Give the Georgia Bulldogs credit. They didn’t waste any time.
They took the biggest game in Athens in 25 years, a jam-packed Sanford Stadium bedecked in black, a prime-time, national television audience, and a student body revved up since dawn by ESPN’s College GameDay crew, and sucked every ounce of excitement out of the occasion faster than Ike sucked the gas out of north Georgia.
This was like wanting a new bicycle for your birthday and getting a pair of socks. Like the letter from IRS containing your tax refund instead informing you of a pending audit. As if the Braves finally loaded the bases only to have Jeff Francoeur advancing to the plate.
Alabama 41, Georgia 30 was the final score, but that’s irrelevant except in how it bodes for Georgia’s future. In the present, the only score you need is the halftime score:
Alabama 31, Georgia 0.
The Bulldogs managed to create the perfect storm by mixing their deficiencies together in a giant Molotov cocktail that blew up their plans for the evening.
Georgia suffered key injuries before the calendar even turned to September. Lost for the season were Jeff Owens, Georgia’s best defensive lineman, and Trinton Sturdivant, its best offensive lineman.
Never were their absences more conspicuous than on Saturday night. Alabama dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage. “We ran the ball effectively and we stayed ahead on down and distances,” coach Nick Saban noted in his post-game remarks. “We could play seven man fronts and stop the run.”
Mark Richt was a bit more succinct in his post-game remarks: “They took it to us. We had some self-inflicted wounds, but they took it to us. Period.”
Ah, yes, those self-inflicted wounds. Georgia leads the free world in penalties, and Saturday night was more of the same.
Prince Miller’s pass interference penalty aided Alabama’s opening drive, but Akeem Dent supplied the killer. His roughing the passer penalty negated a turnover and insured a touchdown on Alabama’s first drive.
For good measure, on Alabama’s second drive, the Dogs added a holding penalty (Miller again) and another roughing the passer penalty (Jarius Wynn this time) This insured a field goal on Alabama’s second possession.
Not only did Georgia trail 10-0, but the Dogs trailed in time of possession — 11:19 to 2:52 — and had run only five plays to 19 for Alabama.
Then things spiraled totally out of control. In short order. The Dogs went three and out. Brian Mimbs boomed a 19-yard punt. Alabama scored a touchdown. The Dogs went three and out. A. J. Green fumbled a pass on third down. Alabama recovered and scored another touchdown. Incredibly, Georgia then went three and out. Alabama scored another touchdown.
Dog fans searching for a silver lining need to bone up on their history. The buzz saw the Dogs ran into Saturday night was eerily similar to one they ran into a year ago in Knoxville.
Twenty minutes into that game, Tennessee led, 28-0. They led in first downs, 15-1. They led in yardage, 279-45. Sound familiar? The final score was 35-14.
“They beat us soundly today,” Richt said at the time. “Both sides of their line handled us. And they didn’t have to do much in the second half.”
The Dogs also had a young offensive line assembled in Knoxville. “It was definitely a learning experience for them,” Richt observed.
As for his defense, Richt said, “We had problems all the way from the front to the back. We have issues.”
Now, I ask you: does that sound like the coach of a team that would never lose another game, and wind up as Sugar Bowl champions, ranked second in the country?
So, really, the current edition of the Dogs shouldn’t be discouraged. They’re in better shape than their predecessors. All they have to do is learn from the Alabama loss the same way last year’s team learned from the loss to Tennessee.
They started by outscoring Alabama 30-10 in the second half.
“At halftime we challenged our players not to lay down and die, and they didn’t,” Richt said in his post-game comments compiled on georgiadogs.com. “We battled and fought, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
“We didn’t answer until the second half. But we did answer, we did fight. We fought valiantly until the very end, even when it didn’t look great. We never gave in, and that was a good thing.”
His players echoed his sentiments, according to georgiadogs.com. “We didn’t think we were out of it, not once,” said Knowshon Moreno. “We fought back and didn’t quit. The season is not over. This is a good team. We have to bounce back.”
Added Rennie Curran, “We never gave up. We fought until the end. Now we just have to regroup.”
Asher Allen said, “No one quit out there, and that says something about our team.”
That’s good news right there: lots of positive vibes coming out of a losing locker room. The Dogs need to utilize their off week, and channel that positive energy into repeating last season’s perfect finish.
The Tennessee game seems like the perfect place to start.