published Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Fatal fumbles helped hinder Bulldogs

Turnovers in close games are a big reason Georgia's record is 6-6 heading into the Dec. 31 Liberty Bowl

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    Georgia's A.J. Green (8) catches a 30-yard touchdown pass in the first half as Auburn's Desmond Washington (14) defends in an NCAA college football game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

ATHENS, Ga. -- Following a 49-31 loss at Auburn on Nov. 13, Georgia football coach Mark Richt was asked to assess a season gone wrong.

"When you look at it, there were a few key plays in the games that we lost that had they gone the other way, we would have won," Richt said. "We have not won the close games for an assortment of reasons. I've said for years that the teams that can win the close ones will be the champions."

The Bulldogs were 0-6 at the time in games that had been in doubt at the start of the fourth quarter. They improved to 1-6 in such contests two weeks later by defeating Georgia Tech 42-34 to attain bowl eligibility, but the two-plus weeks that have followed the regular season have contained some painful reflection.

What if Washaun Ealey had not fumbled at South Carolina's 4-yard line? What if Ealey had not fumbled into the end zone at Mississippi State? What if Caleb King had not fumbled in field-goal range during the final two minutes of a two-point loss at Colorado? And what if Aaron Murray's splendid redshirt freshman season didn't contain the blemish of an overtime interception against Florida?

"I usually lay in bed at night thinking about every single loss and what plays here and there I could have made," Murray said Wednesday. "If you go back and look at the games we've lost, most of it is due to our errors. It's tough at night reflecting on the plays we could have had this year that could have changed our season."

Or as Richt admitted, "When we did turn it over, there were some very inopportune times for those to happen."

Georgia has committed 14 turnovers this season after having 28 a year ago, but Ealey's fumbles prevented the Bulldogs from tying the games in Columbia and Starkville. King's fumble allowed Colorado to escape in what would be the final victory in the Dan Hawkins era, but there is no doubt which miscue Murray wants back most.

"Definitely the pick from Florida," he said. "The way we were able to come back in that game and put it into overtime, we really felt like we had a shot to win."

The Bulldogs entered overtime against the Gators with the momentum and the better kicker, as Florida punter Chas Henry was having to pull double duty. It hasn't helped Georgia that Florida wound up losing five regular-season games for the first time since 1988.

Georgia's biggest blow occurred on a Wednesday, specifically Sept. 8, when junior receiver A.J. Green was suspended four games by the NCAA for selling his Independence Bowl jersey. The Bulldogs lost toss-up games to South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State in his absence, a trio of teams that were noticeably better from a year ago.

"I feel like a big part of the early failure was that I was a young quarterback and made some errors and some throws that weren't perfect," Murray said. "I'm a lot more mature quarterback now, and if we played those games again, I would not have made as many mistakes."

Green returned Oct. 2 at Colorado but cramped up in the third quarter, and the Bulldogs went from leading 24-14 to losing 29-27. Georgia since has scored 30 or more points a program-record seven straight times entering its Liberty Bowl date against Central Florida.

Richt said Green was a big part of the jump in point production but added that the rest of the offense improved as the season progressed.

"I'm excited for next year because we're just that close from being a tremendous football team," Murray said. "We are a few plays away from being one of the top teams in the SEC and one of the top teams in the nation. We're going to focus on UCF, but then it's time to get working."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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