Gov. Perdue has instructed me to ask you to not get too happy about this, or he'll get the State Police involved . . .
The tailgating? Glorious. There could not have been a better day for a football game in Athens, Georgia -- sunny but just cold enough to warrant long sleeves, leaves beginning to fall, a crisp breeze in the air. My mom, my sister, and I met up with Josh and DAve at Tent City, where I proceeded to make my peace with the boys from Pasqua & Stanicek and their much-maligned creation, the Cherrishinski -- actually, I made my peace with the Cherrishinski more than once. Perhaps as many as a dozen times. And in the end, maybe that was my undoing. Or maybe not.
Midway through the third quarter of Saturday's Homecoming game, I watched Vanderbilt's QB laser a pass right into the waiting arms of Tra Battle in the end zone, an interception that kept the Commodores from assuming a 21-13 lead, and said, "That play might have saved our season right there." Unfortunately, the task of saving Georgia's season proved to be too much for one interception, or Cherrishisnki forbearance, or change of underwear to handle, and mine eyes have now seen the horror of Vanderbilt, who for the last 40-plus years has been to the SEC what Butters is to the cast of "South Park," leaving Sanford Stadium victorious.
Now, as a fan, I'm stuck between two positions that are pretty much diametrically opposed. On the one hand, this season seems lost; nobody who loses to Vanderbilt has much of a right to fancy themselves contenders for much of anything, be it an SEC division title or even an Outback Bowl berth. On the other hand, declaring the season a wash with five games left doesn't send a very good message to the players. But I'll tell you something: I wouldn't have uttered this out loud before, but I'm not the one primarily responsible for motivating the players. I live three and a half hours away from campus, and even in the event that I can put together the time or the money to get into the game itself, I can get no closer to the players themselves than being way up in the stands, maybe in the lower deck if I'm lucky, and even when I scream my freaking head off I'm just one voice among 92,746. The individual voices that can get inside the ears of the players and make them get mad belong to the coaches, and I'm just not convinced they did that Saturday afternoon.
It's not just a matter of impassioned halftime speeches or giving someone a suitably forceful whack on the helmet or the ass after he makes a heads-up play. You send signals to the players via your choice of plays, because whether you know it or not, you're giving them an indication of what you think they're capable of doing. And to judge by the play-calling in the second half against Vandy, our coaches, from Richt on down, didn't seem to think they were capable of all that much.
First example of what I'm talking about: First few minutes of the fourth quarter, Georgia's down 21-13, we get down to the Vandy 2. This is both Stafford's first drive of the second half and Georgia's first trip past midfield (actually, their first first downs of any kind) of the second half; whether these two distinctions are connected I'll leave you to decide for yourself, but in any case, the offense is finally moving the ball again and potentially turning the momentum back in Georgia's favor. So we get to the 2, we could tie it up with a touchdown, the entire stadium is practically offering Richt sexual favors and/or their firstborn children to go for it, and he instead calls . . . a field goal, resulting in a 92,746-strong-including-Yours-Truly groan and bringing back memories of 2003 when, through a combination of play-calling slightly more conservative than Rick Santorum and repeated red-zone all-over-oneself-shitting, we managed to make Billy Bennett the all-time leading scorer in the SEC.
Now, I know what you're thinking: "Oh, Doug, that's just 20-20 hindsight talking, and if they hadn't made it into the end zone you'd be bitching about how they should've kicked it." Not so, naysaying blog reader, because even if we hadn't punched it in on fourth down and ended up coming away with nothing, we still would've been better off than taking the easy three points, and here's why. First, at that point in the game, is there really any difference between trailing by five and trailing by eight, considering that no matter what, you've got to try for the touchdown and then go for two next time you have the ball? Second, we would've had Vandy pinned back at their own 2 and had the chance to flip the field-position equation and start playing downhill for the first time all game long. Finally, and perhaps most important, if we're still down 21-13 at that point, then we're still down 21-19 when Vandy begins its final drive, and instead of desperately driving to get in position for a game-winning FG, they're just trying to run out the clock. So when they get stacked up with a 4th-and-5 at the Georgia 35, instead of going for it, they either attempt a long field goal they most likely miss or they take a delay-of-game penalty and try to pin us deep with a punt. Either way, we've got two whole minutes (and two time-outs) with which to drive for the winning score instead of two seconds and no time-outs, circumstances under which the only possible winning strategy is to pull off the Stanford Band play.
