Sunday, September 28
No time for tears.
Mama, take this jersey from me, I can't use it anymore . . .
Well, at least now I don't feel so bad about not having run out and gotten a black jersey last year. The very first time we did a “Blackout,” for the Auburn game last year, I was fretting even before the game started that the black-jersey idea might be one of those things that angers the football gods and dooms us to an embarrassing loss in front of a nationwide audience; it didn't happen that time, of course, nor the time after that, but the football gods apparently decided three Blackouts in less than 12 months was too much cheekiness for any one team, and punished us with about as humiliating a loss as I've witnessed as a Georgia fan. On paper, at least, it ranks right up there in the top tier with the nightmarish '99 Auburn game, the Tech game the following year, the first quarter of the '06 Sugar Bowl against West Virginia, and last year's debacle in Knoxville.
So why am I not hunting for toasters to throw this morning, or even invoking “The Princess Bride” as I rain hellfire down on our coaching staff? The difference, I guess, is that those last four atrocities were committed by Georgia against opponents that were, for the most part, demonstrably inferior (if there's an exception, it'd obviously be West Virginia, though the Dawgs' comeback from a 28-0 deficit should serve as an accurate picture of what we should have been doing to the Mountaineers all along had we all not been smoking blunts and watching Adult Swim in the locker room before the game). With this Alabama team, though, I won't even hesitate to say they're better than us. And looking back with good ol' 20/20 hindsight, I realize how many of my predictions for Georgia's performance in this game were built solely on hope, crossed fingers, and a nervous smile: If our defensive front can contain Alabama's running game to the point where John Parker Wilson has to make plays, and if he makes the same mistakes he's been prone to making in the past, and if our O-line holds up enough for us to maintain that offensive balance everyone's been raving about, and if we can cut down on penalties and channel the crowd's energy into spirited, aggressive play . . .
. . . And if I looked like Brad Pitt and had appeared in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," I'd be waking up next to this every morning.
Well, instead we ended up in the midst of a perfect storm where not only did none of those things happen, we got a series of just plain dumb, mind-blowingly bad breaks thrown our way for good measure: Dannell Ellerbe getting hurt on Alabama's very first offensive series; Akeem Dent's silly, unnecessary use of the ol' hands-to-the-face on JPW that same drive that negated what might've been a momentum-altering fumble recovery; Brian Mimbs's sudden inability to punt a ball farther than 30 yards; the bizarre A.J. Green “fumble” early in the second quarter that A.J. probably wouldn't know how to recreate even if you threw him that exact same pass 1,000 times; Knowshon being rendered a non-factor in the second half due to injury; and on and on and on. Between all that stuff and the injuries we've already incurred this season, I'd like to think that, if nothing else, we've simply exhausted the supply of horrendously bad luck cosmically allotted to the Bulldogs for '08 and won't have to see anything like this happen again for the remainder of the season.
Now, by attributing so many of Georgia's problems to happenstance and shitty luck, I don't mean to take anything away from Alabama's performance, which, let me reiterate, was scary good. In particular, I have to give John Parker Wilson props here, because he was not only the linchpin for Bama's offensive successes throughout the game, but also a symbol for all the things that surprised me about what the Tide was able to do. As was probably apparent in my preview on Thursday, I was reasonably confident that, with a little resistance applied to Alabama's running game, we'd be able to create situations where we could take Wilson out of his well-broken-in comfort zone; clearly that didn't happen. We did hold the Tide to just a little over half their average rushing yardage for the season to date, but if that rattled JPW any, he didn't show it — he was as poised and confident as I've ever seen him, repeatedly moving the chains with nicely placed second-down passes. In keeping with the game plan that had served Alabama quite well in their first four games, Wilson still wasn't asked to do too terribly much — he only threw 16 passes all game — but he did throw a few very nice-looking long balls, and his few incompletions were harmless. With both Alabama's rushing and passing attacks operating at equal levels of dangerousness, Georgia was unable to render them one-dimensional the same way we had against South Carolina and Arizona State; instead, we found ourselves in ASU's place, having to respect both the run and the long ball against Alabama and being shorthanded at that. Aside from those first three defensive series of the second half, in which the Dawgs held Alabama to their only three-and-outs of the night, we just never seemed to have enough guys to both put up a fight against Bama's imposing offensive line and cover a group of receivers who were catching passes thrown more accurately than anyone other than Jim McElwain was probably predicting.
Who are you and what have you done with the real JPW?
Nor do I mean to let Georgia's coaching staff completely off the hook, either, because it's one thing when I underestimate the upcoming opponent, it's another thing entirely when it's someone who's getting paid to do this stuff and who's had a whole week to dissect film on a specific team. I still feel like we should've placed more trust in our defensive backs to cover Bama's receivers in man-on-man situations, rather than putting them in the same old zone coverage that JPW exploited pretty quickly; I also don't know why, in the few situations where we actually get a little pressure on the QB, we somehow end up with late-hit-on-the-QB penalties. We've now been hit with five of these things in the last three games, and sure, a couple of them have been bullshit, but at some point you're going to have to take stock of how many penalties we're incurring, realize that the late-hit flags have been as self-destructive as anything we've done all season, and decide that our desperation for some kind of pass rush is no excuse for handing teams freebie first downs when they should be punting. I'm no coach, nor did I even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but doesn't it seem like “Don't put your hands up in a QB's face” should be a pretty simple thing to engineer out of even the bloodthirstiest of linebackers?
