Yeah, hi, thanks, great game, blah blah, whatever . . . just get me out of here.
Before I get into the meat of this, let me reprint a quote from the Kentucky preview I put up on Friday:
What I'm expecting to see is something like this: Georgia puts one or two quick scores on the board, just as we did against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but watches as a turnover or defensive breakdown allows Kentucky to make up part of the deficit and turn what should be a rout into a game that the Dawgs have to sweat for more or less the full four quarters. . . . In the end, I'm figuring on a final result that mirrors the Tennessee and Vanderbilt games: statistical domination that isn't reflected by a commensurate margin on the scoreboard.
After that there might have been something about Georgia scoring late to salt the game away and pull off a back-door cover, but honestly, in all the excitement I've kind of forgotten. I'm telling you, between that forecast, my 9-3 record in my Dr. Saturday picks column over the past three weekends, and the fact that I told you from the jump that Obama was going to get elected, I should start a Miss Cleo psychic hotline and charge y'all cash money for football picks and relationship advice.
Here's my confession, though: When I predicted the Wildcats giving the Dawgs everything they could handle for the full four quarters, I figured it'd be because our offense went in a shell against a decent Kentucky D and the final score would be, like, another 26-14 game or something. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Kentucky would roll up 38 points on us -- which, if you're playing at home, is the second-most points the 'Cats have scored on a D-IA team all year and more than half of the point total they rolled up in their first five games in conference play. It's weird: Despite going up against QBs like Jared Lorenzen and Andre Woodson, we'd managed to go pretty much the entire Mark Richt era without getting involved in one of those last-team-to-score-wins shootouts against Kentucky, but the year when Kentucky is rebuilding on offense and can't complete a pass to save their lives, that's when we start playing basketball on grass.
That said, we've got a hell of a point guard.
It wasn't completely the defense's fault, of course. When inexcusable special-teams bumblefuckery hand your opponent fields of 9, 29, and 4 yards, you kind of gotta saddle up for a shootout whether you think you deserve to be in one or not. That's 21 points we handed to Kentucky in a blue Tiffany box, and tack on another handful if you count the touchdown they started at their own 40 after one of our kickoffs went out of bounds. In spite of the rageahol that's bound to be spewed firehose-style at Willie Martinez over the next couple days, the defense didn't actually play that badly; recall that neither of Mo Massaquoi's two fourth-quarter fumbles resulted in Kentucky points, despite the first of the two being recovered on Georgia's side of the 50. Randall Cobb just barely got over 100 yards passing on the day, at a rate of only 5.2 yards per completion, and Kentucky's yards-per-play average was less than half of what ours was.
That said, though, our defense was a long way off from great or even good, giving up 226 rushing yards and allowing one of the SEC's worst third-down teams to convert half their opportunities on third or fourth down. We simply could not get them off the field for much of the second or third quarters, and it's not like we didn't know what was coming, either: Raycom's Dave Neal, despite calling A.J. Green "A.J. Bryant" for a substantial part of the game, astutely observed that with Cobb under center, Kentucky was basically running a slightly modified version of the triple option. Instead of rising to meet this challenge, though, we allowed the 'Cats 13 rushing first downs and let three guys in their backfield (Cobb, Tony Dixon, and Alfonso Smith) net more than 60 rushing yards apiece. Maybe my perspective on this is skewed because our previous game was against Florida, but none of those Kentucky players seemed all that fast to me; rather, they looked much faster relative to the seemingly indefferent Georgia defenders "pursuing" them. That, I think, is where the post-Florida apathy I alluded to in the preview reared its ugly head -- we overpursued Cobb on some of those option plays, we looked like we were jogging after the guys who actually had the ball, and in several instances where a second-level defender was actually in position to bring down the ball carrier, they stood there with a posture that practically screamed "I'm going to stand here like I'm ready to make a tackle but I'm not actually going to make it." I guess we tackled more thoroughly than we did against Florida, but if you're tackling a guy who's already made the first down, who cares?
Nice tackle. Next time try doing that on the other side of the marker.
There will be plenty of uncomfortable realizations about this team once the season winds to a close, I'm sure, but here's one we can make right now: That run defense that was so lockdown over the first half of the season was a mirage. What's the common thread running through Central Michigan, South Carolina, Arizona State, and Tennessee? None of them can run the ball for shit (they're all ranked 90th or worse nationally in rushing offense). And that's why we've gone from allowing 61 rushing yards per game over our first seven contests to giving up an average of 200 even over the last three. Even as one-dimensional as they are, Auburn is only ranked 63rd in that category, so we might be all right there, but Georgia Tech is eighth in the nation. I never dreamed I'd actually give a shit about having a bye week before the Tech game, but I sure do now.
