Tuesday, September 29
You've got so many problems and a split personality . . .
The rain was just one of the things I'm glad I didn't go all the way to Athens just to sit through.
Give Georgia credit for one thing: Against Arizona State, I openly feared a continuation of the exasperating pattern we'd established in our two previous games -- dig ourselves into an early hole thanks to turnovers, finally get in gear on offense and pull just far enough ahead that we can ride out the rest of the game with only a handful of moderate-to-major cardiac incidents ruining an otherwise fun night of drinking. Instead, we flipped the script: Pulled ahead with a great offensive showing early, then killed ourselves with turnovers in the second half. So big ups to the team for keeping things interesting, I guess. Maybe if we really buckle down in our preparations for LSU and step up our game, we can roll up a ton of points early and save our inevitable turnover-gasm for the fourth quarter, giving away what was thought to be an insurmountable lead against the Tigers and giving Blair Walsh a chance to kick another game-winning field goal. The kid's worked hard, after all!
If anything, the ASU game looked more like Oklahoma State: terrific early drive(s) that get people thinking "offensive explosion," only to peter out quickly and, with the requisite giveaways starting in earnest after halftime, letting the opponent right back in the game. I guess we should just be thankful that, unlike the OSU game, we mustered enough of a revival on offense to pull out a relatively low-scoring win. But as with that afternoon in Stillwater, we're not coming out of this one with a whole lot of confidence in our offense (A.J. Green excepted, obvs, and I'll get to that in a minute), despite the glimmers of awesomeness we saw against South Carolina and Arkansas. Statistically, Joe Cox had a much better day against the Sun Devils than he did the Cowboys -- better completion percentage, a lot more yards -- but he rarely looked the least bit crisp after the first quarter, and most of his completions were more a testament to the talent of our receivers than to anything he was putting behind his throws. And the two picks were ghastly; the only thing that redeems them as being less egregious than the pick-six against the Gamecocks was the fact that we had receivers kinda, sorta in the vicinity both times. The running game mostly stunk, too, and it brings me no pleasure to say that Richard Samuel's early flashes of brilliance increasingly appear to have been a mirage. Caleb King managed to break off a five-yard-per-carry average, but then it was his fumble that kicked off our second-half pants-crapping. And maybe it's just me, but our offensive line looked pretty lackadaisical for a good part of the night; for a group that was touted as one of the nation's best and most experienced in the preseason, they don't seem to be getting nearly the push they ought to be at the line of scrimmage, and I don't think the loss of Trinton Sturdivant completely accounts for that.
Then again, Samuel's beefiness did manage to knock off at least one helmet, so . . . moral victory, maybe?
When the execution is that mediocre, faulting the play calls themselves seems kind of academic, though I have seen Mike Bobo getting dinged, again, for some of his decisions during the middle of the game. (You think that's a plan he and Willie Martinez have worked out all along? Be inconsistent enough that the fan base is never entirely sure which coordinator they want to fire for more than a week at a time?) I'm not enough of an Xs-and-Os guy to make any truly worthwhile criticisms there, so I'm gonna have to go back to the turnover issue. It's a grim picture: At -9 through four games, we're now 115th in the nation in turnover margin, with the five teams below us being an aggregate 4-14 (half of those wins coming against D-IAA teams). To look at it another way, only two teams in the entire country managed to be -9 through their first four games last season: Hawaii (who was an awe-inspiring -15) and Washington State (-9), both of whom started 1-3 with their only wins coming against I-AA opponents. You have to try to give the ball away that many times, and when you do, good rarely comes of it: Hawaii farted their way through their WAC schedule, earned their token eighth home game in the Hawaii Bowl and got to be one of those very rare teams that make Jimmy Clausen look superhuman; Wazzu, of course, finished 2-11 and was making a very serious bid for the Worst BCS-Conference Team in History trophy right up until they passed that mantle off to Washington in their penultimate game.
How is it that we've skirted those fates? Better talent, obviously, and I'm certainly not the first person to have pointed that out. I've heard it repeated over and over again, and while the phrasing is a little bit different each time, the point is always the same: "We must have an unbelievable amount of athletic talent on this team to still be winning despite all these fuckups."
That's true in one sense -- you could make the case that we've had more total talent, top to bottom, than any of our first four opponents -- and yet also not true: If we've got so much natural talent coursing through this team's veins, how come A.J. Green ended up with the entire game getting piled on his back Saturday night? Seriously, can you think of a single other player whose contribution you can pick out as being particularly critical to our victory? Look, I love the fact that we're able to put a player that dominant and game-changing on the field, but there's gonna come a time -- maybe as soon as, I don't know, LSU this weekend -- when someone's able to take Green out of the game just long enough to really put us in a bad spot. When that happens, what are we gonna do? Throw up our hands and say "Well, it just wasn't meant to be"? Or is someone gonna do the necessary coaching-up/heavy lifting to make sure the rest of the team rises to fill the void?
