Georgia Football: I Don’t Understand Why Everyone is So Damn Mad, I Don’t Even Know Who These Bulldogs Are Yet
Above and beyond the ridiculous notion that a 9-3 regular season record and potential 10-win season is unacceptable, I’m struggling to sympathize with Georgia fans right now.
Let’s consider some crucial pieces of data regarding the Georgia Bulldogs in 2014:
- Last year’s team finished the year 8-5.
- That 2013 team graduated the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leading passer in Aaron Murray. So, Aaron Murray wasn’t back in 2014. In his place was a first-time starter.
- That 2013 team was dismantled by injuries on offense. Todd Gurley was hobbled in 2013 but missed even more time in 2014 thanks to an injury and a suspension. Keith Marshall was hobbled in 2013 and missed even more time in 2014. Malcolm Mitchell missed almost all of 2013 and was back in 2014 but accounted for 50 or more receiving yards just three times. Justin Scott-Wesley missed the bulk of 2013 and returned in 2014 to the tune of two catches for 33 yards. Starting fullback Merritt Hall was disqualified before the 2014 season began. Running back Sony Michel missed five games to injury. This year’s squad found just as much health-related adversity on offense.
- That 2013 team struggled defensively and in a fortuitous (long term) turn of events the entire defensive coaching staff was replaced. Few would argue this transition as anything other than a net positive, but one would be hard-pressed to say this was the easy route to improvement.
- The 2013 team struggled primarily in the defensive secondary. Starters Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews were dismissed in the spring. Starter Shaq Wiggins opted to transfer in the spring. In the fall, Sheldon Dawson opted to leave the team, Rico Johnson was medically disqualified and Shaq Jones was dismissed. A thin secondary got thinner.
- Did I mention the best Bulldog since Herschel Walker was suspended for four games and came back only to tear his ACL four quarters later?
Did I mention that despite all this adversity—rebuilding from a mediocre 2013 campaign while replacing a ton of coaches, a ton of defensive backs and a ton of passing yards and struggling to stay healthy and missing the best player in college football for most of the season—Georgia won nine games and lost three? Put into context: Georgia finished the regular season with a .750 winning percentage. That’s not bad relative to an all-time program winning percentage below .650.
And when extenuating circumstantial data is taken into consideration, those nine wins should be even more meaningful. Georgia’s nine wins come at a time when the nation’s best conference—you know, the one the Bulldogs play in—has become so strong that it is threatening its own run of dominance and knocking on the door of the first ever implosion of power. The SEC isn’t too big to fail. The SEC is too good not to fail. And Georgia won nine games during this knockdown-drag-out slugfest despite playing two ranked teams in out-of-conference play.
Why the hell are Bulldog fans angry?
Disappointed: I’ll give you that, sort of. Frustrated: Sure. Wondering what could have been: That’s kind of what sports are for.
But angry? No way.
In addition to the general misguided Georgia fan angst—the type that wants Mark Richt fired despite the fact that he wins at a higher clip than any Bulldog coach in history against tougher competition than any of those other men faced—two equally irrelevant forces are at play.
The first false context has to do with what could have been. If Georgia hadn’t lost to Georgia Tech on Saturday, the playoff picture could still be there. If Missouri had lost to Arkansas the SEC East could still be there. If Georgia hadn’t laid an egg against Florida or found ways to lose against South Carolina, where could the Dawgs be?
Those questions are understandable and they merit conversation from fanatics. But those hypothetical scenarios lose credibility when they are used to imply that Georgia should have accomplished more. Yes, Georgia could have easily defeated South Carolina and Georgia Tech and in doing so the Bulldogs would have clinched the SEC East without help from Missouri and Arkansas and Richt’s team would be an SEC Championship away from participating in College Football’s inaugural playoff experiment. That could have happened. But based on all that went against Georgia—much of which was nothing more than dumb old luck—one would be off-base to say that those fantastically favorable things should have happened.
Equating what could happen with what should happen is a dangerous habit, and unfortunately it’s an age-old tradition for far too many Georgia fans. In the short term, it vests itself negatively in diluting the accomplishments of this team and labeling their efforts not as disappointing but as a failure. In the longer term, these sentiments will cheapen a national championship some day. When Georgia wins one, with or without Richt on the sideline, the narrative will be partially one of celebration and partially an exasperated cry of “about damn time.”
