ATHENS, Ga. -- It’s unclear how long the words have been written on the large set of doors exiting Georgia’s locker room at Sanford Stadium. “FINISH THE DRILL,” they read in large, stylized, all-caps lettering.
It’s a loud message, but maybe it has been lost on those who see it on a regular basis, like that painting in your living room you pass every day on your way to work. It blends into the surroundings. It barely registers.
Finish? For the past decade, Georgia has been a series of starts and stops. The drill under coach Mark Richt is as follows: Build expectations, crumble underneath them, rinse and repeat.
Georgia did it again Saturday against Alabama. Undefeated, ranked eighth in the country and swelling with confidence, they started something. They nearly broke into a brawl during pregame warmups, when they didn’t take kindly to Alabama’s players' dancing in front of their band. The teams jawed back and forth, but there was no physical altercation. When Alabama finally threw its first punch of the game, a 30-yard touchdown run up the gut by Derrick Henry, the Bulldogs lay on the field motionless, all but playing dead.
The Tide scored 35 unanswered points and won 38-10.
“They certainly whipped us pretty good, and we didn’t have many counterpunches for them,” the always affable Richt said after the game. “We just got outcoached and outplayed today.”
If Richt had been looking for fight from his team, he got none. Players exited the locker room Saturday night in a daze. Some wore 1,000-yard stares, some kept their eyes down on their cell phones, and some draped towels around their heads and hid from the world. Those who stayed and took questions from reporters had very little in the way of answers.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” linebacker Jake Ganus said.
“We got our butts kicked,” left tackle John Theus said.
Junior safety Quincy Mauger said he thought the Bulldogs played with so much energy that they lost focus.
“I feel like we kind of got distracted,” he said.
For his part, Richt said he had an idea of what caused Georgia to fail on such a big stage, but he wanted to watch the film to confirm first. “I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus,” he said.
But that beeping following Richt around Athens is the sound of the bus creeping up on him. It’s the sound of yet another disappointment, the sound of Georgia dropping to 14-21 against ranked opponents since 2008.
It’s been 10 years since Richt led Georgia to an SEC title. Around here, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
Playing and beating No. 18 Alabama at home was supposed to be the start of changing that. It was supposed to be the opportunity to show Georgia is the real deal. Instead, in the words of Richt, "We’re going to have to reevaluate everything."
A loss to Alabama doesn’t spell the end of Georgia’s season. In fact, the Bulldogs are probably still the favorites to win the East and reach Atlanta for the conference championship game. But the self-doubt accompanied by another frustrating loss is sure to follow them every step of the way.
“Just not good enough today. That’s the main thing,” Richt said. “It’s a long season. There’s a lot of games to be played. There’s a lot of things to be played for. We understand that.”
Picking up the pieces won’t be easy. As Richt pointed out, “Tennessee is not going to feel sorry for us" when Georgia plays the Vols on Saturday in Knoxville.
“We can’t keep our head down,” Mauger said. “We have to live and learn from the mistakes we’ve made. We have to come in Sunday and Monday and progress and come hungrier.”
But aggressiveness and emotion aren't the problem for Georgia. If anything, they play with too much emotion and fall flat at the first sign of resistance.
Instead, it's about time someone reads the writing on the wall and finishes the drill. Until they do, the rest is talk.