(NOTE: We'll have tons more coverage at Macon.com later this evening.)
It had already been a long season for embattled Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, but as the final seconds of the Bulldogs' 45-42 loss ticked off the clock, many fans were already wondering if it wasn't just Georgia's seniors who would be waiving goodbye to Sanford Stadium.
The Georgia message boards have been filled with fan criticism of Martinez since Georgia's loss to Alabama in September, but head coach Mark Richt said he wouldn't be taking the same tone when he evaluates his staff at season's end.
"My thought is that a lot of times when things don't go exactly the way you want it to, then people want to find somebody to blame," Richt said. "I'm not going to do that."
Georgia Tech racked up 428 total yards of offense, including 409 on the ground. Tech converted several key third downs in the second half, hodling the ball for nearly two-thirds of the final two quarters. Roddy Jones and Jonathan Dwyer combined 358 yards on the ground, and the Yellow Jackets had three plays of more than 50 yards.
Still, Martinez argued the game plan was sound it was the execution that was lacking.
"They really didn't do anything that we didn't expect," Martinez said. We knew what was coming but we just couldn't make the plays when we needed to."
Richt said that despite the recent defensive shortcomings, which included big performances by the offenses of LSU, Florida and Kentucky, Martinez's unit had also won several games for Georgia.
While Richt won't be making any rash decisions regarding Martinez's future with the Bulldogs, he said the next few weeks will be filled with reflection on where things went wrong.
"It is a time when you get to the end of your season where there will be reflection on what would I do or what could we do better," Richt said. "You do that game by game, but when you get close to the end you begin to reflect on the entire season and find a way to get better."
-- After the game, Tech's players ran to the northwest corner of the stadium to celebrate with their fans, many of whom were congregated along the wall just beyond the end zone. Tech's players ripped branches from Georgia's famed hedges as mementos of the win, leaving the bushes surrounding the field tattered after departing.
"I just saw people coming back with pieces of the hedges in their mouths, in their ears, and then I looked over to our side, and we had our whole team over there grabbing hedges where our fans were," Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett said.
As to whether he thought Tech's players should be punished for damaging the hedges, Burnett said it might be a costly fine.
"I hope not," Burnett said, "because everybody on our team broke that rule."
-- With Saturday's loss, Georgia's bowl future remains up in the air. While there's a good chance the Bulldogs will still head to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. despite falling to Tech, bowl officials weren't ready to make any commitments.
"As we all know, football season doesn't end until the last down is played, and that won't be until next week," Capital One Bowl official Billy Crozier said. "Look at last year, all the hypothetical that could have happened. There's more games to be played."
Should Georgia be the SEC team selected for the New Year's Day game, its opponent will likely be either Ohio State or Michigan State. Crozier said either matchup would be intriguing.
"Michigan State was at our Champs Sports Bowl last year and brought a ton of fans, so that would be a tremendous matchup against an SEC team, and so would Ohio State," Crozier said.
-- Richt might be making travel plans that extend well beyond Georgia's bowl destination.
After Georgia struggled on kickoffs yet again, Richt joked that he might have to scour Europe in hopes of finding a kicker with a strong enough leg to help Georgia win some field-position battles.
"We might have to go to Poland or something to find a guy who can kick it out of the end zone," Richt said. "We'll give him two scholarships."
Freshman kicker Blair Walsh booted two kickoffs out of bounds, and Tech began numerous drives with strong field position. It has been an ongoing battle for the Bulldogs, who have booted more kicks out of bounds than into the end zone this season.
"I'm very comfortable with Blair as our extra-point and field-goal kicker, it's just that kickoffs have not really landed where they ought to land on a consistent basis," Richt said.
-- After Georgia Tech scored a go-ahead touchdown following Richard Samuel's fumble on a kick return, Richt called his entire team to a huddle at midfield.
The players formed a semicircle around their head coach, who barked orders from side to side, sending the team back onto the field with a new mission.
"That they weren't going to give up after halftime, that we can't go out there complacent, that we can't lag around," wide receiver Kenneth Harris said of Richt's speech. "We had to have the same intensity we came out with. That's what he was telling us, and we knew that, but they came out and made plays."
The offense followed with four plays and a punt, giving the ball back to Tech, which quickly added to its lead with a field goal.
-- It has been a difficult season for senior tight end Tripp Chandler, who has battled injuries to his shoulder and knee as well as struggling in the passing game. He managed to get a bit of redemption against Tech, hauling in a one-yard touchdown pass on Georgia's opening drive just his fifth catch of the year and his first score.
"It was definitely a special moment for me, and I'm sure it was for my family, especially considering the type of season I've had," Chandler said. "But it really doesn't seem like much now considering the outcome."
-- For Georgia's seniors, their final moments in Sanford Stadium were frustrating ones. Georgia had beaten its in-state rival seven straight times, and for seniors such as Harris and Dannell Ellerbe to conclude their careers with a loss was a bitter pill to swallow.
"It's always tough to walk away at a low point," Ellerbe said, "but to play them, your in-state rival, it's a bad feeling."
Defensive tackle Corvey Irvin was playing his final home game for Georgia, but as a junior-college transfer, he had only beaten Tech once. After the game, Irvin was visibly shaken by the loss and struggled to contain his emotions.
"I'm just hurting," Irvin said. "I'm not used to feeling like this. All my chapters this is the end of my book. I've closed my book, and I wanted a happy ending for my story. I didn't want to go out like this, but you have to have thick skin about everything and get ready for whoever we got in the bowl game."
-- Safety Bryan Evans was on crutches with his right foot in a boot walking off the field. Richt said Evans' injury kept him on the sideline down the stretch, but wasn't sure of the severity.
"He sprained his foot," Richt said, "and just couldn't go anymore."
-- Mohamed Massaquoi tied a school record with three touchdowns in the game. It was the first time it had been done since Terrence Edwards vs. Kentucky in 2002.
-- Matthew Stafford set a career high with 407 yards and five touchdowns in the game.
-- Knowshon Moreno had a career best 74 yards receiving.
-- The 409 yards rushing Georgia allowed to Tech was the most since Vandy racked up 415 yards in 1994.
-- This was just the third non-conference loss for Georgia under head coach Mark Richt. The other two were both in bowl games against Boston College and West Virginia.
-- Notable quote from Corvey Irvin: "We lost our edge in the second half. We had that juice in the first half. We were all over the field having fun. I guess we lost our composure. I don't know if that's the correct word to use, but it sounds good. I guess we thought we had the game wrapped up in our pocket, and we really didn't. Tech came out and fought hard to the end, and we shot ourselves in the foot with bad plays and missed tackles. You can't give a team like that with guys that can go the distance mistakes. Every mistake we made they capitalized off of."
Saturday, November 29, 2008
(NOTE: We'll have tons more coverage at Macon.com later this evening.)