A great deal of a football team’s success–at any level–is plain dumb luck. A lucky bounce on a lost fumble. A field goal that caroms off an upright and in. A star player that manages to stay healthy for an entire season. Oftentimes, it is these singular moments that determine the fate of a team’s season. For whatever reason, luck never seemed to be on the side of this year’s Georgia football team.
It was a season that ended the same way it began: with the pop of an ACL. From Malcolm Mitchell’s celebration-induced tear to Aaron Murray’s season-ending knee injury against Kentucky, injuries physically and metaphorically maimed these Bulldogs. Anyone would begin to sound like a broken record when listing off the rash of injuries that depleted a squad with legitimate national title aspirations, so I’ll save you the trouble. The end result was that Mike Bobo was forced to completely retool an offense built on an elite passing game and a powerful running game. Todd Grantham’s patchwork defense simply couldn’t hold when the levees broke.
The debilitating effects of these injuries were never more apparent than in the Bulldogs’ loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl a few days ago. Hutson Mason struggled to throw the ball downfield with accuracy and, at times, lacked poise in the pocket. The defense allowed a 99-yard pass play to a Nebraska offense that had struggled to muster 100 total passing yards in a game at times this season. And once in the red zone, the Bulldogs could no longer turn to their workhorse, Todd Gurley. Hobbled by a recurring ankle injury all year long, his valiant struggle to give his team a bit of solace against the Cornhuskers was reflective of a team whose physical limitations ultimately overcame their resilient spirit.
I read a recent article that said it was necessary for an NFL team to lose a playoff game to have a shot at making a Super Bowl run in the years to follow. The moral of the story is an old one: that one must struggle before he can truly triumph; that happiness is well earned on the heels of suffering. This is perhaps the only way to look at Georgia’s 2013 campaign in a positive light.
There will be no shortage of players returning for the 2014 season, driven by their desire to overcome injuries or forget the season that wasn’t this past year. Mark Richt will almost assuredly remain on the sidelines, calm in the face of a seemingly insurmountable deficit or a widening lead. And as always, new memories will be forged between the hedges. Built on the struggles of the past–of knees popping and hearts breaking and tipped passes inexplicably falling into the arms of the opposing team–the 2014 version of the Georgia Bulldogs can only improve. Battle tested and resurgent, they will prove that this seasons of almosts wasn’t for nothing. For as Buster Olney always says, “tomorrow will be better than today”. For Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs, let’s hope that’s true.
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