Without A.J., we'd be, what, 1-3 right now? Or would we even be that lucky?
I know, I know: I'm getting way too worked up over a game that we did manage to actually win. And it's not like the rest of the conference -- our next opponent included -- isn't dealing with some major consistency issues themselves. Part of me wants to moan, "Why can't we just have an easy win for a change?", but I know that's a bitch move; we're playing one of the toughest schedules in the country, with only a single non-BCS-conference opponent (which is still more than a month away) on the dance card, so if it's easy wins I want then I probably need to become a Boise State fan. But I don't think it's too much to ask that our wins become easier. If we combined the defense from Saturday night with the offense from South Carolina or Arkansas, we'd be more than capable of matching LSU this weekend blow for blow; if we created that combination and managed to eliminate the turnovers, we'd beat them by two TDs. So why don't we just, you know . . . do that?
Stupid question, I realize, because stuff like that is easier said than done. Yet our own coaching staff has given ample evidence to show that the done part doesn't have to be all that difficult, either, when the right steps are taken. We suffered a rocky start in 2007 and a rocky middle the year before, yet managed to pull ourselves out of both of them and earn incredible bowl wins. Maybe I should just calm down and have some faith in the coaches to effect another such turnaround in the team's mentality this year; maybe I should just learn to appreciate the Dadaist joys of a team that can screw up so royally yet still manage to pull its ass out of the fire and win so regularly in such thrilling fashion. But after recent events in my life, "sitting back and hoping things get better" is looking less and less palatable to me as a strategy. I'd really like it if our coaching staff was having the same sorts of thoughts.
· The rest of the notes on The Week That Was will be fairly short since I've already covered most of it in various and sundry poll ballots, but if I were a Pac-10 fan I'd be pretty morose right now. The race for the conference title appears to be as wide-open as it's been since Pete Carroll first arrived at USC, but it's not the multiple-elite-teams-jockeying-for-superiority type of wide-open, it's the scrum-of-mediocre-teams-out-of-which-someone-has-to-emerge-purely-by-default type. Of the three teams who were at the top of the preseason conference predictions by consensus, USC has managed to lose to Washington and followed that up with a less-than-inspiring win over the conference doormat (losing their second-leading rusher to boot); the team supposedly best-positioned to take the Trojans' place at the top of the standings just received a 39-point jackhammering in their conference opener; and the team that looks the strongest at the moment is the same team that got embarrassed (on multiple levels) in Boise on opening Thursday. The way Oregon played on Saturday, you wouldn't think there'd be any shame in having them as your conference title-holder, but is the Pac-10 really the type of institution that wants to say, "Yeah, our league champion lost to Boise State"?
Wonder if "Let's win this one for LeGarrette" will become a rallying cry by season's end.
· In a similar vein, as big as Iowa won Saturday night, does the Big Ten really want their champion to be a team that needed the lucky escape of all lucky escapes to beat Northern Iowa? (I'm only playing devil's advocate here, of course; as an SEC fan, nothing would make me happier than to see the stuffy old farts at the Rose Bowl having the piss utterly and completely taken out of them by having to host an Iowa-Oregon matchup.)
· UAB Blazers Watch: Guys, I know I should expect you to get blown off the field by at least one BCS-conference opponent this year, but did it have to be Texas A&M? After an 8-of-18 passing performance (for a measly 60 yards), Joe Webb's "Black Tebow" title is suspended indefinitely, and it's just a hunch, but I don't think he's getting it back against Southern Miss on Thursday.
· Wofford Terriers Watch: The Terriers somehow managed to lose by 29 points to a team that only managed to come within three TDs of an opponent on two occasions last year. Looks like this album is going to be in heavy rotation on my iPod for the next few weeks.
· The Cheerleader Curse has been dormant for a while now, and it wasn't in effect this past week, either, as the University of Western Ontario -- the stomping grounds of SI.com's latest Cheerleader of the Week -- beat the Guelph Gryphons 41-39. I only bring this up for two reasons: One, to point out that there is apparently a team in Canada called the Guelph Gryphons, and two, to herald the rather unsettling news that Canada appears to be eating our lunch in the revealing-cheerleader-uni arena. Seriously, it's way colder up there than it is down here. Are girls who say "aboot" that much hardier than our American stock, or is it time for our own universities to seriously reassess?