A final down note to Georgia's crazy season

semerson@macon.comJanuary 1, 2014 

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There was no other way to characterize this Georgia football season than to call it crazy, exhausting and emotional. So it made sense it should finish that way.

Of course Georgia’s final game came down to the final minute. Of course the secondary gave up a 99-yard touchdown. Of course two more offensive starters went down with injuries.

But in the full view, it was also a disappointing season. So, of course, Georgia ended with a loss, 24-19 to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl on Wednesday.

Moments after it ended, Arthur Lynch, the senior tight end who committed the final, critical error of Georgia’s season, took responsibility for it. He also summed up the entire year.

“That’s on me,” Lynch said. “That’s just kind of how it goes sometimes in sports. It’s kind of like in the Auburn game. Are we gonna expect a Hail Mary like that? No. But at the end of the day things happen, and some people make plays, and some people, whatever you wanna call it, choke, drop balls. And for me, I just couldn’t come up with the play to make up for my team.”

Lynch’s drop with 31 seconds left, on fourth down from Nebraska’s 16, ended Georgia’s final drive. It sent Nebraska’s sideline into celebration, avenging last year’s loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.

But Lynch’s drop was far from the only reason Georgia lost.

There was a muffed punt by Reggie Davis in the second quarter, when the Bulldogs led 3-0, giving Nebraska great field position. The Cornhuskers took the lead 14 yards and two plays later.

There was quarterback Hutson Mason’s interception on the first series of the second half. Nebraska also capitalized on that turnover, taking a 17-9 lead.

Georgia’s red-zone offense was mostly an exercise in futility. Place-kicker Marshall Morgan was perfect, hitting all four field goal attempts, but if the Bulldogs had turned one of those field goal trips into a touchdown, it probably would have won the game.

And worst of all was the 99-yard Nebraska touchdown, on third-and-14 in the third quarter.

“That’s probably a 10-point swing, minimum,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.

Grantham’s defense actually fared well otherwise. Georgia outgained Nebraska, 416-307, and the Cornhuskers’ first two touchdowns came off short fields.

The Bulldogs also had big stops in the fourth quarter, putting the game in the hands of Mason, their junior quarterback making his second career start. He had an uneven performance, especially early in the game, which may have had something to do with the weather.

It drizzled most of the time, leaving the field sloppy and the footballs wet. Officials declined to let the teams dry off the football, according to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, but eventually let them rotate in 12 footballs. Bobo chalked that up partly to Mason’s rough start and late surge.

“He just didn’t feel like he could throw the ball downfield in the first half,” Bobo said. “It was raining, he thought it was slick. The rain stopped, no wind in the second half or there in the third quarter. I think that was able to get his confidence up. When you don’t really have a good grip on the ball, and they play tight coverage, and you have to trust and throw it in there, he was a little tentative. But as the game went on, we moved the ball well.”

Mason said he felt “great” throughout the game. But he acknowledged he “wasn’t perfect at all throughout the game.” His head coach, Mark Richt, summed it up another way.

“I know at crunch time, from what I saw, Hutson played very well,” Richt said.

Tailback Todd Gurley became Mason’s favorite target, hauling in seven passes for 97 yards, as well as Georgia’s lone touchdown. It came on a simple dump-off patter, and Gurley practically jogged in from 25 yards out.

Otherwise Nebraska made life difficult, especially in the running game. It didn’t help that both starting guards, Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette, left the game with injuries, although Burnette eventually returned.

Despite it all, as the final minutes wound down, Mason and the Bulldogs had one more chance.

Lynch was having a fine day up until the fourth quarter, when he had a drop on an earlier drive. Another senior, receiver Rantavious Wooten, also had two key drops in the fourth quarter. Lynch, a first-team All-SEC pick this season, became Mason’s target on the final play, streaking across the middle of the field. But he couldn’t haul in the throw to his chest.

“When your number’s called, you’ve got to make the play, whether it’s the last play or whether it be the previous (drives) we had field goals,” Lynch said. “How many field goals did we have, six?”

Only four, but to the Bulldogs it felt like more.

“Again, we hurt ourselves,” Lynch said. “When you put yourself behind the eight-ball that much, it’s kind of hard to come back.”

And so Georgia ended its season on a sour note, fault to be laid on offense, defense and special teams.

“This game was really for the seniors, to head out on a good note,” Gurley said. “You always want to win that last one, to give you that extra motivation. But you move on from it. We’ve got plenty of workouts, plenty of mat drills, plenty of days of camp. So by the time you do all that, you’ll forget about this game.”

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