- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt acknowledges that Georgia's coaches didn't specifically instruct their players to knock the ball down prior to Auburn's fourth-and-18 pass that resulted in the game-winning 73-yard touchdown.
That doesn't absolve safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons, however, for doing the one thing that allowed Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis to catch the deflected pass following their collision and stroll into the end zone to give the Tigers a 43-38 advantage with 25 seconds to play.
"Obviously at the end of the game, you've got to know to knock the ball down in that situation," Richt said at his Tuesday news conference. "We had a timeout prior to that. I'm in there. [Defensive coordinator Todd] Grantham's in there. We're all in there. I could have easily said, 'Hey guys, if the ball's launched deep, bat it down.' I could have said that. That's a good reminder for a young bunch of guys back there."
Richt reasoned that Georgia's coaches didn't expect Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall to throw the deep ball. Auburn faced fourth-and-18 at its 27-yard line with 36 seconds to play when Marshall took the snap, and the Bulldogs expected the Tigers to go for a first down rather than launch a low-percentage pass before it was absolutely necessary.
"At that point and that far away, we weren't thinking that it was time to launch it," Richt said. "Now if it had been somewhere around 50 or 55 yards away, we know Nick's got a strong arm. And if it's like just a couple seconds to go, you're thinking, This is the last play. They're going to launch it for a Hail Mary. It wasn't really a typical Hail Mary situation, so that's part of the reason why as we're sitting there, we're not thinking that."
Characterizing the play as a Hail Mary is inaccurate, Richt said. Five Auburn receivers released on the play, but only two of them were past the 45 -- which the Tigers needed to reach for a first down -- when Marshall threw the pass. It wasn't the traditional Hail Mary where the quarterback launches a deep ball to a large group of receivers and defensive backs stationed near the goal line.
In fact, it seemed particularly galling to Richt -- a former college quarterback who coached the position for a decade years before becoming a head coach -- that his team lost when the opponent's quarterback opted to throw into "super deep" coverage, where three Georgia safeties were near the lone Auburn receiver, only to have it work out for the Tigers when Matthews and Harvey-Clemons didn't bat down the pass.
"You shouldn't really throw a post into that look. You've got two or three guys deeper than the guy. But they launched it and we didn't bat it down," Richt said, later adding, "It wasn't like everybody ran down the field and they were trying to throw a Hail Mary. It was a dig route and a post and some other concepts underneath to read.
"Usually if the deep ball's there, you throw it. If the safeties are deep, you throw the dig to the checkdown-type thing. But he let it rip and it turned out to be a good thing for them."
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