Kirk Herbstreit wishes he 'would have played better' in Ohio State's 1993 Citrus Bowl vs. Georgia
Will Muschamp remembers one of his first impressions of Kirk Herbstreit.
The Georgia co-defensive coordinator was on the Bulldogs’ roster as a defensive back from 1991-94. But before Georgia’s meeting with Ohio State in the 1993 Citrus Bowl, Muschamp had already seen all he needed to see from the Buckeyes' quarterback.
“We had a… luncheon, and (when) Herbstreit got up and threw a pass across the room, I knew we had a shot to win,” Muschamp said. “Make sure he knows I said that.”
Herbstreit can recall the exact moment.
“It was one of those autograph balls, those white-panel balls,” he said. “I remember throwing it and not being real happy with how far I had to throw it because I couldn’t grip the ball. So I kind of shot putted the ball. That’s all I remember.”
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Herbstreit also remembers the Georgia squad that won 21-14 against Ohio State. The Bulldogs were “very good and athletic.”
Poetically, Ohio State’s only quarterback to have ever faced Georgia, Herbstreit will be ESPN's color commentator for the Buckeyes’ second-ever matchup with the Bulldogs when the teams collide in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Saturday.
“I wish I would have played better,” Herbstreit said of the teams' initial meeting.
Against the Bulldogs’ defense, Herbstreit completed eight of his 24 pass attempts for 110 yards, completing a 45-yard pass to running back Robert Smith. He did not throw a touchdown, but threw one interception and was sacked three times, including twice by linebacker Mitch Davis.
Tied at 14 heading into the fourth quarter, Herbstreit fumbled the football in the red zone, giving the Bulldogs possession. That resulted in a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped off with a one-yard run by Frank Harvey to secure the win.
But what Herbstreit remembers more than the performances of players Eric Zeier, Andre Hastings or Garrison Hearst is the weight the matchup between Ohio State and Georgia carried.
“Back in those days, the Citrus Bowl was kind of like a New Year’s Six kind of game,” Herbstreit said. “It was two highly ranked teams and teams that just came up a little bit short of their goals in the Big Ten of getting to the Rose Bowl and the SEC of getting to the Sugar Bowl.
“The Big Ten against the SEC, I think you felt a sense of not just Ohio State against Georgia, but the Big Ten against the SEC and who had bragging rights was a big deal back in those days.”
The Buckeyes’ loss to Georgia meant an 8-3-1 record for that year's Buckeyes while continuing a four-game streak of bowl losses under coach John Cooper that would finally end with the Holiday Bowl the following season.
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When it comes to Saturday's Peach Bowl matchup, Herbstreit is focused on Ohio State’s “wounded” defense. He wants to see how the Buckeyes adjust following their loss to Michigan and how they defend Georgia’s tight ends in the passing game.
“A big part of it is just where’s their mindset,” Herbstreit said. “We’ve done the playoffs since (2014). I don’t recall a team that lost the way they lost to their rival at home and then went to the playoff to see how they would respond. … They’re left answering questions where they’re almost embarrassed, and now they are in the playoff.
“This is uncharted territory, and I’m anxious to see their mindset. I’m anxious to see how they handle the adversity of that atmosphere. … People say 50/50. I think it will probably be more 70/30 favoring Georgia. So, how do they handle that? And if they keep their poise? A team that’s wounded like that, and you face adversity, do you fight through it or do you struggle? I think it’s more psychological than the X’s and O’s of the game.”