NEW ORLEANS‑ After suffering through a first quarter as disastrous as maybe any in Georgia’s recent football history, things didn’t get any better for the 5th-ranked Bulldogs as they were manhandled 28-21 by the 15th-ranked Texas Longhorns here Tuesday night in the 2019 Sugar Bowl … in a game not nearly as close as that final score might indicate.
After playing so well in the SEC Championship Game, when the Bulldogs took top-ranked Alabama to the wire before falling by 35-28, the same Georgia team didn’t show up in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a contest that Georgia entered as a double-digit favorite.
The bitter setback means that Kirby Smart’s team ends the 2018 season with two consecutive losses and a final 11-3 record, two of those setbacks coming in the state of Louisiana.
Everything that could go wrong went wrong in a first period that saw freshman punter Jake Camarda’s knee touch the ground after fielding a low snap. That gave the Longhorns the ball at the Georgia 27-yard line and led to a 37-yard field goal by Cameron Dicker. But wait, Texas already led 7-0 after taking the opening kickoff and shoving the ball right down the Bulldogs’ throats, the 75-yard drive being capped by quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s 2-yard run.
Thus, following the Dicker field goal, Georgia was in a quick 10-0 hole. But, there was more. Camarda had an 11-yard punt go off the side of his foot but fortunately, after taking over at midfield, the Horns couldn’t take advantage of the second breakdown by the Bulldogs’ special teams.
But shortly thereafter, there was more misery for Georgia. D’Andre Swift, of all people, committed the first of his two fumbles and the Longhorns pounced on the miscue at the Bulldog 12-yard line. On the first play of the second quarter Ehlinger went nine yards for his second touchdown and with 14:53 until halftime, the Bulldogs were on the bottom of a stunning 17-0 deficit.
Georgia did finally snap back to pull within 17-7 when Jake Fromm zipped a 17-yard touchdown strike to tailback Brian Herrien, with 9:03 remaining in the second quarter but another Dicker field goal, this one from 30 yards out, pushed Texas into a 20-7 halftime advantage.
With the Bulldogs receiving the second half kickoff, Georgia fans were hoping their team would mount a third quarter comeback. Alas, that was not to be as the Longhorn defense again prevented the Bulldogs from gaining any sort of offensive consistency. And following a scoreless third quarter, Texas all but put the dagger in Georgia’s side at the outset of the final quarter on another 1-yard scoring run by Ehlinger plus a 2-point PAT pass from the Longhorn quarterback to Collin Johnson.
That blinked the scoreboard to 28-7 and although the Bulldogs would cash two late face-saving touchdowns via a 3-yard Fromm-to-Mecole Hardman pass and then a 5-yard scoring pass from Fromm to Swift (with just 14 seconds left), it was a case of too little, too late …Georgia’s desperate onside kick being covered up by the Longhorns to cap the upset win.
How frustrating was this night for the Bulldogs? Well, Georgia’s SEC-leading rushing attack was shut down to the tune of 72 net yards on the ground. That total coming despite a 62-yard night by junior tailback Elijah Holyfield, an effort that enabled Holyfield to join teammate Swift in the 1,000-yards rushing club this season. Fromm, after being checked to just 89 yards through the air in the first half, reeled off a number of completions in Georgia’s hurry-up fourth quarter offense and ended the night with 21 completions in 35 attempts for 224 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. Junior Riley Ridley paced the receiving corps with five grabs for 61 yards.
With Texas, which finished 10-4, controlling the ball 35 minutes to the Bulldogs’ 25, the Georgia defense was forced to stay on the field way too much but, still, time after time the Bulldogs allowed Ehlinger and the Longhorn backs to pull away from first hits and keep the sticks moving at times when Georgia desperately needed stops. Safety Richard LeCounte, sophomore tackle Devonte Wyatt and junior safety J.R. Reed all contributed six tackles each to front the defense’s effort with Wyatt notching 1.5 sacks and Malik Herring being credited with a half-sack.
Bottom line, under Smart’s tutelage the past two seasons, these Bulldogs have celebrated some glorious victories and placed themselves among the nation’s elite. But, no question, their Sugar Bowl appearance against an underdog Texas team that simply seemed like it wanted this game more than Georgia, was a step back for the Bulldog program, which must now regroup and prepare for a 2019 season that will likely see Georgia again draw a top five preseason ranking.