Mark Richt has brought better Georgia teams here and lost — the 2002 Bulldogs, his best bunch, failed in this stadium — but never had he lost to a lesser Florida team. And never had he been outcoached by Will Muschamp, who has spent more than three seasons proving he cannot coach.
There was no dishonor in losing the 2012 SEC Championship game to Nick Saban and a great Alabama team. There was dishonor in what happened Saturday. Richt took the better players — yes, even without Todd Gurley — and lost 38-20 to a Florida team that was ready to collapse. Richt took the better players and saw them outplayed all ends up by an opponent that hadn’t proved it could play a lick.
When we say Richt was “outcoached,” we don’t mean that his Bulldogs were tricked. (Except on a catalytic fake Florida field goal that became the tying touchdown — they were flummoxed there.) As defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said afterward, the Gators employed two plays to spectacular effect. “They ran power, and they ran zone,” Pruitt said, and they ran them so well they gained an unbelievable 418 yards rushing.
Said Pruitt, sugarcoating nothing: “We had more in the box than they could block … They lined up and gave us a good ol’ butt-whipping.”
How does such a thing happen? “It’s a choice,” Pruitt said. “It’s a choice each individual has to make. Today they imposed their will on us.”
Then this: “Sometimes it’s about getting off a block. It’s about who you are and what you’ve got in you.”
These were supposed to be tougher Bulldogs, less steeped in finesse than previous editions, better-drilled by the new man Pruitt. In some games — against Clemson, against Missouri, against Arkansas — Georgia looked mighty. Against Florida, which hadn’t won this game since Urban Meyer retired to spend time with his family, the Bulldogs were bullied in a way no good SEC team should ever be bullied.
And here we note: Florida entered the game ranked eighth among 14 SEC teams in rushing and 11th in total offense. The Gators, who still might not have secured Muschamp’s job into 2015, took the challenge. The Bulldogs took a powder.
Said cornerback Damian Swann: “We didn’t really win the physical battle, and they did.”
Someone asked if Swann expected an opponent to pummel Georgia, which among SEC teams ranked second to Alabama in rushing defense. “Not Florida, anyway,” he said.
No, Richt doesn’t coach defense. (The offense was lousy, too.) He does, however, coach Georgia. And when people say, “There’s a reason why no Richt team has played for a national championship,” this is the sort of game they mean — an inexplicable loss to an indifferent-at-best opponent.
This one took a new twist: Technically the Bulldogs can still win the SEC East (though Missouri must lose) and therefore can still win the SEC, but it’s impossible to imagine a scenario in which Georgia, with losses to mediocrities South Carolina and Florida, makes the four-team playoff.
“There’s a lot of season to play,” Richt said, “a lot of things still to play for.” That, however, is the annual Richt refrain after such jarring losses, the we-can-still-make-something-of-this even though the Bulldogs can no longer make nearly so much.
Up 7-0 after four Gators whiffed on Nick Chubb’s touchdown run, Georgia could have quashed its reeling opponent. But Marshall Morgan missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt that would have made the score 10-0 — a big margin against a team so limited on offense — and Florida ran its unsurprising fake field-goal attempt. When next the Bulldogs scored, it was to cut the Gators’ lead to 31-13 with 11:06 to play.
The expected-by-many domination (this correspondent included) had arrived, but Florida — which beat Kentucky in triple overtime and Tennessee by one point — was dominating. The former Bulldog Muschamp, of all people, had primed his men for their moment. Yet again, Richt walked away a gracious loser on a day his team never should have lost. Yet again, Georgia lost a crushing game for no reason other than it’s Georgia, and this is what it does.