I received an email from a lifelong UGA fan shortly after the conclusion of Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech.
“Took the lead with 18 seconds left and found a way to lose. If that isn’t Georgia football … I don’t know what is,” it said.
That sort of dispirited resignation has been, I think, an even more widespread reaction than the kneejerk fire-Richt, fire-everyone cries. UGA football fandom seems to be gripped by a malaise that’s the worst I’ve seen since the bowl loss to Central Florida gave the 2010 Dogs a losing record.
And that’s despite the fact that back at the beginning of this season you had quite a few fans predicting no better than a 9-3 record because Mark Richt’s Dawgs had a fifth-year senior quarterback with scant starting experience and an all-new defensive staff trying to rebuild that unit amid numerous roster departures.
Then, after that scintillating second half against Clemson and a solid week of the talking heads of ESPN extolling the Georgia Bulldogs, we started to believe, in spite of everything, that entry into the first College Football Playoff and a shot at the national championship were possible for this team.
Even after the first-and-dumb loss to South Carolina (which at the time was thought to be a much better team than it ultimately proved to be) and the suspension of Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley, all Georgia’s goals still were on the table.
Nick Chubb stepped up admirably to fill Gurley’s role. Hutson Mason might not have been rewriting records like his predecessor, but he was taking care of the ball and guiding an offense that was leading the league in scoring. And Jeremy Pruitt’s defense seemed to be getting the hang of things.
Those road wins over Mizzou and Arkansas in Gurley’s absence loomed large.
True, some began to question that optimism after an overconfident Georgia team took the struggling Gators for granted and essentially failed to show up in Jacksonville, but most in the Bulldog Nation still believed the Dawgs could bounce back.
And when UGA manhandled a No. 9-ranked Auburn team in Athens, not even the fact that the Florida loss had given Missouri the advantage in the SEC East seemed insurmountable.
But Mizzou won out, meaning Georgia would not be returning for the third time in four years to the SEC Championship in the Georgia Dome. Still, UGA fans consoled themselves before Saturday’s game by noting that if the Dawgs took care of Tech convincingly, they still likely would get a top-tier bowl.
Then came Black Saturday and the squib kick blues.
And now UGA fandom seems mired in a deep funk. No wonder USA Today put Georgia in third place on its weekly college football Misery Index.
Aside from the gratuitous cheap shot in the first sentence, the McPaper has an excellent summation of the Dawgs’ frustrating season:
“Even by Georgia standards, this was a dumb Georgia football season. The Bulldogs weren’t just the best team in the SEC East, they were the best team in the SEC East by a mile. Heck, they even beat the team that won the SEC East, Missouri, 34-0 in Columbia. And yet, they sit here unfulfilled again at 9-3 with losses to their two biggest traditional rivals (Florida and Georgia Tech) and their recent regional rival (South Carolina). From a talent standpoint, Georgia should not have lost to any of those teams. To take it a step further, the Bulldogs should not only be getting ready for Alabama in this week’s SEC championship game, they should have been thinking about how much damage they could do in the College Football Playoff. Georgia could have been that good — if only Georgia had that extra gear championship programs have to steal a game or two per year when the circumstances work against you. It’s something Alabama, for instance, has perfected. Even if the opponent has a great day and you don’t — something that happens to everyone a couple times a year — you have to find a way to win. Year after year, Georgia doesn’t do that. Mark Richt is one of the best, most consistent coaches of his generation but after losing at least one game he shouldn’t every year, the underachiever label is starting to stick. And Georgia’s act of teasing its fans into believing a national title lurks just around the corner is getting tiresome.”
Tough but fair, I think.
And that’s why you have a largely angry fan base, some of whom want heads lopped off, while others are already looking ahead to Georgia’s next best chance. Most folks I’ve talked with think that’s 2016, as next year, even with Chubb as a superlative replacement for Gurley, the Dogs will have a newbie quarterback, will have to rebuild their offensive line and will face a much more difficult schedule.
On the other hand, some look at the stellar recruiting class Richt and his staff are putting together (currently ranked as third-best in the nation) and, remembering how many freshmen contributed in big ways this season, are highly optimistic for 2015.
Half-full or half-empty, perception vs. reality – how depressed you are as a Georgia Bulldogs fan depends mostly, I guess, on whether you think Richt is right about the program being on the “right track” or whether you have concluded that Georgia won’t ever break through to greatness under him.
I asked Blawg readers on both sides of the issue to let me hear what they think of the state of UGA football, and I’ll be offering the best and most representative of those views in a special edition of Junkyard Mail later this week. (In the meantime, there’s still time for you to let me hear from you. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
One thing’s clear, though. The Bulldog Nation is much more upset than you normally would expect a college football fandom to be over three losses. (Yes, there are schools that would love to have a nine-win regular season.)
The reason for the malaise gripping Bulldog Nation is what Dan Wolken touched on in the USA Today piece: The UGA program should have done much better this year and, frankly, should do much better most years.
It boggles the mind to think that Richt had the likes of Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, A.J. Green, Bacarri Rambo, Brandon Boykin, Aaron Murray, Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Gurley (the best Georgia tailback since Herschel Walker) playing for UGA, and yet didn’t even get an SEC title out of them.
It’s pretty clear that this staff has underperformed with the level of talent they’ve managed to attract to Athens, and never was that more evident than in the three losses this year.
Richt and his staff got badly outcoached three times this season. And, not coincidentally, they were the three losses: South Carolina, Florida and Georgia Tech.
As long as that happens, the kind of success Bulldog Nation yearns for might stay tantalizingly just out of reach.
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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.