In southern Alabama, sandwich eat you.
What I said at the time: I sort of pooh-poohed the Trojan offense . . .
Since moving up to Division I-A in 2001, the Troy offense has rarely been what you'd call "electrifying." Last year was the first time in four years that they averaged more than 300 yards per game; their best season in D-IA scoring-wise was 2004 when, aided by a +11 turnover margin, they scored 23.8 points a game and earned a place in history as the last team to ever lose a Silicon Valley Football Classic. The new spread offense installed by coach Larry Blakeney last year appears to be a better fit for QB Omar Haugabrook, but against three BCS-conference opponents last year -- Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Nebraska, none of which exactly qualified as stone-cold killers against the pass -- Haugabrook still only averaged about 182 yards a game. Troy had to travel to Tallahassee, Atlanta, and Lincoln in successive weeks, which goes a long way toward explaining why the performance of Haugabrook and the rest of the team deteriorated so markedly over that stretch, but still, with only one returning starter on the offensive line, this is probably the least dangerous offense we'll face all year with the exception of Western Carolina.
. . . but in true Self-Loathing Bulldog tradition, managed not to get too excited just the same:
. . . what worries me more than anything related to straight-up talent is simply the timing of the game itself, which is the textbook example of a "sandwich" or "trap" game. Coming right after Florida, we'll either be moping around after our 16th loss to the Gators in 18 tries or primed for a letdown opportunity after knocking off the defending national champions, plus we've got the traditional rivalry match with Auburn right around the corner. This season will mark the first time in 55 years that we've played an out-of-conference game between Florida and Auburn -- from 1953 to 2001, those games were played back-to-back -- so it's anyone's guess as to how we'll perform in this situation. . . . I'm already willing to predict Georgia won't cover the spread in this one, whatever the spread ends up being.
What's happened since then: Georgia slammed the door on what was otherwise a rather frustrating October by stunning the Gators, and now the Dawgs technically hold the lead in the SEC East with a 4-2 conference record (6-2 overall); Troy opened the season with back-to-back pummelings by SEC teams but hasn't lost since, shocking Oklahoma State in week three and putting together a five-game run of conference victories that has them alone in first place atop the Sun Belt.
When is a good time to run a picture from last week's Georgia-Florida game? Actually that was a trick question. It is always a good time.
Care to amend your initial statement, sir?: Well, I feel like I should redress my gross misunderestimation of the Troy offense, which has, in fact, adapted to the spread attack far more efficiently than I gave them credit for. The Trojans have been averaging nearly 450 yards per game in '07, and while you can dismiss some of that production -- plenty of it has come against Sun Belt opponents, none of whom rank any higher than 60th in total defense, while 24 of their 31 points against Florida were scored in a furious second-half rush to make their 49-7 halftime deficit look more respectable -- their game against Oklahoma State should give any Bulldog fan pause. Troy led the Cowboys 41-10 at the end of the third quarter, a damn sight more than the Dawgs ever did, and only a couple late Cowboy TDs brought the final score anywhere north of humiliating. Final tally for Troy: 562 total yards of offense, nearly 200 more than Georgia had been able to put up just two weeks earlier.
So Troy's offense is actually a pretty well-oiled machine -- when it's staffed properly. With 2,501 of the team's 3,586 yards on the season (nearly 70 percent), QB Omar Haugabrook qualifies as his team's Tebow, but a hamstring injury incurred against Arkansas State last week has him listed as "doubtful" for the Georgia game. It puts Troy coach Larry Blakeney in a rather interesting (though not enviable) dilemma: Do you risk a much-better-than-50-percent shot at winning the Sun Belt title on a somewhat-worse-than-50-percent shot at beating Georgia on the road? If this column by Bobby Mathews of The Messenger is any indication, the answer is "probably not," but Mathews also says it'll probably be a game-time decision.
Obviously a lot of Georgia fans would be perfectly happy if Haugabrook sat this one out, as his backups, Tanner Jones and Jamie Hampton, are a combined 6-of-19 for all of 69 yards on the season. But I feel it is my duty as a board-certified wet blanket to remind everyone of the 2003 Georgia-UAB game, in which the Blazers had to start second-string QB Chris Williams in place of Darrell Hackney but still pushed a fifth-ranked Georgia team to the limit in a 16-13 nailbiter. So throw out the Troy injury report, and forget the Florida game while you're at it -- no matter whom the Trojans start, Georgia still hasn't demonstrated enough consistency this year to be able to sleepwalk through a game like this.
