Go ahead and hit the panic button. Mash it as furiously as Mississippi State’s fans were ringing those infernal cowbells Saturday night when their team sent Georgia’s season from tailspin to complete implosion.
Georgia running back Washaun Ealey loses his helmet on a play after fumbling the ball in the first quarter Saturday.
There is no putting a pretty face on Mississippi State 24, Georgia 12 – no excusing the ugliness that continually occurs each time Georgia takes the field.
Mark Richt and his staff are officially coaching for their jobs.
The notion that Richt was on the "hotseat" seemed laughable in the summer months. Actually, it was laughable at the time considering the regularity with which Richt had won in his UGA career.
I refused to even address it in print because it seemed more like an empty storyline for columnists who had more time than sense.
But that was before Richt’s team lost three consecutive games for the first time in his tenure and the first time Georgia’s program fell to 0-3 in conference play for the first time since the glory days of Ray Goff.
That was before the Bulldogs failed to score a meaningful touchdown for the second time in three conference games.
It was one thing when Richt’s Bulldogs were playing poorly against top-10-caliber opposition like South Carolina or Arkansas. The most patient supporters within Georgia’s fan base were rightfully willing to give their team the benefit of the doubt while they struggled against teams that truly rank among the nation’s elite.
But this was Mississippi State, one of the lowliest programs in Southeastern Conference history.
This was a State team that Georgia outgained by 100 yards in the first half, and yet Richt’s Bulldogs failed to reach the end zone because of their own ineptitude.
Washaun Ealey came within an eyelash of a touchdown catch, only to fumble at the goal line – again – and literally sit in the end zone and watch as a Mississippi State defender picked up the loose ball.
Kris Durham nearly soared into the end zone on a highlight-reel catch-and-run, but the play came back on an unnecessary downfield holding penalty against Marlon Brown. The Bulldogs settled for a field goal instead.
Not that the bone-headed plays came only on the offensive side of the ball. Richt’s club provided back-breaking mistakes on defense and special teams, too.
Take the punt that deflected off Bacarri Rambo’s leg and bounced to a Mississippi State defender, preventing Georgia from taking possession after a rare defensive stop.
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Or when Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham dialed up a blitz and forced Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf to make a horrible pass that Vance Cuff intercepted – what would have been only Georgia’s sixth takeaway this year – only to have the play waved off because Georgia linebacker Justin Houston was flagged for being offsides.
That’s the way the night went for Georgia – one mindless mistake after the next, resulting in possibly the most embarrassing performance from beginning to end that a Georgia club has given in Richt’s proud tenure in Athens.
You could see the disgust etched across Richt’s face each time the TV cameras panned the Georgia sidelines, as he watched his team stumble to one of its most stupid losses in recent memory.
It’s a rare sight to see Richt’s feathers ruffled, but he had every right to be disgusted Saturday. He was watching the lowest moment for a once-dominant program that has eroded right before his eyes.
Richt has pulled off Houdini acts before and somehow escaped from the locked box after it dipped below the surface of the water.
Think 2006, when his Bulldogs redeemed a season that veered off course by beating three straight top-15 opponents to conclude the year. Or 2007, when Georgia bounced back from a three-touchdown loss at Tennessee and a near-miss at Vanderbilt the following week to become the nation’s hottest team by the end of the season.
Making something out of this disastrous season would be his greatest trick, however.
After the last three weekends – particularly after Saturday’s humiliating showing – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe the Bulldogs can salvage any respectability from this mess.
•David Ching is sports editor for the Athens Banner-Herald. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org