ATLANTA – Brandon Boykin tried to be optimistic. He tried to look ahead. As he sat going over what went wrong, the Georgia senior vowed that all was far from lost.
“A lot of times when guys get hyped for such a big game and it doesn't turn out like they want to, it's easy to hang your head and say, 'Oh man we got excited for nothing,’” he said. “But they're a great team, you've gotta give them credit.”
He was speaking of fifth-ranked Boise State, the team Boykin and his Georgia teammates had been talking about for nine months. But instead of a program-changing victory, the Bulldogs were rolled 35-21 in their season opener.
The game was played in front of a sold-out, pro-Bulldogs crowd at the Georgia Dome. That’s also the site of the SEC championship game in December. While Boykin, teammates and head coach Mark Richt pointed out that it wasn’t a devastating loss because it wasn’t an SEC game, the Bulldogs looked far from capable of getting back to the Dome in December.
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On offense, Georgia was ineffective until the fourth quarter, when it was pretty much too late. Quarterback Aaron Murray struggled over the first three quarters, and the running game – even with highly touted freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell – was ineffective.
On defense, the Bulldogs looked good for awhile but ultimately were out-matched by a Heisman trophy candidate. Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore passed with precision, accounting for three touchdowns and leading the Broncos on a number of methodical drives.
Disgusted Georgia fans began leaving the Georgia Dome early in the fourth quarter, when the game was still within reach. The mass exodus ensued late in the game, when Murray’s fourth-quarter heave went over Orson Charles’ head.
Afterwards, the sentiment of players and coaches was that something had been gained, but the performance was still lacking.
"We have some work to do,” said Murray, who got most of his 236 passing yards in a too-late comeback attempt. “We definitely had a lot of mental mistakes, just a lot of mistakes (Saturday( that need to be corrected. I know our coaches are going to be breaking down film tonight, players breaking it down (Sunday) and Monday. We'll make the corrections, and we're going to continue get better and better."
"I didn't feel like we were the underdog at all,” Boykin said. “I felt like we were evenly matched and we were ready to play this game. I felt like early on it was blow-for-blow, everybody was ready. But consistency-wise we didn't have what it took. They're a great team for a reason and they showed it."
Georgia’s football program pounced on the opportunity to play Boise State to open the 2011 season because it needed the jolt. It wanted the chance to play a high-profile game on national television and rekindle its once-proud reputation.
Instead, the Bulldogs were only shown to still be far away from the team they used to be.
"It's a long season. We've gotta get our minds right,” Richt said. “And you know, a game like this there's no question we know more about our football team than if we had played somebody that we would have beat by 40. So hopefully that will translate to us having a better idea of how to play in these types of games, and help us to see where our weaknesses are."
The Bulldogs struck first in the game on a bit of trickery. Boykin lined up in the backfield and took an end-around 80 yards for a touchdown.
But Boise State, which is now 62-5 since the start of the 2006 season, scored the next 28 points. Georgia’s offense finally showed life late in the third quarter, with Murray hitting Charles and freshman Malcolm Mitchell on long touchdown passes.
But Moore answered the first scoring drive. And Murray couldn’t get the team downfield in the end to at least make it interesting.
Georgia now moves on to its SEC opener on Saturday against South Carolina, the nation’s 12th ranked game. That matchup now looks even more important for Georgia’s season, and possibly the future of the program.
"I just felt like it might be a reality check. Like as a whole, we're all just gonna wake up and respond to this,” Charles said. "I just pray that the Georgia nation don't turn their back on us, because we're still here and we're still gonna continue to work."