It was looking pretty good as time ran down on the Outback Bowl. South Carolina had just defeated Nebraska in the 2012 Capital One Bowl, and Florida had slopped its way past Ohio State in the 2012 Gator Bowl. And Georgia had the lead against Michigan State, needing just to keep the Spartans out of the endzone with 1:55 left to give the SEC a perfect record against the Big Ten on New Year's Day for a second straight year.
Then it all fell apart. Kirk Cousins and Michigan State drove the ball 85 yards on 10 quick plays to tie the game at 27, and then managed to make one more field goal in three overtimes to defeat Georgia and send the Dawgs and their fans back to Athens with the same nagging questions.
It wasn't all the fault of the defense, which forced three interceptions against Kirk Cousins and held the quarterback to a 99.00 passer rating, 52 points below his season average and the third-lowest rating of his career. Cousins gained 300 yards, but you're almost bound to do that when you put the ball in the air 50 times. The defense also stuffed the Michigan State running game, which averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt.
And it's hard to entirely blame the offense. Aaron Murray might not have had the sharpest game of his career, but he had the clearly better game of the two quarterbacks by passer rating. Then again, the running game left something to be desired by only picking up 51 yards on 39 rushes.
But both of them took an ill-timed nosedive after the half, with the defense allowing scoring drives of 48 and 59 yards in addition to the 85-yarder to send the game to overtime. And Murray threw one of his two second-half interceptions to give Michigan State the other touchdown it needed for a 27-point outburst.
Everything that you want to criticize after that -- the conservative play and the blown field goals in overtime -- came from the fact that Georgia just couldn't close the door when it had to. If there's been a problem that's dogged Mark Richt's last few teams as they've gone through disappointing season after disappointing season, it's been that.
Sure, Georgia had a great season this year, one that will undoubtedly save Mark Richt's job at least for a time. But with another disappointing conclusion to a season in which most of the biggest games got away from them, you have to wonder just how much has actually changed.