ATHENS, Ga. – Redemption? Eh, not really. You don’t get redemption beating Kentucky, not even if this is a decent Kentucky team. If you’re Georgia, you’re supposed win this game, especially at home. The Bulldogs’ 42-13 victory Saturday was a must win simply because they can’t afford another loss.
There was no margin of victory large enough to erase the sting and embarrassment of the previous week against Auburn. We’ve already seen the limited value of gaudy final scores against inferior opponents.
True redemption won’t come until the SEC Championship Game against either Auburn or Alabama.
And there’s still the matter of getting by Georgia Tech, which has beaten the Bulldogs twice in the past three seasons.
But just like the birthdays that keep coming after you want to stop counting, it beats the alternative.
And actually, all of that made this game rather dangerous, especially when the Bulldogs and the crowd in the early going seemed as though they just wanted to fast-forward two weeks.
“I felt like this was a game where it was going to show our attitude, our resiliency, and they did that,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “I’m just proud that they came out and they worked during the week. Didn’t pout. They know that everything they want is in front of them. The ultimate goal for us is to get better. Everybody’s talking about that game (Auburn). All we’re talking about is getting better. How do we find one way to get better.”
Even Smart, though, recognized that this final home game of the season was one to savor, at least for a few hours.
It was the final home game for the seniors, most notably Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, possibly the best running back tandem in college football. Whatever success the Bulldogs have this season is owed to Chubb and Michel.
They could have left for the NFL after their junior seasons but elected to stay. Granted, much of their motivation was to improve their draft stock. But they also didn’t want to leave after a five-loss season.
“They’ve got something now that they wouldn’t have if they’d have left,” Smart said. “Think about the taste in their mouth if they were sitting out there watching this team do this.”
Then again, Smart was quick to note this team probably wouldn’t be in the national championship hunt without Chubb and Michel, both because of their production and their leadership. They’ve not only bought in to Smart’s plan, but have been actively selling it to the younger players and to recruits. That had a lot to do with their decision to stay at Georgia.
“It’s so much,” Michel said. “The guys that I could have an impact on, to leave a legacy behind, to come back and build a foundation here. I felt like we had so much more to give to this program. Get closer to getting my degree. There’s just so many boxes that I could check.”
Chubb and Michel checked more boxes Saturday. They scored five of Georgia’s six touchdowns – two by Chubb, three by Michel. Chubb’s last run of the day was a 55-yard touchdown burst that gave him 151 yards for the game, 1,045 for the season and 4,469 for his career.
“That long run, I thought he kicked in another gear,” Smart said. “He certainly looks faster to me.”
It’s Chubb’s third 1,000-yard season, joining Herschel Walker as the only Bulldog to do so.
Michel finished with 87 yards, giving him 818 for the season and 3,229 for his career. He has at least three games to get 182 yards and lock up his second 1,000-yard season. Sure it matters.
“I would lie if I said it doesn’t,” Michel said. “It would be a pretty cool accomplishment to get 1,000 yards. As long as we keep winning, I won’t be upset.”
The seniors knew that this game would be special as their last at Sanford Stadium. So Michel convinced the exceedingly reserved Chubb to join him and other seniors after the game and celebrate in front of the student section.
“He tried to get me to dance, but, nah,” Chubb said. “Not happening.”
Maybe they’ll have something really special to dance about later. Now that would be redemption indeed.