JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nationally, it was a play that drew oohs and aahs from college football observers. For the Georgia football team, it was only the latest, and final, symbol of a dismal season for its secondary.
Third-and-long. Nebraska pinned inches from a safety. At minimum, a stop gives Georgia the ball back in great field position with a chance to take the lead.
Instead ... a 99-yard touchdown.
Yes, that was the one thing missing from this season for Georgia’s struggling secondary. A 99-yard touchdown.
“It’s not good,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “And the problem is you fight your tail off — I thought the guys played hard and practiced well. But when you give up an explosive play like that it damages a lot of things. And it’s 99 yards, it’s seven points, it’s momentum, it’s field position. You have to play a lot of plays really good to overcome that.”
The play happened midway through the third quarter, as Nebraska clung to a 17-12 lead. It was third-and-14 from the 1. Rather than just run the ball up the middle to give the punter some room, Nebraska decided to try to catch Georgia napping.
Receiver Quincy Enunwa ran open down the left sideline past Georgia freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins. The pass from quarterback Tommy Armstrong hit Enunwa in stride about 10 yards clear of Wiggins. Georgia safety Quincy Mauger — another freshman — converged on Enunwa, but Mauger’s attempt to make the tackle failed.
And Enunwa was gone, for what turned out to be the game-deciding touchdown in a 24-19 win.
“I’m not gonna blame it on anybody,” Wiggins said. “But the safety had half the field, and I had somebody else coming out. So it was just good plays and our fault.”
Wiggins was throwing his arm up in confusion even during the play.
“That’s been kind of what we’ve been trying to fix all season,” Wiggins said. “So I just can’t wait until next season so we can fix everything. We know what everybody is capable of, so we shouldn’t make as many mistakes as we made this season.”
When a media member mentioned the play being a missed assignment Grantham disagreed.
“It wasn’t a missed assignment. There should’ve been guys there,” Grantham said.
Georgia was in cover-2 defense on the play, and Grantham said there should have been two players on the receiver “based on route distribution.”
“Young guys will learn from it and get better,” Grantham said. “Shaq came back and made a pick. Quincy kept playing. So we’ll learn from it and continue to move forward. But it’s tough when those things happen.”
The defense did come back and play better as Grantham pointed out. The play was just yet another lesson in focusing on the little things and how that prevents big plays, he said.
“If you look at our season, there’s been a lot of plays that have come down to one possession,” Grantham said. “And when you’re in games like we are, and it’s a one-possession game, there are going to be plays that positively or negatively affect that game. And you never know when they come. And when a play like that comes, you dig a hole for yourself.”
Georgia’s third-down defense was 11th in the SEC this season, entering the bowl. It was actually a bit better Wednesday, stopping Nebraska nine times in 13 third-down tries.
But the 99-yard touchdown, well, it overshadowed the good.
“With us this year, it was just that one big play. If they didn’t score that touchdown, we’d be up the last drive,” Wiggins said. “It’s really just the small things with us. And like I said, next year Coach Grantham and the rest of the coaching staff is going to do a great job of coaching us up. And we’ll be all right.”