This isn’t intended as a compilation of worst-looking Georgia losses. (Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl tops that one.) Nor is it meant to be comprehensive dating to the days of Stegeman and Mehre. (It’s hard to quantify what I didn’t actually see.) Nor is it intended to chart the most-meaningful-in-the-grand-scheme losses. (Quincy Carter throwing five interceptions at South Carolina and essentially getting Jim Donnan fired looms large.)
No, this rating is aimed at the visceral. With the learned help of Jeff Dantzler, the Athens radio man who should hold a doctorate in Bulldog history, I’ve attempted to rank the most gut-wrenching Georgia losses since Herschel Walker enrolled in 1980. But fair warning: To read on is to suffer repeated kicks to the stomach with a hobnailed boot.
10 (tie). Florida 2002 and Florida 2003: Can’t separate these Jacksonville jaw-droppers. In 2002, unbeaten Georgia lost 17-10 as backup quarterback D.J. Shockley had an interception returned for a touchdown and Terrence Edwards dropped what might have been the tying touchdown with 2 ½ minutes remaining. In 2003, the once-beaten Bulldogs tied the game at 13 with 3:39 left but saw freshman Chris Leak take Florida to the winning field goal at 0:33. Adding incongruity to indignity, Ron Zook was the winning coach both times.
9. LSU 2003: In a frothing Tiger Stadium, Georgia tied the game with 4:25 to play on one of Mark Richt’s most inspired calls – a screen from David Greene to Tyson Browning that became a careening 93-yard touchdown. Devery Henderson returned the kickoff 48 yards – Georgia coaches swear two LSU blockers actually tackled Bulldogs – and Matt Mauck found an open Skyler Green for the winning 34-yard touchdown with 1:22 remaining. LSU would beat Georgia again for the SEC championship and win the BCS title.
8. LSU 2009: An 11-yard pass from Joe Cox to a soaring A.J. Green gave Georgia a 13-12 lead over No. 4 LSU with 1:09 left. But Green was flagged for an excessive celebration. (The SEC said Green “made a gesture to the crowd calling attention to himself.”) The Bulldogs kicked off from the 15. Trindon Holliday returned it 40 yards to the Georgia 43. A five-yard penalty for illegal formation – on the kickoff, no less – cost five more yards. On second down, tailback Charles Scott broke three tackles and roared 33 yards to the winning touchdown. The Bulldogs’ lead stood for 23 seconds.
7. Alabama 1994: Eric Zeier’s greatest game unraveled on an epic night in Tuscaloosa. Zeier passed for 263 yards and four touchdowns against one of the nation’s best defenses. The Bulldogs led 21-7 in the second quarter and 28-19 with 11 minutes remaining, but safety Will Muschamp allowed Toderick Malone to break free for the touchdown that drew Bama within 28-26. Tight end James Warner dropped a third-down pass that would have clinched the game. Jay Barker, who threw for a career-best 396 yards, steered Alabama to the winning field goal with 1:12 remaining.
6. Auburn 2005: Devin Aromashodu’s 62-yard catch-and-fumble of Brandon Cox’s fourth-and-10 pass stood as the craziest play in the history of the Deep South’s oldest rivalry until Saturday. After Georgia took a 30-28 lead with 3:25 left, Aromashodu shook unaccountably free against Willie Martinez’s defense and fled goalward. Paul Oliver punched the ball loose. Auburn’s Courtney Taylor recovered in the end zone. Officials signaled a touchdown, but a fourth-down fumble cannot be advanced. Auburn was given the ball at the Georgia 3 and kicked the winning field goal at 0:06.
5. Pitt 1981 (Sugar Bowl): Georgia lost three games in Herschel’s three seasons, and this was even more wrenching than losing in the next season’s Sugar Bowl with the national title on the line. (Penn State simply outplayed the Bulldogs.) The Panthers trailed 20-17 with 42 seconds remaining and faced fourth-and-5 at the Georgia 33. Dan Marino talked coach Jackie Sherrill out of trying a trying field goal. Defensive coordinator Bill Lewis called a maximum blitz. Marino threw long for tight end John Brown, who caught the winning touchdown with 35 seconds to play.
4. Alabama 1985: Terrie Webster blocked a punt that Calvin Ruff recovered in the end zone to give Georgia a 16-13 lead with 50 seconds remaining on Labor Day night. The Bulldogs had trailed 13-3 inside the final five minutes, but Wayne Johnson found Jimmy Hockaday for a touchdown to draw close. With no timeouts left, Bama quarterback Mike Shula completed four consecutive passes – “Georgia is giving a little too much cushion,” Frank Broyles said on the ABC telecast – and Al Bell caught the winning touchdown with 11 seconds remaining.
3. Georgia Tech 1999: The Bulldogs trailed 41-24 late in the third quarter but took a 48-41 lead with five minutes remaining. Tech tied it. Georgia drove to the Tech 2 inside the final 10 seconds, but Jasper Sanks was adjudged – by SEC officials – to have fumbled. Replays showed he’d been down, but replay then had no say. The aforementioned Carter threw an interception on the first series of overtime. On Tech’s possession, Kendrell Bell blocked Luke Manget’s field-goal attempt. Holder George Godsey recovered. Since the Jackets had kicked on third down, they were free to try again. Tech won 51-48.
2. Alabama 2012 (SEC championship): AJ McCarron’s 45-yard pass to Amari Cooper put the Tide ahead with 3:25 remaining, and a Dee Milliner interception of an Aaron Murray pass appeared to seal it. Replay reversal granted Georgia a reprieve. Three completions took the Bulldogs to the Bama 8 with 15 seconds remaining, whereupon C.J. Mosley tipped Murray’s pass into the hands of Chris Conley, who fell at the 5. Time expired. Alabama would play (and beat) Notre Dame for the BCS title.
1. Auburn 2013: Having surged from 20 points down inside the final 10 minutes, the Bulldogs had only to halt a fourth-and-18 fling with 36 seconds remaining. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews ran together and the ball fell into the hands of a disbelieving Ricardo Louis. Georgia lost a game that it had, according to ESPN Stats & Information, a 92.7 percent chance of winning when Nick Marshall let fly. (What were the odds the Bulldogs would have scored at the end in the Dome against the Tide defense? A coin flip?) In the recent history of Georgia football, never has victory been ripped so rudely from the Bulldogs’ collective jaw.