Monday, October 27
I may be wrong, I may be right, but I don't give up any night . . .
Darryl Gamble, LSU's leading receiver on Saturday.
If you'd told me before the game this past Saturday that somebody was going to score more than 50 points in Baton Rouge, I would've done two things: First, I would've meekly asked, "Did we at least manage to get any on the board before halftime this time," and then I would've had an acid flashback to the Alabama game right before I got online to track down expert advice on exactly how many Xanax I'd need to wash down with a bottle of Stoli to make it all go away.
Instead, with the help of Darryl Gamble pulling a Tra Battle and assuming the role of LSU's leading receiver (two pick-sixes for a total of 93 yards), we dropped half-a-hundred on the Tigers in their own stadium. I was kind of hoping we were the first team to ever accomplish that, and we weren't -- naturally, Steve Spurrier got there first back in '93, albeit against one of LSU's wretched Curley Hallman squads -- but still, I'll take it. After going three seasons without breaking the half-century mark on anyone, we've now done it twice in as many months; say what you want about this team, but don't tell us we can't light up the scoreboard, or that we can't get it up for a big game.
And it wasn't a perfect game, to be sure, but given the circumstances it was as close as we were going to get: Going up against nearly 1,200 pounds of defensive-line beef, our patchwork O-line only let Matt Stafford get sacked once and paved the way for a 163-yard day for Knowshon Moreno. Our much-maligned pass defense never quite let Jarrett Lee get into a groove until it was much too late, aided, of course, by Gamble grabbing two TDs of his own. The whole team operated with the kind of ruthless efficiency that we haven't seen since -- well, I was almost going to say something like "since Arizona State," but the truth is that even that dominating performance wasn't on a par with this one. Not only was this our best performance of the season by a long shot, we pulled it off in one of the most hostile environments in all of college football.
"Not only that, but I ain't puttin' none of y'all in my Fave Five. Bitches."
And while Knowshon Moreno is the one who's been getting the majority of the "player of the game" awards -- not without reason, as his highlight-reel-making 68-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter started the steady drumbeat of nails being pounded into LSU's coffin -- but I've been gratified to see some love being sent Stafford's way, and Mike Bobo's, too. Bobo called one of the most solid games of his young career, and Stafford did a masterful job of adapting it to the conditions on the field; he audibled with the poise and confidence of, dare I say it, Peyton Manning under center (though without the extraneous arm-flapping for misdirection's sake). I really hope I don't have to read another one of those contrarian "Matt Stafford really isn't that good" hit jobs for the rest of the season, because he's delivered the best performance of any QB in the SEC this year and it isn't even close: 1,946 yards in eight games, 12 TDs to five picks, and perhaps most important to silencing the doubters, a completion percentage over that critical 60-percent mark. My only worry is that his numbers will end up so far out ahead of the rest of what's a fairly mediocre overall QB class this year that he rolls the dice on an early NFL departure, but for right now, I'm savoring this.
Saturday's performance was the equivalent of lifting two kegs at Talladega.
Of course, some of the numbers Saturday weren't nearly as positive -- 38 points allowed, for example, or 497 yards given up, including 309 to a pair of less-than-seasoned QBs, and another 144 to the man-beast otherwise known as Charles Scott. I nearly blew a gasket at the way Scott's sheer momentum always seemed to carry him to a five- or six-yard gain even when we'd hit him hard at the line, but I did a cursory glance at the rosters of our next few opponents and only a couple of them have running backs who are anywhere close to 5'11", 221. As for LSU's disturbingly plump final numbers on offense, Blutarsky offers a ladder with which to come down off that ledge by pointing out that a good 44 percent of LSU's yards came in the fourth quarter, with the Tigers passing like crazy in a futile effort to erase a deficit that ping-ponged between two and three touchdowns. I won't even be that mad about it if, as Blutarsky proposes, the defense let their guard down because they were mentally hunkering down for the flight to Jacksonville; I mean, if you have to look ahead to the next opponent, wait to do it until after you've rung up a three-TD lead on your current one, not that I'd blame them for looking ahead to the biggest game of the year anyway.
Soooo . . . about that Cocktail Party this weekend: Yes, I'm well aware that they dropped 50 on LSU too, and given the Gators' simmering resentment over The Celebration last year -- no, I don't care what y'all say, you're still fuming over that one, and the more you deny it the more I know it's true -- it's possible they may be the toughest opponent we face all year, yes, even tougher than Alabama. It's possible that the Gators will be so fired up over that slight that they beat us 52-7, or maybe it's possible that they'll be so overcome with rage that they start doing stupid things and open the door for us to punk 'em again, but I'm not going to waste too much time wondering how many Georgia players can dance on the head of a pin or in the heads of the Gators. For right now, I'm simply going to concur with the good senator that we probably ought to bone up on some tackling drills between now and Saturday -- what Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, and the terrifying Jeff Demps lack in size relative to Scott, they more than make up for in speed -- but even factoring in Saturday's somewhat inflated stats, we'll still be taking the nation's sixth-ranked run defense and 21st-ranked overall defense down to Jacksonville. And praise Jesus, none of our guys got hurt in Baton Rouge, which is as worthy of a thank-you prayer to your higher power of choice as anything else that happened Saturday.
