Guerry Clegg Commentary: Strange play in a strange game

November 16, 2013 

Georgia Auburn Football

JASON GETZ/Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionGeorgia quarterback Aaron Murray reacts after throwing an interception in the first half against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. Auburn won 43-38.

JASON GETZ — AP

AUBURN, Ala. --

It's a rivalry where games are remembered by a single phrase, and Georgia's heart-breaking 43-38 loss to Auburn will be no different.

Fourth-and-18.

Georgia had the game won. Or so it seemed.

A screen pass for negative yardage, an incomplete pass, then a sack of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall left Auburn facing fourth-and-18 from its own 27 with only 36 seconds left to play.

"Fourth-and-18," Georgia coach Mark Richt said afterward. "That's as good as it gets."

One would think.

But nothing about Georgia's season could be so good, or quite so simple.

Marshall, the former Bulldog defensive back and now Auburn quarterback, saw to that. As the Bulldogs rushed from the edges, Marshall calmly stepped up in the pocket and heaved a pass downfield for Ricardo Louis. Georgia's Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews did as they were taught. They didn't let Louis get behind them.

Then, the darnedest thing happened. Matthews leaped to intercept the ball. But Harvey-Clemons, behind Matthews, reached over Matthews to grab the ball. As the two Georgia defenders got tangled, and the ball bounced upward instead of down, and Louis found himself the fortunate recipient of the strangest play of this strange game.

Louis bobbled, then caught the ball and ran into the end zone.

"They launched it out there and were hoping for a miracle," said Richt.

For the most part, Richt was at a loss for words but not perspective. He talked about the positive things and the learning points, even the life lessons.

"I told them I thought they were a pretty amazing group of guys to get it to 38-37 like we did," Richt said. "I think most teams would have folded or found a reason to quit, but they didn't do that. I just talked a little bit about what we could learn from it. We had a lot of things happen in the game that if we were more disciplined we would have been in better shape. I talked about being disciplined on and off the field. If your goal is to live a disciplined life, you probably have a blessed life."

That may seem like hollow consolation. But what else is he going to say.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talked about his team having the "it factor." Indeed, the Tigers do. But this Bulldog team is just the opposite. Even if they win their final two games against Kentucky and Georgia Tech, this team will be remembered as one that underachieved. Injuries certainly played a big part. Still, it seems like something is missing with this team.

That happens. It happened to Alabama in 2010. What's hard to ignore are the breakdowns on defense. To their credit, they made adjustments late in the game and gave the offense a chance to win it. But that's a double-edged sword. Every time the defense plays well, it shows the potential they had all along.

I don't even have to check the message boards or social media to know the Fire Richt and Fire Todd Grantham posts are pouring in.

Fire Richt? That's crazy. Unless you're going to hire Nick Saban, then firing one of the most successful coaches of the last 13 years would be a monumental and unnecessary risk.

Fire Grantham? That's a different matter entirely. This is his fourth season as Georgia's defensive coordinator. The defense isn't appreciably better than it was under Willie Martinez.

There's plenty of talent -- far too much talent to continue missing assignments and missing tackles. The risk-reward ratio for firing Grantham is considerably less than it is for firing Richt.

Will it happen? Probably not. Richt doesn't let public pressure dictate his decisions. But Grantham could leave on his own accord and go back to the NFL.

If not, then what? Well, there's always next year. Again.

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