Sunday, October 19

Our gain is your loss . . .

No, no, don't get up, I'll take care of this.

Kyle King and Quinton McDawg got around to making the point before I could, but damned if this wasn't a repeat of the Tennessee game: solid statistical domination (a 180-yard edge in total offense, 25 first downs to the opponent's 14), a reasonably aggravation-free two-touchdown lead in the first half, and yet somehow the final score doesn't look like an ass-whipping; the victim never really looked like they were going to win, yet the hobnail boot was never applied forcefully enough to the throat to take them completely out of it, either. In this case, at least, we had the benefit of playing a ranked opponent as opposed to a floundering stiff -- though I'm sure that won't appease the legions of old-school Dawg fans who insist that we should beat Vanderbilt by at least four touchdowns if they so much as wander into our area code, regardless of whatever rigidly disciplined magic Bobby Johnson has wrought in Nashville.

Against Tennessee, the screw-ups that kept our statistical superiority from translating into a properly super-sized beatdown were two interceptions and a series of brain seizures (on the part of both players and coaches) in the red zone; substitute "missed field goals" for the red-zone brain seizures this time around and you've pretty much got it. Actually, against Vandy we seemed to do most of our brain-farting between the twenties: On a couple of drives early in the second quarter, we had three or four plays that would've qualified as Keystone Koppery if that weren't such an insult to the Keystone Kops. On one of them Stafford threw a pass to a receiver in the flat who hadn't even bothered to turn around, on another Ben Jones mistakenly thought he'd seen a Vanderbilt lineman jump and snapped the ball hoping to get five free yards, and I seem to recall another premature snap that resulted in either Stafford or Moreno getting buried a couple yards behind the line. Nothing that killed our chances of winning, certainly, but the kind of stuff that might've put us in a real bind if the opponent were, say, LSU or Florida.

But it wasn't LSU or Florida, it was Vanderbilt, whose 5-0 start, while certainly inspiring, is taking on an increasingly mirage-y appearance as the weeks wear on. Much of the Commodores' success has been built on well-timed opponent screwups and then shrewdly capitalizing on them; the screw-ups were certainly there for Vandy to take advantage of on Saturday, but it was to the Dawgs' credit that they mostly didn't let the 'Dores take advantage. Matt Stafford's first interception, for instance, actually ended up flipping the field-position script for a few series that ended in a Mackenzi Adams interception near midfield and a short-ish drive that earned Georgia their second touchdown. When Vandy pinned us at our own five in the fourth quarter, nursing a single-score lead, a few nice plays by Knowshon and Shaun Chapas put us on the Vanderbilt side of the field in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

Reshad Jones helps himself to an interception.

The play of the game, though, belonged to Asher Allen, who snuffed out Vandy's last realistic chance at tying the game by slamming into Jamie Graham just inches short of the first-down marker and preventing the 'Dores from converting fourth-and-four inside their own 30. (Getting the ball back deep inside Vandy territory, of course, allowed us to kick the field goal that put us up by two scores and effectively iced the game.) I felt doubly happy for Asher after that play given that Graham was the receiver who'd all but tackled Allen on a long pass play in the second quarter that somehow ended up in Georgia getting tagged with a pass-interference penalty; I try to avoid being one of those "they're out to get us" conspiracy theorists with regard to the refs, but that flag was thrown so blatantly against the wrong guy that it makes me wonder if the zebras really are eyeing us a lot closer after last year's end-zone celebration in the Cocktail Party. Even with that penalty included, though, we committed only five infractions for 47 yards on the day, a positively choir-boy-ish performance compared to our first six games of the season. (Why, we're down to 115th in the nation in per-game penalty yardage!)

So all in all, it wasn't the kind of game anyone's going to be writing folk songs about, but we got the job done against a notoriously hard-to-put-away opponent, earned bowl eligibility, and perhaps most importantly in this very-special-episode-of-"ER" of a season, didn't get anybody hurt. There'll be plenty of opportunity for me to work up a nice worry-induced irregular heart rhythm between now and the game in Baton Rouge on Saturday, but at the moment I feel pretty decent about this team. Not that I'm not still getting used to the idea that a 10-point win over Vanderbilt is something to be cherished, but I'm sure I'm not the only person struggling to wrap his steel trap of a mind around that one.

Elsewhere in the nation:

· About that LSU team we're going to be facing: I'm still not sure which is the real LSU -- the team that Steve Spurrier's still-creaking-into-gear offense gashed for nearly 200 yards in the first half Saturday night, or the one that clamped down on that same offense to the tune of just 60 yards in the second -- but I guess the fact that I'm even asking that question at all is cause for a little bit of hope. As is the fact that the Bayou Bengals beat the Gamecocks by the exact same score that Vanderbilt did.


· Meanwhile, whether they win or lose this weekend, that LSU team looks as though it might actually have a chance against Alabama unless the Tide go into halftime with anything less than a three-touchdown lead, because a 24-3 cushion at the half against Ole Miss wasn't enough to keep the Tide from sweating bullets right down to the last minutes. In their last three games, Bama has outscored its opponents 69-3 in the first half but gotten outscored 61-13 in the second, which makes me wonder if Nick Saban hasn't been bringing a copy of Georgia's Greatest Halftime Speeches, 2006 Ed. into the locker room with him.

· Not that any of y'all care about what's going on in the Pac-10 at the moment -- nor should you -- but Washington State has now played five conference games and lost them all by an average score of 58-7. They've given up more than 60 points four times, three of those at home, which means that if you're a WSU fan with a ticket to see the Cougars take on a D-IA opponent in Pullman, the law of averages says you're about to watch your team get beat by seven touchdowns. Just remember that, Georgia fans, the next time you're tempted to bitch about how miserable you are/were after the Alabama game.

Meanwhile, in the Race for the Humanitarian Bowl . . .

· In other News of Conferences You Really Don't Need To Care About, the ACC really, really sucks. Their highest-ranked team is a Georgia Tech squad whose résumé contains one win over a D-IA team with a winning record; at this rate the conference will be lucky to end up with a Virginia Tech-Wake Forest matchup in its title game, but somehow I think that game's gonna have "Thursday night" written all over it no matter who ends up getting invited.

· Auburn hires Tony Franklin, ends up 4-3 with the 107th-ranked offense in D-IA. Troy loses Tony Franklin (and his star pupil, QB Omar Haugabook) and is 4-2, undefeated in the Sun Belt, and averaging 32 points per game. I submit this without further comment.

· UAB Blazers watch: MARS, BITCHES!

In front of a joyous Homecoming crowd, UAB held on to beat Marshall 23-21 and earn its first win over a D-IA opponent this season. Will we ride the momentum from that win to beat Southern Miss for the first time ever a couple weeks from now? Probably not, but until then, we're savoring this.

· Wofford Terriers watch: As expected, the mighty Terriers crushed Western Carolina 42-14 to stay undefeated in Southern Conference play. This week, it's rubber-meets-road time as the Terriers face the league-leading Elon Phoenix (7-1, 5-0 SoCon) on the road.

· Washington Redskins watch: We won. It wasn't pretty, but life could be much, much worse.

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