Monday, October 11
It's about getting out of a rut, you need luck . . .
This was a good idea. Let's keep doing this.
Here's what a bizarre alternate-universe funhouse the SEC has turned into this year: Florida can't score, Alabama is powerless to stop a South Carolina QB, and if the regular season ended today, the SEC title game would be South Carolina vs. an LSU team whose fortunes really do seem to be determined by a Buffalo Wild Wings bartender fiddling with a remote control underneath the counter. And my first thoughts about this past weekend's game against the Vols, one of our bitterest conference rivals, are almost exactly what I was thinking in the immediate aftermath of the UL-Lafayette game that opened the year: "Well, we have to put an asterisk by this game because it was an obviously weak opponent, blah blah blah . . . "
I feel weird writing those words, partly because I'm close to someone who has a rather deep emotional investment in Tennessee's fortunes, partly because I myself miss the days when UGA-UT was too important to merit a 12:21 kickoff called by the surviving remnants of the late, great Jefferson Pilot empire. But there's no denying that Tennessee is a hobbled team this year, and at no point more so than the Saturday they played us. An offensive line peppered with underclassmen, with the injury situation almost severe enough to render a term like "two-deep" academic. A QB who actually makes Tennessee pine for the good ol' days of Jonathan Crompton. A depleted roster across the board, to the point where they probably could've fit all of their scholarship players on one of those chartered Delta CRJs that flew over the stadium toward the end of the fourth quarter. Beating this team signifies nothing in the long run for the 2010 season, other than I won't have to hear anyone yell "45-19" in my face for the rest of it. We're not going to face too many other teams (if any) whose QBs aren't even facing forward as the ball is snapped past them for 23-yard losses, nor any teams for whom fielding a fair catch is that problematic. (And how awesome does Logan Gray look right now, huh? Huh?)
All that said, though, a four-touchdown victory over any team, particularly a detested SEC East rival, is a big deal in the immediate term for this Georgia squad. For the previous four weeks, the Dawgs found increasingly infuriating ways to lose games; this time they actually found ways to win. They grabbed turnovers, they converted opportunities in the end zone, they caught even the passes that weren't thrown to A.J. Green. If all that was was a mediocre team beating up on a straight-up lousy one, then there's a definite ceiling to how excited we can afford to be about all this, but if it was a Georgia team rediscovering how to win, then it's something we can run with.
Remember where you were this day: Georgia defenders actually wrapping up a ball-carrier!
As impressive as the Aaron-Murray-to-A.J.-Green connection already looks after barely more than a game and a half -- I want people to be talking about these two guys like the Montana-to-Rice of college football by the end of the season, and I think I'm only partially joking about that -- the most impressive performance of the entire afternoon, to me, might have been that of the front seven. Tauren Poole might be the most talented and versatile running back we've faced all season (yes, even more than Marcus Lattimore), and it's not much of an exaggeration to say I was losing sleep over what he might do to our defense. But he was rendered a non-factor very early on in the game, and that was only partly due to the weakness of his offensive line. The other part was due to the fact that we actually wrapped up and tackled him, and I can't help but think that has something to do with the fact that we went full-contact #1s-on-#1s last Monday, something we practically never do on the first day of a practice week. If that's what it takes to get the team amped-up and purge the tendency to arm-tackle, then I know there's a greater chance of injury in that kind of situation, but by all means, please, let's keep doing it. Richt has indicated that we won't be going full-contact again this Monday, but I've heard that there will be more #1s-on-#1s later on in the week, so it's a sign of hope, if nothing else, that the toughness issue has been noticed and is being addressed. This team attacked and wrapped up with a fierceness that I haven't seen in quite a while.
Obviously there are still concerns. The offensive line, despite Stacy Searels' tinkering during the week, still can't run-block for shit; Caleb King reeled off some decent runs that managed to keep the chains moving at various points, but when your longest run of the game by an RB is only eight yards, you don't have the right to call anything "fixed" yet. And even though it didn't end up mattering in the long run, it hurt to see our secondary continue to get burned the way they did, particularly on Tennessee's long drives of the second half. The problems that they're having are similar enough to the problems they've been having for years now that I'm inclined to write it off to the lingering effects of Willie Martinez' coaching, but it's sad to think that it's taking this much time to get that stuff coached out of them, or that we may have to wait for a truly lock-down secondary until Scott Lakatos can get a chance to recruit some of his own players.
I will never begrudge an opportunity to be happy for these guys.
