Tis’ the season for all-decade lists.
And, yes, don’t worry, we’ll be giving you a list of the best UGA wins of the decade for those of you who want to be “happy” and remember “good times” or whatever.
But for now I want to focus on that resource that UGA seems to have cornered the market on this decade: soul-crushing, world-ending, gut-wrenching, heart-removing, please-just-let-me-die losses.
Don’t believe me? Are you asking yourself if maybe there is another team out there that has had more losses that felt like one’s collective heart were getting trampled by a wildebeest stampede?
Consider this stat:
Of the 120 minutes of game time that the University of Georgia has played the University of Alabama in football between the 2017 National Championship Game and the 2018 SEC Championship Game, respectively, the University of Georgia lead for every single second of those 120 minutes, save 64 seconds of them.
64 seconds. That is all that separates UGA from a National Championship in 2017 and a second consecutive playoff appearance in 2018.
But Lord knows the darkness hasn’t been limited to just the past two years.
Consider that in the past decade there are only two college football teams that have lost more than one game by Hail Mary. Wisconsin is one. And the other?
Oh yeah! It’s us!
The SEC has had a bad run of devastating National Championship losses. Auburn lost to Jimbo & Jameis’ Florida State and Bama lost to Clemson on what basically amounted to the final play of the game.
But there is only one Overtime loss (so far) this decade in a National Championship game, and that loss belongs to the University of Georgia.
So sure, Auburn and Bama suffered late-touchdowns with little time on the clock. But only one team has been on the wrong end of a walk-off for a National Title, and they play in Athens.
But where do these losses stack up against each other?
Here is my entirely objective and unquestionable ranking of the worst UGA losses of the decade:
10. Boise State - 2011
Two words: Color. Rush.
It is one thing to get beat. It is another thing to get beat while looking extremely stupid.
UGA managed to do both in the 2011 season opener against Boise State, getting beat while wearing a damned abomination of a uniform that made the former cast of Power Rangers have a PTSD episode.
What made this loss particularly devastating wasn’t just the public embarrassment of being seen in those uniforms. The tough part of this loss was that the game in question was originally meant to get the taste of 2010—wherein UGA finished the year 6-7 with a loss to George O’Leary’s UCF in the Liberty Bowl—out of our collective mouths. And yet, UGA would lose this opener and then lose to Steve Spurrier the following week, and that sequence of losses is as close to rock bottom as the Richt Era ever really came.
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game of 2011 was meant to be a solid press of the reset button for Richt’s Dawgs. Instead, UGA managed to meme itself on national television and lose badly to an admittedly good Boise State team. We didn’t think much of it at the time, but this also kicked off a devastating series of games that all occurred in Atlanta. More of that to come...
9. Tennessee - 2016
Sure, your team has lost via Hail Mary. Maybe you’ve even lost twice by near last-second Hail Mary! Wow, impressive!
BUT HAVE YOU EVER LOST BY HAIL MARY AFTER YOUR OWN SUCCESSFUL HAIL MARY???
Didn’t think so, so shut up you mayonnaise sandwich eating Badgers.
The worst part of this loss is tough to put a finger on.
Is it the “what if” of Jacob Eason cementing himself as a legend through that last touchdown?
Is it losing an actual football game to Butch Jones, wherein he collapsed in tears on the field because his job was seemingly safe once again?
Was it the patently ridiculous unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (HOW DO YOU CALL THAT AFTER A HAIL MARY) coupled with the offside penalty on the ensuing kickoff that set Josh Dobbs up for a final heave to the end zone?
Was it having Jauan Jennings beat nearly eight Dawgs for the jump ball?
Was it having to hear that damned song, that putrid discharge of a song, played as the proverbial last word of the game?
It was all of this, rolled into four horrific ticks of the Clock.
8. Florida - 2014
It is rare, exceedingly rare to ever describe a game versus the University of Florida as a game that Georgia “should win.”
