Five yards short: In bitter defeat, a winning Georgia effort

The final moments of a fabulous game: Chris Conley catches the ball. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The final moments of a fabulous game: Chris Conley catches the ball. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

There are people who say that only championships matter, that finishing second is the same as finishing last. To those people, we say this: Go away now. Go away while we honor — and yes, that’s the proper word — as gallant a runner-up as we’ll ever see. Go away and let us speak of the Georgia Bulldogs.

They’d waited 30 years for a game this big, and they came as close as you could come to winning it without actually winning. Three times they took a lead over the mighty Alabama, and even after what should have been a crushing Tide touchdown with 3:15 remaining, even after what seemed a clinching Bama interception inside the final minute … even then, these Bulldogs found themselves with first-and-goal and time flying.

That they fell five yards short, that a tipped Aaron Murray pass for Malcolm Mitchell was caught by a falling Chris Conley and the final five seconds ticked away, cannot take away from the effort spent and the excellence displayed. The Bulldogs arrived as a underdog, but they carried the fight to the reigning national champion and they left five yards shy of the most thrilling victory — apologies to Lindsay Scott — Georgia football has ever known.

This was easily the best of the 21 SEC Championship Games, and it was one of the finest displays of collegiate football ever witnessed. “Alabama’s a great football team,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said, “and we were pretty good, too.”

Has a losing team ever had more championship-caliber men and moments? From Sanders Commings intercepting an AJ McCarron pass in the end zone to the same Commings catching a pass from tight end Arthur Lynch to convert a galvanizing fake punt; from Cornelius Washington blocking a field goal and Alec Ogletree taking the carom the distance; from the freshman back Todd Gurley pounding the midsection of the nation’s best defense to Murray taking his team downfield in the final minute … has there ever, in the long and distinguished history of Georgia football, been a prouder loss?

Alas, the Bulldogs needed 85 yards, and they could manage only 80. Are five yards sufficient reason to characterize them as losers, to suggest that this four-point loss is living proof that Richt and/or Murray can’t win the Big One? No and no, and if you’re of such a mind didn’t you hear me when I said, “Go away”?

Contrary to popular belief, not every winning effort translates to winning. Alabama was just a bit better (and much stronger up front), but the Bulldogs spurned every opportunity — and there were many — to throw up their collective hands and say, “We’ve given it a go, but this isn’t our day.” And that fighting spirit nearly turned this into the Dogs’ day after all.

“They played well, we played well, the clock ran out,” Richt said. “What are you going to say?”

It was the game for which Georgia had waited since Herschel Walker left Athens in the spring of 1983, the game Richt had waited 12 seasons to coach. It was a game to win one championship and go play for another, and there can be no dishonor in the way the day played out. Quibble with the ending if you will — should Georgia have spiked the ball before Murray’s last throw? Probably not, for Bama was clearly rattled — but you cannot fault the Bulldogs’ skill or heart or pride.

If you claim to be a Georgia fan, you cannot be disappointed with the performance — only the result. How many teams could have stood in against Alabama after the Tide ground out 350 rushing yards? Alabama is the nation’s best program and has the nation’s best coach, and with 10 seconds left there was no assurance that regal Bama would leave the Georgia Dome as the winner.

“I shook every man’s hand,” Richt said, speaking of his crestfallen Bulldogs, “and if someone had his head in his hands I rubbed his head and told him I loved him.”

If you love anything about competitive sports, anything at all, you had to love this game. “That was a great football game by both teams, and they could have won today the same as us,” said Nick Saban, the hard-driving Alabama coach. “It came down to the last play.”

That the final play on this frenzied day was made by Georgia’s opponent in no way diminishes Georgia. If anything, the Bulldogs stand ennobled after falling to Alabama in a way that they hadn’t after any victory of the past half-dozen years. They didn’t win, but they didn’t really lose. “The clock just ran out,” Richt said, and there was no better recap of these stirring events than that.

