Gator Bowl is Microcosm of Entire Year
Bowl week started with such great promise for me—and my red and black clad brethren. On Monday evening we got to watch as the team formerly known as Rebels caused coaching genius Paul “Fish Fry” Johnson to snatch defeat from the hands of victory yet again. This time Johnson actually admitted that he is a dumbass during the post-game press conference. Mondays just don’t get any better than that.
Tuesday night I celebrated the end of 2013 by watching one of the most amazing football players I have ever seen spark one of the most remarkable college football comebacks in the history of televised post-season exhibition games. Johnny Football proved to the world that regardless of what you think of his persona and his personality, his autograph-signing or where he takes his classes—there have been few players in the history of the game as exciting as Johnny Football. He willed his team to beat the surprising Duke Blue Devils in the bowl game formally known as Peach.
Then came high noon on Wednesday—a day that would turn out to be a stellar day for the storied SEC, save for the only team I really care about. Georgia’s effort—and I use the term lightly—in the Gator Bowl game on January 1 was a fitting conclusion to the season that “might have been.”
It hurts my heart to say it, but this team was not prepared to play a big time football game against a big time team. Reasons for their seeming indifference? Sure. There were lots of them. They were disappointed not to be playing in a better bowl against a better opponent—or at least a different opponent. A lot of the team was sick all week. It rained in Jacksonville and practice was disrupted. Aaron Murray, QB, had become Aaron Murray Inc. and Hutson Mason wasn’t really comfortbale with the offense. Georgia’s fans stayed home in droves. The stadium was half-empty. We had a lot of injured players. We were without a lot of our best receivers and Chris Conley wasn’t at full speed. The Gator Bowl swag wasn’t as nice as the Outback Bowl swag from last year.
Some people call reasons excuses and excuses are like rear ends. Everybody’s got one and they all stink.
On the field we saw so many things that we have seen all year—hell, for two years.
If you run into No. 5, give him a clue, because after 13 games, he still doesn’t have one. Against Clemson, he was constantly waving and shouting at players on the other side of the field, as the ball was being snapped. Wednesday afternoon he was constantly waving and shouting at players on the other side of the field as the ball was being snapped.
Why do we even put people back to field punts when we haven’t taught them how or when to actually field the punt? How many times do we have to watch the ball hit and bounce—or worse—be fumbled away to the other team? Over and over and over it has happened, so why should we have been surprised when we gave up a touchdown in such a manner one more time?
Opposing receivers continue to run free while our out-of-position defensive backs watch them catch passes before chasing them down the field? I am not trying to be critical. I really am not. In fact, I have made excuses for this team and this coaching staff for two years—to the point of decimating my Facebook following and offending lifelong friends. I am what is known as an apologist—but the time comes when even the most loyal fan has to ask a few simple questions and face a few simple facts.
Nebraska threw a touchdown pass from their own six-inch line, y’all. There was no trickery involved. Their quarterback just dropped back and heaved it to a receiver running free down the sideline. One Georgia defensive back was twenty yards behind him, waving or pointing at him or whatever it was he was doing. Another dove at his knees in a futile attempt at a form tackle.
Those two plays, the dropped punt and the 99-plus yard touchdown pass is a microcosm of the game and much of the year.
And still—still-we had a chance in the closing moments. As badly as we had played all day—we had a shot at the end, and this, too, is so typical of this team. This time however, this time the usually sure-handed Artie Lynch inexplicably dropped the winning touchdown pass—a ball that went right through his hands and hit him in the throat. And the season ended like two of the last three seasons have ended—with Georgia losing to an inferior team.
There are questions to be asked.
Everyone who knows me knows that Mark Richt doesn’t have a bigger fan than me or a more loyal supporter, but Mark Richt has to make some changes before next season—changes other than having all the injured players get well. This coaching staff has to do a better job of preparing their team—physically, emotionally and strategically. This coaching staff absolutely has to make time to work on the “little things” that win and lose football games—like fielding punts. Somewhere along the line the defensive secondary has to cover somebody—and the offensive line has to become leaner, meaner and more consistent.
I castigated several friends and acquaintances during the game for making negative comments. One friend suggesting that it is a sin to settle for good when you can be great. I reacted to that statement with harsh words triggered by frustration and by taking personally what I took as an attack on a friend I hold in high esteem as a person and a coach.
I was wrong, of course. And while I still don’t know if it is a sin, I know that it is a danged shame. We talk a lot about doing things “the Georgia Way.” I hope that settling for less than our best is not on the brink of becoming the Georgia Way.
And while I am spilling my guts, let me admonish myself and you, 24my fellow fans. We didn’t do our part, either. We sat at home in front of our wide screen televisions criticizing our players and our coaches and talking about their lack of enthusiasm while we weren’t willing to make a four-hour drive and cheer them on. We had our reasons.
Too far. Too expensive. Same team as last year. I used those excuses and I am calling bullshit on myself and everybody else that could have gone to the game and didn’t. So we played the same team as last year. It was a different game and as the Great Reverend John Brown pointed out, “We go to Jacksonville every year to watch Georgia play the same team.” And we hadn’t played in the Gator Bowl since Coach Dooley’s last game. We should have been there and we should have been loud and maybe we could have picked the team up a little. Can’t have it both ways. They let you down? Well we let them down, too.
So the year is over. What started with such great promise in August ended 8-5 with a million what-ifs dancing in our heads.
Now it is time to go to work—for the coaching staff, for the players and for the fans. We play Clemson in 241 days. It may be next year or never. I will be there. Look for me. I’ll be the good-looking guy in the red shirt—and a more humble attitude.
Darrell Huckaby is an author, educator and syndicated newspaper columnist. Visit his website at www.darrellhuckaby.net.