ATHENS — Davin Bellamy didn’t realize the metaphorical accuracy he was delivering in the moment. He was merely speaking from the heart when he was asked how it felt to lose to Georgia Tech in the particularly cruel fashion that it went down Saturday at Sanford Stadium
“Yeah, it stings,” he said, then repeated it. “Man, it stings.”
He seemed oblivious that he was talking about an opponent nicknamed the Yellow Jackets. But while it does sting any time the Bulldogs lose to Georgia Tech, which they did 28-27 Saturday afternoon, it should come as a shock to no one.
Bellamy plays defense for the Bulldogs, so the fact that his unit had just given up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lose by a point still smarted as he fielded reporters’ questions in the aftermath. But the fact is, this looked and felt like virtually every Tech-Georgia game I’ve covered this century. And that’s all of them.
It was a scenario completely familiar to me: Georgia looks like the better team early on and for a good portion of the game, but squanders some early opportunities, so the contest remains close. The Bulldogs’ depth and overall athleticism eventually begins to win out and results in a late advantage. But it never seems like enough of an advantage.
For Georgia, it’s never enough.
As soon as the Bulldogs went up by 13 points with a handful of seconds remaining in the third quarter, my first thought was how they should have been up by more, how they needed to be up by more. I began to recount how it could’ve and should’ve been a bigger margin.
I thought about a wide-open Riley Ridley dropping a perfectly-thrown pass on third-and-three at the Tech 25 on Georgia’s first offensive possession. It would’ve resulted in at least a first down and possibly much more. Instead, it resulted in Kirby Smart very quickly deciding to send out place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship for a field goal try from 42 yards. That seemed just a little far out and, sure enough, his kick was just a little wide. No score.
I thought about Isaac Nauta’s drop on third-and-five inside the Tech 10. Georgia got a short field goal out of it, but a TD would’ve been much more meaningful.
I thought of Tech facing second-and-12 at its own 4 and then hitting back-to-back passes for 61 yards. They’d score four plays later and I thought, “they did that too quick and too easy.”
Kirby Smart was thinking the same thing.
“When I look back on it it will be the missed opportunities,” said Georgia’s first-year coach. “When go in the red area on defense and we didn’t make any stops. We go to the red area on offense, did we cash in every chip? No. … Settled for some fields. Squandered opportunities is the most frustrating part about the game.”
Yes, they Bulldogs have won far more often in this series — 20 of the last 25 (.800) before Saturday — but rarely are the games ever as one-sided as the series record would indicate. With the exception of Georgia’s 42-10 win in Athens in 2012, the other 12 games over the last 13 years have been decided by an average of 6.75 points apiece.
So every possession matters. Every first down and every catch and every drop and every turnover. That’s what I expect every year, something excruciatingly close and a game that can go either way.
A lot of people have already been asking me in the press box and on social media, what I think this loss means for Georgia and for the direction of the program under Smart. I don’t think it means anything in that regard.
I think it means that the Tech-Georgia rivalry will continue to be what it has always been in the modern era. I think the Bulldogs will continue to recruit prospects that come in with more stars next to their names and UGA will continue to field teams that produce more NFL prospects and generally have a higher profile regionally and nationally.
But as long as coach Paul Johnson remains their head coach, the Yellow Jackets are always going to be a team that plays Georgia tough. They’re going to knock off the Bulldogs every once in a while.
That’s the truth, no matter how much it stings.