First and dumb.
That’s the play Georgia chose to call Saturday night, trying to snatch victory from likely defeat.
Trailing South Carolina, 38-35, with five and a half minutes left in the rainy contest, Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson found Georgia’s Damian Swann with a pass.
No small feat there. For seemingly the first time in the entire game, Swann was not only in the right place at the right time, he was also within hailing distance of the man he was purportedly covering.
If this wasn’t gift wrapping a comeback win, no such thing exists. Swann returned the gift to the Carolina 8 yard line, and a penalty set up Georgia with first and goal from the 4.
Then first and goal became first and dumb.
On the field with Georgia’s offense was Todd Gurley. You know, the preseason All-American. Heisman Trophy candidate. Compared by Fran Tarkenton to Jim Brown during the pregame hype.
Gurley had already carried the ball 19 times for 128 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 54-yard touchdown scamper called back by a phantom holding call.
So, with four shots from the 4-yard line, you give the ball to Gurley, right?
In hindsight, yes. "If we had to do it again," head coach Mark Richt lamented to the Athens Banner-Herald, "we would have hammered it."
Instead, the call was first and dumb.
"We tried to run a little fake boot," quarterback Hutson Mason told the ABH. "Felt really good about it. Obviously, everybody in the world knew we were probably going to give the ball to Todd, and we got two more downs to punch it in."
In this episode of Logic Takes a Holiday, Georgia’s brain trust immediately reduced by a third the number of attempts Gurley would have to slam into the end zone with the ball. We assume that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo made the call, but he has remained unavailable for comment since the incident.
Georgia also took the ball out of the capable hands of its star playmaker, a third year starter, and given it to a new quarterback with but three starts under his belt.
What could possibly go wrong?
"They played it really well," Mason told the ABH, declaring the obvious. "The D-end got in my face, and I really couldn’t give it to Quayvon [Hicks, the huge fullback who scored the previous touchdown, and who also was a more viable option to run with the ball on this play] because of the wet ball. So I just threw it at his feet. I really don’t understand how it was intentional grounding. The guy was right there. I threw it at him. I don’t understand that call."
If you need further confirmation of the questionable nature of the call, look no further than the Head Ball Coach himself. Steve Spurrier told the ABH, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, "That was interesting they ran that play, I guess."
Mark May, on ESPN, proved much more emphatic and outspoken. "Why are you using him [Gurley] as a decoy? Why are you trying to run a boot there? Mark Richt, you’re the head coach. Mike Bobo, you’re the offensive coordinator. That’s the worst offensive play call of the season by far. You had a situation where you hand the ball to Gurley. First and goal at the 4-yard line. You hand it to him again and again and again until you score and take the lead."
Now there’s a much better idea from a man with a definite opinion.
Even Richt seems resigned to the folly of the call. "It’s a play that looks good when you put it in," he told the ABH, "but it really wasn’t good at that moment."
The dazed and stunned Dawgs did run Gurley on second and goal from the 14, but sprung him for only three yards. The third down pass was tipped. In the perfect denouement, Marshall Morgan trotted in to miss a 28-yard, game-tying field goal attempt.
Georgia would never get the ball back.
Now, to be fair, that one play call did not cost Georgia the game. Plenty of other mishaps contributed.
After nailing an SEC-record 20 straight field goal attempts, Morgan missed two, near the end of each half.
Brandon Kublanow was the guilty culprit who negated Gurley’s long touchdown run. Richt told the ABH that he’d have the SEC office review the call. "We thought Kublanow was in the framework of the defender. We thought it was legal."
And the defense, so stellar in the second half against Clemson, reverted to the Daze of Martinez, asserting no pass rush and allowing receivers to roam freely about the secondary. Carolina amassed 447 yards of offense.
But Georgia had a chance to overcome all those miscues when presented with that late first and goal opportunity.
Instead, they called first and dumb.