In every football game, particularly games in which the outcome defies widely held expectations or established trends, there are plays and stats that don't show up in the box score but end up having a major effect on who wins and who loses; those are commonly referred to as "hidden plays." Certainly Saturday's Georgia-Tennessee game, in which Georgia's offense finally came to life but their top-ranked defense gave up 51 points, had plenty. Numerous bloggers have extensively analyzed the most obvious factors in Georgia's loss -- the turnovers in our own territory, the lack of a pass rush, the soft coverage on Tennessee's receivers -- but with all due respect, I wanted to go past such superficial analysis and dig deep into the game to find out where and when it was won and lost. And I found four "hidden plays" which, I think you'll agree, the game truly hinged upon.
1. People parachuting into the stadium during the pregame show
I already mentioned this at the very beginning of my postgame recap, but I can't overstate the detrimental effect the parachutists had on our play Saturday night. Going into the Tennessee game, Georgia was 0-1 all-time -- not a single victory -- when people parachute into the stadium before the game. When they tried it last year, Georgia was clinging to a 30-28 lead over Auburn in the final minutes and appeared to have the Tigers on the ropes when Auburn QB Brandon Cox laced a 62-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu on fourth-and-10 that set up Auburn's winning field goal with six seconds remaining. Clearly, pregame parachutists are a play that Georgia just hasn't mastered yet, and next time they might be better served by a higher-percentage play like fireworks or Up With People.
2. "Cherrishinski" consumption
Paul Westerdawg thought this was such a huge factor in the loss that he devoted an entire post to it, and I can't say I blame him. The "Cherrishinski" -- a pre-game shooter-cum-appetizer consisting of maraschino cherries soaked in grain alcohol -- was first invented before the 2005 Georgia-Florida game, in which Joe Tereshinski III had to start in place of an injured D.J. Shockley; Georgia proceeded to lose a heartbreaker, 14-10. Again, this is what happens when tailgate coordinators abandon fundamentals like Wild Turkey and tequila shots and decide to get cute with trick plays; we just don't have the offense to be pulling stuff like this off at the moment.
3. Christine Conley named SI.com's "Cheerleader of the Week"
Georgia fans were stoked when UGA cheerleader Christine Conley was named "Cheerleader of the Week" and featured in her own photo gallery on SI.com. Had they checked the record books, though, they wouldn't have been so excited. SI's previous Cheerleader of the Week was Alabama cheerleader Jody Reeves, who was featured just days before the Tide suffered their first loss of the season, a heartbreaking OT loss to Arkansas. Conley, a talented junior on the squad, was certainly game for her first career start as a Cheerleader of the Week, but you just can't put the entire game on one person's back like that, no matter how stable they are at the top of a pyramid. Conley's supporting cast is going to have to step up and give her some help in upcoming games, or this kind of thing is going to happen again.
4. I didn't change my underwear during the game.
It hurts me to say it, but yep, this one's completely on me. A good fan gauges the ebb and flow of the game and makes the proper in-game adjustments needed to counter what the opponent is throwing at them, and in squeaker wins over Colorado and Ole Miss in recent weeks, I did just that. After Georgia's second straight possession in the third quarter against Colorado ended with a fumble, I threw a toaster oven off my balcony, then went into my room and changed my underwear; I think it was because I was wearing red-and-black boxer briefs at the time and I felt this might have had some effect on the game. Call it a desperate move, but it worked -- Georgia came back from a 13-0 deficit to win 14-13. Following week against Ole Miss, same deal: Georgia went into halftime down 3-0 to what might be the worst team in the SEC, so I changed my underwear again. The adjustment worked, as Georgia finally found some momentum under QB Matt Stafford and won the game 14-9. In two games, the Bulldogs amassed only 152 yards pre-underwear-change and gave up 346; post-underwear-change, they rolled up 294 yards and held their opponents to 214. Clearly, then, an adjustment that paid off.
When Tennessee blocked Georgia's first punt of the fourth quarter on Saturday, turning what was once a 24-7 deficit into a 38-27 lead over the Dawgs, I thought it might be time to run home and change the ol' drawers again. But then Thomas Brown took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, and I thought maybe the ship was righting itself without my help. I couldn't have been more wrong, and my complacency cost the team in the end. Tennessee tacked on three more touchdowns in the fourth, and the rout, just like my same pair of underpants, was on.
These are the kinds of things that myself and other Georgia fans are going to have to keep an eye on as the season wears on and Georgia gets into the heart of its SEC schedule. If we don't make adjustments and continue making these same kinds of mistakes, it's going to be a very pedestrian season. But if we bother to take a look at the "hidden plays" and see where we can make just a tweak here or a tweak there, we'll be a stronger and more consistent team because of it.