The surprising part was that it wasn’t at all surprising. The Georgia Bulldogs entered as a favorite against Alabama, something no team had been since Dec. 5, 2009, and exited with their worst home loss, at least in terms of score, under Mark Richt. Which is why we’re again talking about Mark Richt.
It took nearly three full seasons for Georgia under Richt to be beaten by more than 14 points. When it happened, the beating was administered by Nick Saban’s LSU team, which won the 2003 BCS title. When next the Bulldogs lost by more than two touchdowns, the conqueror was an Auburn team that finished undefeated. Throw in thrashings by Tennessee – one in 2006 in Athens, another the next year in Knoxville – and you’ve arrived at the total of true wipeout losses suffered in the first half of this coach’s tenure.
Technically, the Blackout of Sept. 27, 2008, wound up with Alabama winning 41-30. Still, it serves as both midpoint and line of demarcation. Georgia hasn’t won the SEC or graced a major bowl since. The Blackout marked Game No. 95 under Richt; Saturday’s damp squib was Game No. 189. Before the Blackout, Georgia under Richt had lost four games by more than 14 points. It has since lost nine, with at least one coming in every season. It’s not just that Georgia loses more often now than in Richt’s early years; it’s also that more losses have become more emphatic.
(No, not everything in college football comes down to Saban, but since you asked: His Alabama teams have never lost by more than 14 points.)
The surprising part Saturday was that it was no surprise to see Georgia collapse. Big-time programs aren’t supposed to do that, but this has become a flimsy big-time program: The Bulldogs look great until that moment when they look awful.
Saturday’s loss wasn’t quite as sobering as the Blackout: Those Bulldogs had Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and A.J. Green, all taken among the first 12 picks of their respective NFL drafts. That team was better than this, which hadn’t played anybody. Still, this team shouldn’t have folded. That Bama had better players is no excuse for losing by four touchdowns at home after trailing by five. Bama has better players than everybody, but Ole Miss has beaten the Crimson Tide twice running.
Georgia is the program that no longer believes in itself. The Bulldogs did some pregame woofing, pun intended, but Bama mostly shrugged. (Saban was miffed his players even half-noticed.) Fans were a truer indicator. There was no frothing expectancy about Saturday’s game, no palpable sense that Georgia was gonna get ’em this time. There was an unease that what did happen would happen.
There was a time when I looked toward Richt and figured he’d think of something. I stopped feeling that way in Jacksonville on Nov. 1, 2014. To borrow an Urban Meyer image: When the checkers are equal, I now expect Georgia to lose. After Saturday’s game, de facto co-head coach Jeremy Pruitt – who was supposed to have the skinny on Alabama, seeing as how he worked there – suggested the Bulldogs were too young. Ah, the ol’ bailout.
Georgia’s talent is such that it should never be anything less than good. (Full credit to Richt as recruiter.) Even after Saturday, it’s hard to circle another loss on this schedule. But we’ve seen so many big games become big fat losses that there’s no reason – except maybe the law of averages – to see the Bulldogs as capable of winning the one that matters. What Clemson was, Georgia is.
Speaking for myself, though maybe not only for myself: I no longer believe in Richt’s capacity to win a championship. Games, yes. The SEC East, yes. A championship, no. He has been given everything he wants by his administration – from big money for assistants to that coming-soon indoor practice facility – and the first test of 2015 yielded a 38-10 home loss.
To those of a sardonic bent, it was amusing that Richt’s Bulldogs failed to seize the one edge they might have had. The only SEC team that doesn’t yet practice indoors handled the rain no better than Alabama. Figures.