But in 2014, the Florida Gators were at the tail end of the Will Muschamp era and they were an absolute dumpster fire. They had been obliterated by Alabama, had barely won the worst game of football I have ever watched versus Nathan Peterman-led Tennessee, and had then lost ignominiously to unranked LSU and unranked Mizzou.
UGA had been annihilated by South Carolina earlier that year, sure, but apart from that the Dawgs appeared to be the class of the SEC East and despite having a hilarious cavalcade of no-namers at quarterback, looked like they might have a puncher’s chance at a playoff appearance. Sure, we would lose to Tech in OT on the final week of the season, but, you forget, that this was the inaugural year of the Playoff, and this Florida game was to decide who would represent the SEC East in the Championship game.
So this game was the difference between a rematch against Bama with a shot at the first Playoff or........a Belk Bowl against Bobby Petrino and Todd Grantham.
Most importantly, Georgia came in with the rare chance to absolutely obliterate a Florida team that was as down as they ever would be.
The University of Florida, a spread offense, then rattled off FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN rushing yards.
4 1 8! Against a defense that included Amarlo Herrera, Leonard Floyd, Ramik Wilson, and Jordan Jenkins, and Lorenzo Carter!
And that is perhaps not even the worst stat of the game.
The worst stat is that the Dawgs held the Gators to 27 yards passing.
My three year old can count that high, that’s how bad it is.
And yet, the Dawgs were never ever remotely in the game.
It very well might be most humiliating loss to Florida since Spurrier “hung half a hundred” on the Dawgs in Sanford Stadium.
But would you like some good news?
That is the only Florida loss on this list because there have not been that many of them this decade. And that is really fun sentence to write!
7. Tennessee - 2013
WAIT A MINUTE, you might say.
WE WON THIS GAME.
Indeed, we did! Pig Howard fumbled into the end zone and then Marshall Morgan—not necessarily known for his clutch kicks—drilled a 42-yard FG to win the game. It was a dramatic result against a storied rival that Dawg fans would not soon forget.
But the reason they would not forget it is not the reason you might think, unless you’re a Georgia fan.
The reason most fans won’t forget it is because this win absolutely decimated a Georgia side that had legitimate National Title aspirations.
By the time the clock hit 00’s in OT at Neyland Stadium the Dawgs had lost Keith Marshall, Justin Scott-Wesley, Michael Bennett, and Colin Barber to injury. They were added to an injury list which already included Todd Gurley, Tray Matthews, and Connor Norman.
The “carnage,” as Mark Richt called it, was just too much for the squad to overcome that season. UGA lost to Mizzou and Vanderbilt in the following weeks, ending UGA’s hopes for an SEC Championship berth and leaving those National Title aspirations far far back in the rear-view mirror.
So if you want to be really technical about it, you can call this entry the 2013 Mizzou loss or the 2013 Vandy loss where Todd Grantham managed not to get into a near fistfight with James Franklin.
But, in reality, this game was the straw that broke the camel’s back and ended, in effect, one of the most promising seasons of Mark Richt’s career.
The last chance at redemption for that year came against Auburn at Jordan Hare. But more on that to come....
6. Alabama - 2018
Yes, this one is low, I know. But I put it this low because it less a result of devastation and more a result of pure unadulterated stupidity.
A loss is often devastating because you were so close to winning the game, and that is absolutely one key measure of how determining how devastating a loss is. But the “close to winning the game” bit doesn’t count if the reason you ended up losing the close game is the commission of an act of pure idiocy.
Self-destruction is awful, sure. But self-destruction is not tragic. Self-destruction is your vice coming back to haunt you, not your dolorous fate coming to call, at long last, despite your best intentions and arguably moral actions.
In Atlanta, the Georgia Bulldogs were in control versus the Crimson Tide. Jalen Hurts was in the process of completing his Disney Movie comeback, sure, but the Dawgs were still suffocating the game, allowing the Tide very little breathing room on offense. It was, in no uncertain terms, a very different feeling than the Tua game, where it felt practically inevitable that the Tide were going to roll all the way back.
