The 2013 season was one that the Georgia Bulldogs and their fans certainly are willing to forget; instead of finishing what was started in 2012 and making another run for a national championship, the Dawgs took a step back due to certain circumstances (some foreseeable, others far from it) and ultimately finished the season with an 8-5 record, the third season in the last five years in which the Bulldogs posted eight wins or less.
Although the final win/loss column was disappointing for the Dawgs, 2013 was not a 100% failure. To better understand everything that happened to Georgia this season, it would be beneficial to break the situation down into three categories, which I have termed to be The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. To start this article on the positive side, let’s take a look at The Good, which features the success of one of Georgia’s most reliable players:
The Good: Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray finally notches some signature wins. Analysts were often very complementary of Murray coming into the season but were always quick to point out the fact that he struggled against Top 10 opponents, holding a dismal 1-5 record going into his senior season. Determined to silence the naysayers, Murray overcame a disappointing loss to #8 Clemson to open the season and led the Bulldogs to victories over #6 South Carolina, a game in which Murray threw for 309 yards and 4 touchdowns, and then #6 LSU three weeks later, a game that saw the senior from Plant High School win the game for the Bulldogs on a 25-yard TD pass to wide receiver Justin Scott-Welsey with 1:47 left in the fourth. Although the season would not end the way the senior wanted it to (see: The Bad), there is no questioning that Murray, who finished 2013 with 3,075 passing yards along with 25 TDs and just 9 INTs, etched his name in the Georgia record book and put himself amongst the greatest Bulldogs’ signal-callers ever.
The Bad: Injuries pile up at an incredible rate. It all started in the first quarter of the season-opener against Clemson when wide receiver/cornerback Malcolm Mitchell tore his ACL celebrating Todd Gurley’s monstrous 75-yard touchdown run. Mitchell’s loss would just be a drop in a bucket that would come close to overrunning as the season wore on, with the situation growing dire on October 5th against Tennessee. Neyland Stadium sure had its sights set on mangling Bulldogs’ players in this matchup, and when it was all said and done running back Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley were lost for the season while wide receiver Michael Bennett and punter Colin Barber were forced to miss a considerable amount of time due to ailments sustained in the Bulldogs’ 34-31 overtime victory over the Volunteers. Add in the fact that feature tailback Todd Gurley missed three games (two of them being losses) in the middle of the season due to a persistent ankle problem, and the result was some significant struggles on the offense. The problems on the field seemed to have settled down until Senior Night came around, which saw star quarterback Aaron Murray tear his ACL in the first half of what would prove to be a blowout win over Kentucky. Some Georgia fans remain bitter about the drop-off from last year’s 12-2 team, but considering how many players went down due to injury, it seems like eight wins was a blessing that a section of fans are failing to acknowledge.
The Ugly: Georgia’s defensive backs struggle time and time again. The Bulldogs were unable to stop the passing game more often than not in 2013, allowing 227 yards through the air per contest in 2013. Among the lowlights of Georgia’s pass defense in 2013 was the converted 3rd and 22 given up in the fourth quarter against LSU, the nightmare that was a 73-yard touchdown pass on 4th and 18, and the ridiculous 99-yard touchdown pass on 3rd and 14 by Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. Losing Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams, Alec Ogletree, Sanders Commings, and Branden Smith made it obvious that this young batch of safeties and corners would have some growing pains this year, but at times the unit–as well as the defense in general–looked completely lost, leaving many fans questioning the work of both secondary coach Scott Lakatos and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Blame whoever you wish for the defense’s debacle, but we all know that this secondary was incredibly sub-par and must be adjusted this offseason.
To sum up the 2013 season for the Georgia Bulldogs concisely, Georgia had its chances to do great things and accomplish many of the goals the team and its fans had set in front of them for so long, and although they were able to defeat South Carolina and Florida in the same season for the first time since 2004 and fared well against some pretty stiff SEC competition, a dangerous combination of injuries, poor play, and just all-around dumb luck provided an 8-5 season and the team’s third bowl loss in the last four years.
The question on the collective minds of Bulldog Nation now is whether or not 2014 will prove to be a better campaign for Mark Richt’s team or another step back. On the positive side, the Southeastern Conference is losing many of its most talented players, including Alabama’s AJ McCarron, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, and Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, leaving the Bulldogs in the middle of what could prove to be a wide-open SEC. However, the Bulldogs are losing their fair share of talented guys as well, including, but not limited to, quarterback Aaron Murray, tight end Arthur Lynch, defensive end Garrison Smith, and several offensive linemen. Recruiting new players and scouting the men already on the team will be as important this season as it ever has been, and my feeling is that if Hutson Mason is proven to be capable of replacing Murray behind center, the Bulldogs may repay its fans for a shoddy 2013 with a surprising 2014 campaign.