Georgia came into the Sugar Bowl riding high.
After a season building on a strong one the year before, this team had its detractors as some of its most notable contributors in recent years had moved on to the NFL.
Even still, the Bulldogs defied those outside doubts.
After being on the conference’s biggest stage and raising national eyebrows, the team got its opportunity at coronation with a Sugar Bowl invite.
On paper, Georgia had the edge going in, but one had to wonder if the team mentally ended its season following the SEC title game.
An apparent lack of focus, however, doomed Georgia as it was upset in the 2006 edition of the Sugar Bowl.
One of the laziest takes out there in the 48-hour knee-jerk climate is that since Kirby Smart and Mark Richt have very similar three-year records, Kirby is Richt 2.0 without the spontaneous trips to jump off the high dive at the Ramsey Center
It can be argued that the moment that Richt’s honeymoon ended in Athens came in that fateful night in Atlanta against the Mountaineers as a team. All a sudden, seeds of doubt started to settle in, that maybe some things within the program should be adjusted or tweaked.
A black mark from that game, a Willie Martinez defense, became an obstacle for Georgia to overcome over the next handful of seasons.
Which is where, oddly enough, an assistant from that 2005 team, Kirby Smart comes in.
You can pin New Year’s Night’s debacle on a lot of things:
- A talented Texas team with a big point to prove
- Defensive injuries pressing inexperienced players into heavy action
- Lack of focus leading to uncharacteristic mistakes
- and perhaps most of all, the monster that the CFP has created for programs like Georgia, where when you put all your eggs into the playoff basket and beating Bama, nothing else really matters.
Are there doubts about Kirby Smart’s ability to take this program? From a certain fringe of fans, yes. And some of those concerns are valid as a lack of interest reflects on what was pinpointed as a challenge of this team going in - lack of leadership - guys who could take things by the horns (speaking of, I’m having steak tonight in honor of Bevo).
You never got the sense of that type of team this year, and with not just young players, but ones not quite used to the mantle of expectations Kirby Smart strives for, you’ll have lapses of focus and mental roadblocks.
How Georgia responds to this game will define the program going forward. Jake Fromm had some nice soundbytes after the game about being excited about next year, but it’s time to own the saying ‘ “don’t tell me, show me.”
The offseason and first month of next season will show if the loss to Texas was a fluke on the way to an offseason of dogged determination or a sign of a team whose season ended in December and could be great at times while in other times going through the motions.
Will the mocking of the program and fan base over the player’s Playoff claims the past few weeks sting? Yes, but they’e well-earned, especially for the players.
To quote a recent Bulldog - “Humble Yourself.”
For the sake of Georgia football, one can hope that lesson resonates for a long time.