No one can say for sure, but all Georgia probably had to do in 2018, on its own 50 with the score tied, was punt the ball, pin Alabama deep, and let the UGA defense hold the Tide to a FG try they would almost certainly miss.
Instead, Kirby Smart put in Justin Fields for a fake punt that required an immediate quick snap. Fields hesitated, Kirby didn’t call timeout, and the play was blown up.
Alabama would score five plays later, on just Hurts’ second touchdown of the game.
Georgia held Bama to 246 yards passing and 157 yards rushing in a performance that maybe wasn't dominant but was surely controlled.
And yet it was hubris and an inept, braindead, hapless late in the game decision that cost the Dawgs a chance to go get obliterated by Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
We all thought the story of the Smart era would be sticking with Jake Fromm over all others, and it certainly will define this early part of the era. But the ultimate story that is emerging seems to be whether Kirby can learn to keep it together when that Big Game goes into the final moments.
So far, the results have been like trying to pull off a hangnail that is determined to take the rest of your finger along with it.
5. The South Carolina Losses (2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2019)
Is this cheating? Yes. But I have grouped these together because it allows me to say something really broad about the decade, something that MUST be said.
There is no other rivalry—not Auburn, not Florida, not Tech, not even Bama—that has defined the “what might have been” for Georgia football than our rivalry with South Carolina.
The 2010 loss is not worthy of too much mention, save for the fact that it was the beginning of four straight losses, a streak that basically pronounced the 2010 season dead on arrival.
The 2011 loss was more like it. UGA was reeling from a loss to Boise State and the campus still smelled of the fumes of the color rush jerseys that were burned (probably) the next day. UGA led the Gamecocks in the second half despite that moment when Melvin Ingram, a DEFENSIVE LINEMAN, was given the ball on a fake punt and rumbled SIXTY EIGHT YARDS for a touchdown. But then, with out about 3 minutes left in the game, Jadaveon Clowney stripped Aaron Murray, and Melvin Ingram, yet again, scooped and scored to seal the game. UGA would bring it within three points but to no avail. Richt would then string together 10 straight wins and avoid getting fired.
2012 is tough to talk about. The 2012 season was undeniably one of the real opportunities for a perfect UGA season. The Aaron Murray Back Shoulder Fade Offense was at its peak. UGA would beat Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, and Tech. Their only real obstacle was a trip to Williams-Brice to face the Old Enemy and his #6 Gamecocks.
The stage was set for a true “Big Game Win” that had so often eluded Mark Richt and Aaron Murray.
UGA got stomped, 35-7.
2014 was a hotly contested game despite the rain, which kept conditions slopp—OH MY GOD I CANT HOLD IT IN ANYMORE. JUST RUN THE DAMN BALL BOBO. YOU HAVE TODD GURLEY AND IT IS FOURTH AND INCHES. RUN THE [REDACTED] BALLLLLLLLLLLLL.
*inhales* sorry about that.
UGA then fought off the South Carolina bug for several years....until this season.
2019 might be the most devastating of the lot because an undefeated UGA going up against an undefeated LSU very well might have guaranteed both teams a spot in the College Football Playoff. And yet a truly abysmal horror show of a first half burned that dream to the ground. It was so bad that even Hot Rod, one of the most clutch Dawgs of all time, couldn’t save the day.
Overall, the decade has been defined by this matchup. UGA has lost by three points on three separate occasions. When UGA most needed a win, they were boatraced. And every single season they lost to South Carolina, save one, that loss pretty much scuttled the season.
It may not be a rivalry, but when things went bad against South Carolina this decade, they went about as bad as they could possibly go.
4. Alabama - 2015
As a 9/11-remembering Millennial, I must confess to you that much of my identity as a UGA fan was wrapped up in a story that, at one point, I believed with my whole heart. The story was that Mark Richt—this truly decent and good human being—was eventually going to come out on top over all the other win-first, money-grubbing CEO’s of our rival programs.
But in 2015 the Mark Richt Era was ended by Lane Kiffin.
