Championship season key #4: Lucky Dawgs

Georgia and Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship game. (Philip Williams / UGA)

This week, we close out the Blawg’s look at factors on which a championship season can hinge, often making the difference between a very good team and a great team.

The first factor we covered in this series is the play of the quarterback. Even with the likes of Nick Chubb in the backfield, at some point this coming season the Georgia QB (whoever that ends up being) will have to step up and win a game if the Dawgs are going to be champions.

The second key: Mark Richt and his coordinators must avoid making a bizarre or boneheaded call in a crucial situation. Think: squib kick.

In keeping with that last point, the third championship season key is Georgia’s coaches and players must avoid the sort of bizarre no-show games that result in inexplicable losses like last year’s visit to Jacksonville.

Finally, we come to the fourth factor: luck.

No matter how much talent you have and how astute the coaching is, every great team has a moment where the ball tips their way, a call goes their way, a field goal or extra point hits the goal post and bounces inside the upright instead of outside it, and so on.

If Georgia is going to win its first SEC championship in a decade, it’s likely that, at some point, they’ll need a break to keep the season alive. It could be a bounce of the ball or a timely flag or no-flag. Or it could be as simple as making it through a season with the Dawgs’ star running back healthy and eligible to play.

Over the years, there’ve been quite a few examples of luck playing a part in a big win or loss.

A Florida defender who might have made a play fell down on Lindsay Scott’s famous 1980 touchdown. (Associated Press)

The Florida defender falling down on the Run-Lindsay! play that helped lead to a national championship could, I suppose, be called a lucky break. There’s no guarantee he would have been able to make a play, but he certainly couldn’t do so on the ground.

There was a lot of that during the 1980 season: a Tennessee running back fumbling at the goal line in the closing minutes at Knoxville, South Carolina’s George Rogers fumbling in the closing minutes in Athens.

During the 2002 SEC Championship season, the razor-thin 27-25 victory over Alabama saw a Bama defender recover a David Greene fumble and return it to the Georgia 1 only to have the entire play negated by a UGA false start that was almost imperceptible but was spotted by an official.

It was after that game, I recall, that I began to view the 2002 Dawgs as one of those teams of destiny.

And it doesn’t even have to be in-game luck. Take the fact that South Carolina beat Georgia in 2011 and 2012, but failed to show up against teams that the Dawgs ended up beating (Auburn in 2011, Florida in 2012), thus handing UGA the division title.

Even nonchampionship seasons have seen games turn on a lucky break, like Reggie Ball losing track of the downs and throwing the ball away on fourth down as Tech was driving deep in Georgia territory late in the 2004 game. And, more recently, the way the ball bounced in the 2013 Tech game on the final play. It could just as easily have been deflected to a Tech player but it fell to the ground.

Unfortunately, Georgia has seemingly been more often the subject of bad luck in recent years than the good variety.

The so-called “Miracle on the Plains” in 2013. (Associated Press)

They were unlucky against Bama in 2012 with an out-of-position defender tipping the ball into the hands of a falling-down receiver. And the tipped-pass Auburn touchdown in the 2013 game was another high-profile and highly improbable example.

Besides the ball bouncing the other guy’s way or an opponent getting an unlikely or disputed call (Jasper Sanks’ “fumble,” anyone?), it can come down to off-field issues or injuries.

Sure, luck is only one of many factors in the outcome of a game or a season, but it can sometimes be the determining one. As Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples noted recently in discussing the perception of Richt and Georgia as underachievers, “If some things break differently in the 2012 SEC title game, Georgia has a national title under Mark Richt and we’re probably not having this conversation.”

Of course, to a certain extent you make your own luck. If you take care of business, you’re more likely, at least, to not be hurt as much by bad breaks, even if you don’t get some lucky calls or bounces of the ball going your way.

But as a friend has pointed out, sometimes you are simply handed a gift, and then it’s up to you to take advantage of it, making it a combination of luck and skill.

Believe me, if Georgia somehow wins a championship of any sort this season, there are going to be games and plays we can look back on and say, wow, they were lucky Dawgs that day!

Go Dawgs!

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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.

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