Dawgs fans’ reactions to the overtime national championship loss have run the gamut this week, ranging from wailing and gnashing of teeth to grumbling about coaches and more than a little dispirited frustration at our team coming this close to winning it all.
It hurts, yes. But, more than anything else, I saw among Dawgs fans this week a lot of pride over what the Bulldogs accomplished in just the second season of the Kirby Smart era. More than any other, the word readers used to describe this season was “magical.”
My family has reacted much like the rest of Bulldog Nation. “It was an amazing season,” my son Bill said, “and far more than anyone dreamed, but that game was there, and we had a shot and it slipped away.”
As the Dawgs’ Davin Bellamy said, “We should’ve won the game.”
Still, while most fans I’ve heard from since Monday are heartbroken (another word I heard a lot), they’re handling it pretty well — primarily because of a widespread belief that this is only the beginning. Thanks to Smart’s continued success in recruiting, with Georgia currently considered to have the No. 1 class of prospects according to the 247Sports composite rankings, there’s a strong belief among fans that the Dawgs will be knocking on the championship door again soon.
My brother Tim summed it up pretty well: “It’s a foundation season for better years and things to come!”
Along the same lines, a fan named James, who lives in England and stayed up until 5:15 a.m. London time to catch the game live, put it this way: “Bring on August!”
However, there are no guarantees that Georgia will get another shot at the championship any time soon. While the level of recruiting indicates Georgia should be a playoff-quality program, there will be a harder road ahead, with Florida and Tennessee likely getting better.
Speaking of that grumbling I mentioned earlier, the biggest complaint was, of course, the officiating, with some folks suspecting a conspiracy, others just complaining of the Big Ten crew’s ineptitude, and reader J. Thomas Vance combining those two schools of thought: “I believe the Big Ten was offended by having their champion left out of the playoffs. To exact their revenge, they sent their worst officiating crew to call the championship game.”
Arthur Cody grants that the Dawgs were hurt by some blown calls, but he is “not blaming the officials, as we still should have won the game.” The problem, he said, is that, in the second half, UGA’s coaches had the Dawgs “playing not to lose instead of playing to win.”
Matt Cafaro put it more bluntly, charging that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney “abandoned EVERYTHING that worked for three quarters and took the ball out of his quarterback’s hands with a bunch of predictable, play-not-to-lose play calling that gave the game away. … What Chaney did in the fourth quarter was the definition of coaching malfeasance. Fire him.”
Clinton Thrift wasn’t thrilled with the defensive play calling by Mel Tucker (and Smart), either. “Our defense is good, but it’s at its best when we bring pressure. … But once Bama started passing we played coverage and that cost us this game.”
A fan who goes by rallenatl said, “I, too, wondered why the foot came off the gas in the second half — a question for the ages that only the coaches can answer. Fatigue, or acceptance of the inevitable, seemed to wash over the team in the fourth quarter. Holding on for dear life seemed like their attitude, waiting on somebody — the coaches, the refs, anybody to give them a boost — but it never came. Why did they leave [cornerback Malkom] Parrish out there by himself when it was obvious Bama was having success picking on him? Lots of second guessing.”
Phil Helms is among those questioning Georgia’s conservative play in the fourth quarter, running Nick Chubb into the middle of the Bama defensive line rather than using Sony Michel, who had been more successful earlier in the game. “All we had to do is get some first downs and keep the ball [in the fourth quarter]. Smart should have had Sony running and I fully believe we would have made that yardage and not come up one yard short. You could see our defense was dog tired. The offense should have got the job done and didn’t. I do blame the coaching staff.”
On the defensive side, Helms said, “I also blame the coaching staff in overtime for not calling timeout after we threw the Alabama quarterback for a loss and it was second and a bunch. Smart should have called timeout and brought his defensive team over to the sidelines and let them rest for a moment and also cautioned his backs to not let any pass receiver get behind them. Smart should have known what was going in [Nick] Saban’s head. … Instead, we had very poor pass coverage, personnel out of position and it’s all over.”
But, Steven Davis thinks Smart learned his lesson in the game. “Kirby has only been a head coach two years. I promise you that the next time he has the favorite on the ropes he tries to knock them out. He will not be conservative.”
Many other fans preferred to focus on the more positive aspects of losing the National Championship Game in overtime to college football’s perennial powerhouse. Said Craig McCrary: “I would just like to give my heartfelt thanks to the team for a year that I will not soon forget! I especially want to express my appreciation to the seniors on this team for the blood, sweat and sacrifices which they made to make all of this possible!” (Craig sent along a beautiful shot he took from his seat in the Rose Bowl where, he said, “I was in Dawg Heaven!!”)
“It is a sad day for Bulldog Nation,” Ira Gleser acknowledged, “but, as you said [in the postgame Junkyard Blawg], we need to acknowledge what a magical season it was. And give credit where credit is due. Alabama and Coach Saban are to be admired and respected. Period.”
And, noted Dan Pelletier, overtime games are feast or famine. “He who lives by the sword (OT win on one big play) dies by the sword. We certainly had our chances in the national title game, and I think Kirby learned from the experience.”
Also, Jim Parry, who was lucky enough to attend the Notre Dame, SEC Championship and Rose Bowl games, notes that “the way our fans traveled and took over stadiums around the nation was a point of pride and inspiration. That should not be overlooked.”
Perhaps the farthest-traveling UGA fan attending the Bama game was Allen Hightower, who flew in from Bangkok, Thailand. His seat was in a Bama section of Mercdes-Benz Stadium, he said, but it was “90 percent filled with Bulldawgs.”
Putting some perspective on the season, Blake Bridges said: “I’ve been watching the Dawgs since the ’70s and I was 12 years old when my dad took me to the  Sugar Bowl. That’s my only reference point, but it’s probably safe to say that this was, at worst, the second or third best season in the history of Georgia football. I will be forever grateful I got to witness it.”
Likewise, Phillip Joiner, who “started my Bulldog journey when my family moved us to Athens in 1984, where at least one of my parents has worked since.”
He admitted to “soul-crushing disappointment” after the game, but, he ticked off some of the remarkable experiences from this season: Dawgs fans taking over Chicago and South Bend … beating Tennessee at Neyland by 41, their worst home loss ever … crushing a ranked Mississippi State team and watching the new tradition of lighting up Sanford Stadium before the fourth quarter … demolishing Florida so badly in Jacksonville that it led to the Gators firing their coach … completely embarrassing Tech on their own field … going with his brother to watch Georgia win the SEC Championship Game … the school’s first-ever College Football Playoff appearance … and playing in “the freaking Rose Bowl, where we beat Oklahoma in possibly the most exciting game of the century.”
And, then, Joiner said, “We played in the National Championship Game, taking the greatest dynasty in the sport’s history to OT and proving we were every bit as good as Bama and only lost on the final play.”
If, before the season, you’d told him he’d get to see all that, “I would have told you, ‘Not only will I take it, but I’ll savor every minute of it.’”
“What a magical season. I’ll remember it forever.”
You speak for a lot of Georgia Bulldogs fans, Phillip!