That day, a buzzing fanbase crowded into water-logged Sanford Stadium with the hopes that memories of the 2008 Blackout and the 2012 SECCG might be set aright. Mark Richt might finally, at long last, get over the hump against an Alabama side that seemed kinda sorta (if you squinted just right) a bit vulnerable. It is insane to think that a UGA side that featured Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey at QB might be thought of as higher ranked than any Bama team, but the Tide came in reeling—having been wrecked by Hugh Freeze’s Ole Miss two weeks prior. UGA was ranked 8th and the Tide had been dropped to 13th.
It was a real chance for Mark Richt to finally take down Nick Saban in a big game.
Instead, the game was over by the 2nd quarter.
Kiffin rattled off three straight TD’s in the 2nd quarter, and then Bama opened the second half with a pick-six to put the Bulldawg faithful out of their misery.
It was probably the rain (and the booze) that limited everyone’s perspective. Bama turned out to be a very good team, despite Jake Coker’s lack of, well, any quality worth mentioning. Kiffin simply proved himself to be an offensive savant. Derrick Henry would go on to win the Heisman Trophy. And the Tide would bowl their way to their first CFP National Championship.
We should not have been as angry as we were about that loss.
And yet, we were.
There are some losses that mirror the Viper vs. the Mountain in Game of Thrones. You think you are going to win the entire time and then, suddenly, right there at the end, your monologuing comes back to haunt you.
But then there are other losses like the Red Wedding. It is not a quick death. Not really even a slow death either. It just feels like your heart and soul are being drawn and quartered right in front of you and that your last image will be of all that you had hoped for being reduced to ash.
2015 Bama felt like that. Like the story that we had all believed about Mark Richt—and we had ALL believed it at least once during his tenure—was never ever ever going to come true.
There had been times when others lost faith prior to this game, but on that rainy day in Sanford Stadium there was nothing left to say really. All hope and faith that remained were abandoned, and even though Mark Richt brought the team back from the brink of full collapse, there was just no denying it anymore.
The story was over.
3. Auburn - 2013
The last thing you want is to be on the wrong end of a game with a name.
The Bush Push. The Kick Six. The Band Is Out On The Field. Run Lindsay Run.
If you are on the wrong end of a game with a name you can rest assured that the highlights of that game will come back to haunt you on every single time that matchup is renewed. You will never be able to run from it. You will have to see it every year, and the best case scenario is that it will be briefly shown in the opening montage of the game, not highlighted during the game for all the world to remember in gruesome detail.
In 2013, on a night that might have gone down as one of the greatest UGA comebacks of all time, UGA took a loss with a name.
The Prayer at Jordan Hare.
There are several B-plots of smaller scale devastation at work here.
Nick Marshall, who threw the pass, was a UGA transfer. Ricardo Louis broke his commitment to Auburn in favor of Florida State, but then ultimately committed to Auburn on Signing Day. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews would both eventually leave for Louisville and Auburn respectively. It was Aaron Murray’s senior season, and he had a special relationship with Auburn after being the victim of several dirty hits from Nick Fairley a few years prior. Murray dove for the final touchdown and it would have been one of the more famous touchdowns of his career were it the winning one.
The physics of the Prayer are still a bit insane to me.
You have two guys with great angles on the ball and a receiver that seems to kinda quit on the play. He doesn’t try to contest the batting down of the ball, but is content to run along just behind the two defenders, knowing the ball is uncatchable. In fact, if you really want to torture yourself, you wonder why he doesn’t pull up once he sees the ball go over his head, and, if he had, the ball would’ve landed ten yards down the field, harmlessly.
Instead, something happens that I still can’t quite explain. There have been other Hail Mary’s that are completed on account of deflections. Northwestern did it to Minnesota. LSU did it to Kentucky. Nebraska did it to Northwestern. Michigan State did it to Wisconsin.
