Not Just Half the Problem

ATHENS – One minute, Georgia was down 11 in a game it could easily have been winning. A few plays later, it was a blowout – a game Florida would eventually win 49-10.

The final stats wouldn't tell the full story. By virtually every measure, Georgia's statistics matched Florida's except on the scoreboard. What the stat sheet didn't measure was the bad breaks, the missed opportunities and momentum-killing mistakes, and in a second half in which the Gators outscored the Bulldogs 35-7, virtually nothing went Georgia's way.

"Things just began to get away from us," head coach Mark Richt said. "When you make mistakes as we did against a team that's as good as they are, you just saw the results."

Mistakes against good teams lead to losses, but in the past few years, many of Georgia's defeats have been of the blowout variety, and the common thread has been one ugly half of football.

The final 30 minutes against Florida spiraled out of control quickly for the Bulldogs, beginning with a Matthew Stafford interception that the Gators returned to the Georgia 1-yard line. One play later, Tim Tebow plowed into the end zone to put Florida up 21-3. The Bulldogs were unable to stop the bleeding after that, and the Gators never looked back.

The helpless feeling in that half was eerily reminiscent of the demoralizing first half Georgia played against Alabama a month earlier. In that game, the Crimson Tide jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead, and while Georgia was able to fight back in the second half, the deficit proved too much to overcome.

"There were similar things in each game," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "We were fighting hard as a defense, but it seemed like when we'd catch a break, something would happen, whether it was a penalty or a play that they made to keep the drive going, barely. Both games we fought hard, but things continued to go wrong."

It has been a common theme for Georgia over the past few seasons.

Last year, a potential bid to the BCS title game was thwarted by a loss to Tennessee in a game in which Georgia fell behind 28-0.

In 2006, Georgia jumped out to a big lead over the Volunteers in the first half, but the wheels came off after halftime. Tennessee outscored the Bulldogs 37-9 in the final 30 minutes of that game.

Georgia ended the 2006 season with a big win over Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but that only came after the Bulldogs started the game in a 21-3 hole. West Virginia opened the 2005 Sugar Bowl in similar fashion, jumping out to a 28-0 lead over the Bulldogs in the first 20 minutes of action. Georgia lost that game 38-35.

Senior linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has been a part of the action in each of those games and said it's hard to determine a single cause for the poor showings.

"I really can't put my finger on one thing," Ellerbe said. "All I can say is it has to be a lack of focus or a lack of just getting after it. It just felt like things weren't going our way."

The lack of focus was clearly a factor against Alabama.

Earlier that week, Southern California lost, leaving Georgia primed to take over the top spot in the polls. The Bulldogs were to don their black jerseys in front of a raucous crowd in a nationally televised night game on ESPN. The network's popular "GameDay" show broadcast live from Athens that morning.

"I think guys just got too caught up in the whole blackout thing, being able to come in (to the athletics building) and watch TV, just watch them talk about Georgia on TV, and guys got caught up in it," cornerback Prince Miller said.

Against Florida, the opposite was true. After Georgia failed to score touchdowns in any of its three first-half red-zone appearances, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said the energy evaporated from the team, and it carried over into the disastrous second half.

"We were down 14-3, and we were in the locker room like we were down 28-0," Irvin said. "I was in the locker room trying to get the guys going, and we just didn't come out with that fire like we play real Georgia ball. I don't know what was wrong with us. I don't know if we were shocked or what."

Adversity isn't a rare thing in college football, Ellerbe said, but not every player reacts well to it. He said Georgia's failure to respond to a slew of mishaps during the litany of bad halves can be traced back to personality.

"It depends on what type of player you are," Ellerbe said. "I'm the type of player that when adversity hits, I want to be the one to make the big play to get everybody back on the same level, but it depends on what type of player you are. They've got to be self driven."

Against Florida, Darryl Gamble said the emotion was clearly gone from some players in the second half.

Four turnovers in the half by the offense put the defense on its heels throughout, and by the end, Gamble said, there were too many players who weren't ready to keep up the fight.

"By the fourth quarter, that's when you mostly saw that going on," Gamble said. "I just hope that it doesn't happen again. I didn't really see it in the Alabama game, it was mostly against Florida. That stuff started just going bad, and guys started hanging their heads a little bit."

As quickly as the game got away from Georgia, putting a stop to the Florida onslaught may have been too much to ask.

It may be hard to quantify, Gamble said, but when the momentum isn't going your way, it can seem like the opposition has two dozen players on the field.

"It's frustrating actually seeing it go on, but you're limited in what you can do," he said. "You try to get the guys riled up, but I think after you lose so much momentum, it's very hard to try to get it back."

Tight end Tripp Chandler said the bad first half against Alabama and second half against Florida aren't popular conversation topics for the team. It's history as far as he is concerned, and he said the Bulldogs don't want to let it overwhelm them.

"It's not something we talk about, but I think if you look around the nation, lots of teams have halves like that," Chandler said. "People want to say it defines their season, but at the end of the day, we didn't come out and execute against Florida, and we didn't execute for the first half against Alabama. We've had a couple bad halves, but that's not going to define our season."

As the Bulldogs have seen, however, history has a way of repeating itself. And in the end, it could be those exasperating 60 minutes of football that were the difference between Georgia's loftiest goals and a hallow consolation prize.


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