ATHENS – Lorenzo Carter stood against the wall. He hung his hands on his shoulder pads. The eye-black patch under his right eye had fallen off. The one under his left was still there. He spoke slowly.
“It’s something we practice,” Carter said.
He was still processing. So was everyone in the Georgia locker room.
“Speechless,” said senior offensive tackle Greg Pyke.
But for the players who were on the field for Tennessee’s game-winning Hail Mary, it was left to them to try to explain what went wrong.
The truth is, it wasn’t very close: Tennessee receiver Jauan Jennings made a clean leaping catch to haul in the 43-yard touchdown pass from Josh Dobbs. There were about a half-dozen red jerseys around him, but none got a hand on the ball. None was able to keep Jennings from the ball.
“He made a great play on the ball,” said Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker, who was right behind Jennings. “He high-pointed it. That was our error.”
Carter, the 6-foot-5 outside linebacker, was in the end zone with the job of knocking down the pass. But it looked like he was pushed out of the way by a teammate when the ball came down.
“I honestly can’t tell you,” Carter said, again slowly, when asked if they ran the play the way they practiced. “I was in the end zone. Falling. It’s just tough.”
Aaron Davis, the junior who earlier in the game recovered the fumble that Baker forced, was about five yards away, in the end zone, guarding another receiver.
“I’m just running with my guy. I know my job is to box him out so he can’t make a catch,” Davis said. “So I’m running with him, running, running, running. I go to box him out I look up at the ball and I just see the catch it.”
Maurice Smith, who made a big interception in the fourth quarter, was inside another Tennessee receiver. He said he was boxing him out and didn’t see the football until the play was over.
“Once I heard the reaction, that’s when I knew they had come down with it,” Baker said. “It was just heartbreaking.”
The Bulldogs practice defending the Hail Mary each Thursday in practice, as Carter indicated. And when there was a brief timeout before the play, they got their final instructions from the coaches.
“Knock the ball down,” Baker said, repeating the coaches’ words. “Do your job. Make sure you do your job.”
But not enough Bulldogs did.
“It was sickening knowing how hard we worked,” Baker said. “This game, it was up and down, kind of like a roller coaster. But we fought back to get in it. For him to catch it, he made a good play, but it was sickening.”