Alabama played great. Georgia played great. And then the clock ran out.

Further reading: Bama’s backs, Saban’s gaffe and a classic SEC title game.

By Mark Bradley

1,506 comments Add your comment

Very Proud

December 1st, 2012
8:55 pm

Well said. Very proud. Sad, but proud.

GoDawgs

December 1st, 2012
8:55 pm

We’ll get em next year.

Tucker

December 1st, 2012
9:01 pm

Sorry Mark. Valiant effort will never fly in this league Send Murray back to Tampa! The most stupid play in GA history!

collins

December 1st, 2012
9:03 pm

Beautifully written Mr. Bradley.

yearofthedawg

December 1st, 2012
9:03 pm

I only wish I could meet Tucker in real life and beat the ^!#^$!#$^! out of him.

Booze Hound

December 1st, 2012
9:03 pm

Thrilled to see Georgia lose, particularly in such a heartbreaking manner. Now, here’s to FSU beating the crap out of the Jackets so hopefully Tech willl send the overrated lug Johnson packing and get a real coach again like O’Leary.

ALUM

December 1st, 2012
9:03 pm

We have more talent than anyone in the country and some of you losers are proud of Georgia that we “played our best”????

you guys are pathetic

I WANT TO WIN

NO EXCUSES MARK RICHT

It’s either a player problem or a coaching: EITHER WAY ITS A COACHING PROBLEM

I don’t understand you pathetic fans that are just happy to show up and play well. If we dont win = we suck. period

Fire Richt. Fire Bobo. Fire Grantham. Murray should enter the draft or get cut.

FalconUGAFan

December 1st, 2012
9:04 pm

Great article..Very well said.

guy

December 1st, 2012
9:04 pm

We had a chance and that’s all you can ask for.Tough loss!

Jimmy

December 1st, 2012
9:05 pm

I am proud of our team.
All I want from UGA is for them to be competitive.
They played a big game and lost.
But they didn’t fold.
They looked like they belonged in the game.
There is no shame in losing this game.

SEC Fan

December 1st, 2012
9:06 pm

It was an epic game. Neither team has anything to be ashamed of. I know there are no moral victories in CFB, but Georgia proved that they can play toe-to-toe with Alabama.

That’s a statement. I don’t care who you are.

Jan

December 1st, 2012
9:07 pm

The clock ran out because Mark Richt doesn’t know how to manage it. That and lack of discipline penalties have cost our beloved Dawgs at least 2 national championship opportunities in Richt’s tenure

Jimmy

December 1st, 2012
9:07 pm

There was nothing wrong with the coaching in this game.
Someone must win and someone must lose.
If we play back and forth football and lose…no shame.

We need to recruit the lines better.

Once Recent Reader

December 1st, 2012
9:08 pm

(I just posted this at the end of the LIVE blog . . but figured it might be the end of posting there for many – so pasted it here.) I’m not from Georgia, don’t live there now. Normally on AJC for Falcons Live blogs. I see there are quite a few more Dawg Bloggers than Falcon Bloggers. I also saw a real quick change of comments at the end quickly beginning to bash Richt and the QB. At first look, I though it was a bad decision to not spike it, and then a bad pass not to get it in the end-zone. After a few more reviews, I’m not sure. The result was terrible for Dawg fans. BUT . ….the ball was tipped, I think it was going into the endzone. They actually would have gotten potentially two more very quick plays if it wasn’t tipped and just incomplete. Just tough luck on the tip.

Roy

December 1st, 2012
9:08 pm

Why in the hell are Tech fans on this board talking smack when they are getting owned by FSU in their own title game. They’re going to be a 6-7 “bowl” team. LMAO

ga fan

December 1st, 2012
9:08 pm

ALUM:

I pray for your shrivelled miserable soul…

Jimmy

December 1st, 2012
9:08 pm

There was nothing wrong with coaching in this game.