Your trombone is no match for my Wu-Tang sword.
(Side note: In a discussion of the Colts-Jets game from a couple weeks ago, a co-worker of mine posed the question, why don't struggling teams practice that play more often? Say you're Temple or Illinois or something, you know you're overmatched in just about every game you play, why not have something like the Stanford Band Play in your offensive playbook and whip it out at some completely random time in the second quarter, just to surprise the shit out of the other team? In fact, why don't more teams period practice that play in the off chance that they'll need it someday in a situation like the one Georgia faced with two seconds left on Saturday?)
OK, so anyway, we kick this so-meaningless-it-was-even-meaningless-without-the-benefit-of-hindsight field goal, now it's 21-16, Tony Taylor has his pick-six to finally take the lead, 22-21, we hold Vandy to a three-and-out and their punter shanks it to put us at the Vandy 33. Ricockulously good field position, a stupid Vandy face-mask penalty gives us a fresh set of downs, fate has practically dropped into our very laps a situation where we're primed to tack on seven more points and force Vandy to mount what would have really been only their second real touchdown drive of the game, and even then they could only tie us, not take the lead. We end up with a 3rd-and-11 from the Vandy 26 and what does Richt call? A run up the middle. A run up the middle by a tailback who, may peace be upon him, only had five rushes for nine yards up to that point. I could go on and on about how dickless this was and how we ended up paying for it, but I'm getting tired and I have to go take a crap so I'll simply cut-'n'-paste something I wrote about a distressingly similar situation we faced against Auburn two years ago:
The maddest I've ever been at our coaching staff was right at the very beginning of last year's Georgia-Auburn game: There we were, taking on the #3 team in the nation in their own stadium, and in spite of the fact that their defense was one of the scariest in the country, I'm talking Robert-Duvall-loving-the-smell-of-napalm-in-the-morning scary, we'd mounted a pretty sweet little opening drive that took us all the way down to the Auburn 19. First down, David Greene scrambles for a yard. Second down, Thomas Brown gets nailed in the backfield for a three-yard loss. We call a timeout to figure out what to do, and then, inexplicably, Leonard Pope false-starts to put us at third-and-17 from the 26. Now, anybody with at least a George W. Bush level of brain activity knew we probably weren't gonna pick up 17 yards on a designed run against the top defense in the SEC, but Richt calls a handoff to Brown, who gets stopped after seven yards.
At that precise moment, as I sat there amongst approximately 15,000 Georgia fans packed into a visitors' section big enough for maybe one-third that, I looked at my totally hot date, who was enjoying her very first SEC football experience and whom I wanted to impress soooo badly with a big-ass Georgia upset, and I knew we were gonna lose, because the coaching staff had basically said, Well, fuck, we can't get a touchdown here. They didn't have enough confidence in David Greene, winningest quarterback in the history of freaking D-IA football, to believe that he could maybe throw a fade or something to Pope and at least get the first down; instead, they declared themselves satisfied to take only what Auburn would give us and no more, which was destined to be not freaking much. From that moment on, as they used to say on "Seinfeld," Auburn had "hand" in the relationship, because Georgia had basically turned into that one pathetic guy in every circle of friends, the one who's dating some Playmate-caliber chick who's miles out of his league and protects this status by letting her walk all over him: You want me to stay in and watch "Sex and the City" with you instead of hanging out with my friends, without even the benefit of a post-show beejer in return? Fine, just don't break up with me! The football gods punished Georgia's cowardice by making the center snap the ball high on the ensuing field-goal attempt, which Andy Bailey obediently missed, and that was that. We were going to lose, and we did lose, and it was a loss richly deserved.
I know that such exhaustive dissection of coaching ballslessness puts me dangerously close to Gregg Easterbrook territory, but still, Kerrist. Look, I know Matt Stafford isn't David Greene (yet), but Richt apparently trusted Staff enough to give the offense a desperately needed jumpstart in the second half, which he accomplished quite nicely. So you're telling me you're not going to put the ball in his hands on a third-and-long, you're not even going to try to reward MoMass or Martrez for learning how to catch passes again by putting it into their hands in the end zone, or at least past the first-down marker? This is your heralded Quarterback Of The Future and yet you don't trust him to make a first against fucking Vanderbilt?
