JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Slightly slumped over a Georgia-themed podium inside one of the Jacksonville Jaguars' team meeting rooms, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt looked tired.
In a must-win game to stay alive in the SEC hunt and salvage what's left of a disappointing season, the Bulldogs floundered Saturday and are at their lowest point since that disaster of a 6-7 season in 2010. The 55-year-old Richt, wobbling through his 15th season with the Bulldogs, watched his team get shoved out of the SEC race with a 27-3 loss to archrival Florida. What is annually dubbed a Party on the St. Johns River resembled more of a funeral on Georgia's side with its head coach delivering a dejected eulogy.
“It’s a total situation where everybody has some ownership in it -- myself, as head coach, our coaches, and our players, too," said Richt, who fell to 5-10 against Florida as Georgia's coach. "We have to do a better job of executing what’s called. We got to do a better job of getting a hat on the right people, getting movement.”
That quote was in reference to the Bulldogs' inability to move the ball offensively, but it might as well serve for an answer to what's wrong with this team in general. Georgia (5-3 overall, 3-3 SEC) was out of the East race before the month of November, meaning it will be 11 years since Georgia’s last SEC title. The Bulldogs' 2015 collapse after being overwhelming favorites in the East involves a lack of execution in all areas of this team and coaching staff.
When it came to the games that really mattered on the national scene, Georgia caved. There was the embarrassing home loss to Alabama, the blown 21-point lead at Tennessee and Saturday's utter failure against the Gators. With an offense that was held to just 223 yards against Florida, Georgia has now failed to score a touchdown in two straight games.
The defense held its ground for most of the afternoon but gave up a prayer of a 66-yard touchdown pass that put the Dawgs in a daunting two-score hole. Florida rolled up 258 rushing yards, bringing its total to 676 in the last two blowout wins over Georgia.
With Georgia’s goals shelved for another season, the team, staff, administration and fan base are left asking what’s next for both this season and beyond.
“That’s when you’ve just got to decide how you’re going to prepare and how you’re going to perform when the main goal is gone,” Richt said. “How are you going to do now? You've got to keep battling. That’s life.
“There’s a lot of disappointing things that happen in football, a lot of disappointing things that happen in life. You can’t lose your composure, you can’t lose your integrity through the process -- or at least damage it.”
Unfortunately for Richt, disappointing doesn’t even begin to describe this 2015 meltdown. Nick Chubb’s injury aside, instability at quarterback has haunted Georgia in all three losses, while sloppy tackling and blown assignments became the norm for this defense during a stretch in which Georgia has been outscored 103-44.
Those aren’t the characteristics of an elite team, and now this program is firmly at a crossroads with Richt.
A tenure that has spanned 14-plus seasons with a 141-50 record and an average of 9.7 wins per season shouldn’t be taken lightly, but neither should the fact that these mind-numbing performances have come to be expected yearly, leaving Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity with some thinking to do.
This isn’t easy, either. To fire a coach who truly has been so successful over the last decade sounds ludicrous. But consider that Georgia failed to win the SEC or put a commanding hold on the East when both Florida and Tennessee were down.
Now, Florida could be working with its worst team under Jim McElwain, Tennessee will only be better next season and if South Carolina gets the right man, the Gamecocks could be tricky.
The talent is consistently there, as Georgia feasts off its fertile recruiting ground, but the development hasn’t been and it’s become painfully obvious in the continuous inexplicable losses this program has accumulated over the years.
Richt is one of the most beloved people in the SEC, but the underachieving on the field is his albatross. For as many top-tier prospects as Richt snags each year, there’s a bug in the system when it’s time to play.
Attitude reflects leadership, and right now, Georgia has hit bottom in both areas.