And make no mistake, sleepwalking opportunities abound this weekend. Even if the Dawgs had sustained their usual loss to Florida last week, the temptation to look ahead to next week's Auburn game would be severe; now the Dawgs have an outwardly meaningless OOC game sandwiched between a hugely emotional win over Florida and a matchup with Auburn that will help determine whether Georgia wins the SEC East. You could, if you were so inclined, look at the last five games of Georgia's season as the easiest game of "One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other" ever played.
As previously alluded to, only three times in the last half-century has Georgia had an opponent crammed in between the Florida and Auburn games, so it's hard to judge what their attitude is going to be like here -- but we can probably break it down to three possibilities: If Georgia plays like they did against Florida, they blow Troy out of the stadium, with or without Omar Haugabrook. If they come in a little distracted, or put up a couple scores early and then start to lose interest, they probably still win, but by a margin skimpy enough to inspire derogatory comments about how they were still high off the vapors of the Florida game. And if they come into this thing with the same level of motivation and/or focus that they had against Tennessee, they lose, period. That may sound inconceivable to some of you, but their conference affiliation notwithstanding, Troy is no bush-league team. They've beaten a couple BCS-conference opponents in the last few years and played numerous others achingly close; these guys are smart enough to know blood in the water when/if they smell it.
Against Oklahoma State, they smelled it, all right . . . and as this picture demonstrates, they dealt it.
So what's Georgia's emotional state looking like at the moment? David Ching, as usual, has a number of interesting insights. Mark Richt cited the youth and relative immaturity of the team as one possible factor in Georgia's up-and-down energy level this season, but apparently he has challenged his team to rise above that:
I talked to them about it when we met Sunday instead of Monday. I was like, ‘Here we are, men. We’re in a good position again. We’ve been here before. After Oklahoma State we were here. We were here after Alabama. By the grace of God, here we are again. What are you gonna do now? Are you just gonna let it fall by the wayside or wait for me to do something nutty? Can we sustain this thing?
Kudos to Richt for understanding that the end-zone jubilee, as perfect a confidence-building exercise as it was for the specific situation of the Florida game, isn't something he can do every single week -- eventually the players are going to have to pick up that ball, pardon the pun, and run with it.
I think they will, to some extent. Troy's defense sits at an unspectacular 61st in the country at the moment, even less impressive when you consider most of the teams they've played; they're giving up an average of 201.5 rushing yards a game, which seems tailor-made for Knowshon Moreno to have yet another big day. I can easily see Moreno and the offense putting up one or two scores early, then perhaps letting off the gas a little bit early and letting Troy further back into the game than they should. I don't think Georgia will need a last-second field goal to win this one, but I don't see them blowing anyone out, either. Of the three possibilities I outlined above, the middle one (a win by an unimpressive margin) seems the most likely, and no, I don't think we cover sixteen and a half points. I've been a Georgia fan long enough to know how these things usually go.
Insert "Of course the Trojans are going to cover" joke here.
But the players can change that if they want. They've got the home-field advantage, the edge in talent, and they should have the edge in momentum and/or motivation -- a hybrid concept I will refer to as "momentivation" -- after last week; a big win is theirs if they want it. They know as well as anyone that this is a sandwich game, and all they've got to decide is what kind of sandwich they want to bite into on Saturday.
I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia wins by at least 20. With a team that probably wasn't as good as Georgia's is now, Arkansas screwed around with Troy for a half earlier in the season and still managed to win by twenty points; we should be able to do the same. I just want to be ahead by enough at some point that we can give Joe Cox some playing time. Oh, you thought I was above making Cox/Trojans jokes on this blog? Well, you don't know me, then. You don't know me at all.
UPDATED: There's less than 30 seconds left in the first half of the game, we're listening to Larry Munson calling it over the Internet, and I only just now figured out that the last name of the Troy QB is not Hauga-brook as in "babbling brook" but Hauga-book as in "Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book." My apologies to Omar and all of the Belle Glade Haugabooks; readers, please re-read this post in its entirety, substituting the proper name. Thx.