Athens, Georgia, November 10, 2001
The intended result of Richt's call . . . and now the reality:
G 1-G A01 Jasper Sanks rush for no gain to the AU01 (Spencer Johnson).
G 2-G A01 End of 2nd half, clock 00:00.
------------ 5 plays, 44 yards, TOP 01:10 ------------
AUBURN 24, GEORGIA 17
For obvious reasons, most of the plays on this list were positive for Georgia. For reasons that should be just as obvious, this one wasn't, but it had just as important an effect on the program and, in particular, its coach as many of the others did.
The situation: Georgia had taken a 14-7 halftime lead over Auburn, only to see it devolve into a 24-17 deficit in the waning minutes of the game. We had plenty of chances, too -- our first drive of the second half ended with an interception in Auburn territory; the next drive ended with a blocked field goal; with two and a half minutes left we got down to the Auburn 9 but couldn't punch it in. Fortunately we held Auburn to a three-and-out on their next drive, so with 70 seconds left and no time-outs, we started from the Auburn 45 for what would hopefully be the tying score.
It was a pretty sweet drive, actually. David Greene scrambled for three yards, then threw a perfect out pattern to Terrence Edwards, who got out of bounds to stop the clock; on the ensuing third-and-1, Jasper Sanks busted off a 13-yard rush. On the next play, Greene pitched a long one to Edwards, who looked like he just might make it, but he was brought down by Donnay Young just short of the goal line.
If memory serves, there were 13 seconds left when first-year head coach Richt made the fateful call: Send Sanks -- who had four rushes for 24 yards up to that point -- up the middle one more time. Whether it was overconfidence in Sanks's ability to punch it in or ignorance of the clock rules that initially inspired this decision, nobody knows, but either way, the light did eventually go on over Richt's head, as he was frantically waving at Greene to spike the ball even as it was being snapped. But Greene took the ball, the handoff to Sanks was made, and Sanks plowed into the line only to get stacked up for no gain. The Dawgs tried frantically to line up for one more shot, but it was too late -- the clock ticked to 00:00 and the Tigers had escaped with a win. I happened to be watching this drama from the very end zone Sanks was trying to barrel into, and . . . to what can I compare that particular sensation? It was like making out with a Victoria's Secret catalogue model, and right as you've both gotten your clothes off, she says, "You know, I've changed my mind" and leaves.
It was easily the most boneheaded coaching decision made by Richt up to that point, and probably still the dumbest thing he's done in his entire tenure at Georgia. But he wasted no time in acknowledging and taking responsibility for the blunder, and if Georgia's ensuing seasons are any indication, he learned from it. Learning experiences like that are important for a rookie head coach, and while it was certainly embarrassing to get punked at the goal line on national TV like that, if that's what it took to mature Richt into a coach who would go on to win 44 games and two SEC titles in his next four years, then it was worth it.
As for Tommy Tuberville, who condescendingly suggested the day after the game that Richt had to learn that "One of the things you've got to do is run the football to be successful in this league," he proceeded to drop his next two games against the Dawgs (and four of the next six), including a 2003 matchup in which he had Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams in his backfield in which he only gave them 13 carries combined and ended up losing 26-7. Apparently, Richt actually learned more from the 2001 game than Tubbs did.