The second lens which is adversely filtering this season’s campaign is who Georgia lost to. Georgia didn’t just lose three games. Georgia lost one game to South Carolina, one game to Florida and one game to Georgia Tech, and that is alleged to be much, much worse. Georgia lost to three rivals. Oh, the horror!
But this feigned outrage negates the very nature of a rivalry. Georgia and Georgia Tech, for instance, never seems more like a real, meaningful rivalry than when the Yellow Jackets find a way to maneuver past their big brother Bulldogs. This matchup hasn’t felt like a rivalry as of late, but for it to be one Tech was going to have to win some games. Losing unexpectedly to a theoretically inferior Florida team is not an anomaly; it’s the Georgia Way. And lest that read too much like an indictment, it’s the Florida Way sometimes too. And could more have gone wrong against South Carolina? Hell, the game didn’t even start on time because of lightning. Sounds like a weird rivalry to me.
Georgia lost to three rivals this year. That happens. Georgia also defeated several rivals this year, but nobody seems to have noticed. The Georgia/Clemson game is now rarely played but the two schools are bitter rivals and Georgia extracted revenge for a 2013 loss in this year’s season-opener. Tennessee football has been down in recent years, but the Bulldogs still found themselves in a bloody battle with the Volunteers and came out victorious. Georgia and Missouri have combined to win each of the last four SEC East division crowns, so a rivalry may be budding. Georgia destroyed Mizzou on the road. Georgia beat the living hell out of an Auburn team that was ranked in the Top 5 in at least one major poll for each of the season’s first 11 weeks. Auburn is a rival.
Nobody likes losing to rivals. That’s kind of the nature of the beast, though. But to suddenly ignore the success Georgia had against rivals while simultaneously looking beyond recent successes that Georgia has had against the likes of Georgia Tech, Florida and South Carolina (Georgia beat all three teams in 2013) is short-sided. Furthermore, to take a loss to a team like Georgia Tech and extrapolate it to mean anything long-term or consequential for the future is ridiculous. By the time kickoff arrived that game was damn-near meaningless for a Georgia program that had won 12 of the previous 13. There’s no excuse for the loss, but that performance didn’t define this team.
And that question—What defines this 2014 Georgia Bulldogs team?—falsely adds to the frustration of the loss to Tech and other rivals and it lends validity to the missed opportunities storyline. And that’s exactly my point. In our rush to make a judgment of a team whose season isn’t even finished and whose coach is still reeling from the most recent hard-fought game, we’re making broad sweeping generalizations that are false and borrowed.
Truth be told, college football is a bit more residual in its nature than any of us want to admit. We want to believe that anything can happen any week. And anything can happen any week. But that’s still not the norm. In our haste we often overlook the fact that even seemingly transient talents stick around for three, four or five years and in doing so they build—both individually and collectively—on a host of experiences.
If you think about it, this residual build-up has never been more evident than it was (and is) with the 2014 Georgia Bulldogs. The injuries from last year carried over. The inability to find ways to win close games against Tech and South Carolina is understandable given five losses a year ago. The defensive struggles were different than they were last year, but they were indicative of a work in progress. Hell, even Todd Gurley’s autograph “transgression” dated back to a previous year.
In that regard, I’m not going to put a generic label like “disappointing,” “terrible against rivals” or “prone to missing opportunities” on this team. Part of this refusal is because I find those labels to be inaccurate. But the bigger part is because I don’t think we’ll know this team’s identity for another year or two.
Rest assured, Richt-haters. In 12 months we may be looking back at a 6-6 2015 campaign saying, “We should have seen it coming. Georgia couldn’t get past crappy South Carolina or Florida teams in 2014 and even Georgia Tech beat the Dawgs.”
That could happen.
Or, we may look back and recognize that a team of talented youngsters like Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Isaiah McKenzie, Jeb Blazevich, Dominic Sanders, etc. learned a lot from the resilience of Todd Gurley, the patient leadership of Hutson Mason, the wise tenacity of David Andrews and the versatility of Damian Swann. And if that’s the case, those youngsters will likely have learned as much in defeat as in victory during the 2014 campaign. That could be one heck of an identity for this team.
That’s all I got/