Bulldog Nation was not a happy place this past week.
The reaction from Georgia fans to Alabama’s comeback win over the Dawgs in the SEC Championship basically has broken down into four broad categories.
Loudest, perhaps, were Georgia fans who blamed the officiating, along with those who blamed the UGA coaching staff, and Kirby Smart in particular.
Then, there were those forlorn fans who see jinxes and other unseen forces at work; some have given up all hope of another national championship for the Dawgs.
Finally, there were the more pragmatic fans, who saw a Georgia program that lost a lot of key talent from last year and was supposed to be in a “bridge” year, but somehow managed to take what was essentially a playoff play-in game down to the wire against what many had touted as Nick Saban’s best ever team. Yeah, the proverbial “wait till next year!”
Perhaps the worst thing about the Dawgs’ second loss to Bama in just this calendar year was that Georgia should have been a defending national champion winning another conference title. As my buddy Scott put it, these “may be the most infuriating stats I’ve seen in my 50-plus years as a UGA fan.” He was talking about the fact that the Bulldogs have led or been tied with Alabama 118 minutes and 54 seconds of 120 minutes and 281 of 290 plays of the past two meetings in the national championship game and SEC title game.
That points to a team that has trouble finishing the drill, as someone used to say.
The coaches’ fault? That’s what some fans believe.
Let’s explore those and other reactions …
Junkyard Mail: Dawgs fans speak out
Should everyone else in the SEC just give up on ever getting an even playing field with the officiating, and figure that the home office in Birmingham has made it clear which program it wants to be the perennial conference champ? Or is it just college football officiating in general? After all, it was Big 10 refs who stole the game from us back in January!
— Sarah Peters
Even at their best, SEC officiating crews tend to be maddeningly inconsistent and, at their worst, seem barely conversant with the rule book. However, this game was about average in officiating. I think most of the flags thrown — three against Bama for 10 yards and six against Georgia for 50 yards, plus one against Bama that was declined and a pair of offsetting penalties that produced a no-play — were fair.
The primary officiating problem, as many Dawgs fans have pointed out (often with video clips and screengrabs to back them up) was the flags they chose not to throw against the Tide in key situations, including blatant holding on a Bama touchdown pass (among many other uncalled instances of holding on both sides), an uncalled Bama hand to Jake Fromm’s facemask, and, most egregious of all, the no-call on pass interference on Georgia’s final drive in which a Bama defender had the receiver in a bear hug before the ball arrived. Still, while the officiating certainly wasn’t great, it wasn’t as bad as with that awful Big 10 crew back in January’s natty. Frankly, though, I think mistakes by the UGA coaches were a bigger factor. Which brings us to …
I am frustrated and mad. … [The fake punt against Bama] was a high-risk call and it was botched from the start. … They were not fooled. Anyway, I hope that all of this, plus losing Mel Tucker, will not hurt recruiting and we can move on from this setback. Plus, maybe Kirby will improve as a game manager.
— GSU 1972
I’d say the strong showing Georgia gave in college football’s most-watched regular-season game in seven years — and the fact that many of ESPN’s experts were flatly stating Georgia was among the four best teams in the country, even after the loss, should keep recruits all over the country interested in coming to Athens. Now, the Dawgs just need to shake off the Bama loss and take care of business in the Sugar Bowl. I have a feeling Smart will have them ready to show they really are one of the nation’s four best teams.
This one was all about coaching and bad decisions. The fake punt, going away from the run, which was effective in the first three quarters. … Why get away from [the run] late in the biggest game of the year? I’ll never understand. … Coaching staff lost that game. Not Fields. Not Hot Rod. Not any single player on the field.
— Patrick Fisher
Last year, [Smart] didn’t plan for Tua [Tagovailoa]. This year he didn’t plan for [Jalen] Hurts. I’m thinking the coaching staff dropped the ball … again.
— John C. Allen
Fair criticisms. Yes, Bama’s run defense was fearsome, but Georgia had plenty of success against it earlier in the game. Instead of trying to get cute, I would have preferred to see a steady diet of D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, along with a few more throws to Isaac Nauta, in the fourth quarter. And, you would have thought, considering what happened in January, that the Dawgs defense might have been better prepared for a change of QBs. Still, perhaps it was just Hurt’s night.
