Bulldogs struggling to win close games

Aron White spent a couple of minutes reeling off Georgia’s losses one by one, detailing opportunities missed and mistakes made.

Georgia’s players made it a joint effort before overtime against Florida last Saturday, but the Bulldogs lost 34-31 minutes later on a Chas Henry field goal.
DAVID MANNING

South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Colorado, Florida.

"You just look back on all these games and it’s like what could have been?" the Bulldogs’ junior tight end said. "People don’t realize we were right there in all of these games. Yeah, the only thing that matters in the end of the day is wins and losses, but at the same time, we’re not a bad football team.

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"I don’t think we’re a 4-5 football team by any means, but for whatever reason when it comes down to crunch time in the close games, which we’ve had a lot of, we’ve failed to get it done."

Last Saturday’s 34-31 overtime loss to Florida was just the latest heartache for the Bulldogs in a season where Georgia has either won big or failed to come away with victories when the game has been on the line in the fourth quarter.

Georgia coach Mark Richt is 29-20 in games decided by a touchdown or less in his 10 seasons, but the Bulldogs have lost four of its last five decided by a touchdown or less – including all three this season.

Besides Florida, Georgia lost 31-24 to Arkansas when the Bulldogs gave up a 40-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left and 29-27 to Colorado when Caleb King fumbled while the Bulldogs were in position to attempt a game-winning field goal.

"We just haven’t got lucky this year yet," King said. "Hopefully these next three games, plus the bowl game is four, we can pull them all out."

Chances are Georgia won’t be involved a close game in the fourth quarter Saturday against Idaho State, a lower-division team that is 1-7 this year and has lost 25 straight road games.

The Bulldogs might get their shot at Auburn and Georgia Tech in their final two regular-season games.

Linebacker Darryl Gamble points to Georgia’s slow starts, rather than falling flat down the stretch, as the reason for the close losses.

Georgia trailed 7-0 in all five of its losses – and was behind 24-10 to Arkansas and 21-7 to Florida – before coming back to tie the game in the fourth quarter.

"We’ve come back from games and haven’t had that comeback victory yet," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "We’ve either won pretty good or lost really close where we’ve had chances to win. We feel like if we could change four or five plays – maybe 10 plays at the most – it could be a totally different season for us."

A caller asked Richt on his weekly radio show Monday night what it would take to make clutch plays like David Greene’s touchdown pass to Michael Johnson to beat Auburn in 2002. The Bulldogs went 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less that season in winning the Southeastern Conference title.

"You’ve got to make the plays at crunch time," Richt said.

The Bulldogs average margin of victory this season is 32.8 points. Georgia’s average margin of defeat is seven points.

"You go back to the games we won big, the turnover ratio has been in our favor," defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. "That’s the main key when you come down to close games like that. That came back to bite us in the end."

Georgia has forced four turnovers and committed 10 in its losses compared to 12 forced turnovers and two committed in its wins.

Richt this week talked about one chance for a fumble recovery that got away against Florida in the first quarter when the Gators had the ball at their own 9-yard line. Three Georgia players were near the ball, but two tried to scoop it rather than fall on the loose ball. Florida recovered.

"You want to get on the thing," Richt said. "If we get on the ball right there, it’s still 0-0 with the ball inside the 10-yard line. Who knows what’s going to happen?"

Georgia ended up with another close loss.

"I don’t think our record reflects the kind of team that we are, but it is what it is," cornerback Brandon Boykin said. "You are what your record says you are, basically. I’m not going to lie. I think we’re a really good team, but we’re still a work in progress. If we can finish this season out strong, it will do a lot for our team and what people will say about us."