It’s no secret Georgia’s football team didn’t expect its season to end in New Orleans on New Year’s Day.
Even more so, that the Bulldogs would end their season with two consecutive losses — first to Alabama in the SEC Championship and then to Texas in the Sugar Bowl — and miss out on a College Football Playoff berth. It wasn’t the type of season the Bulldogs wanted, but still an 11-win campaign with victories over rivals Auburn, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech.
Which brings up the million-dollar question: Was Georgia’s 2018 season, while still a clear step backward from last year’s national championship run, still a success?
“I know these guys aren’t happy, nor am I, with the performance we had,” said Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart. “We didn’t come out and play the way we’re capable of. … We’ve just got to find a way to finish it and do it the right way, and we’ll do that moving forward.”
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There’s plenty to point to, to call the season a success.
The Bulldogs scored 40-plus points in each of their first four games, albeit against vastly-outmatched competition. In a 38-12 trouncing of Tennessee in Athens, the Bulldogs ran for over 250 yards while holding the Volunteers to just 66 yards.
Georgia Tech entered its November 24 road contest in Athens with the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation. It finished with 128 yards and quarterback TaQuon Marshall was bottled up all afternoon. The Bulldogs’ five consecutive wins to end the regular season were enough for many to ignore the team’s 36-16 embarrassment at the hands of LSU.
Then came the drop-off, and what the Bulldogs’ 2018 season will likely be remembered for.
Trailing 28-21 midway through the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship, Alabama coach Nick Saban’s hand was forced into an emergency substitution. The Bulldogs bottled up Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa all afternoon. The sophomore went down injured. Enter Jalen Hurts, the quarterback Saban benched in last season’s national championship.
Hurts led two clutch touchdown drives, scrambled for the game-winning score, and the Crimson Tide eliminated Georgia from playoff contention.
The defense, reliable until Hurts’ emergency entry, faltered. Still, Smart pled his team’s case late into the night.
“Well, it boils down to one thing. Do you want the best four teams in or not?” the coach said. “It’s that simple.”
It wasn’t. Then came the New Year’s Day disaster.
Second-year coach Tom Herman and Texas had everything to play for. The Bulldogs? Not so much. After spending the evening of December 29 trashing Notre Dame during its blowout loss to Clemson, the UGA pot met its kettle Tuesday night in the French Quarter.
28-21 the Longhorns prevailed, the final score not nearly indicative of just how dominant the team from Austin looked.
As for how the Bulldogs looked? Well, not great (and certainly not like they cared). It was, in essence, a glorified scrimmage for a team that faltered on its goal of a second-consecutive CFP appearance. For No. 15 Texas, though, it was its Super Bowl, and a chance to embarrass an SEC team that just a few nights before claimed itself as one of the top-four.
An ugly night to cap a once-promising campaign, for a team that arguably overachieved the season before.
“We’re definitely going to (put this season behind us),” Fromm said. “Myself, a couple other of these leaders, we’re going to step up, and we’re going to have a great off‑season, come back better than ever.
“And I’m fired up for it and can’t wait for it.”