ATHENS – There have been too many games like this, too many times when games were won and hopes were raised and every goal was sitting on the table, crying only for a great performance against a great opponent to make something special happen. And then, the inevitable: Georgia inadvertently wraps the fuse wire around its toes and pushes the plunger. Boom.
Alabama came to Athens Saturday for the first time since 2008, when Georgia players, coaches and fans all wore black. When that day ended, everybody still matched because they were charred to a crisp. Alabama led 31-0 at halftime and after that nobody cared that Georgia only lost 41-30. There was no late-game window dressing this time. The Dogs began the game as a national contender and ended it somewhere between Idaho and New Mexico State in the depths of the Sun Belt.
Alabama 38, Georgia 10. There’s your new blackout.
“They whipped us pretty good,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We got outcoached and we got outplayed.”
These are the games when Richt loses support. It’s one thing to lose to an opponent like Alabama. It’s quite another to get humiliated on your home field when so many are deluded into believing the two teams are about even.
The Bulldogs were favored by 2½ points. I guess even Las Vegas get suckered once in a while.
The good news: The schedule might not return Alabama to Athens until 2027. Nick Saban will be 75 years old by then and only terrorizing other players in paper football games as a senior citizen.
Georgia couldn’t run the ball, which is its strength. It couldn’t pass the ball, which it had done effectively in the last two weeks (Greyson Lambert vs. South Carolina and Southern: 33 for 35 with five touchdowns. Lambert vs. Alabama: He underthrew a wide open Malcolm Mitchell to open the game and finished 10 for 24 with no touchdowns, one interception and a benching) The Dogs also broke down defensively enough times to make you wonder if second-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt – the savior – had been possessed by the spirit of Willie Martinez.
Except for the choice of jersey color, this was 2008 all over again. Georgia didn’t look ready for the moment.
“You don’t win games with emotion, you win with execution,” defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. “This is the first time they’ve played a game of this magnitude.”
So they weren’t ready emotionally?
“They were ready emotionally. But the mental part — you get your emotions tied into it, you start looking at other stuff and you create clutter for yourself.”
Coaches can only do so much. But this has happened too often.
Saban dominated Richt. Alabama’s offensive and defensive lines dominated Georgia’s. The Dogs were punched in the mouth, committed turnovers and commenced with a meltdown seemingly as soon as the other team started pushing them around. Half the crowd was gone before the fourth quarter. So were half the reasons to believe this will ever change in Athens.
Richt is going to do what football coaches do. He’s going to tell his players and the media and the world that all of Georgia’s goals are still on the table: Win the division. Win the conference. Win a national title. But how could anybody who saw this game – against the backdrop of other failures in similar big moments – believe Georgia can still put together a special season?
Mitchell correctly observed earlier in the week that college football teams are judged by their opponents and the results in those games. So how do we judge Georgia now after four wins and a loss the size of Rhode Island?
“I said that — so we’ll be judged,” Mitchell said. “We’ll be critiqued. We’ll be criticized. But that’s just the way it goes. Any time you get beat, the loser always gets criticized, right? But as a team we don’t let that affect us moving forward because the fight still goes on. This is just one piece of the battle.”
There were legitimate reasons to believe Georgia would win this game. But there were bad signs early that once again things would go sideways. The offense went three-and-out six times in its first seven possessions.
Lambert looked pedestrian. We all wondered whether he would be good enough to make plays to win a game if he didn’t have a great running game behind him. The answer: no. Welcome to your new reality, kid.
We all wondered if backup Brice Ramsey was better than Lambert. The answer: No. He threw a pick-six to Alabama’s Eddie Jackson on his first pass attempt in the third quarter and finished 1-for-6 with two interceptions. Richt said he now has to “reevaluate everything,” which is a nice soundbite, but the options are limited.
The game was two quarters old and it already felt like it was over. Alabama led 24-3. Nick Chubb had nowhere to run and rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries. (There goes that Heisman race.) The Dogs took a field goal off the board after an Alabama personal foul penalty on the kick gave them a first down on the Crimson Tide 9. Then after a big loss on a fumble and other pratfalls, they had to scramble just to get back into field goal range for three points.
At 3-3, Georgia fans held their breath. Then Alabama turned out the lights. It drove 76 yards for one touchdown. It blocked a punt just outside the end zone and recovered for another. Georgia’s offense goes three-and-out (again) and then on first down from the Dogs’ 45, Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin catches everybody snoozing: Jake Coker to a wide open Calvin Ridley for a touchdown: 24-3.
Ramsey started the second half for Lambert and promptly threw to the wrong team for a touchdown. Good night, everybody.
Before the start of the game, Georgia showed highlights of previous games against Alabama. They went chronologically but stopped after the 2007 win over the Tide in Tuscaloosa. There were no clips from the 2008 game, none even from the close SEC title loss in 2012.
But some things can’t be forgotten. Some things happen too often to forget.
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