Loran Smith: Poor discipline has stolen away many great victories

Georgia defensive back Maurice Smith is consoled by strength coach Scott Sinclair following Saturday night's loss to Tennessee. BRANT SANDERLIN / AJC

ATHENS — Yellow flags lying motionless on the grass, stands filled with joyful anticipation and a reporter trying to figure if there were ever a late touchdown comparable to what Georgia had in its grasp last Saturday — all reflected the lamentable scene of counting chickens afore hatching.

You expect celebration from fans. It’s okay for the reporter getting his writing act together by trying to recall something similar. I was aghast, however.  With ten seconds remaining in today’s game requires that you button up victory before you celebrate.

A believer that Georgia could win the game was none other than Athletic Director Greg McGarity as the Bulldogs got the ball back for the last time.  “Let’s find a way to win,” he said, confirming that he was keeping the faith.

And then, lightning struck. The precocious quarterback hit the precocious wide receiver, and victory was in the red and black column.  Or should have been. Then the guys with dry armpits cost Georgia the game.  The guys assigned for bench duty — the non-combatants for the day — illegally joined those who sweated, toiled, gave of themselves in an old fashioned jaw-to-jaw effort that ranks with the best such performances ever between the hedges.

You know the rest of the story. Those deserving of  victory were denied because discipline was not fully honored. There has been a culture of ill-discipline plaguing Georgia for some time, and the new coach and his staff have tried ardently to bring about a new culture.

Several thoughts leapt into my cranial sphere. One wouldn’t go away. It had to do with Georgia winning a big game at Auburn in 1996 when Mike Bobo made a cardinal mistake.  With seconds left on the clock, he took a sack with no timeouts, which meant the game was over. An Auburn defender, however, grabbed the ball and went dashing down the field in showoff celebration.    The referee had to call time out to get the ball back and spot it, put a few seconds back on the expired clock, which enabled Bobo to then spike the ball, stop the clock with time for one play.

Having that one play opportunity, Bobo threw a 30-yard pass to Corey Allen just beyond the goal line, which enabled Georgia to tie Auburn in regulation.  What followed was that the Bulldogs defeated the Tigers 56-49 in the Southeastern Conference’s first overtime game.  The game should have been over when Bobo took the sack.

When Bobo, a fine coach and a MVP contributor to Georgia’s offense under Mark Richt, became a coordinator, he often took out that Auburn tape to show to his quarterbacks to underscore a fundamental point. In those times-of-the-essence circumstances with the clock, the quarterback simply cannot take a sack. The good news for Georgia was bonehead news for Auburn.   Showing off cost Auburn a game the Tigers should have won. Same with the Bulldogs on Saturday.

Also during this shooting-yourself-in-the-foot episode, there was the reminder that a lack of fundamentals played into the “dumbest” loss Georgia ever had when the Bulldog defensive backs in 2013 at Auburn could have folded their arms across their chest and Nick Marshall’s Hail Mary pass would have fallen incomplete. What happened? A foolishly tipped ball to an Auburn receiver, allowed the Tigers to snatch victory from defeat.   Somebody forgot to tell the DBs to slam dunk the ball on the Jordan-Hare turf.

Fundamental errors give coaches ongoing indigestion. Perhaps, two positives will come out of all this. One, firm discipline will become part of the Kirby Smart regime; and the other is that the alumni and fans saw promise on Saturday. They saw a team make the greatest effort to win a game that could have had significant implications down the road. They were cheering robustly and earnestly when the Bulldogs boarded the stadium buses to return to the Butts-Mehre Building.

Fans know when players give of themselves, which brings about the memory of the Kentucky game in late season, 1964. Vince Dooley’s first team, imbued with fundamentals and discipline, displayed with such character and fight that when Kentucky took the opening kickoff and drove for a touchdown, the defense was greeted by a standing ovation from the South stands.

Clairvoyant, I am not, but you could make a case that the new coach has something to build on if the team can maintain the resolve of the most recent fall outing. Fans love fighters and battlers.

The coaching message this week: Put it behind you, move forward. But never forget that ill discipline will cost you more games than opponent expertise.

Loran Smith is a writer, a UGA track letterman, a former executive secretary of the Georgia Bulldog Club and a longtime employee of the UGA Athletic Association who currently serves in the development office. His columns will appear weekly on DawgNation.

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Source: Dawg Nation

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