On the beat: Georgia ‘self-inflicted wounds’ not limited to field in Sugar Bowl loss
NEW ORLEANS — The mood in the Georgia locker room following the 28-21 loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl was telling.
The players weren’t shocked by their defeat late Tuesday night, so much as there was an air of disappointment and loss of the sense of unity that had been present through the SEC title game.
Indeed, the temperature was seemingly 100 degrees after the 35-28 loss to the Tide in Atlanta one month earlier, lockers slamming and players appearing ready to take the field for another game.
But not in the Superdome, where instead, players looked defeated and saddened that all the work and sacrifice of the 2018 season ended with an embarrassing defeat.
The fact that senior leaders Deandre Baker and D’Andre Walker weren’t able to provide on-field leadership translated to a loss of their effectiveness as off-field leaders.
Baker had decided not to play to protect his projected first-round NFL Draft status.
Further, having offensive players Justin Fields and Luke Ford on site and practicing with one foot out the door also detracted from the buy-in mentality Kirby Smart had so successfully built.
Of course, Texas proved better prepared in the game itself, too.
The Longhorns, with 13 starting seniors to Georgia’s four, played with a different level of determination and focus.
“They played better than us tonight, plain and simple,” Bulldogs tight end Isaac Nauta said. “They were able to run the ball, especially in the first half, and we weren’t able to.
“We turned the ball over, which they capitalized on, and we had a couple of special teams errors, a lot of self-inflicted wounds.”
The No. 15-ranked Longhorns (10-4) came away with the win over No. 5 Georgia (11-3) in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score might indicated, with the Bulldogs scoring their final TD with 14 seconds left.
Smart admitted the Longhorns played like a team that wanted it more, and looking back at the teams’ mindsets, it’s probably not surprising.
While Smart said on Sunday that “We certainly have had a great time, (and) our kids have commented on several of the events,” Texas coach Tom Herman took a different tone.
“Our guys, they understand that we can’t just be satisfied to get here,” Herman said. “We’ve got to do what it takes and take the necessary steps to prepare to go win a game.”
And what it took was physical play, something Smart preaches his program takes pride in.
“I’m going to speak for the Big 12,” Texas defensive back P.J. Locke told the Associated Press. ”There’s a misconception saying the Big 12 is soft. We played more physical than an SEC team. That’s clear cut.”
Bulldogs’ senior inside linebacker Natrez Patrick made no attempt to deny it.
“They outplayed us, they out-physicaled us, and we made mistakes and missed tackles,” Patrick said. “We missed alignments, we missed keys.
“That’s the game of football, there has to be a winner and loser, and whoever plays the best that day wins They were better than us on this day, and that’s all that matters, nothing else matters.”
Sophomore offensive tackle Andrew Thomas summed it up.
“I’m not really surprised, I’m more disappointed,” Thomas said. “Texas has a great team they came to play today and we didn’t and that was the end result.”
Georgia football Sugar Bowl coverage