t played in a game in 2 years and not one snap in a college game will beat out a 2 year starter. Come on.

BluesDaddy

January 2nd, 2012
7:31 pm

No, it proves that MR is a second tier coach with a bush league OC, gutless and clueless yet again. This team will NEVER compete at the level of LSU or Alabama with this coaching staff. No hunger, no innovation, no killer instinct. When a team performs the same way in the second half time and after time, that can be laid directly on the coaching staff.

crusher dawg

January 2nd, 2012
7:31 pm

Sad that we get caught up in ourselves and forget about the athletes.

DP

January 2nd, 2012
7:32 pm

kerryb, Kentucky barely has a football program (finally beat Tennessee after losing 27 straight). Bradley has long had a serious case of man love for Richt. In this column he quotes 3 different coaches throwing Murray under the bus but the most he can say of Richt’s inexplicably stupid decision to lose 2-3 yards moving the ball to the center of the field on 2nd down and attempting a 42 yard field goal into the wind on 3rd down with a kicker who had missed a dozen field goals this season was that he “erred on the side of caution”.

Pathetic. Imagine a sports writer in New York or Philly or Boston not holding a head coach accountable for such a major gaffe.