Georgia's close games left share of 'what ifs?' in 8-4 year

Georgia's close games left share of 'what ifs?' in 8-4 year

December 4th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia's Todd Gurley scores on a 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson in the 2013 opener.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Georgia's frenetic football regular season ended last Saturday with a double-overtime win at Georgia Tech, and the days since have offered some time to reflect.

The Bulldogs began this season ranked No. 5 in the country but wound up 8-4, with the slippage a combination of erratic special teams, a youthful defense and an offense that endured injuries of varying severity to every prominent skill member. There was no shortage of adversity the Bulldogs had to face, including the fact nine of their 12 games were up for grabs midway through the fourth quarter.

"I really admire our guys and their ability to persevere through some tough times," coach Mark Richt said this week. "We had some really close games that we lost that were hard to swallow, but no one lost faith in each other and no one quit fighting, and that was good.

"I do look back and think of one play here and one play there and another play here, and who knows? We could have won one, two or three more. We certainly could have lost one or two more if we didn't get a certain play done at a certain time as well."

Of the 1,706 plays run this season by Georgia and its opposition, the most fortunate for the Bulldogs was when Pig Howard fumbled out of the end zone to end Tennessee's overtime possession in Georgia's eventual 34-31 win in Knoxville on Oct. 5.

There are also three plays that could have turned Georgia's 8-4 record to 11-1, a mark currently owned by SEC counterparts Alabama, Auburn and Missouri:

1. TIPPED TROUBLE

Had Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons recognized that fellow safety Tray Matthews was in position to intercept or bat down Auburn's fourth-and-18 desperation heave on Nov. 16, the ball never would have been tipped to where Tigers receiver Ricardo Louis could have made the winning snag. Less than 30 seconds would have remained, and the Bulldogs would have needed just one snap in a victory formation.

"That's a freak play," Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said after the game. "It's like a nightmare."

2. TARGETING CHAOS

With the Bulldogs leading Vanderbilt 27-14 with 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of their Oct. 19 game in Nashville, the Commodores had a fourth-and-4 pass from Patton Robinette to Jonathan Krause fall incomplete. Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson was flagged for targeting Krause and was ejected, but he was reinstated after officials determined it was not a foul.

Under the NCAA's controversial first-year rule, however, a player can be reinstated but the penalty remains, and the flag gave Vanderbilt a first-and-10 at Georgia's 15-yard line. The Commodores scored a touchdown six plays later and went ahead with under three minutes to play after the Bulldogs botched a punt snap.

"I promised myself I wouldn't say anything horrendous about the officiating in the game," Richt said afterward.

3. GURLEY'S QUAD

Tailback Todd Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run in the opener at Clemson forever will be remembered for a celebration that resulted in receiver Malcolm Mitchell tearing his ACL. Gurley, however, strained his quadriceps on the play and spent the second quarter either hobbling on the field or receiving treatment on the sideline.

In Georgia's final five possessions of the first half, the Bulldogs ran 14 plays for 8 yards, which was a foreshadowing of how Georgia would struggle when Gurley sprained his ankle a month later against LSU. Gurley came back late in the third quarter at Clemson and was productive, and he finished the night with 154 yards on only 12 carries.

Would a 38-35 loss have been different had Gurley played four quarters instead of two and a half?

Georgia's only defeat this season that wasn't a one-possession game was its 41-26 loss to Missouri on Oct. 12, and even in that one the Bulldogs trailed 34-26 with three minutes remaining.

"It was a season of a lot of close games, and I think we learned a lot about ourselves," Richt said. "We are gaining some tremendous experience that will not only help us in the bowl but down the road. There are a lot of good things that have happened this year, but it's also been heartbreaking at times."

Said safety Corey Moore: "It's not the record we intended to have, but this team will always go down as one that didn't give up. I love this team."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.