Richt said giving “them enough field position, enough opportunity to get in position to get the kick,” was “not a good decision.
“I should have let them go kick it deep and go cover the thing and then see what happened from there,” he said.
I suppose I could add a “no shit, Sherlock” and call it a post. But there’s a deeper point to probe here, I think.
Somehow, I’ve managed to see all three of Georgia’s losses this season in person. Each one’s been more inexplicable than the one that preceded it. South Carolina looks bad in retrospect, but remember at the time, the ‘Cocks still had the cachet of being a ranked SEC opponent in a tough road game. Florida was simply a matter of a team taking its biggest rival for granted, an inexcusable mindset, even for a subpar Gator team.
Georgia Tech was neither of those. The Jackets came in with nine wins. Even in the ACC, that’s the mark of a team that’s at least competent. And I didn’t see the same attitude that plagued the Dawgs in Jacksonville. What I did see were screwups, and plenty of them. A Nick Chubb fumble inside the Tech five. A Sony Michel fumble inside the Tech five. An offensive line that suddenly had no clue how to block Ted Roof’s predictable run blitzes. A defensive line that acted like the B-back dive play was a totally new concept they’d never seen before. (Wilson and Herrera wound up making nineteen tackles. Each.) The Quayvon Hicks Pooch Kick Shuffle. A blocked field goal. As I’ve said before, it was a game in which Georgia kept shooting itself in the foot until it ran out of bullets.
Yet, in the end, none of that should have mattered. Because, maybe even a little improbably, with eighteen seconds left in the game, somehow Georgia willed itself into a 24-21 lead.
And then Mark Richt happened. Or, more specifically, Mark Richt’s worst instinct happened. He decided to play not to lose, or, as we like to refer to it around here, he contracted a case of Logan Gray-itis.
There’s a difference between coaching conservatively and coaching scared. What happened on the ensuing kickoff reminded me so much of what happened in the overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl after the 2011 season. Georgia ran out to an early lead, blew it, took the game into overtime and was on the verge of pulling out the win after a Rambo interception. The conservative thing to do then was check Blair Walsh’s stats on the season, realize that he was money on kicks of 40 yards or less, a bad check on anything longer, and pound the ball three straight plays to improve the odds of his making a winning kick. Richt instead chose to run Aaron Murray around on second down for a loss, taking Walsh out of his comfort zone, and kick on third down. The end result: a miss and a loss.
That’s what yesterday felt like. My group had a big discussion, like so many others, after the game. The general consensus was that Morgan should have kicked the ball into the end zone for a touchback. Me? The more I’ve thought about it, the more I would have preferred a deep kick that Tech would have had to return. Even if the Jackets had busted the return out to the 43, where the squib kick was taken, it would have burned at least another five seconds off the clock to get to the same spot than the short kick did. And in that situation, time, not field position, was the game’s most precious commodity. Five less seconds meant that Thomas would have had to throw the ball in order for the Jackets to have a shot at a tie. But Richt was more scared than calculating there and it cost him big time. (Plus, it turned out there was one more bullet in the gun to fire in overtime. Ouchy ouch.)
Now I feel certain that call has left a mark. Richt will no doubt stew over it for a while – and learn from it. He’s had a change of heart on his punt return philosophy, and he handled the next similar overtime situation (Tennessee last season) differently than he did in the bowl game. So I’ll hardly be surprised if he takes a different approach the next time he sees something similar.
But that just leaves us to wait for the next new situation. Because a leopard never changes his spots. And Richt is always going to fall back on what’s most comfortable to him. Which is why I think this post of mine after the Outback Bowl snafu still rings true.