I caught a little bit of heat for my divided loyalties in Saturday's UAB-Georgia game, and not just from my UAB overlords but also from a couple zealous, perhaps overcaffeinated, fellow Bulldog fans. Perhaps it was deserved, and I was duly punished, though not in the way I expected. If you go by The Inferno, my punishment as an opportunist who refused to take sides should have been condemnation to the vestibule of hell, unable to ever stay in one place but rather doomed to run in a circle for eternity, just as my loyalties refused to stay in one place. Somehow, though, I got the punishment usually afforded to virtuous pagans and unbaptized children instead -- an eternity in the first circle of Hell, which is a beautiful and brightly lit castle where everyone sits around being bored.
Yup, that about sums it up. Georgia played about the most conservatively called game I've ever witnessed in person, and UAB obediently responded by doing hardly anything to put the outcome in doubt, not even appearing particularly interested at the very end when they had a chance to ruin the shutout against Georgia's bench players. The score was only 10-0 at the half, and people were indeed muttering to themselves, "Dang, Georgia seems to have dominated them a lot worse than that," but not in a tone that implied panic -- rather, a tone that implied frustration at wondering when Richt was gonna take the ankle bracelet off Stafford and let him launch one downfield already.
I may have broken more of a sweat trying to find a place to park in downtown Athens than Stafford did on the field.
The play-calling was biased toward the run by a ratio of exactly 2:1, and Stafford only tossed two passes that could be classified as field-stretching bombs; one was dutifully dropped (there's the team that suddenly disappeared during the South Carolina game!), while the other had just a wee bit too much stank on it and sailed about two or three yards ahead of the intended receiver. I don't know where I read it, probably somewhere in the AJC, but somebody said to expect more of that since our receivers haven't really experienced the kind of power that Stafford puts on his throws. Given the dropgasms our receiving corps has been having for almost a year and a half now, I'm not sure I completely buy that explanation, but as long as they get it figured out by Tennessee I suppose I'll live. For a while I was a little disappointed that the coaches didn't let Stafford off the leash more than they did, but I suppose it wasn't reasonable to think they would let him go bombing all over the field in his very first start; as I've said before, I trust Comrade Richt implicitly, and if he says the best way to bring Stafford along is dip-your-toe-in-the-water slowly, then that's what we should do.
Evidently, our notoriously jumpy fan base is fine with this as well, and why shouldn't they be if a) we keep winning and b) we keep shutting people out, for as Erk Russell once reminded us, if you want to be confident about winning, not letting other teams score at all is a pretty dependable way of doing that. Good God, our defense is -- I mean, I'm looking for a word here, and "fast" or "strong" or even "brutal" doesn't even quite cover it. I think the word I'm looking for is punitive -- we don't just pound teams and push them around, we make them damn sorry they entered the stadium in the first place and make them think long and hard about what they've done.
ESPN is always on the lookout for "game-changing" plays. I think this one falls into the category of "pants-soiling."
So Georgia has now scored 100 points on the season while only giving up 12. We have shut out two teams in a row. Of our 11 touchdowns, one came on a punt return and another came on a blocked-punt return; the remaining nine have averaged just under 48 yards apiece, and all but three started on somebody else's side of the 50 yard line. Despite averaging a nothing-special 317 yards of total offense per game, we're winning by an average of four touchdowns every week. Does this remind anybody of anything?
It should if you've watched a Virginia Tech game at any point in the last, oh, eight or nine years: The Dawgs have brought BeamerBall to Athens. Basically you've got an apocalyptic defense that thrives on causing turnovers and handing a short field to a conservative, run-first offense that takes care of the ball and doesn't do anything crazier than it has to; throw in special teams that are almost as much of a threat to score as the offense is, stir well, and there you go. Some Dawg fans may like it and some may not, but the fact is it's won the Hokies 72 games over the last seven-plus seasons, so it seems at least somewhat effective. I mean, if you've got a team that inspires "Good God, what a specimen" comments even about your freakin' punter, then you have reason to be confident.
Gordon Ely-Kelso: Loved him in "Rounders" and "Fight Club."
In saying this, I realize two things: One, making oh-my-God comments about one's team is perhaps a little premature when that team's opponents consist of a DI-AA team, a 1-2 C-USA team, and a team that nearly found a way to lose to Wofford. And two, this conservative offense isn't going to stay conservative forever, not if Stafford continues to come along briskly (note that he went from 3 picks against South Carolina to 0 against the Blazers). Again, it's probably best to reserve judgment until we get a little deeper into conference play, but if the defense stays at its current level of excellence while the offense continues to improve . . . look out.
