The Georgia Bulldogs had no business winning Saturday’s game.
For Georgia, this was a transition year. First-year head coach. Freshman quarterback. Nick Chubb, its best player, logged 1 carry after sustaining an injury last week.
Tennessee was without question the SEC East favorite. The Vols have a fourth-year coach, a senior quarterback and superior talent across the board — even with their own numerous injuries.
And yet, after all the mistakes, and with all the flaws plaguing this team, it’s a 34-31 defeat in a game UGA should have won, having led with just a handful of seconds left on the clock.
The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty? Easily avoidable. The squib kick? Questionable, given the score and Tennessee’s return game proficiency; Evan Berry returned it for 20 yards. The Hail Mary? If this really is something that’s practiced every week, it’s even more mind-boggling. There were seven UGA defenders in the end zone.
Kirby: every Thursday at the end of practice for 18-19 years, we've been defending against that
— DawgPost (@Dawg_Post) October 1, 2016
Georgia lost this game in the most ironic way possible, because former coach Mark Richt was criticized for all of the above. There was the infamous squib kick against Georgia Tech in 2014, a game the Bulldogs lost in overtime. The Prayer at Jordan-Hare, in which they allowed a fourth-and-18 desperation heave that turned into an improbable, game-winning tipped touchdown pass. And, of course, the silly mental mistakes that peppered Richt’s 15-year tenure.
Richt, by the way, is 4-0 after his Miami Hurricanes took care of Georgia Tech on Saturday.
None of this is direct criticism of Kirby Smart, who still might be the golden boy Georgia fans hoped he would be when he came aboard in December. College football is crazy. You can prepare for something a million times and the impossible still happens. The 2016 Tennessee Vols, crying Butch Jones and all, might be the great escapists of our time.
The problem is, this sort of soul-crushing finish has happened to Georgia too often and too recently.
"Hey Andrew, how was your college career?"
Pretty nauseating, I'd say. pic.twitter.com/fpggG8bM9o
— Andrew Stephens (@StephensAndrew) October 1, 2016
Georgia might well be a team built to win long term. Jacob Eason’s last-minute touchdown pass was a big-boy throw, and it was a fellow true freshman who caught it in Riley Ridley. Brian Herrien already has proven himself to be a valuable component of the Bulldogs’ backfield. Justin Young, Julian Rochester and Trenton Thompson all made their plays against the tough and shifty Josh Dobbs. The offensive line found its groove in the running game, gashing the Vols for 181 yards on the ground.
Without question, there is plenty on which Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can build.
But none of that will soothe the sting of Saturday. Jauan Jennings coming down with a clean touchdown catch will haunt Georgia for a while.
For the current group of Bulldogs, though, this game was simply another brutal gut-punch. It was a game both teams deserved to lose; Georgia simply found a more creative, heart-stopping way in which to do so.
Winning this game would have given Smart and his squad a real shot at winning the SEC East. Instead, it’s exactly what we should have expected it to be:
A transition year. Which is certainly not what Smart wanted.
“A sick way to end the game,” Smart said.
When can Georgia rid itself of this illness?