If football programs had counterintelligence desks — Nick Saban is surely planning for his — this installment of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party would have Georgia’s operatives working round-the-clock discussing permutations and ramifications. “If we do this and they do that, in the grand scheme will we be better or worse?”
For down-the-road purposes, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Georgia lost to Florida. Anything that keeps Will Muschamp coaching the Gators is a net gain for the Bulldogs. But this isn’t a time to be thinking longer-term than next week.
Georgia is positioned to win the SEC East, and if it keeps winning and plays for the SEC championship, it could well play for the national championship. Don’t get excited about the initial College Football Playoff rankings, the ones that had the Bulldogs at a tepid No. 11. All that matters is that Georgia has fewer viable chances to lose than any other SEC team and, with the exception of Florida State, any team ranked ahead of it.
There’s too much at stake for Georgia to consider propping up Muschamp for another year or two, and there’s no guarantee that Florida winning Saturday would save a job that should have been lost long ago. Surely Jeremy Foley, the athletic director who’s batting .333 on his past three football coaches, has seen too much. Surely the betting line — Georgia is favored by 11 points — serves as a slap in the proud Gator snout.
Certainly Mark Richt, who needed a decade to find a Florida coach he could dominate, is grateful. Richt was 0-1 against Steve Spurrier, 1-2 against Ron Zook (!), 1-5 against Urban Meyer. Richt is 3-0 against Muschamp, the Georgia alum who, having played under Ray Goff, was 0-4 as a player in this game.
As the Bulldogs were losing to Florida 17 times in 20 numbing years, Georgia fans wondered if this series would ever bend back their way. Muschamp has bent it so completely that we wonder — back to espionage — if he’s not actually a Georgia mole planted long ago by the crafty Goff to topple the hated Gators from within.
Under Muschamp, the Gators have ranked 105th, 103rd and 113th nationally in total offense. They’re 96th now, working under their third coordinator in four seasons. They lost at home to LSU by dropping a sure touchdown pass and throwing a tipped interception that the Tigers turned into the winning field goal. Not content to rest on its failures, Florida went out and lost an even worse game seven days later.
Missouri, itself lousy on offense, mustered 119 yards and seven first downs — and won 42-13. (Florida scored the final 13 points, contriving to have a PAT blocked with 26 seconds remaining.) Mizzou scored on a kickoff return, a punt return, a fumble return and an interception return. From ESPN Stats & Information came this astonishing-but-not-really note: “Including this week, teams that have held their opponent to 120 yards or less are 147-2 over the last ten seasons. Both losses are by Will Muschamp-coached Florida teams.”
If nothing else, Muschamp has made the punchline Zook look good by comparison. Zook was 20-13 and 14-7 against SEC competition as Florida’s coach when Foley announced he would be fired at the 2004 season’s end. Muschamp is 25-19 and 15-14. (Zook’s first game as lame duck came against Georgia; being Ron Zook, he charged boldly out of the tunnel and ran to the wrong bench.)
To be fair, Muschamp worked under Wayne Hall, Bill Oliver, Mack Brown and Saban. He’d been the defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas. He’d been tabbed coach-in-waiting at the latter. Even if Muschamp wasn’t the next Spurrier/Meyer, he shouldn’t have been the next Zook. Beggaring belief, he has outzooked the Zooker.
Single-handedly, the former Bulldog has rendered Jacksonville as a place Georgia fans can go and again feel good about their team’s chances. This figures to be the last time the Bulldogs have Muschamp to kick around, but say this for the man: If he’s indeed a Georgia mole, he has done his work well. He has razed a fortress.