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Back to the Future: Historical Perspective and Context

In the wake of yesterday's debacle in Knoxville, Paul Westerdawg called for calm reflection and several commenters have offered cogent points. I agree with several of these observations, particularly concerning the need for a firebrand on the sidelines . . . the Erk Russell to Mark Richt's Vince Dooley. Brian VanGorder was that at one time, but it now is evident that we need to replace Coach VanGorder's passion as much as we needed to replace his game-planning and halftime adjustments.

I am no less outraged than I was yesterday afternoon. On just four occasions since Coach Richt arrived in Athens have the Bulldogs lost a game by more than two touchdowns, falling by margins of 34-13 to L.S.U. in the 2003 S.E.C. championship game, 24-6 to Auburn in 2004, 51-33 to Tennessee in 2006, and 35-14 to Tennessee in 2007.

The first two such losses were entirely forgivable. The Bayou Bengals lost only one game en route to a share of the national championship. The Plainsmen went undefeated and claimed the S.E.C. championship. Those were great teams and there is no shame in having lost to them.

Last year's Volunteers were not a great team and this year's Big Orange squad does not appear likely to become one. Losing by such wide margins to Tennessee teams that have proven far from dominant is inexcusable and answers need to be had for why these outcomes were allowed to happen.

However, a bit of historical perspective may be in order. Coach Richt is in his seventh season on the Sanford Stadium sideline. In his first 84 outings as the head coach of the Red and Black, he has posted a 65-19 record. Through the 2005 homecoming game, his Bulldog squads went 49-10; since the 2005 Cocktail Party, the 'Dawgs have gone 16-9. Georgia has lost nearly as many times in the last 25 games as the Classic City Canines lost in the preceding 59 contests of the Mark Richt era.

Let us, though, put this into a degree of context. Vince Dooley, like Mark Richt, won his second S.E.C. championship in his fifth year at the Georgia helm before falling to a team the Bulldogs were expected to defeat handily in the Sugar Bowl. Through the 1968 Georgia Tech game, Coach Dooley had posted a five-year record of 38-12-3, giving him a .745 winning percentage. While not the equal of Coach Richt's .831 winning percentage through the 2005 Arkansas game, it still was an impressive record.

However, beginning with the 1969 Sugar Bowl and continuing through his sixth and seventh seasons in 1969 and 1970, Coach Dooley posted a record of 10-11-1. His .477 winning percentage fell far short of the .640 winning percentage Coach Richt has managed in his last 25 outings.

Let us suppose that 2007 turns out to be as frustrating for Georgia fans as 2006. (We should remember that our definition of "disaster" has been upgraded considerably during the Mark Richt era; a 5-5-1 record in 1969 and a 5-5 record in 1970 generated much frustration in Bulldog Nation, which since has come to view a 9-4 campaign in 2006 followed by a 4-2 start in 2007 as cause for wailing and gnashing of teeth.)

If so, we may take some comfort in the knowledge that, in Coach Dooley's eighth season in 1971, the 'Dawgs rebounded to go 11-1. Georgia could do so again in Coach Richt's eighth season in 2008.

I am nowhere near ready to write off the 2007 season. It is not time to panic and every game remaining on the Bulldogs' slate this autumn is a winnable game. Yesterday's loss was just one loss . . . one very bad loss indicating problems in need of correction, but still only a single setback. Things were never as good as they seemed after the Oklahoma State and Alabama games, nor were they as bad as they seemed after the South Carolina and Tennessee games.

Are the Bulldogs where they were as a team two years ago? No, they are not. Are there issues requiring immediate attention? Absolutely, there are. But . . . have we traveled this road before and come out of a couple of disappointing years as a solid program that is relevant on the national scene? Yes, we have . . . and we will again.

Go 'Dawgs!