In almost all of these cases, what happens is that someone—either a defensive back or wide receiver—go for the contested ball and end up batting the ball up into the air. The ball breaks from its spiral and flops around through the air like a wounded bird until it plops right into the outstretched hands of a wide receiver who cannot believe his luck.
That is not what happened in the Prayer.
If you look closely, Marshall’s throw had actually begun to wobble before it reached Harvey-Clemons and Matthews. But when the two of them knock the ball into each other it doesn’t come popping up end-over-end.
Somehow the ball pops up in a PERFECT SPIRAL. Watch the tape again, I promise it is real.
The ball is in a perfect spiral.
How is that possible?
One explanation is simple: Auburn Jesus.
The other is that there is no real explanation apart from the perfect series of contingencies—the initial bat down hitting the proper place on Matthews’ outstretched arms so as to pop up into the wind at the perfect rotation and angle to spiral perfectly into the path of Ricardo Louis who managed to avoid a collision with either Harvey-Clemons or Matthews—all occurring at the same time.
The Prayer is something every UGA fan dreams of being on the right end of, but on this occasion we found ourselves in a familiar place—wondering how often we are going to have to hear Uncle Verne (later, Brad Nessler) and Gary Danielson talk about this moment.
That is why every UGA fan loves the Kick Six so much. Not just because it ended Alabama’s hopes of a National Title, but because it ensured that no one apart from Auburn fans would remember the Prayer at Jordan Hare.
God bless you, Chris Davis.
2. Alabama - 2012
In July of 2012, scientists working at CERN labs in Switzerland reported that their work at the Large Hadron Collider had resulted in the discovery, in all likelihood, of one of the holy grails of particle physics—the Higgs-Boson or “God particle.”
What physicists around the world then waited for was the estimated mass of the particle. If the Mass of the particle was somewhere around 140 giga-electron volts (GeV) then it would be taken as evidence in favor of a theory of physics that sees the universe as fundamentally chaotic. It would have suggested the existence of a multiverse, of numerous timelines folding and unfolding an unending spectrum of variations on our world. Concepts like meaning and purpose and destiny, while not entirely precluded, would seem to be at odds with this view of the cosmos, as the universe, without rhyme or reason, instantiates every conceivable possibility that its parameters allow.
If, however, the mass tended towards 115 GeV then it would be evidence for a theory of the universe called “supersymmetry,” wherein the universe all the way down to the finest particles that make up the substance of our world are ordered to one another. There would be hierarchy, stability, and stasis at every single level of the cosmos, and this timeline would be the whole of what is real.
When they finally measured the particle they found that it came out somewhere around 125 GeV.
Right in between.
Most people hear the story of this remarkable discovery, dramatized in the documentary Particle Fever which I cannot recommend highly enough to you, and they think about the meaning of life as the persisting balance between nihilistic chaos and fatalistic determinism.
Me, I thought about the 2012 SEC Championship Game.
Trying to understand how and why a ball bounces a certain way is the basic concern of both sports fans and particle physicists.
Some deflections suggest an utterly chaotic universe, a universe without meaning or order beyond the beauty of sheer and absolute contingency.
Other deflections suggest an absolute determined universe, that no matter what you do there is no overcoming the ordering of the fabric of the universe and your place therein.
Which was it in 2012?
The game was really a tale of two different deflections. The last one to Chris Conley, for obvious reasons, and the one that saw a blocked FG land right into the hands of Alec Ogletree, who then ran, untouched, to the end zone. That touchdown gave UGA its biggest lead of the game at 21-10. The Tide would answer, but then so would the Dawgs, with a baby Todd Gurley breaking a big run to put the Dawgs up by 3.
Yet the Bama boa constrictor slowly but surely wore the defense out, and a 45-yard play-action pass to Amari Cooper looked to have broken our collective back.
But Aaron Murray was not done. In one of the most frenetic drives since David Greene “brought us flying down the field” in 2001 against Tennessee, Murray heaved the Dawgs onto his back and dragged them all the way down to the 8 yard line with 9 seconds remaining.
Then a final sequence of events occurred that tells us something about our experience of the world.