But a 27-point win is a 27-point win; I'm grateful for it, grateful to no longer be at the bottom of the SEC East, grateful that I can look at games like Vandy and Kentucky as winnable rather than being stuck mentally calculating the chances we end up going 2-10 this year. That's about as much as we can count on right now, as uninspiring as that sounds. But it's a start. We cross our fingers and say a prayer that the coaches and players alike take the good from this game and vow to keep doing it, and we move along.
In other news:
· So yes, I'd be striking a more flamboyantly celebratory tone right now if more of our success on Saturday had come from us being that good rather than from Tennessee screwing up, but it's not like Georgia wasn't overdue for a lucky bounce, and hey, we can't all be Les Miles. For the entirety of this season, the debate over LSU has been "Is Les Miles that good or is he just lucky," but I think after Saturday night we can officially deem that question academic. I mean, they needed practically every lucky bounce in the book just to make it to 9-4 last season, and that was with the end-of-game clock-management brain farts (hat farts?) against Ole Miss and Penn State; if the concept of "regression to the mean" meant anything to Miles, the Tigers would be 3-3 right now. Hate on them all you want -- and I have -- but you know you'd trade places with them right now in a heartbeat. (Best comment of the day: an assessment over at Senator Blutarsky's joint of Miles as "an escaped mental patient who played a lot of Tecmo Bowl.")
· As for their if-the-season-ended-today opponents in the SECCG, thank you, Sakerlina, for silencing (at least temporarily) the ADD section of the Georgia fan base who insists we should hire Kirby Smart yesterday to be our new head coach. Not that Smart/Saban's defense was the sole reason for Alabama's first loss since the '09 Sugar Bowl, but come on, even Georgia's busted-ass secondary didn't let Stephen Garcia hit 17 of 20. All of this is just a way of distracting from the fact that Saban is probably going to whip the shit out of his team this weekend to the point where they don't lose another game all season, but still, I think I'm actually going to look forward to the opportunity to tune into Finebaum on my drive home this afternoon.
· Don't look now, but Florida State looks like they're quietly making a bid to reclaim the title of Best Team in Florida. They rolled Miami way worse than Ohio State did -- on the road, no less -- and they've even been playing pretty decently on defense since getting carpet-bombed at Oklahoma a few weeks ago. When I was back in college, Florida-Florida State was a tentpole game on the college football calendar, perhaps even more so than the Iron Bowl or Michigan-OSU; I've been highly skeptical of Jimbo Fisher's chances in Tallahassee, but if he can make that game relevant again, more power to him.
· Speaking of Ohio State, what's the rationale for making them the #1 team in the country following Alabama's loss and not, say, Oregon or TCU? Oregon's going to be my top pick when I finish up my BlogPoll ballot later on today, given that a) tOSU's win over Miami just lost a lot of prestige and b) Oregon's marquee victory over a very good Stanford team can go toe-to-toe with anyone else's in the country. (On a related and possibly more hilarious note, I think the entire Rose Bowl committee simultaneously crapped their pantaloons Saturday night at the prospect of losing not one but both of their tie-in teams to the national championship game, which alone would make an Ohio State-Oregon rematch worth it.)
· Or, hey, how about Nebraska for the #1 spot? Second nationally in rushing yards, 106th in passing yards, just finished off a five-touchdown napalming of Kansas State -- if they haven't yet turned back into what they were during the Tom Osborne days, they're doing a damn good job of looking like they have. (And just as the Cornhuskers appear poised to lend a little stability and familiarity to the college football landscape as I know it, they're getting ready to jump to the Big Ten. I just can't win sometimes.)
· Haven't done the weekly UAB Blazers Watch in a while, partly because I've been too depressed about Georgia's woes to spend much time worrying about other rooting interests, partly because UAB's own woes have been too depressing to talk about. The latest injustice: a 42-7 loss at the hands of George fucking O'Leary and the UCF Golden Knights. With the Blazers at 1-4 and oh-fer in Conference USA play thus far, it looks like it might be time to pack up my prediction of a 2010 bowl for the Blazers and stash it in the attic for next season.
· So leave it to the Wofford Terriers Watch to save the day: Terrier U beat Georgia Southern at the Eagles' own game on Saturday, rolling up 302 rushing yards behind a triple-option attack on the way to a 33-31 win. That puts them at 2-0 in Southern Conference play and 4-1 overall; next to get wet up is Western Carolina, who just got hammered 38-7 by Samford. You don't want to mess with the realness, WCU.