I write from Newnan, the Georgia town just east of the Alabama border, and hometown of Tray Matthews, who had his cupped ready for an interception on the game's fateful play. It didn't happen, and now Georgia fans, players and everybody must take stock of a lost game and season, and a wild game and wild season. Some thoughts:
1. Down the line, Georgia fans will look back on this season and almost laugh. A freaky amount of injuries. A freak play. But right now, yes, the season is one of hurt and pain. What happened at Auburn didn’t so much define the season – nobody was injured. But in an already wild season, it was hard to believe anything could actually top it, and Georgia ended up with a wild game to top them all. A memorable season, no doubt, but most of this team's memories haven’t been good.
2. This was just another example of how much changes in that razor-thin line between winning and losing. That ball gets knocked down, and Georgia is in line to perhaps get back to a third straight SEC championship game, is feeling great about ruining Auburn’s chances, and its season is validated. But the ball doesn’t get knocked down, the freak play happens, and the discussion is dominated by everything that went wrong.
3. Immediately after the game my thought was that the three-man rush was a mistake, especially given that the pressure had done so well leading up to the play. Given some more time to think about it, and talking to Todd Grantham, I’m wavering. Ultimately, Georgia did have three people around the receiver and two right on him. It was just a freak play. Maybe some pressure makes the pass wobbly or even shorter of the receiver. But the coverage was there.
4. Watching the offense in the fourth quarter, you just wonder if this is a waste. Aaron Murray, Arthur Lynch, the receivers when he has them going, Todd Gurley whether he’s running or taking a screen When the offense is rolling it’s the best Georgia has ever had. But it’s not getting them anything but records. It’s not getting anybody a Heisman, it’s not getting Georgia an SEC or national title. Georgia fans will just have the memories, and the numbers.
5. If nothing else, this sets up what truly should be an Aaron Murray Appreciation Day on senior night. There should be no more doubt how important he’s been to this program, how gritty a performer he’s been. After the game, as Murray was talking with his family outside the visiting locker room, he was wearing a large white bandage across his forehead. It served another reminder of how under duress Murray has been for much of his career, and how amazing his career has been considering the offensive lines he’s played behind. Not to mention the points he’s been required to put up the past two years, which brings us to ...
6. So much for Georgia’s defense climbing back into respectable statistical air. After reaching fifth in the SEC in yards allowed, the Bulldogs plummeted to ninth, and are 53rd nationally. They’ve yielded 386.9 yards per game, which if the season ended now would be the worst for Georgia since 1994. (Last year’s season average of 357.8 was the third-worst, surpassed only by 1999.) Yes, the game has changed over the past few years. But bad stats are still bad stats.
7. Georgia has now allowed 30.2 points per game. That’s on pace for the worst in program history, far surpassing the 25.9 points per game in 2009, the final year of Willie Martinez’s tenure.
8. And the worst stat of all: Georgia now ranks 121st nationally – ahead of only Air Force and Eastern Michigan – in turnovers forced. The Bulldogs have forced nine turnovers in 10 games.
9. Meanwhile, Georgia’s offense climbed to 19th nationally, and fourth in the SEC, behind Texas A&M, Auburn and Missouri. The Bulldogs are 16th nationally in passing offense, and Murray is 15th nationally in pass efficiency, and second in the SEC, behind only Johnny Manziel. (A.J. McCarron is all the way down at 46th, and fourth in the SEC, but go ahead, let that Heisman campaign keep going.)
10. We can delve later more deeply into the bowl situation. But let’s just say that I continue to believe what I did two weeks ago when I left Jacksonville: There’s a good chance I’ll be back here. The Chick-fil-A and Music City also remain possibilities, with an outside chance at the Outback. But the BCS, Cotton and Capital One are off the table now.
Finally, a few more quotes from the postgame that didn’t make it in but I thought were worthy of passing along:
“Even though this may not be the record we intended to be, this team will always go down as a team that never gave up.” – Corey Moore, junior safety.
“Anytime we lose it’s pretty dang silent. You could look on anyone’s face and tell it was heartbreaking. Just like any other loss. This one maybe more so, because of that last play.” – John Theus, sophomore tackle.
“Just two young guys,” Moore said. “You have to put yourself in their shoes. Something happened. It’s a lot just to handle. The only thing I could tell those guys is I’m here. If there’s anything you need, I’m here.” – Moore.
“That was a tough one to swallow. But they made the play at the end of the game. We got down there and had another shot. I wish we had got it off in the end zone. But just an unbelievable effort by our guys. An unbelievable atmosphere. It was a tough one to swallow, but you’ve gotta give them guys credit, they made one more play than us.” – Mike Bobo, offensive coordinator.