Whatever was said and done in the Georgia locker room at halftime yesterday, Mark Richt needs to gather that all together, crumple it into a little ball, douse it with gasoline, set it on fire and bury the ashes at sea. Boy, what a letdown.
My question from watching that game isn’t whether Georgia had to play perfectly to beat an excellent LSU team – Georgia, after all, was winning 10-0 mid-second quarter despite two brutal whiffs on touchdown passes by King and Mitchell – but whether Georgia’s best effort of the year would have been enough to pull off the upset.
We’ll never know, of course, but that halftime lead, the only one which LSU has faced the entire season, suggests it would have at least been a close call. That it never came to that in the end I think boiled down to three key spots in the game:
- Georgia’s second series of the second quarter. I don’t know if was the result of the Dawgs’ worst field position of the game up to that point, lack of faith in the receivers after numerous drops, a desire to shorten the first half or complete faith in what Grantham’s defense was doing, but Bobo’s play selection was a disaster. Two Crowell runs that were easily stuffed for little gain and a slow developing pass play which resulted in a huge sack put Georgia back at its own three for a punt. Up until then, Bobo had been aggressive, calling for passes on first down frequently; if he didn’t have Chavis back on his heels, he at least had him guessing. The only first down Georgia gained over the rest of the first half was via a personal foul penalty and the Dawgs wouldn’t get their next one until the waning moments of the third quarter with the game already out of hand.
- Touchdown, Tyrann Mathieu. This, of course, was Georgia’s immediate reward for Bobo’s play calls. Given its special teams struggles over the season, punting to Mathieu with Butler standing on the end line was a risky proposition to begin with, but with the way the Dawgs’ defense was playing, ignoring the lower risk strategy of a kick towards the sidelines was unnecessary. It was Russian roulette and the gun went off in Georgia’s face. It didn’t cost Georgia the lead, but you could sense the energy and confidence sliding back to LSU’s side of the stadium in the aftermath.
- The Murray fumble. Statistically speaking, Aaron Murray is going to enjoy a better career at Georgia than David Greene, but Greene is still my gold standard for Georgia quarterbacks of the Richt era simply because he learned early on about playing within himself and not trying to do too much. That’s a lesson Murray hasn’t learned yet (to be fair, it’s one that Shockley and Stafford struggled with, too). You can’t help but love his competitiveness but that desire to make something happen when everyone around him isn’t gets him in trouble,and such was the case on the opening series of the second half. Not only was it a huge momentum shift at the worst possible time, but it also served to throw the defense’s mindset, which had been rock solid in the first half, completely out of sync. Ten minutes later, the game was over.
I’m not in the mood to bore you with my usual series of bullet points. Instead, I’ll leave you with some of my feelings walking out of the Dome.
It’s been a good year for Georgia football. Richt has righted the ship. This team proved in the first half that it deserved to be in the SECCG. And the loss, while certainly disappointing, can serve to be a platform for better days.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned. Some are pretty obvious: the running game needs shoring up with better (and more reliable) personnel, depth is a high priority on the offensive line and special teams personnel also needs upgrading (huge difference in speed between LSU’s coverage teams and Georgia’s). That’s all fixable with continued success on the recruiting front. And strength and conditioning, while improved, still has a ways to go.
But the biggest challenge that lies ahead is about attitude. This team learned how to compete again. Now it needs to learn how to finish. It’s good enough to take off a play or two and still whip Georgia Tech. And it can survive losing its cool against an improving Vanderbilt team. But not giving your best 100% of the time against a beast like LSU… well, that gets you beat by 32 points. If Georgia’s players and coaches want to return the program to the élite status it enjoyed a few years ago, that’s the biggest thing they need to absorb from yesterday’s loss.
If I’m Greg McGarity, that’s the discussion I’m having with my head football coach in the upcoming weeks. After mentioning how much I enjoyed watching the defense’s play in the first half, of course.