Aside from the obvious “Mark Richt conservative BAD” conclusion about Georgia’s first overtime possession, it’s the consistency that puzzles me. In perfect hindsight, you would have preferred the chip shot in the first quarter, but you understand why that decision was made – especially in light of the outcry after last season’s bowl game and the tone that was set by laying up early. This was the same coach that traded mid-range field goals for risky passes into the endzone in Jacksonville because that was what it was going to take to beat Florida. The same coach called a gutsy third-down pass to a true freshman that all but ended that Florida game – again, because that’s what it was going to take.
So why in a game with so little on the line, especially when contrasted with a game like Florida, would Richt have played it so close to the vest? He had a similar third down opportunity with just over two minutes remaining where a pass would have all but ended it. Even that decision to run can be defended – you put your top-notch defense in to defend an 85-yard field. But to cash in and not even try to gain yards in overtime? “I felt like my man would make the kick,” Richt explained. Is that what it was? No strategy – just a question of faith?
Was the field goal itself a bad idea? Short of the occasional deep pass, Georgia struggled to move the ball at all. The overtime playcalling will be criticized until September, but Georgia couldn’t run nor pass in overtime. They couldn’t even gain positive yardage in overtime when they were trying to score. This would be Walsh’s closest attempt of all three overtime kicks. I don’t have nearly as much of a problem with the notion of “playing for the field goal” as I do with the second down call.
On first down, Carlton Thomas gained two yards around the left edge. Not great, but forward progress to the 23. Move the pile twice more against a gassed defense (everyone is tired in overtime), and you’re on or inside the 20. You face a 37-yard FG which, while only five yards closer than the one that was attempted, is psychologically much different from one over 40 yards out. The kick didn’t miss by much, and I think that the same kick from five yards closer in would have snuck inside the right upright.
Instead, the call was to have Murray center the ball on second down. Worse than an empty play, it cost yardage. Georgia surrendered field position – and the opportunity to better its field position – in exchange for centering the ball on the field. (Kevin Butler made an interesting observation postgame that a placement between the hashmarks might not even be the ideal position for Walsh given his tendency to push his misses right. The original placement on the left hashmark might have been better.*) Georgia went from having a kick no worse than 40 yards out to intentionally lengthening the distance for a kicker who had struggled mightily beyond 40 yards this year.
I’ve also never liked the idea of kicking on third down. I know why you do it – Tech beat Georgia in such a situation in 1999 in the aftermath of the Jasper Sanks incident. But going back 12 years for an example of why you kick on 3rd down leaves me with the conclusion that this is one of the by-the-book decisions, like centering the ball, that’s done without much consideration for the situation or the personnel. The combination of Frix-Butler-Walsh has been consistent. Georgia gave up second down by trading yardage for an advantage that really wasn’t an advantage. They gave up third down to protect against a scenario that we haven’t seen in a decade. It wasn’t even so much the fear of a turnover – it was completely parking the bus, forgetting that this was 2011 Walsh rather than 2010, and going by the book for a generic field goal attempt as if you were Gene Chizik within a shadow of the goal line at the end of last season’s championship game.
* – I don’t expect Richt to have Walsh’s kicking tendencies at his fingertips for calls like this. It would be something you might expect someone like a special teams coach to know though.