Still, maybe the head cold I've contracted this past week has rendered me too weak to react to this drubbing with the fury it deserves, but as much as fun as I'm sure it would be to get name-dropped in This Week in Schadenfreude tomorrow, I just can't bring myself to shift into meltdown mode right now. As I've already explained, a lot of the chaos from yesterday was due to phenomenally bad breaks that we can hold out reasonable hope of not having to deal with again anytime soon; Paul Westerdawg, God bless him, helpfully adds that the loss is somewhat less reflective of the state of our program right now than it is of the blizzard of injuries we've experienced and the lax O-line recruiting that we've only recently been able to address. I have no problem with putting all the black jerseys in a big crate and stashing them in some huge government warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant, but RESCIND SCHOLARSHIPS FIRE COACHES ARGGH ARGGH is, as a next step, not terribly constructive. We've now got two weeks to prepare for a revenge-a-palooza at home against the flailing Tennessee Volunteers; I doubt we're going to magically develop a consistent pass rush in that time, but we'll have enough time to get guys healthy, find some personnel stability on the offensive and defensive lines, and work on those $#@! penalties. The fixes aren't easy by any means, but the problems, to varying degrees, are fixable. If you don't believe that, then go back and re-watch the Tennessee game from last year — far more expletive-inducing than Saturday night's game, though your mileage may vary on that one — and tell me you had any inkling whatsoever that that Georgia team would go on to beat Florida, finish with the same SEC record as the eventual division champs, win a Sugar Bowl, and finish the season #2 in the nation.
OK, here's one good thing that happened. That's about all I got.
And now, of course, we've got even more time left in the season to shrug off this loss than we did the Tennessee loss in '07. Not only that, but we've got a division in which the two other top contenders for division-title honors were kind enough to lose yesterday also. (Anyone want to go in on a fruit basket for Houston Nutt? I'll even pay the shipping.) If you want to jump the bandwagon now, fine, but don't be surprised if you're in the minority — as Mike Patrick and Todd Blackledge noticed with some admiration last night, Georgia fans were still packing the stands and cheering lustily even as their team was rushing out of the tunnel for the second half facing a 31-0 deficit. Both our team and our fans hung in there better than I could've imagined under those circumstances, so if you're not prepared to clear that bar in terms of loyalty, shove off, we don't need ya.
Feel free to keep your black T-shirt, though, because I doubt we'll be needing that, either.
A few more observations before I turn the lights off and take a friggin' nap:
· There is one relevant similarity between the Bama game and last year's Nutpunching at Neyland — they both happened on weekends already backloaded enough with top-25 upsets that Georgia's loss isn't even close to the most shocking thing that people will be hashing out at water coolers on Monday. We've already had our big collective gasp at Southern Cal's loss to Oregon State on Thursday, but top-10 teams Florida and Wisconsin were kind enough to get punked by unranked opponents as well. The Florida game was the most relevant to Georgia's cause, obviously, not only because Florida's loss keeps the SEC East race wild and woolly, but also because they seemed to combine some of the worst traits of last year's Gator team (overdependence on Tebow/Harvin, a secondary prone to giving up the big play) with one of the worst traits of this year's (an offensive line that still doesn't seem to know what it's doing 100 percent of the time). After last night's embarrassment, of course, there's only so much joy any Dawg fan can take in this latest development, but I still know which team I'd rather be right now.
· Actually, the team in the most enviable position in the SEC East at the moment is . . . Vanderbilt, who did precisely squat this past weekend but still woke up Sunday morning to find themselves in sole possession of first place in the division. Yes, Gators, Vols, Gamecocks, fellow Bulldogs, we're all staring up the Commodores' asses until further notice. Just take that as a sign of how wide-open this division is if you're one of those fans still Chicken-Littling your team's chances after a rough start to the season.
· If you're interested in starting a This Week In Overall Conference Ineptitude feature — and you could've put together a pretty good one so far — this week you're back to the ACC, where the OK, Surely We Have At Least One Decent Team Award was vacated by Wake Forest after getting punked at home by Navy. The runner-up for that award, the one who will assume the title in the event that the winner is unable to fulfill her duties, was Clemson right until they abdicated any remaining claim to the throne against Maryland. So who does the trophy get handed to now? God help me, it may be Duke, who laid down the biggest beating of any ACC team Saturday by stomping Virginia 31-3. My dad is thisclose to asking the Alumni Association for his last donation check back.
· UAB Blazers watch: Progress! Dear old UAB played their closest game yet against a D-IA opponent, keeping South Carolina's offense sort of in check and covering the spread in a 26-13 loss. At this rate we might actually have a shot at beating Memphis next week and reclaiming the coveted trophy in the “Battle for the Bones,” and no, I don't really feel like explaining what that is right now.
· Wofford Terriers watch: The fightin' Terriers built up a 31-14 lead on Georgia Southern in Statesboro on Saturday, took a little snoozeroo in the second half and let Southern tie it up, but iced a GSU two-point conversion attempt in overtime to win a 38-37 thriller. The Terriers are now 3-1 overall, 1-0 in the Southern Conference, right below 2-0 Elon; next week they take on 1-4 Chattanooga at home in what should be a bloodletting.
· Cheerleader Curse watch: After whiffing the first couple weeks of the season, the curse has now worked its nefarious magic on consecutive Saturdays — the latest victim being UNLV, home of cheerleader Lindsay (above), who punked Arizona State in Tempe but couldn't stay within three TDs of Nevada on their own field. If only they'd chosen an Alabama cheerleader, but . . . no, that still wouldn't have been nearly enough bad luck to hand us a win. Forget I said anything.