Richt has to take blame for South Carolina loss

sports@macon.comOctober 9, 2012 

It was Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008. It was a beautiful day in Athens. ESPN’s Gameday was there as Georgia hosted Alabama. Everyone pulling for the Bulldogs wore black. Georgia was 4-0 and ranked third in the country. Alabama was 4-0 and ranked eighth in the country.

The Bulldogs had finished the previous season ranked second. Georgia had arguably the best quarterback in college football in Matthew Stafford. There was plenty to be excited about with Nick Saban, in his second year at Alabama, visiting Sanford Stadium.

That was also the day Mark Richt lost me. Georgia’s poor performance convinced me that day Richt would never again succeed on the big stage as the Bulldogs’ head coach.

Georgia came out flat. Alabama smelled blood in the water and pounced on the Bulldogs. The Crimson Tide opened up a 31-0 lead by halftime, and people wearing black who were so anxious to see how Georgia would do in the big home game left wondering what in the world had happened.

When it was 17-0, I looked to see if Richt was gathering his players to try and fire them up -- to somehow get them back on track and realize that this was a big game on national TV. Instead, Richt just paced up and down the sidelines, not looking like he really knew what to do to stop the bleeding.

I saw the same look from high above Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night in Columbia. It was 35-0 this time, with South Carolina and Steve Spurrier having their way with the Bulldogs. And, once again, Richt didn’t look like he really knew what to do.

The Georgia fans are furious -- not that the Bulldogs lost, but that they came out and looked totally uninspired and totally disinterested. How could they, as the No. 5 team in the polls, play the No. 6 team and look that bad? How could they be manhandled to that extent?

If Georgia had lost 35-28, or maybe 35-24 or even 35-21, most would have simply believed Georgia lost a tough game on the road against a very good opponent. South Carolina was good, very good, and with the tremendous energy in that stadium there was no way it was going to be easy for the Bulldogs.

But this was a butt-whipping. It was embarrassing. And, unfortunately for Georgia when it comes to big games, it was par for the course.

The fact is, Georgia has not shown in the past six years it can win big games. The last time Georgia defeated a conference opponent that finished with 10 or more wins was in November 2006, when the Bulldogs beat Auburn on the road 37-15.

The last time Georgia beat any team with more than nine wins was the 2008 Sugar Bowl (the 2007 season) when the Bulldogs beat Hawaii 41-10.

And since the 2008 season, the Bulldogs have defeated only two teams that finished the season with more than eight wins -- against Michigan State in the 2009 Capital One Bowl and then later that November against Georgia Tech when Georgia won in Atlanta.

Georgia will never win big games as long as it gets beat on the lines of scrimmage. South Carolina dominated the Bulldogs on both lines Saturday. You can’t get pushed around and expect to win, and when you watched the lines of scrimmage closely you saw a Georgia team that just couldn’t compete.

It was nice to think the Bulldogs were good this season. They were 5-0, but the combined record of the five opponents is 10-16. They just hadn’t played anybody really good. They did on Saturday, however, and we found out how mediocre this Georgia team is this season.

This game presented a big-picture issue. This is Year 12 of the Mark Richt era. Losses like this shouldn’t be happening in Year 12 of an era. Coaches that are supposed to be as good as Richt shouldn’t allow this to happen.

This team, this program, has taken on Richt’s personality. He’s a nice man, a good man, and there’s a lot to say about that. But this is about football, and the people who are in his corner just because he’s a nice man are running out of excuses when they continue to see performances in big games like they saw Saturday.

Would the Alabama fan base put up with this? Would they be satisfied with wins over Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt but a blowout loss to, say in that example, Auburn?

The sad part is South Carolina has now passed Georgia in the SEC East. Sure, Georgia won the division last season. But the Gamecocks have beat Georgia in three straight seasons, so that’s going to be enough for Steve Spurrier, who already hates the Bulldogs with a passion, to crow even louder about his success.

And now Florida, who was down and out a year ago, just had a quality win last week against LSU. Are the Gators now ready to bounce back and overtake Georgia in the division?

Florida will be Georgia’s biggest opponent the rest of the way. Even if the Bulldogs lose to Florida, Georgia will probably run the table and finish with 10 wins. But it’s time to stop being satisfied with successful seasons that don’t include big wins. It’s time to stop watching this team look dead in big games.

South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore might have said it best Saturday night.

“They were shell-shocked,” he told reporters. “We hit them in the mouth, and they weren’t ready for it.”

Georgia hasn’t been ready for it in a long time, and when a team isn’t ready for a big game, it’s on the head coach.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.

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