Turnaround Complete

Han Vance for The Georgia Playbook, an all-UGA sports monthly online publication: www.thegeorgiaplaybook.com

At 0-2 following an uncharacteristically poor 6-7 campaign, Mark Richt was on the proverbial hot seat early in his 11th season as football head coach. Although the first two games were played against a tough Boise State team that had gone 38-2 over forty games and the defending SEC East Champion South Carolina Gamecocks playing at full strength, the Dawg Nation was vocally mystified. Richt insisted he saw the characteristics necessary to win in the game two loss: a 45-42 heartbreaker in which Georgia significantly outgained Carolina.

The schedule softened over the next few weeks, and UGA began to compile wins as the team matured, especially freshman runner Isaiah Crowell. Coastal Carolina was clearly outmatched by the total team talent Between the Hedges. A trip to Ole Miss was more noteworthy for the scenery than the competition, and the Miss State Maroon Pups were paid back for beating us last year at their place.

A tough spot was at Tennessee, where UGA had been blown out on two previous trips and the Vols featured SEC leading passer Tyler Bray. Georgia won behind Dream Team receiver Malcolm Mitchell’s huge game and a salty defense that eventually knocked Bray out of the game. A trip to Nashville at night proved more daunting than anticipated as Vandy played us hard, before succumbing to our talented team.

Georgia was 5-2 entering the bye week before a looming trip to Jacksonville, where the program had a horrible 18 of 21 record and Richt was nearly as bad, just 2-8.  Similarly to S. Carolina and Tennessee, Florida would be at full strength for the Georgia game with the return of injured quarterback John Brantley. As all too often happens in what has been a house of horrors for Georgia, Florida got and made some early breaks and jumped out to a two-touchdown lead.

Determined that this year was different, Richt dialed up the gusto to go for it twice on fourth down; each play resulting in an Aaron Murray touchdown pass. Georgia overcame numerous special teams gaffes to outlast, and in the end outclass, the Gators. Todd Grantham’s defense yielded just one first down and 32 yards in the second half.

As the clock ticked down on Florida’s chances, Georgia was on Florida’s goal line running the seconds away and then celebrating again in that end zone. Turnaround complete.

Also, check out my basketball season preview – new issue Nov. 1st, www.thegeorgiaplaybook.com