Monday, November 23
If I was you, if I was you I wouldn't treat me the way you do . . .
The game was an embarrassment. The turnover on the very first play of the second half was an embarrassment. Both of Joe Cox's interceptions were embarrassments. The play-calling, particularly on offense, was an embarrassment. Getting outscored 28-7 after halftime was an embarrassment. Losing to Kentucky at home for the first time in more than 30 years was an embarrassment. Potentially getting knocked down to a bowl in Shreveport is an embarrassment.
But nothing, and I mean nothing, on that list matches the embarrassment of our fans booing our own players on Senior Day (followed by most of them leaving with two minutes left in the game, with the rest staying only to boo some more). You can doubt our players' ability, hope certain players get playing time instead of others, be disappointed in decisions they make on the field, even dislike them as people if you must -- but you never, ever boo them. And you damn sure don't boo them on a night when we're supposed to be honoring them for having offered their bodies up to get knocked all over a football field for four years. If that's what you want to do, go sit in the visitors' section, put on the other team's colors, and boo them from there. But if you can't display the modicum of self-control it takes to keep from throwing a temper tantrum at their expense, or the equally minor modicum of brain power it takes to realize that said tantrum translates into exactly zero improvement on the field, I don't want you in Sanford Stadium, wearing my colors and disgracing my diploma. You're not a Dawg. You never were a Dawg. Go home and see if Tech has any tickets available.
It was an absolutely disgraceful display from a fan base that, sadly, is not new to this sort of thing, and the only reason it doesn't seem worse in retrospect is because our program's prospects for the future already seem more depressing than anything that's actually happened already. There needs to be a total overhaul of this program in the offseason, everything from our schemes on both sides of the ball to the way we motivate our players to the mentality of the team itself -- but paradoxically, the more we lose, the less confident I am that anything will actually be changed. When we do something that doesn't work -- no matter how many times it doesn't work, or how disastrously it blows up in our faces -- the attitude is never, "This isn't working, we need to do something different"; it's, "We need to keep plugging away at it and eventually we'll do it right."
But that strategy hasn't worked this season, and it's failed dramatically enough that there's no reason to expect it will. Our coaching staff refuses to adapt on either a micro or a macro level. With respect to the former, we saw last night how our offensive playcalling followed predictable patterns (long pass on 1st down, which may or may not get completed; dive play on 2d down, which may or may not gain any meaningful yardage; leaving us with long yardage to convert on 3d down) that Kentucky was defending easily by the fourth quarter; for the last 20 minutes of the game, we were held to 82 total yards and zero points. As far as the macro level, it's been four years since Urban Meyer brought the spread offense to the SEC and we've shown no appreciable progress in our ability to defend it, whether it's being coached by Meyer or anyone else. If anything, we've gotten worse with each passing season, and are now at the point where even Jonathan Crompton can be handed a play-action game plan and run it with ruthless efficiency. Just like Tommy Tuberville and Phil Fulmer and all those other dinosaurs to whom Richt is now being compared, we've failed (and in many cases stubbornly refused) to adapt to new realities on the field of play in the SEC, and we're paying for it.
That's the first major problem with our coaching staff right now. The second is that we squander momentum as badly as any team in Division I-A. Some teams don't respond well to adversity; we don't respond well to the opposite, and haven't for the last two seasons. And it's not just our kickoff coverage, either, though that has been about as monumentally bad as it could've possibly been over the past couple years (and reared its ugly head again on Saturday: Kentucky's average field position following a Georgia TD was the UK44). It's in the way we managed to hand over every last bit of momentum immediately after coming out of the locker room at halftime with a supposedly secure 20-6 lead. It's in the way we managed to fall so flat on our faces just a week after what could've been the most inspiring win of the season. It's in the way we managed to give up two field goals, a safety, and a pick-six right after going up on South Carolina 38-23 back in September. Hell, it's in the way we responded to being the preseason #1 last season, and the way we came out against Florida that year despite supposedly having put so much swagger back in our game with the end-zone celebration in 2007.
I don't know whether it's because we've got a group of young, easily excitable guys who get amped up over a big play or big lead and start to lose control of themselves, or because positive developments like those cause us to get overconfident and complacent, but either way, it goes back to coaching. As much as we like to believe our players are supermen -- apparently to the point where we'll boo them for not meeting those expectations -- you simply cannot expect an 18- or 19-year-old kid to come to Athens already knowing how to respond physically and mentally to elite SEC football players trying to crush their bones in front of 93,000 screaming people. That is something that has to be taught, and for the first time I've begun doubting that Mark Richt and his staff are teaching it properly.
And that gets back to another reason why I'm so upset at the "fans" for booing our guys on Senior Day. Yes, they played poorly in the second half, but I've read their quotes and their Twitters and blog posts and the rest of it; they know they played poorly without you all reminding them of it. The people you might be better off reminding are our coaches, who have seen this happen repeatedly over the past 24 games and have whiffed on their responsibility -- let me stress again: their responsibility -- to make changes. "A fish rots from the head" is an ancient cliché, but like a lot of clichés that have lasted that long, it's usually true. And in this case, those players you're booing are only doing what they've been told, how they've been told to do it.
No, of all the things I'm ashamed of about the performance Bulldog Nation collectively put on Saturday night, the players are way, way down the list. Not that much of this matters now; we've only got two games left in the season, one of which we're almost certain to lose, the other of which will be in either Birmingham or Shreveport and thus will be of no consequence to begin with. It's an awful way to end any season, particularly for a team that entered the 2009 campaign with such promise. And yet I can't help but wonder now whether our coaches and fans alike haven't ended up with precisely the team we deserve.