Monday, September 7
I've been hurt, and we've been had . . .
Well, that wasn't how this was supposed to go.
Gotta tell you, kids, I'm kind of at a loss here. Only twice since I first moved my freshman ass into Lipscomb Hall back in the fall of 1995 has Georgia failed to win its season opener (the other being Jim Donnan's debut in 1996); only five times in that span have we not started a season 2-0. (Actually, Kyle says this is the first time we've ever had a losing record at any point in the Mark Richt era, which is amazing to me.) I didn't realize what a luxury that was until now, but we've always been fairly fortunate to begin seasons with tangible evidence that we were at least a pretty good team, or barring that, evidence of what we were good at and what we weren't.
But after the first season-opening loss under Richt, I'm still not really sure what kind of team we have here. And as Senator Blutarsky explains, our coaches don't appear to be either, at least on offense. We were a well-oiled machine on that first glorious offensive drive, repeatedly running over Oklahoma State's front seven and slinging the ball with authority, but whatever made that first drive work so brilliantly was a fleeting memory halfway through the second quarter. From there we downshifted into a series of head-scratching passes that were neither thrown nor caught particularly well, and what few good runs we broke off after that never came at junctures in the game where they were able to amount to anything.
A lot of people have questioned Mike Bobo's philosophy (or whether he even had one) during this game, and while I don't usually consider myself knowledgeable enough about the deeply technical X-and-O aspects of football to question anyone's playcalling, this time I can see where the naysayers are coming from and sympathize with them. The thing is, I can kind of see where Bobo was coming from, too: Cox had laced a couple nice-looking passes on the opening drive, and certainly anyone who watched any game tape of last year's OSU defense could've reasonably come to the conclusion that blasting away at their pass defense was the way to go. But when Cox followed up the opening drive by going through a stretch where he completed only four of seven passes for 9 yards, the logical thing to do would've been to throttle back the burden placed on the passing game and re-invest in what was working, i.e. the running game. It looked like a classic case of depending too much on a pre-conceived game plan and not adapting the playcalling to the circumstances on the field, and while I guess the temptation to do that is always gonna be greater when you're just starting out the season and don't really know what you have yet, I would've thought Bobo would have grown out of that after two-plus seasons flying solo as the OC.
No Colorado-in-2006 heroics this past Saturday, yet no thrown toasters, either. (But only because I was watching the game at someone else's house.)
Then there's Cox. I don't know how much of his ineffectiveness was due to his recovering from the flu and how much was due to him perhaps just not being all that good; either way, I hate to see him get compared too closely to Joe Tereshinski, which is like the "she has a nice personality" of faint-praise QB assessments. But unlike 2006, when I started the season pretty solid in my conviction that Tereshinski gave us the best chance to win and took a lot of convincing (and freshman struggling by Matt Stafford) to believe otherwise, this time around I find myself nodding a little and tapping my foot to the beat of the people who want to see Murray or Mettenberger get their shot earlier rather than later. I love Cox's work ethic, attitude, and devotion to the team, but if all that stuff translated directly into Ws, JoeT3 would've been hoisting a Sugar Bowl trophy at the end of 2006.
The thing is, looking at how tough our schedule is this year, we don't have a true breather game until we host Tennessee Tech between the hedges in November, and that dramatically decreases the likelihood we'll have an opportunity to empty the bench and give any of the backup guys some playing time. Which means that if we do see Murray or Mettenberger on the field before then, more than likely it will have come about due to a Cox implosion. At which point, of course, we'll be throwing a true freshman to the wolves. Are we having fun yet?
The reason for hope, of course, is our defense, and who the hell thought anyone would be saying that after last year's second-half debacle. We held the Cowboys nearly two hundred yards and 17 points below their per-game 2008 average, and all but one of OSU's scores came on drives they were fortunate enough to start deep inside Georgia territory thanks to a turnover or long kick return. Even the avowed anti-Willie Martinez factions within Bulldog Nation have, for the most part, been stepping up to defend Willie in the wake of the defense's solid performance in Stillwater, and while the paranoid fatalist in me wants to believe that our season must already be on the brink if lions are willing to lie down with lambs like that, the greater part of me is just thrilled we've figured out how to fucking knock people down again. (Even if, as poor Reshad Jones found out, we only end up getting penalized for it. Dude, I take back every bad thing I've ever said about you.)
So yeah, it was a bad afternoon, made that much more worse by the fact that we still don't know how much trouble we're in just yet. We could be the kind of 2006-mediocre where we lose a couple games to teams we have no business losing to but are still solid enough to regroup to an inspiring finish and nine wins, or we could be bad bad enough to be entering the stretch run in November still wondering how we're gonna put together six wins and back our way into the Papajohns.com Bowl. But let's please keep in mind that we've only played one game, and barring further evidence to the contrary, two factors mitigate against the latter outcome. The first is that Mark Richt has never won fewer than eight games in a season -- heck, 10-win seasons have become the rule rather than the exception in Athens, even when we're demonstrably not even trying that hard -- so it might not be time just yet to start seriously weighing the possibility of a 6-6 (much less 5-7) finish.
