NEW ORLEANS – Terry Godwin stood geometrically centered in the middle of the Georgia Bulldogs’ locker room. While teammates all around him scrambled to pull off their uniforms and pads and take their turns in the limited-space showers, Godwin hadn’t so much as untucked his No. 5 jersey. He just stood there, his two hands resting by hanging onto the collar around his neck.
Truth was, the senior wide receiver just didn’t want to shed that uniform. Godwin knew it was the last time in his life he’d ever wear the red and black of the University of Georgia.
“Inside my head, there’s a lot going on right now,” said Godwin, struggling to hold back the emotion following the Bulldogs’ 28-21 loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. “You’ll never know the meaning until you actually put a jersey on and do what you’ve got to do for four years, the off-season workouts, just going through everything with these guys. I mean, it just means a lot.
“To take this off one last time, it’s tough. It’s tough.”
Godwin’s sentiments were similar to many in the Bulldogs’ locker room, especially those who played their last game.
Coming in, there was a lot of talk about how playing in the Sugar Bowl really didn’t mean much anymore, not if you believed you belonged in the College Football Playoff. And the Bulldogs definitely believed they belonged in the playoffs. National pundits such as Kirk Herbstreit proclaimed as much in the days following Georgia’s narrow loss to No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Players took that ball and ran with it all the way to Big Easy.
Saturday night, when Alabama and Clemson scored double-digit wins in the semifinals over Oklahoma and Notre Dame, several of the Bulldogs took to social media reiterate those claims. Fans and players of other teams – Texas included – took note.
Then, the Sugar Bowl kickoff came. Fifteen minutes and seven seconds later, Georgia found itself down 17-0. The Bulldogs had been figuratively punched in the mouth.
And Texas really never stopped punching. Georgia would get the final margin shaved to seven points with a late, almost meaningless score. But anybody who watched, or bothered to look at the box score, knows it wasn’t really close.
Sophomore guard Solomon Kindley was the only player to say what people outside the team were probably thinking. “I feel like we came in with the big head and didn’t come out focused,” Kindley said. “We took Texas lightly.”
It could be argued that the Bulldogs were indeed over-confident. It could also be argued that they succumbed to the weight of multiple distractions. There were enough of them to justify that theory.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker left to become Colorado’s head coach the week after the SEC Championship. All-American cornerback Deandre Baker decided the bowl wasn’t important enough to risk injury before he gets his NFL shot. Quarterback Justin Fields and tight end Luke Ford, both of them 5-star signees in the last class, thought it important to enter the NCAA’s infamous transfer portal before the bowl game. Key players were either sidelined by or played with injuries. Meanwhile, a half-dozen juniors continue to contemplate early-entry in the draft.
Not everybody buys the distracted theory.
“Not at all,” said junior safety J.R. Reed, another Bulldog contemplating the NFL jump. “… When you have guys leaving for the draft, some staying, it’s going to happen every year on this team. Going forward, the Georgia fans are going to have to get used to that. It’s not going to be a distraction to the players at all. Each year it’s going to be the same thing.”
Then you had half the college football world telling the Bulldogs they got jobbed by not being included in the playoffs. The players bought it, and now the other half of college football – including that team in burnt orange-and-white on the other side of the field Tuesday — reminded them of their attitude via retweets and replies.
“They’re out there,” said Godwin, himself guilty of social media bravado. “So, we said what we said and we meant what we said. We just didn’t come out here and prove it tonight.”
Said Reed: “If we’re not in the playoff, we’re always going to think should be in it. It’s not going to be a distraction.”
Georgia might’ve learned a lesson about sharing their true feelings publicly, but the players do believe what they were saying. Whether that contributed to their demise Tuesday will never surely be known.
“I don’t know what it was, man, but they were doing all the right stuff,” said junior tight end Isaac Nauta, who said he’d come to a pro decision in “the next couple days.” “They were sending some exotic blitzes and shutting us down. A lot of credit to them.”
Nauta continued: “As crazy as this might sound, I still think we’re the better team. The better team doesn’t always win; it’s the team that plays the best. Credit to them for playing their tails off.”
Unknowingly, perhaps, the Bulldogs may have contributed to the Longhorns’ motivation. Georgia certainly didn’t play like it had in 12 of its 14 games this season. It was hauntingly reminiscent of the LSU game.
“We went out there, we weren’t all the way locked in, we weren’t focused,” Godwin summarized. “That wasn’t distraction-wise, that was just team-wise. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders on offense and defensively. We just didn’t play our ball tonight.”
And that was what was most disappointing to Godwin and those players who won’t get a chance to suit up again. This was it. This was how it ended, and there’s no changing it.
Asked how much that hurt, Godwin struggled to keep back tears.
“A lot,” he finally said. “I’m a Georgia guy forever.”
At some point, we assume he finally shed the uniform.
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