As egregious as it was, Mark Richt’s boneheaded decision to do a squib kick and give Georgia Tech great field position with 18 seconds left on the clock in regulation wasn’t the only reason his Bulldogs lost 30-24 in overtime to the Yellow Jackets Saturday.
There were plenty of other contributing factors. Like a pair of fumbles on or near the goal line that meant Georgia was tied 7-7 with Tech at halftime instead of leading 21-7, which not only gave the Jackets hope (always a bad thing in a rivalry game that you enter favored by two scores) but also played right into Paul Johnson’s clock-eating game plan.
Saturday also wasn’t a day of playcalling that Mike Bobo should include on his resume if he ever goes job-hunting. On one drive alone in the fourth quarter the Dogs had first-and-goal at the 3 (thanks to a nicely executed 28-yard run on a fake field goal by placekicker Marshall Morgan) and then, thanks to a penalty against Tech, an even better opportunity with first and goal at the 1-yard line. And still the Dogs still had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
It generally wasn’t a good day for the Dogs in the red zone.
And while Nick Chubb had 117 rushing yards on 14 carries including a 65-yard gain in the first half, the Jackets pretty much shut down Georgia’s vaunted rushing attack in the second half and Chubb only got a dozen yards after intermission.
The Dogs’ offense also didn’t make the most of its infrequent opportunities. When the ball-hogging Jackets finally let Bobo’s offense back on the field during an interminable third quarter (after a nice defensive stand by the Dogs and a poor Tech punt), Georgia got the ball at Tech’s 36-yard line and did absolutely nothing with the chance, going three-and-out and losing a yard before having a field goal attempt blocked, putting the worn-out defense back on the field yet again.
Defensively, you couldn’t say Jeremy Pruitt’s unit had a good day, what with Tech running for 399 yards and converting on eight third downs and two fourth downs. At times, the Georgia D just seemed incapable of getting off the field in the face of the Jackets’ relentless triple-option attack.
However, Georgia did have a defensive score thanks to a 99-yard return by Damian Swann after he ripped the ball out of a Jacket’s hands at the Georgia 1-yard line.
And, after Tech had gone up 21-17 with 4:22 left and then recovered the ensuing high short kickoff (yet another major mistake on the part of Georgia’s special teams) — which set some Georgia fans to leaving the stadium early as the Jackets looked likely to ice the game — Amarlo Herrera recovered a fumble by Tech QB Justin Thomas at the Bulldog 31 with 2:41 on the clock.
With the rushing game now an afterthought, Hutson Mason seemed ready to finally put the team on his shoulders and will it to a win Aaron Murray-style, as the Bulldogs went 69 yards in 12 plays — mostly passes topped off by a 3-yard TD toss from Mason to Malcolm Mitchell for a 24-21 edge with 18 seconds left.
And that’s when Richt decided to squib kick, giving the Jackets the ball at their own 43 with 13 seconds remaining.
With Georgia playing a loose prevent defense, Tech’s Thomas managed to break loose on a run that put the Jackets fully within field goal range at the Dogs’ 36 with 4 seconds left, and the kick was good and sent the game into Sanford Stadium’s first-ever overtime.
Tech got the ball first and scored but things seemed to be setting up nicely for some last-minute Bulldog heroics when Ray Drew, who already had blocked a field goal earlier in the game, got a hand on the Jackets’ PAT attempt, leaving them ahead 30-24.
Georgia’s turn, and a third-and-6 completion from Mason to Chris Conley gave Georgia first-and-goal at the 10. It wasn’t to be, however, as Georgia’s OT possession ended with an interception, the first pick thrown by Mason in 163 pass attempts dating back to the third quarter against Vanderbilt on Oct. 4.
Of course, Mason should never have been in that situation to start with. But thanks to “Squib” Richt making one of the worst decisions I’ve seen a Georgia head coach make in five decades of attending games at Sanford Stadium, it all came down to that sudden-death moment.
Richt didn’t really bother to explain his reasoning after the game, saying only that it was “a poor decision on my part” and “no one’s decision but mine.” The decision made it look, however, like the head coach didn’t have faith in Georgia’s kickoff coverage, despite the cover team doing a good job up that point Saturday. Either that, or he didn’t think through the possible ramifications of giving up excellent field position with the squib kick.
Which fits right in with Richt’s general indifference to the importance of special teams in college football.
Yes, Georgia’s special teams have played better this year than last season, but that wasn’t hard considering last year they were an abomination. Richt’s halfway measure of naming a couple of assistants to oversee portions of special teams play in addition to their regular duties wasn’t enough, and so, too many times this season, there were instances where a special teams meltdown still played a big part in a loss.
Somehow, other programs manage to find a way to have a full-time special teams coach who can concentrate on teaching players things like not letting kickoffs hit the ground because they are, you know, live balls. Until Richt gives up his stubborn insistence on not taking that step (or is forced to), I’m afraid we can expect to see more epic fails in that department like we did Saturday.
That’s my first take on this game. Have at it with yours …
STATE OF UGA FOOTBALL
A lot of Bulldogs fans I’ve heard from since Saturday’s loss to Tech are lamenting Georgia’s 9-3 record this season, rating it a relative failure because the team didn’t make it to the SEC Championship or even win the unofficial state championship. A handful have tried to put a more positive spin on it because of obstacles that had to be overcome, such as the suspension and ultimate loss of Todd Gurley, a new QB and rebuilding the defense. No matter which side you’re on, I’d like to hear from you on the state of UGA football. Are you frustrated that a 9-3 record is not good enough to win any titles but too good to fire anyone? Or do you agree with what Mark Richt said Sunday, that the program is on the “right track” and “great things are going to happen”? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.