Amid all of the mistakes, all of the could-have-beens and should-have-beens, there was something poetic about the last step of Quincy Enunwa’s game-sealing, dagger-in-the-heart 99-yard touchdown reception.
As Enunwa waltzed into the end zone, a full football field away from where he had started, one detail couldn’t be overlooked: much like the 2013-2014 season, the word “Georgia” was fading.
One could take any perspective they wish: that of Shaq Wiggins, the freshman cornerback who blew the coverage, that of Quincy Mauger, the freshman safety who missed the tackle, that of the pass rushers who came so close to ending the play with a safety or that of the coaches who watched helplessly as the play unfolded, but they would all reveal the same crucial fact.
The play was about the little things.
The coverage called was a basic cover two look, where the cornerback should be responsible for the short zones of the field and each safety a deep half. Based on the routes the receivers ran, the cornerback, Wiggins, and the safety, Mauger, should have both rolled back toward the ball. As Wiggins described, the play was a “trap” call, with the safety in charge of half of the field and the cornerback responsible for anything else that came out. There was no lack of knowledge, just a lack of execution. They forgot about the little things.
“It’s not good,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said of the play. “The problem is you fight your tail off. I thought our guys played really good, but when you give up an explosive play like that it damages a lot of good things. It’s 99 yards. It’s seven points. It’s momentum. It’s field position. You have to play a lot of plays really good to overcome that.”
And to the credit of Wiggins and Mauger, they did play well after their mistake. Wiggins made a pivotal interception on the ensuing drive and Mauger finished the game with six tackles, the second highest total for any Bulldog.
But no measure of good play made up for the crucial blunder, as the points scored on that touchdown served as the clinching points in the final score. More than just aware of this, Mauger won’t soon forget what he learned from the play.
“In the SEC and I guess in the Big 10 you have to wrap up. At all times,” Mauger said. “I failed to do that so next time I’ll have to put that in my head.”
Mauger credits his failure to “wrap up” on Enunwa to adrenaline and to his physical style of play, something that actually benefited the Bulldogs on nearly every other down in the suspended absence of the very physical starter, sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons.
“We had to be,” Mauger said of his and his team’s physicality. “Even if [Harvey-Clemons] was in the game. Georgia’s always known for being straight dogs, so we have to be physical.”
But even though Mauger said that the style of play wouldn’t have been different had Harvey-Clemons played as usual, one could easily question the outcome. A more experienced and, by all accounts, better player than Mauger, one couldn’t help but imagine how things could have changed had the quick and rangy free safety been on the field.
“With more players on the team anything can happen and it will always be different,” Wiggins said. “Who wouldn’t want players on their team?”
Regardless of who could have been on the field, the players who were on the field were mystified, no one anywhere near predicting the play before it came.
“On that play there, I really wasn’t expecting it,” defensive end Ray Drew said. “Up front we were expecting more so a run, just so they could get them out of the position they were in.”
Despite the surprise that was Nebraska’s play call, the Bulldog pass rush nearly succeeded in sacking quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. With outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins speed rushing off the outside edge and just barely missing Armstrong’s side and defensive tackle Garrison Smith penetrating through the line forcefully, nearly pressing an offensive lineman into Armstrong, the defensive line did their part.
But it didn’t matter what little things the defense almost did, the play, as many in the season as a whole had, came down to the minor mistakes which created big problems.
“There’s been a lot of games that come down to one possession,” Grantham said. “And when you’re in games like we are and it’s a one possession game, there are plays that positively and negatively affect the game. You never know when they come.”
For Georgia in the Gator Bowl, the play came with more than a quarter remaining, leaving ample time for a comeback. But the team couldn’t execute the comeback, which made the obviously important play seem even more critical.
Wiggins doesn’t think that is fair for him, or especially for Mauger.
“That’s what a lot of people look at,” Wiggins said of the play. “I think one bad thing goes and now [Mauger’s] the sorriest player in the land, but he [almost] lead the team in tackles so it’s only a mistake. Me personally I think he had a great game.”
Quick to praise one another, Mauger also said that he thought Wiggins not only played a great game, but a great season.
But in one play, none of that mattered. The only thing that seemed to matter was that Wiggins had blown a coverage, allowing Enunwa to run free and that an overly-physical Mauger missed the only opportunity a Bulldog had to tackle him.
Still, all things considered, Mauger wouldn’t have changed his style of play one bit.
“I love being physical,” Mauger said. “At all times. Trying to set the tone, right?”