Georgia must get much, much better at home. Great programs have to be dominant in their backyard, with the symbiotic relationship of a powerhouse team and raucous stadium forming an intimidating storm of virtual invincibility.
Winning at home is yet another byproduct of having outstanding teams. Kirby Smart and his staff are relentlessly recruiting the cream of the Peach State’s bountiful high school gridiron crop – and the best of the best from outside the borders – and aiming to develop the roster into a championship team in the very near future, and beyond.
To get to the college football mountaintop, Georgia must beat Tech, turn the series in Jacksonville, and to get to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and have a shot at one of those four coveted slots, the Bulldogs must be great between the hedges.
This 120th renewal of the deep south’s oldest rivalry, which Georgia now leads 56-55-8 on the strength of eight wins in the last ten meetings, is the first of three straight home dates to close out the 2016 (hopefully, with a bowl bid waiting) regular season. Auburn, rejuvenated, has been one of the best teams in the country since late September. While the Tigers have surged, Georgia has struggled to put everything together and find the win column often enough. The last two home games, the Hail Mary Heartbreak against Tennessee, and one-point crushing loss Vanderbilt, derailed any championship hopes held by the Bulldogs. Those two losses also added to Georgia’s Sanford Stadium struggles, a trend that Kirby’s Canines are hungry to reverse.
Hold your nose for this recent history briefing, for it is low lighted with a couple of those “once in a decade” type losses that have struck the Bulldogs far too frequently of late – another trend the Bulldogs are striving to reverse. There’s one way to do that, start winning such games.
Going back to the Tech debacle of 2014, the infamous squib kick, timeout, barely made field goal and overtime heartbreak, the red and black faithful have left Sanford Stadium in a moody assortment of sadness, shock, coronary-induced stress and bewilderment.
Since, the only game that Georgia fans would truly look back on with fond memories is the 52-20 good-bye kiss blown to all-time Bulldog killer Steve Spurrier and South Carolina a year ago. Alabama blasted Georgia two weeks later 38-10. In between, Georgia defeated Southern University, but tragically, the brave and uplifting Jaguar Devon Gales was paralyzed. His spirit, like that of former Bulldog baseball player Chance Veazey and Johnathan Taylor, who were also paralyzed in freak accidents, has been truly inspirational.
Following the 28-point loss to the Crimson Tide, Georgia lost a heartbreaker at Tennessee.
The Dogs did win at home the following week, edging Missouri 9-6, Georgia’s first victory without a touchdown since defeating Kentucky 12-3 between the hedges in 1995.
On the heels of a 27-3 loss in Jacksonville, the Dogs beat Kentucky by an identical score in Athens. Then came the 20-13 win at Auburn. Then came more Sanford Stadium struggles.
In one of the most significant pulse-pounding non-losses in Red and Black annals, the Bulldogs – thanks to a couple of helpful fourth down decisions by their in state brethren from Statesboro – escaped with a 23-17 overtime win over Georgia Southern. For the record, the Bulldogs beat Tech the following week on the flats.
This season’s showings at Sanford Stadium are far from what Smart envisions for this program hungrily striving for greatness.
Georgia avoided what would have been arguably the biggest upset in the history of college football, squeaking past 50-point underdog Nicholls State 26-24 to make it 2-0 this season.
A touchdown and 31-28 lead with ten seconds over Tennessee was not good enough. The celebration penalty, long return plus an offsides penalty, and then the 43-yard scoring heave ripped the Dogs hearts out, a feeling oh so similar to the Tech loss of 2014.
Us again, huh?
Special teams disasters, red zone malfunctions, a slew of penalties, perfectly executed screen pass and stellar game by Vanderbilt’s All-American linebacker Zac Cunningham combined to deliver the Dogs a 17-16 loss to the Commodores – Vandy’s third win in Athens since 1994 and second overall in the last four seasons.
Those walks back to the tailgate and hopes of ringing the Chapel Bell have been undone too often in excruciating fashion.
Everyone loves to win … every player, every coach, every fan loves to win. It’s that hatred for losing, the bitter singe, churn and searing of the stomach, that’s the “X-Factor” trait possessed by champions.
For the players winding down their Georgia careers, fighting to go out on a winning note in their final three games at Sanford Stadium, and more importantly, for those Bulldogs full of championship ambition for Saturdays and seasons future, the elation of victory and that sheer hatred of those bitter emotions from these heart-breaking losses must be the fuel of the pursuit.
An upset win over Auburn would be a big boost, then comes Louisiana-Lafayette and the biggest game of them all, Tech.
Georgia’s home schedule next season is Appalachian State, Samford, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina and Kentucky.
The window is open for Georgia to start a long run of success at home, that’s the Smart plan, and a must for the Bulldogs to reach the program’s lofty desired destination.