As disheartening as the Alabama loss was for us, I think what went down in Knoxville yesterday surpassed that. Somehow, Georgia managed to blow a three-touchdown lead to a team with a losing record that’s made its reputation this season as one that regularly blows big leads. And the Dawgs made it look easy.
What’s particularly unnerving about the result is that it reflects a pattern we saw emerging with last year’s Florida game. Big lead, small lead, no lead, Georgia has games in which it simply fails to deal with adversity in a competent way. Against Alabama, Georgia went from a 3-3 tie early in the second quarter, to trailing by three touchdowns at the half. That lead quickly grew to 38-3 in the third quarter. At one point, the Tide managed to score 21 straight points while running one offensive play.
The Vols aren’t nearly as good as Alabama, so instead of watching a tight game bust open and go south, we were treated to Tennessee going on an uninterrupted 28-point run to wipe out a 24-3 Georgia lead, sparked by a two-touchdown flurry at the end of the first half.
Georgia was beaten by a better team in Athens, but that wasn’t the case in Knoxville. Instead, Georgia beat itself. And the reason for that is that this team lacks something – call it focus, call it determination, call it mental toughness. Whatever it is, this team doesn’t have a shred of it.
That’s on Mark Richt. That’s on the coaching staff as a whole. And it’s always been the case. Looking back on things, those times when Georgia football under Richt does display a sense of resiliency, it’s not keyed by the coaches. It comes from a core group of players who have a certain level of moxie in them and manage to pull the team along in their wake.
After Georgia’s loss in Jacksonville last year, I wrote this:
I’m sick of writing these existential posts about the program every couple of years or so. And it seems like every time we think we’re seeing a real turn around the corner, reality comes back to bite us in the ass with more evidence of the Georgia Way. This time around, I looked at last season, with a team that fought in every game despite an injury-riddled offense, subpar defense and special teams and thought at least Georgia was hitting a point where it was no longer going to fail to show up on a consistent basis.
Wrong, bacon breath. What I saw was how much Aaron Murray meant to the competitive spirit of this Georgia program.
The Davids, who, along with leaders like Thomas Davis, led the team in Richt’s first four seasons. D.J. Shockley, who found that in him when his time came and led the Dawgs to their last conference title. Murray, Gurley and Jarvis Jones. These are players who didn’t want to lose and more times than not, could drag their team across the finish line with them.
And without those kinds of players, Georgia football is lost. For whatever reason, mental toughness is not an attitude that Mark Richt, regardless of the assistants he surrounds himself with, can instill in his program. (Not that he’s alone in that department; I’d argue that Georgia hasn’t been mentally tough since Erk left Athens.)
That’s not to say Georgia can’t win games again. There’s too much talent to avoid that. When things click, when Georgia gets the kind of game that plays to its natural strengths, winning field position and turnover battles and getting consistent play from its offensive line, it’ll still beat teams and in some cases quite handily. But when those conditions are missing, there isn’t that reserve of determination to fall back on to hold the line.
The kind of players Richt needs to elevate the level of the program simply aren’t there. The defense is either too young in spots, or manned by players who’ve never figured out how to lead. Lambert is too absorbed in getting his own game straightened out to be that kind of kid right now. Chubb? Maybe, but he’s become a moot point.
Richt doesn’t have those kinds of players and he doesn’t know how to instill the attitude needed in the ones he’s got. If you want to talk about one thing that’s not going to change after fifteen years, that’s it. And that’s a problem. A coaching problem.