I realize that that might not be comforting some of the antsier, more shit-can-happy segments of our fan base, so let's also take at least a minute or two out of our busy rageahol-consumption schedule to consider: What if Oklahoma State is really as good as advertised? I mean, the "OSU as trendy top-ten pick" meme started getting outpaced by its own backlash as far back as early June, and nearly every pundit who predicted a Georgia win in Stillwater (which was most of them, myself included) predicated that pick at least partially on the assumption that OSU was a) overrated and b) preordained to wilt before remotely challenging opponents. What if the Cowboys' offense really hasn't lost a step despite losing all that receiving talent, their defense really has made a quantum leap under Bill Young, and they really are a solid top-ten team (if not top-five, where they'll more than likely ascend to sometime in the next month)? Particularly with Oklahoma sustaining a direct hit not only to their hopes of a BCS national title but to their hopes of any kind of title at all -- even the Big XII South -- is it possible that we're going to be looking back on this game in January thinking that actually wasn't the absolute worst performance we could've put up against an eventual Fiesta Bowl team?
Well, we'd better hope that that's what we end up saying, because we already know Georgia's not as good as advertised, and if Oklahoma State turns out not to be as good as advertised either, then that's a double suckerpunch back into the ranks of the mediocre, and one I'm not sure I can quite take, given my fragile mental state and all. For now, at least, I'm going to try not to think about it, instead investing all my energies into preparing for an all-day tailgate when South Carolina comes to town on Saturday. Our players need to get better at a lot of things, and I need to get better at alcohol consumption; just as Georgia's offense was exposed this past weekend, my tolerance was exposed on Saturday as not being nearly what it's been in past years, and that's got to improve. Being 31 and broke is no excuse.
Whuuhhh . . . so did we win?
· I'll come out and admit it right now: One other thing I need to get lots better at is prognosticatin'. Obviously I whiffed on picking Georgia over Oklahoma State, but over the past week I also figured that Alabama's rebuilt offense wouldn't accomplish a whole lot against Virginia Tech (the Tide rolled up nearly 500 yards on the Hokies and won 34-24); that neither Tennessee's nor USC's similarly regrouping offenses would cover massive spreads against gimme opponents (Tennessee won 63-7, USC won 56-3); that Louisiana Tech had a reasonable chance of upsetting Auburn (they were outscored 24-3 in the second half and lost, 37-13); that Nevada would be able to score points of some kind on Notre Dame (they got shut out, 35-0); and that Troy would roll Bowling Green in Dave Clawson's first game as BGSU head coach (Troy lost 31-14). You are hereby absolved of any responsibility to listen to anything I say for the remainder of the season.
· One of the things I was right about: With only one returning starter on either of its lines, Oregon has no presence whatsoever in the trenches and may struggle to win four games in the Pac-10 this year. That was an ugly scene long before the clock hit 00:00 and LeGarrette Blount started fine-tuning his Woody Hayes impression, and despite being one of the earliest beneficiaries of the "coach-in-waiting" trend, Chip Kelly has probably worked his way onto the hot seat faster than any new coach of 2009.
· The Big 10 didn't have such a hot weekend, either -- only one Big 10 team actually lost this past weekend (Illinois' 37-9 dismantling vs. Missouri), but the others included Indiana, who was shut out in the second half against D-IAA Eastern Kentucky and had to hang on to win 19-13; Minnesota, who had to beat Syracuse in overtime after trailing for most of the game; Ohio State, who needed a bizarre two-point-conversion runback late in the fourth quarter to survive Navy; and Wisconsin, who had to survive a late Northern Illinois rally to win by a single score at home. It also included Iowa's one-point win over Northern Iowa, which came only after the Hawkeyes blocked two UNI attempts at a game-winning field goal in the final seconds and spawned what was hands-down the funniest comment of the entire day, from Black Heart Gold Pants blogger Oops Pow Surprise via Twitter:
· Oh, one more thing I was right about: Al Groh is as good as roadkill at UVA this year. And not even the OK kind of roadkill where the animal in question is pretty much intact and you can still tell what species it was, but the nasty, spread-across-two-lanes kind of roadkill that's probably been run over three or four separate times and is pretty much just a greasy splatter of unidentifiable organs. (Two words, UVA administration: Charlie fuckin' Strong. OK, three words.)
· UAB Blazers Watch: I may no longer be employed at Dear Old UAB, but I can still take pride in their 44-24 stomping of Rice in their home opener, in which they never trailed and were never seriously threatened. Sure, it was only Rice, but mark my words, you will know the name of Joe Webb -- who rushed 20 times for 194 yards and two TDs in addition to completing 12 of 15 passes for 221 yards and another two scores -- by the end of the season.
For y'all's sakes, though, I will refrain from making any "Black Tebow" references. (For now.)
· Wofford Terriers Watch: Not so good -- they got whacked 40-7 by South Florida Saturday night. But they were tied at the end of the first quarter and behind only 16-7 at halftime, so that's something, right? C'mon, people. I need a reason to believe here.