If you had told Georgia fans on Sunday that their looming game against Texas A&M would be decided by special teams, chances are that most of them wouldn't even have bothered turning on the television Monday. The third and usually forgotten part of the Dawgs' football team had been one of the most disappointing parts of a very disappointing 2009, so much so that the coach responsible for special teams was fired shortly after the regular season ended. The idea that Georgia's special teams would win the Independence Bowl would have been almost laughable to even the most ardent fan.
And yet, somehow it happened. That's the only thing that accounts for a game that anyone looking at the stat sheet would find almost inexplicable. Georgia was outgained by 105 yards, had nine fewer first downs and ran 23 fewer offensive plays than Texas A&M (excluding the Aggies "run" resulting from a botched snap on a would-be punt). A modest advantage in turnovers (2-1) wasn't enough to swing the game. But the special teams were.
After a Texas A&M touchdown in the second quarter -- the first score in a contest that was expected to be more of a track meet than a football game -- Brandon Boykin returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards to tie it. The Texas A&M punt on the following drive was blocked, setting up a Caleb King touchdown on the next play. Georgia had a 17-14 lead in the third quarter when the Aggies started handing the Dawgs special teams plays with the botched snap that ended with the ball on the A&M 24. When Georgia took a 24-14 lead thanks to the nice field position, the game was essentially over. Two consecutive Aggie drives ending in interceptions -- one turned into a touchdown by the Georgia offense -- all but officially ended it.
It would be tempting to say that the win got the Mark Richt Era back on track, in part because we're so used to Richt winning that a game like this makes us forget just difficult the preceding season was. And there's certainly no reason to rain on Georgia fans' parade right now; their team won a resounding victory over a pretty good team when most of the upper echelon SEC East competitors would be so disappointed about even being in Shreveport it's doubtful they would have tried, much less won.
But it's hard to pronounced the Georgia defense "fixed" when it allowed 471 yards, even if the total is a little bit deceptive because of the number of plays that were run and the number of pass attempts (58) by Jerrod Johnson as the Aggies tried to catch up. The task of truly improving that will fall to whomever takes the now-vacant defensive coordinator position in Athens. As nice a win as this was for Mark Richt, the future of his tenure at Georgia will be decided more by how well he does in that search than by how good his team looked in Shreveport.