I wrote this after Georgia lost the national title game last January:
Late in Ball Four, Jim Bouton’s iconic book about his 1969 journey to remake himself as a knuckleball pitcher, Bouton finds himself traded from an expansion team that never was comfortable with his new pitch to a pennant contender that suddenly thrust him into a start. Bouton went out and pitched ten innings, only to lose a heartbreaker as a result of a couple of fluke hits.
Alone, in the wee small hours of the morning, back in his hotel room after the loss, you might have expected Bouton to be crushed by the experience. Instead, he felt nothing but joy and elation. His belief in his course of action to remake his career was validated and that, for him, overcame any sadness over the immediate outcome.
I imagine that’s something of what Kirby Smart feels this morning. Certainly I feel something of that.
Yeah, the way things ended last night stings. But consider this: in its last two games of the season, Georgia took the best offensive team in college football, fronted by the Heisman Trophy winner, to overtime, won, and then, a week later, took the best defensive team in college football to overtime and barely lost. I can’t think of too many football programs that could have shown as well. Certainly that’s not something I would have expected from this team before the season started.
Nothing’s changed. In fact, if anything, I’m finding it easier to get over last Saturday’s loss than the one in January. Why? Allow me to outsource the answer.
It’s easy to gloss over in the wake of a second disappointing loss to ‘Bama, but damned if I don’t believe this program isn’t heading somewhere great, consistently great. Georgia has played the best team in the country over the last decade to a virtual draw the last two times they’ve faced each other, when the stakes were enormous. How many other schools in the country can make a similar claim?
I grant you the Dawgs spit the bit on both occasions, but I can’t shake the certainty I feel that there’s something substantial being built for the long haul. Consider this:
The Bulldogs again went toe-to-toe with Alabama with a championship on the line yet. As it turns out, they were still step-for-step with the Tide.
Yet this time it came about leaning on a playing rotation which went heavy on freshmen and sophomores. Those two classes comprised 52 percent of the Bulldogs who saw the field in the SEC championship game.
There were two redshirt freshmen, 12 true freshmen, 11 true sophomores and three redshirt sophomores listed on the official participation report. That means the majority of the Bulldog team could see two more trips to the SEC championship game stage.
How many of you are takers right now that won’t happen?
Those two losses came less than a year apart from each other. This is a program that came off a disappointing 8-5 season just a year before that. Step back to consider what a compressed time frame in which we’re judging Smart’s progress. Then consider how far it’s come in such a short time.
We’ve reached the point in a silly rush where much of the fan base is disappointed in a Sugar Bowl trip. Does anyone remember how excited we were when the Dawgs went to the Sugar Bowl in 2002?
Maybe this is as good as it gets. Maybe the commenter who opined the other day that the botched fake punt is proof there’s a ceiling on what Kirby can accomplish is right. That’s not where my head is at, but I would ask one question of anyone who honestly feels that way. Who’ve you got out there who can take Georgia to a higher level than it’s gone in 2018?