MEMPHIS – Georgia and its fans said good riddance to the 2010 football season on the final afternoon of a year they would rather soon forget.
Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green, who caught eight passes for 77 yards and was one of the offense‚Äôs few bright spots, may have played his final game with the Bulldogs in Friday‚Äôs 10-6 loss to Central Florida.
Central Florida delivered the final body blow to the Bulldogs, 10-6, on Friday in the Liberty Bowl.
Georgia, just three seasons removed from a Sugar Bowl win and a No. 2 final national ranking, finished with a 6-7 record, its first losing season since 1996 in Jim Donnan’s first year as coach.
“It’s embarrassing to be a part of a losing season,” junior kicker Blair Walsh said. “It absolutely is. My three years here haven’t been what I’ve wanted them to be success- and team-wise, and we’ll change that. The culture of the program is changing and I think the players are changing as well. We’ve got a new regime of seniors coming and we’ll go from there.”
Georgia suffered its first loss against a team from a non BCS-conference under Richt. Its four-game bowl winning streak snapped also was snapped against a team coached by George O’Leary, the former Georgia Tech coach.
“We’re all disappointed,” Richt said. “We didn’t want to finish with a loss, we didn’t want to finish with a losing record. Nobody would have probably predicted that, but it is what it is they say.”
Central Florida (11-3) set a program record for victories. After its first bowl win in program history, they were hawking UCF “Liberty Bowl Champions” T-shirts for fans leaving Memorial Stadium.
There were no championships at Georgia this season.
“The attitude needs to change,” Walsh said. “We’re not entitled to win any games. Even though its UCF and Conference USA, I think we felt like that we were entitled to win that game and you can’t feel that way.”
Georgia failed to score a touchdown and mustered its lowest output in a bowl game since a 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh in the 1977 Sugar Bowl.
That would have been hard to see coming considering that the Bulldogs were riding a school-record seven straight games of 30 or more points scored.
Georgia still led 6-3 until UCF scored the game’s only touchdown with 9:01 to play on a 10-yard touchdown run from Latavius Murray (104 yards on 18 carries).
The Bulldogs managed just 280 yards of total offense on a day quarterback Aaron Murray threw two interceptions and was sacked three times while completing 21 of 38 passes for 198 yards.
UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey also threw two interceptions on the windy day while completing 16 of 29 passes for 117 yards.
Murray, who was unavailable to comment after the game after sustaining a gash beside his right eye, threw his first interceptions since the one he threw against Florida in overtime.
“They’re a hell of a defense,” said Georgia junior receiver A.J. Green, who had eight catches for 77 yards in what is widely expected to be his final game as Bulldog. “They had a really good game plan for me. They kept me in front of them and contained me very well.”
All of Georgia’s points came from Walsh, who kicked field goals of 20 and 41 yards.
Georgia coaches said UCF focused on not giving up the big play.
“They just did what they needed to do when it counted the most,” Richt said. “It wasn’t a lack of fight or effort on our guys’ part.”
Georgia did not have a play longer than 18 yards until Kris Durham’s 30-yard catch with 45 seconds to play on a fourth-and-5 to advance the ball to the UCF 29. The Bulldogs got a clutch 14-yard catch from Green on fourth down earlier to keep the drive that started with 2:20 left at its own 20 alive.
“When I made that fourth-down catch, I thought, ‘We got it,’ ” Green said.
After Durham’s catch, the Bulldogs went nowhere.
The last-ditch try came from the 38 with two seconds left, but the pass was batted down in the end zone with Tavarres King and Orson Charles among the players nearby.
“They did a great job of mixing up some things that they hadn’t done, a lot more blitzes than they had done,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “It wasn’t our best outing by any means offensively, but we were still in the ballgame and just kept saying, ‘Hey all we’ve got to do is make a play, make a first down, get this thing going.’ We were unable to do that.”
The Bulldogs failed to convert on an early scoring chance when Washaun Ealey gained just a yard on a third-and-2 from the UCF 3 in the first quarter.
On fourth-and-1, Richt had Walsh trot on and kick the chip-shot 20-yarder.
Asked if he had to do it over again, Richt said: “Well, if I knew what the final score was, yeah. I think it was the right thing to do at the time. … I thought it was important to put points on the board.”
Bobo said he saw frustration set in when the Bulldogs didn’t score.
“You just see some anger from kids not necessarily at coaches or each other, but frustrated that we’re not scoring or worried about trying to do too much,” Bobo said.
There was plenty of frustration to go around this season, a year that included losses at Mississippi State, at Colorado and now against UCF.
The Knights had never even been to a bowl game before 2005 and have a roster with players who mostly had been passed over by SEC programs.
That’s the state of a Georgia’s program, where the new year couldn’t get here soon enough.
That includes Richt, who said that “2010 is over, 2011 is upon us. I think everybody’s looking forward to that.”