ATLANTA — I hear what they’re saying. Time will tell if I believe what they’re saying.
You could almost feel the collective groan every time that Kirby Smart and Georgia players were asked about 2nd-and-26 on Tuesday at SEC Media Days. Seven months after their devastating National Championship Game loss, they’re well-versed in answering questions.
If you could draw up a the perfect politically correct way to answer a question about that, you would just copy and paste what Georgia safety J.R. Reed said.
“It’s not discussed at all. We’re players. We’re not fans, so we don’t get hung up on things like that. We’ve gotta move on to the next play. We’ve gotta move on to the next game. There’s always something else,” Reed said. “You can’t get hung up on a play that was in the national championship. We can’t do anything about that. That’s in the past.”
Yes, it’s in the past. According to Reed and other Georgia players, it’s fans and media who make the bigger deal about the most devastating final play in national championship history.
Georgia receiver Terry Godwin provided politically correct answer No. 2.
“That ended right after the game ended,” Godwin said. “It was kinda sad in the locker room, but once we got on the bus and we got back to the facility, everybody who was returning switched that mindset to ‘OK, we’ve gotta prepare for next year.'”
Whether that’s true or not, nobody wants to talk about how crushing it was. The Dawgs don’t want to live in the past, and quite frankly, I can’t blame them for that.
But I can question whether they’ll be able to move on. That’ll be easier said than done.
Kirby Smart said throughout the offseason that he refuses to use that play as a motivator. That’s his way of moving on. We don’t know how many sleepless nights the former defensive back had about Tua Tagovailoa delivering the dime of the century over Georgia’s busted Cover 2.
Smart, like his players, believes that media and fans harp more on that than they do.
“We watched it and evaluated it as a staff afterwards obviously. I see it on replays on different ESPN highlights. I got to watch it this morning early the ‘Get Up’ with Mike Greenberg. I thought they might open with the SEC Championship, but of course not,” Smart joked. “But that’s part of it. We embrace it as coaches. I think it’s something that you guys think about a lot, but not really us. We’re on to the next year, we’re on to the next recruit, we’re on to the next strategy whether it’s tactical, mental or physical, we’re looking for the next edge to try and get the next edge for the next year.
“It’s something that we don’t have to rehash all the time, but I think our players will use that experience to grow, and I think that’s big for our program and understanding that if you do things a certain way, then you can get to certain places. You just have to be able to finish when you get there.”
Kirby Smart on the last-play loss to Alabama in the National Championship Game.
What it seems like Georgia is learning is that this is just what comes with the territory when you get on a national stage. In the same way that the Kick 6 dominated Alabama’s 2014 offseason — and maybe a little during the season — that final play was bigger than just another game. Whether they like it or not, it’s not something that fans and media will instantly move on from. It’s still the topic of conversation until the calendar officially flips to the 2018 season.
The reality is that moving on isn’t dismissing questions about the subject at SEC Media Days. The platform they had at the College Football Hall of Fame was to talk about goals for the upcoming season. Moving on from the national championship loss is a goal. It might not be something that can truly be achieved until Georgia takes the field in 2018.
Who knows? If Georgia stumbles out of the gate and falls at South Carolina in Week 2 — that’s quickly becoming the trendiest preseason upset pick in the SEC — they’ll face questions about a possible title game hangover. It’s a narrative that fans and college football pundits will wonder about even though a “hangover” might not necessarily be the culprit.
While Reed made sure to draw the line between Georgia and the outside world, Godwin offered up another response that I’m sure many Georgia fans can relate to.
“To be honest, I’ve avoided it since that game,” Godwin said. “Every time it comes on, I just change the channel or turn it off.”
In another interview, Smart said Tuesday that he doesn’t look at that play as a “horror story.” He made the point that they were on the road recruiting just 2 days later, but Georgia’s dream season had a nightmare ending that no amount of “it’s overblown” talk can change.
All Georgia could do Tuesday was talk. Talk about the improvements they made this offseason with a roster that ranks No. 95 in percentage of returning production. That’s all well and good. It’d be newsworthy if they didn’t talk about how much they moved on from 2017.
Tuesday was the Dawgs’ unofficial start to 2018. Maybe they really have moved on to 2018, and they’re just wired differently than other human beings.
We’ll find out soon enough.