Nobody had to leave the stadium on crutches? Why, that is exciting!
But I'm not gonna stress about the Cocktail Party just yet -- I'll worry about that later. For today, I'm going to be proud of a team that looks as strong as it has all year long. Before the season started, I was eyeing the four-week road trip we've just started -- Baton Rouge, Jacksonville, Lexington, and Auburn -- with dread and fearing that by the end of the season we'd be looking back and thanking our lucky stars that we even managed to split those four games. After starting that sequence off with a resounding win, however, it's looking like three out of the four should be our baseline, with 4-0 possible if we can rise to the occasion in Jax and play with the courage and intensity that a de facto SEC East championship game merits. Most important game in the history of ever? That might be a little much, but I certainly won't mind if we act like it is between now and 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
The other reason, though, that I'm gonna need at least a little while to catch up is this: Against LSU, the Dawgs did real well when I had a drink in my hand but started letting the Tigers back into the game when I was booze-less, so I made a halftime adjustment of my own and decided I would maintain a constant alcohol drip until the clock hit four zeroes. Paid for it later, of course, but I don't mind taking one for the team, and I don't regret a single thing I did Saturday.
No, not even that.
Other stuff I recall thinking before I slipped irrevocably into my booze-induced fog:
This doesn't look like it ended in a fun landing.
· Everyone on the Alabama team can have coffee again, as they finally closed out a game and kept their boot on Tennessee's neck for the entirety of their game Saturday. To look at it another way, Tennessee ended up with only 173 total yards on the day; Georgia had 86 in the first half against Bama -- you know, the one where we got down 31-0 -- so just put two of those halves together and you've basically got the Vols' performance Saturday night. The good news for the Volunteers is that they've got their usual snoozer of a late-season schedule coming up -- South Carolina, Wyoming, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky; the bad news is they can only lose one of those to have any hope of getting back into a bowl game.
· I've just about finalized my ballot for this week's BlogPoll, and despite their dominating performance at Kansas State, I think I'm gonna have to drop Oklahoma a couple notches this time around. The score of that game was 55-28 at halftime, and while they made enough adjustments in the second half to clamp down and win 58-35, that's still way too many points to be allowing to a team like K-State. Yes, I know Georgia coughed up a bunch of points in Baton Rouge, but let the record show we didn't let someone named Josh Freeman pass for 478 yards on us. I think that's kind of important.
· Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia: Which one of these teams is not leading their division at the moment? I'll give you a hint: It's not this one.
Time to fire up the ol' couch again . . .
· About that West Virginia-Auburn game Thursday night: There's no more telling factoid about Auburn's season this year than the fact that the Tigers have led in every single game they've played this year -- six of them by double digits -- yet are only 4-4 and in no way assured of making a bowl game. To me, that's a sign of a team that doesn't think it can win, and while I'm not going to accuse them of having given up on the season just yet, there were certainly members of the team who seemed to have mentally packed it in on the sidelines in Morgantown. I'm really interested to see how much blame Tommy Tuberville ends up taking at the end of the season for this, but I'm far more interested to see what direction he decides to go in as far as a new offensive coordinator, and what kind of offensive scheme he decides to run. Because it doesn't seem as though any of the Tigers' current coaches have a clue.
· UAB Blazers watch: They had a bye this past weekend. This Saturday, they face 2-6 Southern Miss, who is to UAB kind of what Florida was to Georgia throughout the 1990s. I don't know, though; maybe they have a chance.
· This week's Wofford Terriers Watch can be summed up with one photo:
The mighty Terriers devoured conference-leading Elon 55-20 on the road, and there are now only two teams left in the Southern Conference still undefeated in league play -- Wofford and Appalachian State, whom the Terriers face this weekend in Boone. A win over the Mountaineers would all but clinch the conference title for WU, as they would then have to lose two of their three remaining games -- against 3-5 Citadel, at 4-3 Samford, and against 6-3 Furman -- to get knocked out of first place.
· Washington Redskins watch: The 'Skins took care of Detroit 25-17 on Sunday, but the most amazing stat from that game is 0 -- as in the number of interceptions Jason Campbell threw. As in the number of interceptions he's thrown all season. Now that I've mentioned that, of course, he'll go out and earn a golden sombrero against Pittsburgh on Monday night. But again, I'm savoring this while it lasts, baby.