Somehow, Georgia’s coaches and players managed to dial up a season-ending performance that fits this season to a T.
Georgia wide receiver Kris Durham (16) cries as he walks off the field following the Bulldogs’ 10-6 loss in the Liberty Bowl on Friday.
Friday’s 10-6 loss to Central Florida – sending Georgia to a 6-7 record and its first losing season since 1996 – brought out many of the elements that have so frequently frustrated the Bulldog faithful over the last couple of years.
Watching this Georgia team lay an egg is nothing new in this mind-boggling season, but watching the Bulldogs show up so flat, against such an underwhelming opponent, had to surprise even those who came to expect little as this season progressed.
This was an uninspired effort from everyone involved, which is the wrong way to enter the offseason when so much is at stake for Mark Richt’s program in 2011.
There was nothing the Bulldogs could do in Memphis to salvage what had already become Richt’s worst season in Athens, but there was something they could do to ensure that this will also be the most bitter offseason in Richt’s tenure.
They played like they’d much rather be hanging out on Beale Street or eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches over at Graceland than actually playing another game.
It started early, as Richt opted for a chip-shot field goal to take a 3-0 lead rather than go for a first down or touchdown on fourth-and-1 at the UCF 3, after the Bulldogs had driven 95 yards to that point.
The Bulldogs had a chance to make an early statement and they instead let the Knights gain a measure of confidence after a goal-line stop – and such conservatism simply didn’t make much sense given the relatively low stakes involved in a largely meaningless bowl game.
Yet again, Georgia’s offensive line was overpowered at the point of attack, to the tune of 82 rushing yards on 32 attempts. The group that was supposed to be one of the driving forces behind the Bulldogs’ offense this season also surrendered three sacks and committed an enormously costly chop-blocking penalty in the fourth quarter that nullified a Washaun Ealey run to near midfield.
Yes, Central Florida came into the game ranked 10th in the nation against the run, but the Knights posted those numbers against the likes of Memphis, Tulane and South Dakota.
Apparently Georgia’s running game is no better, as only two teams rushed for fewer yards against the Knights this year than did the Bulldogs.
The gloved one, Aaron Murray, and his counterparts at Georgia’s skill positions didn’t fare much better, save for a couple of impressive plays near the end of the game as the Bulldogs desperately tried to pull a victory out of their collectively clinched rear ends.
Murray tossed a pair of ugly second-quarter interceptions, but his defense was at least good enough to bail him out with a Brandon Boykin interception in the end zone, followed by a stand that held UCF to a game-tying 22-yard field goal.
Aside from the defense’s reasonably effective play against an average offense, there is almost nothing to compliment about the Bulldogs’ performance on Friday.
And this could very well be the Bulldogs’ final game with A.J. Green, who provided 77 receiving yards before now facing the decision over whether to return to a college program that’s fighting against the deepening quicksand or to accept sure millions as a high-first-round NFL draft pick.
What does Georgia’s offense do without Green there to keep drives alive with his trademark circus catches next year?
That’s a difficult question Richt and his staff will have to ponder for nine months before the Bulldogs take the Georgia Dome turf against Boise State.
Right now, there is no obvious answer as to how the Bulldogs will remain viable on offense or whether the defense will take a step forward in Year 2 under Todd Grantham to pick up some of the slack in the post-A.J. era.
There are positive possibilities, but few that offer much in the way of confidence.
Richt and his staff need to hit the jackpot over the next two months on the recruiting trail and hope they find some home-run hitters who can contribute immediately.
Some of those players reside within this state’s borders, but there is still the always-tricky matter of convincing them to sign on the dotted line.
And what about Friday’s bowl game would offer those players the confidence that Athens is an attractive destination, aside from the possibility for immediate playing time?
Before we venture too far down the path toward a complete overreaction, remember that Friday’s game offered little in the way of motivation for the Bulldogs – certainly far less than it did for a UCF program seeking its first-ever bowl victory.
But watching the Bulldogs sleepwalk though another game in a season that had already veered so miserably off the tracks is not the best way to enter the offseason.
Yet again, they lacked fire, which has been a regular issue in many of Georgia’s worst moments over the last couple of disappointing years.
Recovering that elusive quality might be the most important factor as the Bulldogs move forward toward 2011. Because every ensuing time their fans witness them playing like they don’t want to be there, Richt’s program loses a bit more goodwill than it enjoyed the game before.