If, like me, you perceived the Sugar Bowl loss to West Virginia as the proverbial canary in the coal mine and the second half of the ’07 season as a false spring, it’s pretty clear what the 2008 loss to Alabama was – a clear indication that the program was collapsing due to the rot of complacency that had eaten away its underpinnings. We saw how that played out over the next two and a half seasons and we watched the program begin to change directions in 2011 and 2012.
Even if the execution wasn’t perfect, the effort and aggressiveness that characterized yesterday’s SECCG play and coaching were light years away from the worst moments of 2008-10. That it also took place in the context of a game against Alabama – the first since that Blackout blowout – meant that it came up just the tiniest bit short. But the real question for me is whether it marks a true turning corner for Mark Richt and his program. If it does, it would signify one of the more remarkable recoveries I’ve witnessed of a major football program headed by a long-tenured coach. There aren’t a lot of Richt’s peers who could do that, or (let’s be honest about the current state of major college football) even be given the opportunity to do that.
Last night, coupled with the way I saw the team compete in Jacksonville a little over a month ago, gives me hope. But you know what would give me more? A solid bowl game. This program needs to build on trading punches with what’s been the best program in college football over the past four years. And that starts with not regressing emotionally and mentally. They’ve done a good job channeling their emotions into a great ride in 2012, with the exception of the South Carolina game. The next step is to build that into a winning confidence that’s bolstered by a recognition that you’ve always got to work harder to excel than the next guy. That’s what’s made Alabama Alabama under Saban. And last night it showed. Given the way things have played out since that ’08 game, it would be fitting to see Georgia learn that very lesson from those two games.