MR is a hypocrite

December 1st, 2012
9:08 pm

Just mark it in the moral victory column and watch Alabama play for the national championship. All the georgia players should get a trophy for trying.

jwwcoach

December 1st, 2012
9:09 pm

To: Tucker and Alum – You Two Are The Real Losers!! Probably never even played badminton! If you can’t acknowledge the pride and effort – you are the pathetic ones!!!

jwwcoach

December 1st, 2012
9:09 pm

To: Tucker and Alum – You Two Are The Real Losers!! Probably never even played badminton! If you can’t acknowledge the pride and effort – you are the pathetic ones!!!

Knockahoma

December 1st, 2012
9:09 pm

Well said…

anyone know of a good support group to talk to for this loss??

Hairy Dawg

December 1st, 2012
9:09 pm

Our defense won’t be as talented next year, but I suppose they could play better.

somedawg

December 1st, 2012
9:09 pm

Sometimes you gotta look for the good in a sad occurence. I love my Dawgs. Tip of the hat to Bama for doing what they had to do in the end. We’ll be back.

Dawgify

December 1st, 2012
9:10 pm

Nice one, Bradley. Thanks.

Sunbury Ga dawg

December 1st, 2012
9:10 pm

proud of you dawgs, hold your head high!

playmeortrademe

December 1st, 2012
9:11 pm

Sorry Mark, not a winning effort. Georgia was up 21-10 with 6 minutes left in the third quarter. Then UGA’s defense put up a very poor effort, in part because Georgia failed to sustain any drives in the first half. Alabama outscoring UGA 22-7 from that point on was the ballgame, more or less. A team with supposedly nine, maybe eleven NFL caliber players allowed Alabama to run right through them, and the Georgia coaches couldn’t find a way to stop it, either. Pretty good effort, but not a winning effort at all. Georgia should not have even been in the position to have to drive 85 yards in one minute at the end.

CrawforDawg

December 1st, 2012
9:11 pm

Ain’t no denying it…this one really hurts. Go Dawgs.

DILLIGAF

December 1st, 2012
9:11 pm

Thanks Mark, that’s a great post.

“Time ran out”.

I’m sad as could be but really feel for those kids because they played hard every play of that game. Tough loss. I’m also proud of them, they came to play. No shame in that one.

One thing though, how could any of the officiating crew not see that helmet to helmet on Murray?

UGA/85′

Jimmy

December 1st, 2012
9:11 pm

I have been one of Richt’s critics since the SC humiliation.
We can still argue he loses the big games.
But this was different.
We played well enough to win this game.
We were competitive.
That’s all you can ask.

UA Grad

December 1st, 2012
9:11 pm

Georgia should get the Sugar Bowl. No way does Georgia deserve to be left out of a BCS Bowl. I’ll take the win, but I tip the hat to Georgia. You have a great team. Best of luck in the bowl game.

KilroyDawg

December 1st, 2012
9:11 pm

Hindsight being 20/20 I was screaming at the tv for UGA to spike the ball! We would have had 2 shots at the end zone and with our TIght End I believe we score and win the Game! If we just watched the best team (Alabam) in The Country we also watched the second. GO DAWGS!!!

Shane

December 1st, 2012
9:11 pm

I was afraid that my beloved Dawgs would fold. They didn’t . They fraught hard to the end. No, I’m not accepting mediocracy. Yes, some things were played wrong. This hurt a lot, but I’m a Real fan, and I’m proud to be a Dawg today. Hats off to you Bama. Go take care the Irish. And what ever bowl we go to, I’ll be pulling just as hard as I always do. Go Dawgs!

LakeDawg

December 1st, 2012
9:12 pm

“Alabama played great. Georgia played great. And then the clock ran out.”

Great line and a fitting epitaph for a great game.

Don G

December 1st, 2012
9:12 pm

Honor? Really Mark, honor? God this state needs some hero’s really bad huh? Was a nice effort, but it is also nice to have a schedule where you have played five or six teams over the past two seasons and you have lost all of them but 1, Yeah, but ok then lets “honor” them. Honor them for what I quess is 2nd place in the sec. Lets all bow now….ROLL DAMN TIDE!!!!!!!!!