You could argue that it was foolish not to spike the ball and that the deflection at the line of scrimmage on the final play was just the result of a mistake. Nothing more, nothing less.
Or you could argue that it said profoundly more than that. Unlike the Prayer at Jordan Hare it was not the result of pure and absolute chaos, not the dismal result of just so happening to be on the timeline in the multiverse that sees the reign of Auburn Jesus unimpeachable. You could argue that it was a paradigmatic instance of UGA crashing into the boundary of its place in the order of the universe. The symmetry of the universe simply would not allow that ball to reach its intended target. The Clock, as Larry said, just said “no.”
It could be either, really, and the torture of it is that we may never know which is real.
But whether you believe in order or chaos, meaning or vacuity, it still hurt all the same.
1. Alabama - 2017
Imagine playing a National Championship game against the team that has become the last obstacle barring entrance into the Promised Land.
That would be the biggest game in your program’s recent history.
Imagine playing that game in your home state, before a near home field advantage ratio of your own fans.
Imagine this game following immediately after the crowning moment of two of the most beloved UGA players of all time—a Rose Bowl victory in Overtime against the Big 12 Champions.
Imagine starting that National Championship game like gangbusters and NEVER TRAILING, not for the ENTIRE GAME.
That is, never trailing...until you lose.
On the last play of the game.
Devastating losses have many forms. It can come in the form of a high stakes loss, a blown lead, a walk-off last-second pass, an obviously incorrect call from the officials, or being on the wrong end of a historic loss to a hated rival that will be talked about forever.
The 2017 National Championship Game has literally every single one of these elements. The stakes could not have been higher. Cruelly, the hopes of UGA fans could not have been higher either. We beat the living hell out of the Tide in that first half. The Tide looked listless, ordinary, even out of their depth at times.
And then Tua came in and we blew our lead. Like the sand emptying out of an hourglass, you could feel that it was all going to trickle out between our fingers. The stage was set for a story about Tua’s offensive genius, Nick Saban’s courage, and UGA’s inability to finish.
But then Tyler Simmons was called offsides and the entire story changed.
Given all the whining and moaning of Ohio State fans about the SEC officiating crew in their game against Clemson, it is remarkable that more is still not made of the fact that the University of Georgia won the National Championship on one of the most incredible plays in its history but that play was taken away, in front of everyone, by an mostly competent B1G officiating crew that made one critical mistake at the literal worst possible moment.
Were it reversed, were Bama the one’s on the receiving end of that call, it would be a scandal on par with the phantom pass interference call that handed Ohio State a national title against Miami in 2002.
I truly wish that at that point in the game Nick Saban had a competent kicker that could have put us out our misery, but, alas, there was more hope available to poison the souls of Dawg Nation for just a little while longer. Tua even had the audacity to take a huge sack in the first Overtime. All we had to do was hold for two more downs and make an Alabama kicker, who had already missed a game-winning field goal, try and beat us.
But the Clock would not relent, and on the very next play it said, “No,” about as loudly as anyone had ever heard before.
Georgia gave everything it had in that game, and there is something to be proud of in seeing that effort.
But pride cannot take away the rip-your-guts-out feeling of watching UGA win a National Title, right there in front of you, and have it taken away. Or the feeling of seeing UGA build an almost insurmountable lead only to have it evaporate, slowly before our eyes. Or the feeling of hope—that festering blister at the heart of UGA fandom—that just would not go away, as hard as we tried to push it out of our minds.
The 2017 season might have a case for a near-tie with 1980 as the greatest season of football the University of Georgia has ever played.
Maybe it is fitting that that season would end in the most devastating National Championship loss in recent memory.
So there you are. Feel free to disagree in the comments or lambaste me for a loss that I forgot.
I know that was a tough read, and kudos to you if you made it all the way to the end.
The only thing I will say here at the end is the same thing we used to say after 2016, when it looked like the Kirby Era might end up being a complete fiasco:
Relax, the wins are coming.
See you next time.