There also were some fans who are growing impatient. The next couple of letters sum up what quite a few were saying …
The clock is ticking for Smart. This is now two huge opportunities we’ve blown. We can debate which was worse, this one or last year all day long, but regardless, Smart needs to learn from this. The way I see it, barring disastrous injuries, he’s got two years to bring home a natty. If these inexplicable, and now inexcusable losses continue, we’ll have little choice but to jettison him for the same reasons we finally got rid of Richt. We are not content with getting close.
— Zach Hare
Kirby Smart definitely is a great recruiter, and he seems to do a decent job game-planning, but he’s hopeless on the sideline. I’m now wondering if he’s really capable of getting this program over the hump that stymied Mark Richt.
— Barrett Jones
I had a conversation about Smart’s readiness with a friend on Facebook. I told him that I think Smart is indeed head coach material, but he’s relatively young, and has room for improvement. My friend asked: “You think he’s in the league with Saban, Urban [Meyer] and Dabo [Swinney]? My reply: I think he likely will be as good as, or better, than them eventually. He already can outrecruit them, and he seems to know how to motivate his teams (unlike Mark Richt). So far, he’s also done a good job of hiring assistants. But, he needs to master the in-game decisions and get better at clock management.
And, then there’s this from an Alabama fan:
Be patient, [Smart] is only in his 40s, he will eventually get better and make fewer mistakes on game day. In the meantime, he will see to it that you have enough talent that you will rarely need game day coaching to win.
— Bret Rudeseal
The subject of how freshman backup quarterback Justin Fields was used in the Bama game also concerned several fans I heard from, including this one:
The way Jake Fromm was playing, why would you take him out? But I wonder if the coaching staff is worried about [Fields] transferring and was just throwing him a bone. What’s your thought on that?
— Kenneth Meeks
That idea occurred to me, too, but I’m skeptical that the Georgia coaching staff would put a championship at risk to keep one player happy. I think it’s more likely Smart was trying to play head games with the Bama defense and thought maybe he could catch them napping. Since he spent so many years there, though, he should have known better.
Speaking of things he should know better about …
Someone please take that Les Miles playbook away from Kirby before we play Texas.
— Tony Tyson
Yeah, no more fake kicks. Please.
And then there are fans who are having a hard time remaining hopeful …
I’m 59 years old and have either listened on the radio or watched every game as far back as I can remember. That was the most heartbreaking game of all time. I felt like we had Alabama beat. I never felt that way in the national championship game. When Kirby called the fake punt, I think that’s the maddest I’ve ever been watching a Georgia Bulldog football game. I know we are going to be really good next year, but I want a national championship before I leave this Earth.
— Randy Sharpe
I love my Dawgs, always have (45 years) and always will, but I’m not sure how much more I can take. These loses, including ‘12, are defining and will stand the test of time. We have missed our chances and it’s not going to get easier. Next year I expect to see the same two teams in the SECCG. If we don’t seize on that opportunity, I see our chances at future championships diminish and we’ll be right back where we’ve been.
— John Randolph
Have faith, guys. I think they’re very close.
And then there are those fans who take a more pessimistic view …
Only 364 more days till we lose again to Alabama. And the Sugar Bowl tastes salty, not sweet.
— Gary Gill
Actually, I think the Sugar Bowl against Texas is about as awesome a spot as Georgia could have expected, considering two losses made it nigh on impossible for them to crack the final four.
As for future Georgia-Alabama matchups, the odds are that the Tide can’t continue to squeeze out a win every time these two programs meet for a championship. Take heart from the fact that the Dawgs obviously were Bama’s equal last week. Like I said earlier, that’s not going to hurt recruiting at all. And, remember, that close game against Bama happened in a year when many of us figured winning the SEC East was about all we could hope for, considering all the NFL talent that departed Athens after last season. The fact that Georgia gave Saban another good scare with the youngest starting lineup in the conference should fill Bulldog Nation with hope, not despair.
I like the way Blawg reader Gary Cody put it: “On the positive side we went toe to toe with what I feel is probably the best team in college football. When you consider how young Georgia is, you can’t help but get excited about the future.”
Yeah, like maybe next year?