Posted: 12:45 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013
By Brandon Larrabee
You could lose sight of a few things if you just focus on the points and the outcome in this game. So let's make this clear from the outset: Georgia is a very good team that lost a razor-thin game at home because of some unfortunate mistakes and a spineless coaching decision in crunch time. If South Carolina or anyone else takes the Bulldogs lightly after the Saturday evening loss to Clemson in Death Valley, they deserve what they have coming.
A few of those things that we said you could lose sight of: Georgia had one more first down than Clemson, 22-21. The Dawgs outgained the Tigers, 545-467. They had more passing and running yards than Clemson. For all of the BiG GamE AARoN!11!1!11 stories that are likely to be written over the next day or two, Aaron Murray actually did pretty well, going 20-of-29 for 323 yards and an interception. He had a rushing touchdown, one of five on the day for Georgia, so don't hold the lack of scoring strikes against him.
The loss in this game really came down to two mistakes for Georgia. The first was a botched snap on a field goal in the third quarter with Georgia trailing, 31-28. As you can likely infer from the final score, that ended up being a critical difference in the game, although playing those kinds of "what-ifs" is always tricky when it comes to football.
The second came late in the fourth quarter, with about six minutes left in the game and Georgia down 38-28. The Dawgs had not had an easy time stopping Clemson practically all night. Instead of taking the chance on an admittedly difficult 4th-and-15 on its own 43, Georgia punted. Clemson then burned more than three minutes off the clock, kicked the ball back to Georgia with 2:25 left, and was able to weather the quick Georgia touchdown when it recovered the on-sides kick.
Now, there's probably not a great deal of difference between the probability of making a 4th-and-15 and the probability of recovering an on-sides kick in your average game. But here's the difference in this game: Georgia had already gained more than 400 yards of total offense when they punted, had (again) struggled to contain Clemson on defense for most of the night, and would have had six minutes to score twice instead of two and a half. These are not trivial differences.
And with all that going against them, the Dawgs still came up just three points short of a win on the road in one of the most intimidating stadiums in the ACC. The scoreboard counts more than all of that -- Georgia knows that better than any program after the loss in the Georgia Dome at the end of last season -- but just how close the game was still sends a clear message that the Bulldogs aren't going anywhere just yet.
Indeed, the whole narrative will change if Georgia defeats South Carolina in Athens next week. The Dawgs will still be in the driver's seat when it comes to the race for the SEC East, Aaron Murray will have another "big game" win, and the resume for a potential national championship run will still pretty much be intact. And Georgia is still good enough to do all that.
Of course, if Georgia loses to South Carolina next week, with games against LSU and Florida still on the docket, the wheels could be dangerously close to coming off. But they're not quite there just yet.