FalconUGAFan

December 1st, 2012
9:12 pm

ORR.. that is the way of it…and Dawg fans turn on the team very fast when frustrated.

LakeDawg

December 1st, 2012
9:12 pm

Oh yeah, Go Dawgs !

Shane

December 1st, 2012
9:13 pm

Agee Kilroy and lake

derby

December 1st, 2012
9:13 pm

This super duper talented UGA team played three good teams this season: destroyed by one, helped by turnovers to win another, and played valiantly in a loss in the third.

A team with the most talent, as so many fans here like to say, does better than that in what is a 3-game season.

smitty

December 1st, 2012
9:13 pm

spike it…..simple…….stupid

ADS

December 1st, 2012
9:13 pm

Great game! they ran it right up our middle, that pass that gave them the go ahead was a well executed play. we got within 5 yards and time ran out. I just wonder how long before we get another chance at the SEC championship, losing a lot of the defense for next year. GO DAWGS!!!

LakeDawg

December 1st, 2012
9:14 pm

Don G

You have ZERO class. I’m pretty sure you’re a PBR drinking idiot.

Dejay

December 1st, 2012
9:14 pm

Nice speech but that and a couple of bucks can get you on MARTA.

As a former NFL coach once said, “you play to win the game”. To talk about anything other than how they blew a shot at playing for a national title by bringing up how they ‘hung in’ with Alabama is simply bad comedy. Last I checked, Alabama was in the same conference as they were; this wasn’t a case of Georgia State playing Oregon and hanging in there.

UGA had their shot and blew it by not instructing their quarterback to spike the ball. Save the “sure they lost but they played a good game” columns for your local rec league squad after they lose in the Frank Ski Bowl or something…

Joe Cox

December 1st, 2012
9:15 pm

i love the dawgs. great effort tonight! tough loss!

smitty

December 1st, 2012
9:15 pm

the dawgs had this game……where was the coaching?

Tired of the same Dog

December 1st, 2012
9:15 pm

Mark,

Give me a break. Give me a break. Give me a break. This long spell of mediocrity SUCKS. His job is to give us the BEST CHANCE TO WIN and it blows my mind that he did not……that he did not have his team prepared for the situation at the end of the game…….to manage the clock, SPIKE THE DAMN BALL, and GIVE THE DOGS THE BEST CHANCE TO WIN. Excuses don’t work. People lose jobs, hell even their lives fighting for our freedom when they don’t get it right. Making excuses and putting on rose colored glasses will only result in more of this. THIS IS B.S.

sprouse27

December 1st, 2012
9:15 pm

I’ve often been critical of CMR on these blogs, but I thought the Dawgs played a pretty good game against a ferocious program. We always seem to come up a little bit short in the end, but the Dawgs played a very good game today. Hurts to lose, but they showed up to play and acquitted themselves pretty damn well. Maybe enough to keep them out of the Capital One Bowl!

[...] This post is an adjunct to the game column, which can be found here. [...]

Jimmy

December 1st, 2012
9:15 pm

Bama played a great game.
They deserved to win.

But the officiating was too lopsided.
They didn’t call a fair game.
If I can see pass interference and holding from my recliner and they can’t…something is wrong.

LakeDawg

December 1st, 2012
9:16 pm

smitty

You are the stupid one and don’t even realize it. I would explain it to you, but you wouldn’t understand. Not spiking the ball was absolutely the correct decision.

dienlafin

December 1st, 2012
9:16 pm

Wait till next year!
Richt back, because nobody else wants him!
We got Grantham back, because nobody else can pay him as much as we do,good job by the way holding the Tide to 350 yards rushing.
We got 6′ Murray back because the NFL doesn’t want him
Merry Christmas allof us dog fans!
Let’s go out and by something Georgia for all of the family.
Please pass the red Kool-Aide.