No coach in the country has been more underappreciated and unfairly criticized than Georgia’s Mark Richt, although perhaps that narrative will continue to diminish following his team’s riveting 44-41 win over LSU.
The treatment of Richt has been inequitable, and the inevitable “hot seat” talk has surfaced in instances where it is nowhere close to being warranted. Those talks have calmed now, obviously, but still he does not get the credit he so rightfully deserves.
Despite dealing with seemingly unrealistic expectations, Richt has consistently delivered quality teams and victories. And the Georgia head coach just delivered his biggest win yet.
What does this victory mean to him? His postgame interview says it all, really.
It was hard to envision an SEC tussle living up to what Alabama and Texas A&M provided just a few weeks ago. Georgia and LSU met those expectations and surpassed them, however, and the Saturday afternoon in Athens could prove to be the game of the year.
The quarterback play was tremendous. Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray combined to throw for 670 yards and finished with eight touchdowns. There was answer after answer, big throw after big throw, and following an afternoon where Mettenberger picked it apart, the Georgia defense finally came up with the stop that it desperately needed.
Before that, however, Murray delivered.
Like his head coach, Murray’s achievements have often been overlooked in his tenure as the team’s starter. Perhaps it’s because he plays in a league with QB stars abound, or maybe the vast wins he racked up in his three-plus years in Athens just were not good enough for the masses who are rarely satisfied.
Regardless, Murray quieted that talk on Saturday, and his final offensive drive was a work of art. He accomplished all of this without starting running back Todd Gurley, the team’s best player who injured his ankle in the first half. Outside of one interception—and it came on a deflection—he was just about perfect on Saturday.
In doing so, he elevates the status of both he and his head coach to a place they rightfully deserve to be.
Bigger than any legacy, however, Georgia finishes a brutal stretch 3-1. This stretch included a road trip to Clemson and games against South Carolina, North Texas and now LSU. The Bulldogs’ SEC Championship hopes are very much alive, and a national championship run is absolutely within reason.
Georgia’s remaining regular-season schedule is manageable, and the possibility of a rematch against Alabama—or perhaps LSU—in the SEC Championship Game remains alive and well.
There’s a lot of football to be played, certainly, but this team is in as favorable a position as you could possibly ask for with a blemish in the loss column.
In past years, Georgia has been close, and perhaps that’s where the uneasy with Richt lies. Last year, it was one batted ball away from the national championship against Alabama. Years prior, Georgia has been unable to get over the perceived hump.
The talk, of course, is ridiculous. And 2013 speaks volumes to Richt's influence on the team. Despite operating with a completely rebuilt defense—one that still has ample of improving to do—Georgia has put itself in prime position going forward while navigating the nation’s most daunting opening month.
The picture is incomplete, but credit is due and has been for some time.
The win over LSU is simply validation. Mark Richt can coach, he can win the big game and the program is in tremendous hands for as long as he’s on the sideline.