JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Greetings from EverBank Field. Here we are back on the banks of St. Johns River for what seems like the umpteenth time in the last few years. Actually, if you’re a Georgia fifth-year senior, you’re playing on this field for the seventh time.
At least the opponent will be somebody other than Florida this time — a very pedestrian Penn State team (7-5). But if you’ve been paying attention, you know it hasn’t gone well for the Bulldogs (9-3) in this venue lately no matter who they have played. Including the 2013 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl — that’s what they called it then; they’ve since dropped the dot-com and the Gator — Georgia has lost three of the last four. And most of them haven’t been real close.
Of course, the 27-3 loss to the Gators just 63 days ago is fresh on the minds of every UGA fan, and should be, since that’s the reason the Bulldogs’ coaching staff has been in such a state of flux. It was then, and in the days leading up to it, when Mark Richt made the dubious decision to start Faton Bauta at quarterback rather than Greyson Lambert, and his fate as Georgia’s coach was sealed.
A lot of the collateral damage since that late-afternoon disaster is still airborne. Richt, obviously, is now head coach at Miami. Three of Richt’s nine assistant coaches didn’t hang around to coach the bowl. Of the six that stayed with the team, only two — Tracy Rocker and Kevin Sherrer — are going to remain employed by UGA next year.
And Kirby Smart, the new head coach, is here as well. He’ll supposedly watch the games from the sidelines, though we haven’t been able to confirm that unequivocally, and he is expected to grant ESPN some interview time during the broadcast. New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is also here in an observatory role, and the two of them interviewed former Miami offensive coordinator James Coley for a position yesterday afternoon at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort, apparently as running backs or tight ends coach.
Amid it all, Georgia has a game to play. And while the players insists they’re supremely motivated for this contest — they want to win for interim head coach Bryan McClendon, claim another 10-win season and reach 40 victories over four years — but how well they’ll actually play is anybody’s guess.
One can only hope they’ll look like Ole Miss did in the Sugar Bowl last night or Tennessee did in the Outback Bowl. Then again, they could look like Florida did against Michigan, which was horrific.
As ever, outcomes in these type tilts comes down to the team that is most excited to be here. I can’t honestly see how the Bulldogs in their heart of hearts could be. But who knows?