Georgia can’t spike a bad memory

semerson@macon.comDecember 12, 2012 

ATHENS -- Aaron Murray has a list of songs he listens to before every game. In the 10 days since the SEC championship game, every time the Georgia quarterback has heard one of those tunes, he has winced.

“Oh my God, I can’t sleep at night,” Murray said. “I literally replay the entire game pretty much every night before I go to bed. It’s stressful. That’s a game that will probably haunt me the rest of my life.”

Especially the final 15 seconds.

The Georgia football team returned to the practice field Wednesday, beginning preparation for the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska on Jan. 1. But the dominant topic was still the way the loss to Alabama ended.

It did not appear an unwelcome subject, either for cathartic reasons or so the team could argue its case -- that the much-debated decision to run a play, rather than spike the ball in the closing seconds, was the correct one.

Head coach Mark Richt’s news conference was dominated by the subject. The first time he was asked about it, he answered with nearly 700 words.

The thrust of Richt’s case was that it was prudent to run a play because Georgia’s no-huddle offense had Alabama’s defense on its heels. Therefore the Bulldogs had a better chance of scoring from the 8-yard line by trying right away, rather than stopping the clock and giving Alabama a chance to recover.

“If we had clocked the ball, we would have called the same play,” Richt said of the attempted back-shoulder pass to Malcolm Mitchell. “It was the play that we wanted to call. The problem was the ball got tipped and landed in play.”

And it went to Georgia receiver Chris Conley, who instinctively caught it at the 5-yard line, and time ran out on the team’s championship hopes.

Conley beat himself up publicly after the game. But during the past 10 days he had heard from many fans, and current and former players, who told him to shake it off. And no one at Georgia has blamed him.

Conley also said that spiking it wouldn’t have helped emphasize not catching it.

“I can always blame myself for catching the ball, because I did,” Conley said. “But in the moment, and in that second, that’s instinct of what I’m going to do. From now on in a game-like situation like that, I’ll know to make the smart play.”

Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch, who caught a long pass from Murray that set up the final play, had another reason it would have been unwise to spike the ball.

“I think that would have allowed them to change personnel, put their red-zone defense in there,” Lynch said. “I think a team like Alabama, especially Nick Saban, I don’t think you ever want to give him extra time to prepare anything.”

Richt also offered one new detail about the final sequence: Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo already had made the play call as the team was heading downfield after Lynch’s catch. So the delay at the line was positioning, not getting the play call.

“I thought we were gonna call the spike,” Murray said. “But I don’t think it was a bad call by them. It was open, it was there, we liked our matchup.”

The fact that so much post-mortem is still occurring shouldn’t be too surprising. Not only was this the first media availability since the weekend of the game, but it was the most important game in three decades for Georgia.

So instead of playing Notre Dame for the BCS championship, Georgia finds itself preparing for another Florida-based bowl against a Big Ten team. But with time to think about it, the Bulldogs think they accomplished something in the SEC championship.

“I think we earned a lot of respect this season,” Murray said. “Obviously we’ve gotta finish strong in the bowl game. But I definitely think Georgia’s back.”

Lynch said that when he and his teammates got back to their house after the game, some neighbors brought over cookies. It was a welcome change from the team’s previous loss, at South Carolina, when Murray and Lynch said their house was egged.

“It was a better reception than after South Carolina,” Lynch said. “At first I was like, ‘Is our house gonna burn down?’ But we got back, and it was nice.”

Senior linebacker Christian Robinson summed up the situation by saying, “We just ran out of time. The positive I’ll take out of it is we made people believe again. I mean, there’s no one that was in there that didn’t believe we had a chance. Especially after Arthur caught that pass down there. Everyone on the sideline was thinking, ‘The game’s over, we’re gonna win.’ And I think the fact that people believed we could do that, and we could have been in Miami.

“It stinks we’re not there. It’s a dream to be down there. But I think people believe in Georgia again.”

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