With both Florida and Georgia expected to be in the national title race this season, a lot of people have been talking about Georgia’s on-field celebration last season. A lot of people have also been throwing around a lot of bunk, so hopefully I can set the record straight.
Did it work?
It depends on what you’re talking about.
In the context of the game itself, it’s far from certain that it made a huge difference. Florida immediately drove back down the field and scored, and took a 17-14 lead with 7:11 to go in the first half.
Florida lost the game because the Gator defense couldn’t get a stop when it needed one. Tim Tebow plowed into the end zone with 9:40 to go in the game to pull within five points.
Had the defense made a stop on Georgia’s ensuing drive (which included a conversion on 3rd-and-12), Florida would have been in position to go on a game-winning drive.
The inability to get a critical stop factored heavily into Florida’s losses to LSU and Michigan, too, so the fact that Georgia was able to get crucial scores in this game was hardly a unique occurrence.
In the context of the Georgia fan base, it definitely worked. Since Georgia had lost 15 of 17 in the series, the Dawg fans were hungry for something to happen that made them feel like the aggressors.
Mark Richt didn’t need to do it to save his job or anything—only the lunatic fringe of the Bulldog faithful is genuinely upset over his not having won a national title yet—but he needed to do something in regards to Florida given his 1-5 record against UF at that point. Mission accomplished.
Was it a smart move?
Your answer to this question inevitably will come from where your allegiances lie. I will say that it was not intelligent from a risk management perspective.
On the play that prompted the celebration, Knowshon Moreno lunged for the end zone but it was not clear at first if he broke the plane. The side judge signaled a touchdown, but it was close enough that the play was reviewed. Replay confirmed that Moreno did, in fact, get into the end zone so it was a legit TD; I’m not arguing about that.
Just imagine though if he didn’t get into the end zone and replay overturns the score. Instead of 4th-and-inches, which probably would have resulted in a touchdown given Florida’s defense, it would have been 4th-and-31 thanks to the two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called on that play. You’re now looking at a 48-yard field goal attempt.
Despite Brandon Coutu being a great kicker, he was just 1-for-5 from 48 yards or more last season, with the one make a 52-yarder indoors against Hawaii.
There’s no guarantee the Bulldogs get any points out of it, and you go from being hyped and motivated to having egg on your face with no points to show for it.
That, more than anything, is why I don’t think you’ll see that happen again. Replay could overturn the touchdown, and there’s also the matter of late holding flags that no one notices until well after the play is done (a specialty of SEC refs). Taking an intentional penalty when points are at stake is just not a smart plan.
On top of that, Richt could have been thrown out of the game if the officials were of a different mindset that day. There was also the risk of a brawl, which I am about 90 percent sure would have happened if Richt did that against a Ron Zook-coached Florida team. It will likely go down as a unique event in college football, never to be duplicated.
Was it the reason that Georgia played well the rest of the season?
Yes and no.
Yes, in that it was the first spark of the fire that Georgia showed the rest of the season. The Bulldogs looked lifeless against South Carolina, laid down and took a beating from Tennessee, and needed a last-second field goal to beat Vanderbilt. Something about Richt’s motivational formula had gone stale.
A win over Florida, given the one-sided nature of the rivalry since 1990, probably would have been enough without the celebration, so in that sense it wasn’t even necessary.
Was it the reason Georgia played well the rest of the season? In truth, we don’t know. Richt did other motivational things throughout the rest of the year, most notably when his team took off its red jerseys to reveal black ones just before the home game against Auburn.
The celebration against Florida probably played a part, but it was by no means the only thing, as other actions by Richt and the team sustained the high level of excitement and motivation.
Is Urban Meyer jealous he didn’t think of it, and will he retaliate?
Urban Meyer’s offense and recruiting tactics (texting a lot and his Friday Night Lights camp) might be “new school,” but philosophically he’s very much an old school guy. Thanks to growing up in Ohio, he’s a disciple of Woody Hayes and even has a picture of Hayes hanging in his game room. Earle Bruce, the head coach when Meyer was a grad assistant at Ohio State, is still very much his mentor.
That is why there isn’t a chance in the world that he’s mad that he didn’t think of that celebration first. Hayes and Bruce would never have pulled a stunt like that. That’s just not the way you did things back then, and that’s not how Meyer does things now.
He never would have thought to do that, and he’s not going to try to do it to Georgia this year either. Any payback will be administered solely with football, not theatrics.
What about 2008?
After what happened last year, the SEC will probably tell the officials before the game to be extra-vigilant towards unsportsmanlike conduct. In officiating parlance, it will be a “point of emphasis.”
That fact is why I don’t expect there to be another stunt by either team. The refs will probably have their thumbs on their ejector seat buttons, and Mike Slive might already have the paperwork ready for fining either coach is something premeditated happens.
It will be a close, hard-fought game: nothing more, nothing less.