Some traditions are hard to break. Unfortunately for Georgia, the annual matchup with Florida ended the same way it has the last 18 out of 21 times—with a Gator win.
Nearly everyone thought this game would be different. Florida was on the ropes with three losses in a row. Georgia was on the rise with three consecutive wins. Yet somehow Georgia managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, even though they had the better team.
Despite the loss, there were some high points for the Dawgs. They came back from a potential blowout score of 21-7 at the half to tie it up and force the game into overtime. Aaron Murray got his act together after a shaky start, and the defense made some big plays.
Florida appeared beatable for the first time in a long time. So why couldn’t the Dawgs get it done?
Along with obvious mistakes, like four turnovers, Georgia’s defeat comes down to one simple difference: coaching.
Watching the Dawgs and Gators was like watching Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the first Rocky. Both boxers went the distance. They left it all in the ring and stood bloody and bruised, waiting for the decision. In the end, the guy with the better support team won.
Like Apollo Creed, the Gators were better trained, better coached and better prepared.
Mark Richt has had his successes at Georgia, but when push comes to shove, the Dawgs often land face down in the turf. Good coaches win the big games, and Georgia can’t seal the deal.
During a much-needed bye week, Urban Meyer took his disheveled team, pounded some sense into them, tweaked a few things and made it work. He also minimized the input of struggling offensive coordinator, Steve Addazio.
Not of all Meyer’s efforts were commendable. He certainly forfeited some integrity by reinstating wide receiver Chris Rainey just in the nick of time for the Georgia game.
Rainey was arrested on aggravated stalking charges in September. Initially, Meyer indicated Rainey would be dismissed from the team for violating a “core value” of the program—violence against women. Instead, he served a five-game suspension in lieu of permanent expulsion.
It seems winning is higher on Meyer’s core value list.
There’s no doubt Rainey’s return made a difference to the Gator’s turbulent offense. He was involved in 11 of the first 19 plays of the game and gave Florida its first touchdown.
Up until the Gator matchup, Mark Richt gave the impression of turning the season around for Georgia. The team rebounded from a disastrous streak of four loses and racked up three desperately needed wins. But you can’t overlook the fact that those victories came against teams that aren’t good. Tennessee is 2-6, Vanderbilt is 2-5 and Kentucky is 4-4.
Beating bad-to-mediocre teams senseless doesn’t earn you bragging rights.
Unlike Meyer, who took back control of his struggling offense, Richt continues to let OC Mike Bobo run the show despite a history of questionable and predictable play calling.
It appears Richt and Bobo didn’t adequately prepare their freshman quarterback to face the nation’s No. 1-rated team for interceptions. Murray came out throwing on the first play of the first drive and got picked off. He didn’t regain his composure until the second half.
The decision to go for a two-point conversion at the start of the fourth quarter, with nearly 15 minutes left to play, may have cost Georgia a 32-31 win.
The team hadn’t attempted a two-point conversion all season. In the NCAA, only about 43 percent of them are ever successful. Even the broadcast announcers were baffled by the decision. It was an odd moment for a conservative play-caller to start taking chances.
At least Bobo’s game plan against the Gators wasn’t entirely predictable. He surprised everyone by seeming to forget he had A.J. Green on the field. Green himself appeared bewildered by it. He only had four receptions for 42 yards even though he was open a majority of the time.
On its own, this loss to the Gators may not seem like reason enough to bang the drum about coaching changes. But it’s more than a single loss in a single year. Georgia was in a position to save the season and make a run at the SEC East title. They came up short, an unfortunate but recurrent theme.
In Richt’s first five seasons, Georgia played in the SEC title game three times and won it twice. For the last five years, they have had championship-level teams but failed to even win the SEC East.
The dilemma goes beyond the scoreboard. Georgia’s recruiting efforts have also started to suffer. Since 2002, Rivals.com has rated Georgia’s recruiting classes in the top 10. Last year, their ranking dropped to No. 15. At the moment, their 2011 class is ranked No. 13.
The state of Georgia is being raided for high school talent by every other SEC school. Along with losing top recruits to national champ contenders like Florida and Alabama, they are regularly poached from Tennessee and South Carolina.
Last year, Georgia lost 5-star recruit Da’rick Rodgers to the Vols at the 11th hour. He chose a team in turmoil with a new coach and facing NCAA violations over an established program at Georgia.
Perhaps new athletic director Greg McGarity should tune into the recruiting wars and find out why UGA keeps losing winnable battles.
Change can be scary, but it’s often good. When it became downright negligent to keep Willie Martinez on staff, Richt finally got rid of him, and the defense is already much improved. Other big changes might be needed to reverse Georgia’s downward trend and get them back on top.
Too often, it seems Georgia is coached not to lose instead of being coached to win.
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