In fact, it’s become the Bulldogs’ calling card for much of this season.
Georgia’s offense struggles early, perhaps mixing in a turnover or two. The defense looks bewildered on a few early drives. By the second quarter, Georgia is down on the scoreboard, but confidence persists.
It’s been the opening act to six of Georgia’s games so far this season, and in nearly every one, the Bulldogs have made a ferocious comeback from the early deficit, winning three times.
None of the Bulldogs seem to have a valid explanation for the early struggles, but they’re all getting pretty used to the scenario.
“Everybody wants those easy games and everybody’s hoping for those big plays to be made early, but sometimes that’s not the reality,” Curran said. “We’re playing top competition, and when you get plays like that that are made, you just have to regroup as a defense, say what needs to be fixed and go from there.”
Against South Carolina, early turnovers put Georgia in a 17-7 hole just 10 minutes into the game.
A week later, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett connected on three first-half touchdown passes and the Razorbacks held a commanding 21-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Again last week, Georgia watched Auburn march down the field for touchdowns on its opening two drives while the Bulldogs slumped through the opening quarter without a first down.
“When the other team gets the ball first and blows down the field and scores, then you get the ball and want to do the same thing, and it doesn’t happen the first series, then it’s kind of like, everybody’s looking around like, we’ve got to get something going,” Cox said.
In each game, however, the end result was the same – a Georgia victory.
In fact, four of Georgia’s six wins this season are of the comeback variety, with a fourth-quarter turnaround against Arizona State mixed in. But even in the losses, the Bulldogs have typically struggled early and shown some resilience late.
Against LSU, Georgia trailed 6-0 at the half and had just one first down. Still, the Bulldogs marched downfield with less than two minutes to play to take the lead late before a special teams miscue cost them the game.
Against Florida, Georgia fell behind 14-0 before rallying back to within four just a few series later. Even in the disastrous loss to Tennessee, a big play by Brandon Boykin on special teams and a Bacarri Rambo interception return for a touchdown had Georgia within five points in the second half.
“We have guys that stick together and have respect for each other and a lot of faith in one another,” tight end Aron White said of Georgia’s propensity for coming from behind. “We feel like we’ve done too much to let close games slip by or let the other team run away with the score on us.”
Ask about the bad starts, and most of Georgia’s players are at a loss to explain it. But inquire about the comebacks, and there is no shortage of answers.
On offense, the ability to overcome adversity starts with quarterback Joe Cox, who has controlled the demeanor in the huddle despite a litany of inexperienced players surrounding him.
“He’s a tough kid that despite all that’s gone on this year has confidence in himself and the players have confidence in him,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’ve been able to overcome when we’ve been behind.”
On defense, Willie Martinez thinks a few adjustments to the game have been crucial. While the team struggled early against Arkansas, South Carolina and Auburn, the defense didn’t surrender a fourth-quarter touchdown in any of those games.
“The thing you always guard against on defense is the pace,” Martinez said. “You’re never going to simulate a pace – especially this last ballgame – when you’re going against an offense that does it 365 days a year. There’s something to that where you’re trying to get adjusted to the speed and the tempo, and I think that happened in this last ballgame.”
With so many younger players seeing action, Curran said there could be a tendency for some of the players to press early, being so careful not to make a mistake that they overcompensate. Once they get down on the scoreboard, suddenly they start to play loose.
“When you’re playing in a high emotion game, I don’t care who you are, you’re going to have a little bit of the jitters and be nervous and anxious those first couple series,” Curran said. “Once you settle down and get into a rhythm and go back to your habits and the things you did in practice, it starts to calm down.”
Curran said that was clearly the case against Auburn, but the team settled down quickly and rounded into form.
Of course, the opposite of that theory could be true, too, wide receiver Mike Moore said. Sometimes the younger players on the team simply don’t realize that a 14-point deficit is supposed to be hard to overcome.
“Sometimes I really do think most people are too naïve to even know,” Moore said. “Like Washaun (Ealey), he doesn’t know. He just goes in there and plays hard.”
And that’s been the key throughout the season, Cox said. Georgia may not have performed up to expectations consistently, and the Bulldogs are still searching for that first complete game, but there’s no questioning the team’s heart, determination and intensity.
In the end, that’s what has kept the Bulldogs in games late in the fourth quarter that could have easily been lost within the first few plays.
“No matter how the game starts, we know we’ve got to find a way to work together and finish and find a way to win,” Cox said. “We’ve been able to do that a lot this year, and I think it’s because of the type of players we have on our team, the attitude of the coaches, and it’s something I think has really helped us out. Because I don’t know how many teams could play that many games where they start out behind and still put themselves in a position to win.”