ATHENS, Ga. – After the emotion had settled and adrenaline worn off, Georgia coach Mark Richt sat next to his wife Katharyn in a vehicle last Saturday night outside Neyland Stadium feeling the exhaustion of his team's four-hour journey to victory.
Like seemingly every Georgia game these days, it had been too close for comfort, a high-wire act on grass that has raised the stress level for everyone, even the typically stoic Richt. And as the car pulled out of Neyland Stadium, headed toward the Knoxville airport for a short flight home, Richt acknowledged that his perspective would have been entirely different from the seats than the sidelines.
"I think I made the comment that you could see why there were 100,000 people there," Richt said. "You could see why college football is one of the most exciting sports out there. It's very, very dramatic stuff."
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No program in college football has been involved in more drama this season than No. 7 Georgia, which beat Tennessee in overtime, 34-31, one week after scoring the winning touchdown with 1:47 remaining to beat LSU, 44-41. Four of Georgia's five games this season have been within a possession in the fourth quarter, and going back to last season's 32-28 SEC championship game loss to Alabama, five of the Bulldogs' last seven have been filled with hold-your-breath moments in the final few minutes.
Of the top 10 teams in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, Georgia has by far the smallest average margin of victory, at 7.6 points. Stanford is second at 18.0 points per game.
As good of a program as the Bulldogs (4-1) have been under Richt, their entertainment value has never been higher. That doesn't mean much with regard to winning a national title, except that for all the white-knuckle finishes Georgia has already survived, a few more are almost certainly on the way.
"I don't know if we're going to be that team that just blows somebody out of the water," tight end Arthur Lynch said. "From a spectator's standpoint, you look at the games we've played there's never a dull moment whether it's positive for us or negative. I don't think there's another team in the country that handles pressure situations better than we do right now. When push comes to shove, we know how to win close ballgames."
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How dangerously has Georgia been living? Since losing the season opener to Clemson 38-35 – a game that was closely contested from the first snap until Georgia failed to recover an onsides kick with 1:19 left – the Bulldogs have been a handful of plays from winning or losing every subsequent game. Even in a 45-21 victory against North Texas on Sept. 21, the teams were tied deep into the third quarter before Georgia eventually pulled away.
And had quarterback Aaron Murray been anything less than perfect on two touchdowns drives – one to beat LSU and one last Saturday to tie Tennessee with five seconds left – the Bulldogs would already be out of the national title conversation.
"It's been good the fact we can pull these games out and win them, but we don't want to have close games every week," receiver Chris Conley said. "We don't want to be losing five-to-10 years off our life every time we're in the fourth quarter. It pushes us to be consistent. Last week was a very emotional win, the week before was very emotional win and we have to realize there can't be any highs or lows because the schedule doesn't get any easier."
On paper, the schedule actually does get a bit easier, though unbeaten Missouri this weekend should be another big test. What has gotten tougher for Georgia, however, are the circumstances under which it will have to operate the rest of this season.
Two key receivers, Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, are out for the season with knee injuries. Another receiver, Michael Bennett, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this week and will likely be out a few more weeks. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have already lost backup running back Keith Marshall for the season and are unlikely to have sophomore Todd Gurley, arguably the nation's best running back, available this weekend due to an ankle sprain. Gurley also missed last week's game at Tennessee and three quarters of the LSU game.
That's a lot of skill missing from the Georgia lineup, and combined with the Bulldogs' defense – which is inexperienced and vulnerable – the margin for error just isn't very big. But that only ensures Georgia will continue to be must-see television this season, with more back-and-forth, heart-pounding finishes in store.
"It's a lot of fun to be a part of," Murray said. "It's always exciting on the sideline, and I know the fans are definitely loving these games. But we know it's going to be a fight every week, and that's what you sign up for when you come to the SEC. That's what makes it fun every week."
Dan Wolken, a national college football reporter for USA TODAY Sports, is on Twitter @DanWolken.
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