Had the stars been aligned differently, perhaps Georgia’s dreams of a national championship would still be intact. Had the Bulldogs remained healthy, had a few bounces gone the other way, had the defense held its own, things might have been different.
As it stands, however, Georgia’s date with Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl still seems a bit like fate. For all their failures this season, the Bulldogs have an opportunity for late-season redemption.
“They don’t like to do anything too fancy, they just like to pound it,” linebacker Rennie Curran said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to establish ourselves at the end of the season on a national level and set the tempo for next year. It’s another opportunity to show the nation what we’re about as a defense and re-establish ourselves.”
What Michigan State does best is what Georgia had the most difficulty stopping as its season spiraled downward. The Spartans run the ball, and that has been the Achilles’ heel during the Bulldogs’ fall from glory.
Of course, that hasn’t always been the case. Through seven games, Georgia was among the best in the nation at stopping the run.
The Bulldogs were holding opponents to just 61 yards per game on the ground. In early September, South Carolina mustered only 18 rushing yards. A week later, Arizona State scratched out just 4. Three weeks after that, Georgia allowed 1 to Tennessee.
Almost overnight, Georgia’s defense became exposed. It allowed 188 yards rushing to LSU, 185 to Florida, and more ugly numbers against Kentucky and Auburn. The crushing blow came in the form of Georgia Tech’s option, which tallied an embarrassing 409 yards of rushing offense — the most allowed by a Georgia team in 14 years.
A more cause for the precipitous decline for the Bulldogs was the wear and tear of a long season — one that began with a bevy of injuries to the defensive ends, a season-ending ACL tear for their best interior lineman and a midseason injury to middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. By year’s end, the sum of all the bumps and bruises had taken a toll.
The extended break from action leading up to Georgia’s bowl meeting with Michigan State was a welcome reprieve for the Bulldogs, who will have 33 days off between games.
The extra time is being put to good use, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said, in terms of both healing and refocusing on the fundamentals.
That’s where the fateful date with Michigan State comes back to the forefront.
The late-season struggles have been an embarrassing source of frustration for the Bulldogs, but the Spartans present a final shot at redemption.
Michigan State averages nearly 140 yards per game on the ground, led by All-American running back Javon Ringer, who has rushed for 1,590 yards this season. The Spartans will line up and dare Georgia to stop them — something the Bulldogs haven’t been able to do ina long time.