As for the Blazers, well, I said before the game that the defense would be pretty good, and it was; the fact that the offense (particularly the running game) struggled didn't come as that much of a surprise, either. But what did come as a surprise was the fact that Sam Hunt, who looked so cold-blooded against Oklahoma a couple weeks ago, got rattled so early against the 'Dawgs. He finished with 8 rushes for -10 yards, but if you measured how far he ran in actual distance, it probably would've equaled the length of a football field or more, that's how much time he spent running for his life in the backfield. I don't know that I'd call it a "controversy" here in Birmingham, but there definitely is a uuarterback "conundrum," and it didn't get figured out in Athens. Or maybe it did. Still, there's a bright spot, and that is that UAB coach Watson Brown can now lay claim to a Spurrier-style offense.
Kids in America:
· Forgot to mention this earlier, but they honored Columbus's world-champion Little League team at the UAB game, and the team was sitting right across the aisle from my sister, my dad, and me. I got to meet a couple of them, and they all carried themselves like people who were a lot older than 12 or 13 -- even had the firm handshakes of veteran politicians. I'm hoping that Dave Perno snags at least one or two of them for the baseball team at UGA.
· Take the checks and face the facts: The ACC in its current iteration is, as Homer Simpson so eloquently stated, the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked. Miami's blowout loss to Louisville on Saturday pretty much ices it, because the Big East -- that conference that everyone pretty much left for dead after the ACC bogarted what were supposedly their three best teams -- has now taken four out of six head-to-head in matchups between the conferences, and the ACC's two wins are solely due to the fact that the athletic director at Wake Forest was astute enough to put the Big East's two worst teams on his team's schedule. Basically the ACC is down to one team, Virginia Tech, that can still lay any kind of claim to elite status; below them you've got two former elites (FSU and Miami) that'd be lucky to break even in just about any other conference, three more (BC, Clemson, and Georgia Tech) that might be just good enough to make the race for the Gator Bowl a real barn-burner, and . . . below that, nothing. The sexiest team in that six-team bottom-of-the-conference sissyfight appears to be Wake Forest, for cryin' out loud, unless someone knows a voodoo spell that can bring Maryland's offense back. At any rate, I think we can officially put the ACC's ambitions of becoming an SEC-esque "superconference" on indefinite probation, not to mention kibosh any talk of the Big East losing its automatic BCS bid.
· On that note, here's the conversation my dad and I had in the stands at Sanford Stadium when a Peach Bowl (sorry, I'm going to need a fat check before I start voluntarily calling it the "Chick-fil-A Bowl") promo ad came up on the Jumbotron:
Me: So if Virginia [his alma mater] ends up going to the Peach Bowl, will you buy tickets?
Pops: [thinks it over] Yeah, I suppose so.
Me: Will you also take my picture on a unicorn? 'Cause I think that's about as likely to happen.
Ian, I feel for you, dawg. Drinks are on me if you ever find yourself back in Athens.
· Bittersweet win for Michigan: On the one hand, they finally won a road opener, and in convincing fashion; they also did college football fans everywhere a priceless service by shutting up the ESPN punditocracy about ND's OMG aw3s0m3n3ss for a few weeks, at least. On the other hand, that fawning will now most likely be showered upon #1-with-a-bullet Ohio State. Oh well.
It's hard out there for a Wolverine.
· Nice to have the old Erik Ainge back, though I doubt anyone's going to be holding the Vols to 2 total yards rushing once Arian Foster is back at full strength. Still, the Georgia-Tennessee matchup is looking more and more winnable by the week.
· That cheer you heard coming from Tuscaloosa last night was not a cheer of victory for the Crimson Tide, since not even the most die-hard Tide fans seriously gave a shit about UL-Monroe, but rather a good old schadenfreude hip-hip-hooray for Dennis Franchione being brought yet another step closer to John Mackovic status as a taken-out-of-the-closet-and-dusted-off-once-every-couple-weeks minor analyst on "GameDay." Sure, they held on against Army, but is "held on against Army" something that should be on the résumé of anybody in a BCS conference other than maybe Duke?
· On the play-for-pay tip, yeah, I'm happy for the Falcons, but I'd hold off on any dynasty talk until they a) finish with a winning season and then b) do it again, i.e. back-to-back seasons, for the first time in team history. Though I guess I'm not one to talk.
I know I'm Catholic, but I'm still calling out a fatwa on this fucker.