Florida presented an opportunity for Georgia to turn its season around, but instead, the Bulldogs floundered amid a series of self-inflicted wounds during Saturday’s 41-17 loss to the Gators.
Georgia threw four interceptions and was flagged for eight first-half penalties, and the defense failed to get key stops at the most crucial times. It was a combination of every vice that had nagged at the Bulldogs all season.
Rather than serve as the springboard to a strong second half of the season, the annual rivalry game underscored Georgia’s weaknesses with glaring precision.
“This isn’t the way that Georgia should play football, and I feel bad for the whole senior class, it being our last shot against Florida,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “I feel bad for everybody in our program because we know how we’re supposed to play, and so far, we haven’t clicked at all and done what we’re supposed to do. It’s disappointing.”
The disappointment was widespread, but head coach Mark Richt said the unity on the team has remained strong.Despite Georgia’s 4-4 record — its worst mark at this point in the season since 1996 — there hasn’t been internal strife or finger pointing.
“I don’t see any of that going on, and that’s a good thing,” Cox said. “That’s what brings people together during the tough times, so we’ve just got to keep pushing and try to finish on as good a note as we can.”
Of anyone on the team, Cox has shouldered perhaps the largest share of the struggles through the first eight weeks. From his season-opening struggles while dealing with flu symptoms to his three-interception performance Saturday, Cox has been the face of Georgia’s problems.
But while the senior quarterback has earned his share of scorn from fans, Richt said Cox’s teammates continue to support their starting quarterback, even in the moments immediately following Saturday’s defeat.
“Joe is a very respected man in our locker room and our program, and you could tell how badly he hurt about this one,” Richt said. “I can’t tell you how many guys — offense, defense, freshmen, juniors, sophomores — came up to him and wanted to let them know how they felt about him.”
The chance to turn around its season passed for Georgia amid a series of penalties and turnovers and another loss to Florida, but the Bulldogs are still focused on salvaging what remains.
While coaches wouldn’t commit to keeping Cox as the team’s starting quarterback or comment on any other potential personnel changes, Richt said he thought the foundation of the program remained strong, despite the team’s poor record this season.
So rather than focus on the opportunities they have already missed, the Bulldogs are prioritizing the chances they still have left and accentuating a few of the silver linings from Saturday’s loss, including an improved running game and occasional offensive success against a staunch defense.
“There were some good things, but it’s hard to think about the good things when you get your butt beat like that,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said following the game.
But that’s exactly what the players plan to think about this week.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, and they each share a piece of it, linebacker Nick Williams said. But lamenting those mistakes won’t help Georgia become bowl eligible and finish the season on a high note.
“It’s going to come down to us and what we want to do with our season,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to look at these next four games and prepare ourselves to do better.”
The frustrations are felt by everyone, cornerback Brandon Boykin said, and the feeling is made worse by the knowledge that the team’s potential has far outweighed its performance thus far.
But while the chance for an SEC East title has evaporated and the opportunity to gain redemption against Florida was missed, it’s the hope that the gap between that potential and performance can be closed by season’s end that keeps them motivated
“It was frustrating but throughout the game we felt like we had a chance,” Boykin said. “We’re not going to let this game get us down. We still know we have a chance to go 8-4 or 9-4 and we want to get better.”