Georgia had some heartbreaking losses in 2016, but what happened last year against Tennessee still resonates in a very unsettling way.
The Bulldogs appeared to have won the game on Jacob Eason’s 47-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ridley with 10 seconds to go.
That’s when the unthinkable happened.
On the touchdown, former Bulldog Rico McGraw was charged with an unsportsmanlike penalty for running onto the field, forcing Georgia to kick off from its 20-yard line.
After a 20-yard return by Evan Berry, a five-yard offsides penalty on the Bulldogs placed the football at the Georgia 43-yard line. From there, former Vol quarterback Josh Dobbs completed his Hail Mary to Jauan Jennings to pull off the shocker.
Final score – Tennessee 34, Georgia 31.
“It plays back in my head every day, just because it’s Tennessee and I don’t like losing to them,” Bulldog center Lamont Gaillard said Monday. “It’s something we have to deal with and move forward from.”
However, head coach Kirby Smart doesn’t see the play as being extra motivation for Saturday’s game in Knoxville against the Volunteers (3:30 p.m., CBS).
He doesn’t feel there’s a need to bring it up.
“You have to be careful psychologically with that. Our guys, we talk about it every Thursday we go over that play, and every Thursday before that play we always have -- that's what you do on Thursday, every college in America works on Hail Mary and that play,” Smart said. “So, you try to execute it best you can. But more important than that was the discipline to stay on the sideline and keep your helmet on and execute prior to that so that it doesn't come down to that. But certainly, that play is a factor. However, there were a lot of plays in that game that were a factor. We don't use that as motivation. Our motivation is about us and trying to get better.”
Running back Sony Michel seemed to agree.
“It was a loss and you never want to take an L, but that was last year. You don’t want to look in the past and look to the future,” Michel said. “We’re focusing on this year and this year’s team. They’ve got a different team than last year, different personnel, different players, different personnel group so you’ve just got to go off that and play from there.”
However, not every Bulldog spoken to on Monday felt the same. Count defensive back Aaron Davis as one who is tired of being reminded about the play.
“Anytime you watch SEC Network they like to put it up there. That was a highlight from last year but we’ve moved past that,” Davis said. “The Hail Mary was last year, we’re on a new team, a new mission and we’re just getting ready to play.”
Gaillard certainly sounded like a player anxious to wipe the memory away.
“I don’t like losing, period, but Tennessee, I don’t like losing to,” said Gaillard, who was asked if he felt any measure of satisfaction seeing Florida beat the Volunteers with a Hail Mary pass of its own two weeks ago in Gainesville.
“No,” Gaillard said. “I don’t really care for them much either, but since it’s Tennessee weekend, we’ll just focus on them.”