First and dumb.
That’s the play Georgia chose to call Saturday night, trying to snatch victory from likely defeat. Trailing South Carolina, 38-35, with five and a half minutes left in the rainy contest, Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson found Georgia’s Damian Swann with a pass.
No small feat there. For seemingly the first time in the entire game, Swann was not only in the right place at the right time, he was also within hailing distance of the man he was purportedly covering.
If this wasn’t gift wrapping a comeback win, no such thing exists. Swann returned the gift to the Carolina 8-yard line, and a penalty set up Georgia with first and goal from the four.
Then first and goal became first and dumb.
On the field with Georgia’s offense was Todd Gurley. You know, the preseason All-America and Heisman Trophy candidate. Compared by Fran Tarkenton to Jim Brown during the pregame hype.
Gurley had already carried the ball 19 times for 128 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 54-yard touchdown scamper called back by a phantom holding call.
So, with four shots from the four yard line, you give the ball to Gurley, right?
In hindsight, yes. “If we had to do it again,” head coach Mark Richt lamented to the Athens Banner-Herald, “we would have hammered it.”
Instead, the call was first and dumb.
“We tried to run a little fake boot,” quarterback Hutson Mason told the ABH. “Felt really good about it. Obviously, everybody in the world knew we were probably going to give the ball to Todd, and we got two more downs to punch it in.”
In this episode of Logic Takes a Holiday, Georgia’s brain trust immediately reduced by a third the number of attempts Gurley would have to slam into the end zone with the ball. We assume that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo made the call, but he has remained unavailable for comment since the incident.
Georgia also took the ball out of the capable hands of its star playmaker, a third-year starter, and gave it to a new quarterback with but three starts under his belt.
What could possibly go wrong?
Even Richt seems resigned to the folly of the call. “It’s a play that looks good when you put it in,” he told the ABH. “But it really wasn’t good at that moment.”
The dazed and stunned Dawgs did run Gurley on second and goal from the 14, but sprung him for only three yards. The third-down pass was tipped.
In the perfect denouement, Marshall Morgan trotted in to miss a 28-yard, game-tying field goal attempt.
Georgia would never get the ball back.
Now, to be fair, that one play call did not cost Georgia the game. Plenty of other mishaps contributed.
After nailing an SEC-record 20 straight field goal attempts, Morgan missed two, near the end of each half.
Brandon Kublanow was the guilty culprit who negated Gurley’s long touchdown run. Richt told the ABH that he’d have the SEC office review the call. “We thought Kublanow was in the framework of the defender. We thought it was legal.”
And the defense, so stellar in the second half against Clemson, reverted to the Daze of Martinez, asserting no pass rush and allowing receivers to roam freely about the secondary. Carolina amassed 447 yards of offense.
But Georgia had a chance to overcome all those miscues when presented with that late first and goal opportunity.
Instead, they called first and dumb.
Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His column appears weekly.