MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The most miserable season in Mark Richt’s decade as Georgia’s coach was given a fitting finish on the final day of 2010. It took only a few minutes for Richt, whose 11th season might be his most critical, to begin looking ahead.
That’s all the Georgia football program has at this point.
It was one thing to be left accepting a bid to a lower-tier postseason game such the Liberty Bowl, to play Central Florida, a non-BCS school.
It was another thing to then lose the game -- and in an ugly, low-scoring display of football, 10-6.
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“We’re going to improve,” Richt said, “We’re going to get Georgia where it belongs; 2010 is over, and 2011 is upon us, and I think everyone’s looking forward to that.”
There are so many reasons to want to forget this year, including numerous off-field issues. The final day of the year saw the Bulldogs’ record fall to 6-7, their first losing season since 1996.
On New Year’s Eve, Richt and his players vowed that there would be changes. That doesn’t necessarily mean personnel but what one player called a “culture change” around a program that might have grown stale.
“It’s embarrassing to be part of a losing season, it absolutely is,” said kicker Blair Walsh, who was responsible for all six of his team’s points. “My three years haven’t been what I wanted them to be, success and the team-wise. And we’ll change that. The culture of our program is changing, and I think the players are changing as well. We’ve got a new regime of seniors in, and we’ll go from there.”
Walsh said several times that the Bulldogs, in taking on a team from Conference USA, might have felt “entitled” to win because they are an SEC team. It didn’t matter that UCF is coached by George O’Leary, the former Georgia Tech head coach, and is ranked 25th in the final BCS standings.
“Our attitude needs to change,” Walsh said.
The Bulldogs had finished the regular season with seven straight games of 30 or more points, including five of more than 40. In their final game of 2010, they managed six.
“We’re all disappointed,” Richt said. “We didn’t want to finish with a loss; we didn’t want to finish with a losing record. No one would have really predicted that, but it is what it is, as they say.”
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, wearing gloves for the first time in a game, had two critical interceptions and struggled overall. Georgia finished with 280 total yards, more than 100 less than its season average.
Star wide receiver A.J. Green (eight catches for 77 yards) was largely a non-factor in the second half.
“They’re a hell of a defense,” Green said. “They had a great game plan for me.”
Central Florida’s defense was allowing 20 points per contest coming into the bowl game.
Georgia actually led for most of the game, including 6-3 at halftime, but Central Florida scored the game’s only touchdown with 9:01 left on a 10-yard run by Latavious Murray.
And it was UCF’s Murray, not Georgia’s, who was selected as the game’s MVP after tallying 104 yards.
Richt’s decision to kick the field goal on Georgia’s opening drive ended up looming large. Georgia had fourth-and-inches at the UCF 3, but he elected for the chip-shot field goal.
Still, the coach said he didn’t regret the decision.
“Well if I’d known what the final score was, yeah. But I think it was the right thing to do at the time,” he said. “I think a couple players were upset that I didn’t go for it at that time. But I was like, ‘If you want to make it, make it on third-and-1. Don’t tell me you want to go for it on fourth-and-1.’”
Georgia did have one last gasp, after starting its final drive at its 20 with 2:20 left. A couple fourth-down completions, to Green and Kris Durham, gave the Bulldogs hope.
But the Bulldogs were left trying for a Hail Mary from the UCF 30 on the game’s final play, and it didn’t come close.
A few minutes later, Walsh was asked where the Bulldogs go from here.
“Up. Up, up,” he said, repeating the word, then adding: “It can’t go down.”