That, quite simply, was as bad as it possibly could have been.
All of our excuses were exposed as falsehoods and all of our hopes were reduced to dust. The open date is meaningless, as are the coincidences about defending national champions and 19-year cycles. Yes, the officiating was atrocious, as usual, but we know we’re not getting the benefit of any doubts and we keep making the same mistakes, anyway. Besides, I can’t claim with a clear conscience that blown calls by the referees have cost the Bulldogs a game since Jasper Sanks’s "fumble."
Georgia has gone 7-6 in the Bulldogs’ last thirteen games. These results keep recurring for reasons that continue to be repeated. This is where we are as a program. There is no explaining this away.
There were points at which it appeared that the Bulldogs at least would make a game of it. Coming back from fourteen points down to make it a four-point ballgame in the second quarter, then cutting the deficit to 31-17 in the third period and forcing a punt on Florida’s next series, gave cause for hope that the score would be respectable. This year, unlike last year, the Red and Black did not quit when they got behind.
Otherwise, though, it was a repeat of 2008. Last year, despite the final margins appearing on the scoreboard, Alabama outplayed Georgia to a much greater extent than Florida did. This year, the Bulldogs absorbed a much worse drubbing from the Volunteers than from the Gators. Nevertheless, the score was what it was, and its impact is what it is. "Closer than the score indicated" is not synonymous with "close."
During Steve Spurrier’s tenure in Gainesville, Georgia simply was outclassed by Florida, and the results showed up in the record book: 38-7, 45-13, 52-14, 52-17, 47-7, 38-7. Between 2002 and 2007, though, the ‘Dawgs claimed a pair of victories in Jacksonville and never lost to the Sunshine State Saurians by more than a touchdown. There was reason to believe the two programs were on more or less equal footing.
After back-to-back blowouts by 49-10 and 41-17 scores, though, no such cause for confidence exists. Every gain the Georgia program has made since 2001 has been lost. We are now where we were in the 1990s. The glory run is over and we are back to square one.
There was, though, one potential positive to getting run out of the building by the St. John’s River, but we likely will not even derive that one possible benefit. On the whole, the defense played a terrible game, giving up 374 yards (including 210 on the ground), allowing 22 first downs, and permitting the Gators to move the chains on almost 54 per cent of their third-down chances. While there were some positive signs on offense and special teams, there were few, if any, on defense.
Nevertheless, the Georgia defense was not as awful in the second half as in the first. Florida scored fewer points in the third quarter than in any other period, which provides grist for the Willie Martinez apologists to claim that our defensive coordinator is better able to make adjustments than his detractors give him credit for being. After all, they will argue, you can’t pin every bit of this on Willie. Consider:
- Seven of Florida’s points were set up by a Joe Cox interception at the Bulldogs’ 19 yard line which produced a three-play touchdown drive.
Accordingly, if you’re in a mood to be charitable, you can claim that Willie Martinez’s defense was only really to blame for 24 of the Gators’ points. That tally is comparable to the 23 points apiece conceded to Florida by Tennessee and Arkansas, and it’s better than the 29 given up to the Evergladers by Mississippi State. If the offense hadn’t turned the ball over four times and the special teams had been able to return a punt, the defense would have had a much better day. In short, anyone who’s looking to provide cover for Coach Martinez can come up with a basis for making excuses on his behalf.
So, it was as bad as it possibly could have been. Georgia didn’t win, didn’t keep it close, and yet, despite losing a blowout, didn’t lose the type of blowout that would have assured the end of Willie Martinez’s tenure with the Bulldogs. It was bad, but not bad enough, which, paradoxically, is worse.