Accordingly, Danny Ware weeps the tears of regret into the pillow of remorse.
Of course, Richt couldn't have known that Andy Bailey would miss the kind of field goal that Brandon Coutu could've made from his hospital bed, but that doesn't change the fact that he was thinking field goal way too early. Most coaches wait to answer the do-I-try-for-a-field-goal question until it's fourth down; Richt starts thinking about it on third or even second, and this. Must. Stop. He also couldn't have known that our defense would revert to second-half-against-Tennessee form and practically roll out a red carpet for Vanderbilt that stretched from the VU 20 all the way to makeable field-goal range, but again, if Richt hadn't been thinking about field goals, Vanderbilt wouldn't have been able to, either.
I'm not going to call for anyone on the coaching staff, certainly not Richt, to get fired right now. As we walked from the stadium back up to where our car was parked downtown, I was about ready to throttle the little necktied frat pledge trying to impress his way-out-of-his-league date by talking about how he was going to start FireMarkRicht.com (just a tip, assface, you want that domain you're gonna have to shell out some money to an existing owner who evidently has way more sense than you). But in exchange for this deference, I'd like the opportunity to offer Comrade Richt some constructive advice: As Randall so memorably counseled in the first "Clerks," "You need to shit or get off the pot."
Let's take a gander at the last team to lose to Vanderbilt at home, your 2005 Tennessee Volunteers. They racked up a mere five wins and missed out on a bowl for the first time in Phil Fulmer's tenure thanks to a combination of scared-little-girl playcalling on offense and a quarterback rotation that spun just as fast as, and even more randomly than, the Big Wheel on "The Price is Right." (God, I love that show.) So far we're presenting both of those symptoms, and anyone who thinks we can't follow in Tennessee's footsteps is sadly mistaken. We're stuck on five wins right now and, if we can't even beat Vanderbilt at home, are certainly not guaranteed another.
So it's time to decide whether we're still playing to win for this year or playing for 2007. If you think we can shake off the losses and improve enough to where we still have a shot at eight or nine wins, pick the QB whom you think is most capable of leading us there, whether that's Joe T or Stafford, and stick with him. If you think '06 is shot, put Stafford behind the wheel and let him go. But either way, pick someone, and show that you have confidence in him by doing two things: One, stick by him even when he fucks up, which Fulmer didn't do last year. Two, give him the chance to complete long passes when long passes are needed. Having a weapon like Stafford, only to assign him handoffs on 3rd-and-11, is like buying a Ferrari and then realizing you're too scared to actually drive it. Stafford's gonna have to make those throws eventually; might as well start doing it now.
In "Old School," Will Ferrell didn't say, "You're occasionally my boy, Blue," he said, "You're my boy, Blue!" Either Stafford is always your boy or he isn't. Shake off the Vandy loss, make this tough decision about the future of the team, and go forward with head held high. And please beat fucking Mississippi State next week. Please.
As for the underwear, yup, I did bring along an extra pair, just in case, and yup, I did go into the bathroom and put them on after Vandy turned Kregg Lumpkin's third-quarter fumble into a TD to go up 14-13. It is not something I will be bothering myself with again.
The girls don't like the job:
· On the bright side, how sweet is that Colorado win looking right now? Huh? Huh? (That last sentence is even funnier if you imagine it being read in a Peter Griffin voice.)
Whoa! Check out Colorado's sideboob!
· No matter how non-great to be a Georgia Bulldog it may be this morning, at least my team didn't get involved in a bench-clearing brawl over a fucking extra point. If I'm Larry Coker, I wait only as long as it takes to call ESPN and make sure I've got Lou Holtz's spot lined up when they finally unplug his respirator before tendering my resignation and getting the hell out of Coral Gables.
· SI.com's Stewart Mandel was in Columbus this weekend -- not on purpose, of course -- and I missed him? I would've at least taken him to the Uptown Tap or something for a beer. I would say, "The next time you're in Columbus . . . ", but -- well, yeah. Next question.
· Speaking of SI.com: Oregon 30, UCLA 20. QEDMF. The Cheerleader Curse lives.
Darling, it's not your fault. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.