"Oh . . . uh, you're welcome, I guess."
The passing game was, with a few isolated exceptions, every bit as out-of-sync as it was during the worst moments of the South Carolina game. The rushing attack was a mere shadow of the one that had been talked up for weeks as Georgia's major strength. The defense could barely get into the proper position half the time, and even when they did, they "tackled" with an indifference I've not seen since the Jim Donnan years. The entire team looked like they were either recovering from New Year's-grade hangovers or attempting to run through mud that, strangely, Tennessee's players managed to avoid. Brian Mimbs was a beast at the punting position (yes, that was intended to sound ridiculous), and Demiko Goodman made an awesome catch to take away the shutout early in the third quarter, but otherwise, everything about this team, in every phase of the game, sucked. It was a Jim Mora "diddly-poo" speech waiting to happen.
Except it never did.
I watched the game in Atlanta with a bunch of the Tent City tailgating crew as part of poor Scotty Hartman's 30th birthday festivities, and I was able to listen to most of Mark Richt's postgame press conference as I made the long
“It’s not that surprising to see Tennessee’s D-line handle our guys like that,” coach Mark Richt said Saturday.
Mark, you keep using that word, "surprising" -- I do not think that word means what you think it means.
Was it inconceivable that Tennessee's D-line would handle us like that? Certainly not. This is the SEC, after all, and even a subpar defense by SEC standards -- which, coming into this game, Tennessee's most certainly was -- usually still has enough raw talent to jump up and sock somebody in the mouth on any given day. If you did not find their domination of our offense surprising, however, then sir, you have truly lived a rich and exciting life. Here we had a Tennessee defense that, up until today, had appeared little more than passive spectators in relation to the offenses they faced, yet against the best Darren McFadden-less rushing attack in the league, they looked like the New England Patriots.
That isn't surprising to you? Not even a little bit? Look, we can even throw out the games Tennessee played against great teams like Cal and Florida. Southern Miss's offense managed not to get rolled by Tennessee; the Golden Eagles were down by only one at halftime. Arkansas State's offense managed to hang with the Vols, in Knoxville, into the fourth quarter. Yet Georgia, with a five-star QB and one of the best tailback tandems in the country, had been blown into the Tennessee River by halftime, if not sooner. The alternative to "not that surprising" is "I expected it"; Mark, did you expect that all this would happen? If you did, why'd we even charter a team bus up to Knoxville in the first place?
Let me slow down a bit before someone here in the Starbucks on 11th Avenue plugs me with a tranquilizer dart: It's entirely conceivable that Tennessee's 2-2 record, constructed as it was against pretty good teams, was a sort of reverse mirage, and that even a Georgia team performing at its highest level wouldn't have been able to beat the Vols at Neyland on Saturday. OK, fine. Honestly, given the high tensions and various motivating factors working on both sides in this game, a loss, while disappointing, would not have surprised me; and if the Dawgs had played their best but still not been able to seal the deal, I would've been bummed this morning, but I would've accepted it. Does anyone think, though, that we played at our highest level on Saturday? Does anyone, either inside or outside of Bulldog Nation, think that this team's baseline -- even taking into account youth, injuries, whatever -- is sub-Arkansas State?
The sun rising in the east: not surprising. Georgia being down 28-0 at halftime: slightly more so.
Sorry, Mark, but that game surprised me on a number of levels, and the fact that it didn't surprise you makes me wonder what the hell you guys were doing all of last week. What happened out there on the practice field, exactly? Or in the film room? Supposedly we were all fired up about avenging last year's collapse in Athens; what the hell happened to that? Anyone who reads Sunday Morning Quarterback knows that stats are fickle things, and they'll often lead you to conclusions completely at odds with the reality on the field, but when Georgia gets that thoroughly and immediately humiliated by a team with whom they supposedly matched up that favorably, it goes back to coaching. I'm not going to call for anyone to get fired based on a single game, but make no mistake, Mark, you guys fucked up. Georgia obviously doesn't win every game, we don't even look good in every single game, but rare is the time when I can say that we just didn't look prepared, that we looked like we hadn't bothered to watch so much as a minute of film on our opponent. This, however, is one of those times, and for you to declare the result "not that surprising" implies a degree of meek acceptance that really doesn't cut it anywhere in the Southeastern Conference, much less in Athens.
Yes, CMR has been very careful not to inflate expectations this season; he's been relatively candid about the shortcomings on both the offensive and defensive lines in particular, even when the team's been winning. But there's really no such thing as postgame sandbagging in this business -- around here we simply call that making excuses. And while I can't blame you for not being surprised that Tennessee turned out to be a pretty good team, I find it hard to believe that you wouldn't be surprised at our team playing that poorly. If that's the kind of team we really are, coach, then we might as well forfeit the remainder of the season.
The thing is, I don't think that's the kind of team we really are. That's the silver lining here -- OK, maybe only a stainless-steel lining. We thrashed Oklahoma State and beat Alabama on the road this year; we have empirical evidence that we are not completely clueless on the gridiron. If this was indeed the worst performance of the Mark Richt era -- and make no mistake, it was -- then take some solace in the fact that it took nearly seven full seasons to lay a turd that big on the field. I'm no mathematician, but I've got to think that it is statistically damn near impossible for us to play that poorly again this season. There's nowhere to go but up.
But we've got to go way up -- that game was so godawful that even incremental improvement may not be enough to beat Vanderbilt or Troy in the next few weeks, to say nothing of Florida, Auburn, or Kentucky -- and it's not going to happen by shrugging our shoulders and saying, "Well, I guess that's the best we can do." If you'll permit me to go back to the "Glengarry Glen Ross" well for the second time this season -- and yes, I realize that any season that inspires multiple invocations of Mamet plays is teetering dangerously close to self-parody -- I really wish someone would show up at our next team meeting and give a speech like this:
Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you, go home and play with your kids.
(to the sales force)
You want to work here, close! You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don’t like it, leave. (pause) I can go out there tonight, the materials you got, make myself fifteen thousand dollars. Tonight! In two hours! Can you? (pause) Can you? (pause) Go and do likewise. A-I-D-A. Get mad, you son-of-a-bitches! Get mad!
Yes, guys, it is time to get mad. A loss like Saturday's is certainly enough to completely short-circuit your brain for a couple days, but if you don't care enough to get mad about it -- mad about the fact that Tennessee has now humiliated us two years in a row, mad about the fact that you let them run all over us, mad about the fact that you were too distracted to even remember where the fucking neutral zone was on a number of occasions -- then this might not be your game. If you expected to play this poorly, then you don't need to be playing at all. It is time to decide what this team's potential really is and then get mad that we didn't reach it, or even come anywhere close, on Saturday -- and if Richt can't get that mad on his own, then he needs to bring in David Pollack, or Russell Crowe, or even Alec fucking Baldwin himself, to get that mad on his behalf.
But somebody's got to get mad. Be stunned, lick your wounds for a day or two, but then get mad. Michigan cared enough to do that, and they're 2-0 in the Big Ten right now. Southern Cal, I have no doubt, cares enough to do that and will demonstrate as much against Arizona this weekend. If we care enough to do that, from the coaches to the players right down to the waterboys, then we can hold our heads up high and win some fucking games this season. But if we don't, then there really isn't much point in even fielding a team the rest of the season, is there?
So it's time to decide.