The saddest and most frustrating part of it is that these players have talent to burn, are playing with heart, and want to win, but their gifts are being squandered. A wealth of NFL-caliber ability is going to waste before our very eyes. We have been down this road before and, although everyone agrees we are on this road again, no one seems determined to slam on the brakes, turn the car around, or even make sure the driver has a valid license.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was quoted as saying, "It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it’s one damn thing over and over." Right now, Georgia football is four or five damn things over and over. Big-game collapses, personal foul penalties, multiple turnovers, letting second-rate offenses have breakout days, and player arrests for petty traffic offenses define the Bulldog football program at this moment, and the only solutions we seem to have involve seeing red articles of clothing and wanting to paint them black. As we shall see, we’re drawing our inspiration from the wrong Rolling Stones song.
In 1992, as I sat numb and dumbfounded in the passenger seat of my father’s car while we drove away from Jacksonville after seeing Ray Goff’s best team beaten by Steve Spurrier’s worst team, a realization dawned clearly and completely in my mind: No Ray Goff-coached team will ever beat a Steve Spurrier-coached team. None ever did.
Today, this realization came to me with equal clarity and certainty: The current Georgia coaching staff will never beat the current Florida coaching staff. One or the other must change before we will ever win in Jacksonville again. Given the career day Steve Addazio had today after previously doing a poor job as Dan Mullen’s successor, it probably is the case that even changes on the Gators’ staff wouldn’t do us any good, because Urban Meyer is enough of a perfectionist that he would insist upon replacing any current assistants with coaches of equal or greater ability. The brief Ron Zook interlude notwithstanding, the Gators do not trade down; Florida chooses coaches the way John Derek chose wives.
This is going to keep happening. If Gray’s performance in relief of Cox is any indication, we already are well on our way to losing every big game in 2010. As a program, we have been lapped by our coevals. Changes are needed, and, until those changes are made, we will continue falling farther behind programs that ought to be our equals and are now instead our superiors.
The systemic problems endemic to our program have reached the extreme levels they had reached in 1995, and the solutions to those problems must be as extreme now as they were then. I am no defender of Jim Donnan, but at least he did not tarry before sacking Kevin Ramsey. We are at---we are long past---that point.
At the time Coach Donnan was fired, I was the co-host of a local cable television program called "The Dawg Show." While the search for a new coach was ongoing, my co-host, Travis Rice, and I endorsed Mark Richt as the best of the available candidates, and, from literally the moment the Florida State offensive coordinator was hired, I bought in wholeheartedly to the notion that Coach Richt would retire as the winningest coach in Georgia football history. The Mark Richt Victory Watch began with his very first game on the Sanford Stadium sideline.
I do not doubt that Mark Richt can still surpass Vince Dooley to become the most successful coach in University of Georgia history, but today, for the first time, I am no longer sure he will. When my head hit the pillow on the night of December 26, 2000, I was sure Coach Richt would get to 202 victories during his tenure in Athens. When my head hit the pillow on the night of October 30, 2009, I remained sure of the inevitability of that milestone, as I had remained sure each night in between. Tonight, my head will hit the pillow clouded by doubt as to the certainty of that which I have believed without wavering for nearly nine uninterrupted years.
I do not want anyone other than Mark Richt to be our head coach, but I need someone other than Willie Martinez to be our defensive coordinator. I hope and believe Mark Richt is the head coach who will replace Willie Martinez with someone more competent to perform the vital duties which presently are so consistently being performed so poorly and so unsatisfactorily. I know, though, that the Georgia Bulldogs must be led by the head coach who will make what ought not to be a hard choice.
I am proud to call Mark Richt my head coach. I hope to be able to support him in that post for many years to come. If, however, I am forced to choose---if my head coach tells me, in effect, that he and his defensive coordinator are a package deal---then I am now prepared to give up what I personally would prefer in order to obtain that which is dictated by clear necessity.
I want Mark Richt to lead our program, in 2010 and beyond. I believe Mark Richt, like Vince Dooley in the mid-1970s, can make the necessary changes to restore the Georgia program to its proper lofty level. Much more fundamentally, though, I need days like this to quit happening with such appalling regularity, and I, like all of you, know damn good and well what it will take to make days like this stop. I also know that the Glimmer Twins were right . . . you can’t always get what you want, but, if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.