Now, another thing I said last week in the preview post was that this situation (coming off a humiliating blowout loss and heading into a road game against an opponent we'd always regarded as a doormat) reminded me a lot of the Vanderbilt game a year ago. And sure enough, the actual flow of the Kentucky game mirrored that one, too: Go up early, offense looks like it's clicking, then we go to sleep and allow the other guys to pull ahead, and the combination of a miracle turnover and a late score clinch the victory for us. Maybe we should've held an impromptu victory celebration on the UK logo at midfield just to bring the comparison full circle, I don't know. Now, one thing I do know is that that Vandy game last year sparked the Celebration, the big win over Florida, and the seven-win streak down the back nine that was maybe the most dominant couple months of football I've ever seen Georgia play. I'd like to think there's some way that Richt could use this equally close win over Kentucky to spark the same kind of surge, but it doesn't look like there's quite that much emotion going on on the Georgia side of things, not that there's enough of the season left to really matter.
I guess I shouldn't get too torn up about it, really: We dumped 520 yards on what was then the 26th-ranked defense in the nation, in the process solving, at least temporarily, both our red-zone dyslexia (five-for-five on TDs once we got to the UK20) and Matt Stafford's recent interceptionitis (zero picks in 27 attempts). I got to watch MoMass earn his redemption for those two fumbles with a glorious 77-yard catch-and-run in the final minutes, and then watch Stafford and A.J. Green hook up on a winning TD pass as sweet as anything I've seen from Georgia all year long. On that play, Raycom's Daves actually got one right: That really did look like Dwight Clark's catch in the '82 NFC championship.
Ehh, not quite the same, but close enough for government work (or Raycom).
If we can keep that up, do to Auburn's offense what everyone else seems to have been able to do this year, and then watch a ton of game tape on North Carolina's defense and take out Tech in the regular-season finale, that's 10 wins with a chance at an 11th in a bowl game. As far away as that seems from the national-title aspirations we were nursing back in August, I'm good friends with enough Auburn and Tennessee fans to be able to count my blessings with a smile on my face should that come to pass.
All that said, though, nobody who's just had to escape Lexington with a four-point victory has any right to be calling either of those last two games gimmes. Dawgs, it's time to hunker the fuck down and realize that while it sucks that nobody will be remembering the '08 squad as a national-title contender, you can still be remembered as an 11-game winner, which is considerably better than "the team that found a way to lose to the worst Auburn team in a decade AND handed the nerds their first win over Georgia in eight tries." Decide which one you want to be, fellas -- and Mark, Willie, and Mike, that goes for y'all, too.
Since I'm such an awesome prognosticator and everything, here's your Heisman winner. That one's a freebie.
· Not that anyone was waiting on pins and needles for this, but the BlogPoll ballot I'm cooking up for this week has a new #1, and it wears black and says YAARRRR. Not that Alabama's not a good team, but they got taken to overtime by the same team that Georgia dumped 52 points on in their own house; Texas Tech, on the other hand, has beaten a pair of top-ten teams in back-to-back weeks, the first victim being what was then the #1 team in the country, the second by a score of 56-20. If it looks like a #1 team and smells like a #1 team . . .
· If you thought Dave Neal repeatedly getting A.J. Green's name wrong was the dumbest thing anybody said on Saturday, I can do you one better: On "College Gameday," Lee Corso said that Southern California was the best team in the country right now. Um, no. How much you think Mark May paid him to say that?
· If, like me, you're tempted to grouse about a don't-give-a-shit performance from your team this past weekend, consider that it could be so, so much worse. In the end, though -- and I told Holly this as she was contemplating suicide yesterday evening -- was that it was kind of like the end of the "Return of Chef" episode of "South Park":
STAN: Oh my God, they killed Chef!
KYLE: You bastards! YOU BASTARDS!
MR. CONNOLLY: Pity. He would have made an excellent child molester.
CARTMAN: Maybe -- maybe he's still okay. No, really. They say the last thing you do before you die is crap your --
CHEF noisily evacuates his bowels.
CARTMAN: Oh. Never mind.
Basically, what I'm saying is Tennessee's season was already dead; losing at home to Wyoming was just their way of crapping their pants and removing all doubt.
· UAB Blazers watch: They didn't play this past weekend, which, after the previous week, was something of a blessing.
· Wofford Terriers watch: The Terriers, who also got humiliated big-time a couple weeks ago, bounced back with a close win over the Citadel on Saturday. Unfortunately, they still need Appalachian State to lose to both Elon and Western Carolina in their last two games to have a shot at the Southern Conference championship.
· Cheerleader Curse watch: The long-dormant curse of the SI.com Cheerleader of the Week showed signs of life this past weekend, but in a weird way -- Jaclyn (above) was named the CotW two days after watching her Miami RedHawks get a 37-17 beating from formerly godawful Buffalo. Is that how SI is doing it these days? Fine, then I nominate Hoover's own Andrea Bostick for CotW honors two weeks from now.