Tuesday, September 30

Kneel before Zorn.

Dang, this was like the only good thing that happened this past weekend (aside from my fantasy team, the Dutch Ovens, kicking ass even with half its starting offense on a bye week), I can't believe it's taken me this long to brag about it.

Hail to the Redskins

Hail, vic-to-ry

Braves . . . on the warpaaaath

Fight! . . . for old D.C.

. . . And fuck the Cowboys*

* Note: may not be an actual line from the song

Monday, September 29

Poll dancing, week 5: It's at times like these when the German language really comes in handy.

Drink up. It was that kind of a weekend.

Well, we've just experienced another late-September massacre of ranked teams -- seriously, it's becoming a time-honored annual tradition, enough that ESPN needs to come up with a better name than "Shakedown Saturday" or whatever they were calling it this past weekend. I would suggest "Ow, My Balls Saturday" or "Night of a Thousand Cockpunches," but obviously I have my own reasons for that. And now that I think about it, those might be a little cumbersome anyway; it's a shame we don't live in Germany, where we could just string a whole bunch of words together and come up with something nice and concise like Oberseite-fünfundzwanzigsturzensamstag. Or Tausendpenisdurchschlagennacht. Go look it up.

I got to witness all of this, including Georgia's überraschendetestikelentstellung at the hands of the suddenly terrifying Crimson Tide, with a head that feels like it's stuffed with cotton balls and mucus streaming out of an impressive array of orifices, so please be patient with me if none of this looks even remotely coherent.

Games watched: Oregon State-Southern California, the second half of Ole Miss-Florida, most of Auburn-Tennessee, the entirety of car windshield-bug Alabama-Georgia.

Waiting room: Michigan State, Air Force, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Boston College.

Dropped out: Clemson (24), Michigan State (25).

· You will note that nearly everybody in this poll moves up or down at least one spot -- not surprisingly, the Chinese fire drill is most intense in the top 10, where three of last week's residents got cracked in fairly humiliating fashion. There's a part of me that wonders if I'm being too easy on those three squads by keeping them in the top 10, but I'm sure y'all will let me know if that's the case, in the polite, mature, and thoroughly considered manner I've come to expect.

· The biggest risers of the week are, not surprisingly, Alabama and Ole Miss for doing their part to make the SEC East the winner of this week's Durr Hurr Hurr Your Conference Sucks trophy. The thought did occur to me to put Alabama at the very top, and I may yet do that between now and when the votes have to be finalized on Wednesday, but honestly you could probably throw a blanket over the top three teams on this ballot.

· Most of the other notables on this list are descenders -- Wisconsin, down five for throwing away a three-touchdown lead over Michigan, a team that at last inspection had no discernible offense, which is sort of like losing a kickboxing match to Max Cleland; TCU, who only loses two spots for having the good manners to accept their requisite pummeling from Oklahoma; and Wake Forest, who just now got that PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU HAVE DISGRACED THE CONFERENCE AT LEAST ONCE BEFORE THE END OF THE FISCAL YEAR memo from the ACC and obeyed it in whiz-bang fashion by losing at home to Paul Johnson-less Navy.

· A crying, vomit-spattered Clemson is escorted out of the top 25 and put into a cab, hopefully never to return, while a Michigan State team I'm still not quite sure what to make of yet gets elbowed aside by a Virginia Tech team returning home from a successful trip to Nebraska.

And now my SEC Power Poll ballot, which, if it were a hard copy as opposed to a blog post, would be tear-stained:

1. Alabama -- If the SEC were "Star Wars," we would've just seen the part where the Death Star fires up its superlaser and destroys Alderaan. And we've still got a long way to go in the movie before anyone lobs a proton torpedo into the Death Star's exhaust port.

2. LSU -- Somehow they allowed more points to Mississippi State last week than the Bulldogs had scored total in their three previous games against D-IA competition. For LSU's sake I'll hope that was just a post-Auburn hangover.

3. Georgia -- We didn't just get beat down by the Crimson Tide, we got beat up: This week's injury report literally has enough players on it to fill a CH-46 medevac helicopter. I can honestly say I've never been as stoked about a bye week as I am about this one.

4. Florida -- The repeated breakdowns by their secondary against Ole Miss had to remind Gator fans of last year's team, only unlike that team, Tim Tebow and the offense haven't really been able to get things started, either. By the way, that was a nine-game SEC losing streak you broke for the Rebels, guys.

5. Ole Miss -- In Mississippi, Nutt busts YOU.

6. Auburn -- I can't remember the last time there was this little buzz around an Auburn-Tennessee game, nor the last time an Auburn win in said matchup was less heralded. Gary Danielson sounded positively insulted at times on Saturday that neither the Tigers nor Vols were doing any better than they did.

7. Vanderbilt -- Sign of the apocalypse #5,783: "Gameday" is coming to Nashville this week for Vandy-Auburn. Sign of the apocalypse #5,784: Auburn's only favored by three and a half.

8. Kentucky -- You know, Tulane and Kentucky are both actually fielding pretty good defenses this year, and Tulane made a game of it against Alabama when the Tide were coming off their big win over Clemson, so maybe, just maybe, Kentucky could go to Tuscaloosa this week and . . . no, forget I said anything.

9. South Carolina -- The good news is Stephen Garcia looked all right in his first start Saturday; the bad news is the Gamecocks might now finish the season as the only D-IA team UAB managed to hold under 30.

10. Tennessee -- I actually talked to a Tennessee alum on Sunday who told me she wanted Casey Clausen back. This isn't how the Clawfense was supposed to work, is it? In their first two SEC games, the '08 Volunteers have twice as many turnovers as touchdowns.

11. Mississippi State -- Managed 24 points against an LSU defense that was probably something less than entirely focused. Er . . . moral victory? Maybe?

12. Arkansas -- They've gotten annihilated 101-24 in their last two games and have drawn Florida and Auburn for their next two. Now then, readers, do we think Petrino announces his resignation between those two games, or does he wait until after the Razorbacks lose to Auburn?

Sunday, September 28

No time for tears.

Mama, take this jersey from me, I can't use it anymore . . .

Well, at least now I don't feel so bad about not having run out and gotten a black jersey last year. The very first time we did a “Blackout,” for the Auburn game last year, I was fretting even before the game started that the black-jersey idea might be one of those things that angers the football gods and dooms us to an embarrassing loss in front of a nationwide audience; it didn't happen that time, of course, nor the time after that, but the football gods apparently decided three Blackouts in less than 12 months was too much cheekiness for any one team, and punished us with about as humiliating a loss as I've witnessed as a Georgia fan. On paper, at least, it ranks right up there in the top tier with the nightmarish '99 Auburn game, the Tech game the following year, the first quarter of the '06 Sugar Bowl against West Virginia, and last year's debacle in Knoxville.

So why am I not hunting for toasters to throw this morning, or even invoking “The Princess Bride” as I rain hellfire down on our coaching staff? The difference, I guess, is that those last four atrocities were committed by Georgia against opponents that were, for the most part, demonstrably inferior (if there's an exception, it'd obviously be West Virginia, though the Dawgs' comeback from a 28-0 deficit should serve as an accurate picture of what we should have been doing to the Mountaineers all along had we all not been smoking blunts and watching Adult Swim in the locker room before the game). With this Alabama team, though, I won't even hesitate to say they're better than us. And looking back with good ol' 20/20 hindsight, I realize how many of my predictions for Georgia's performance in this game were built solely on hope, crossed fingers, and a nervous smile: If our defensive front can contain Alabama's running game to the point where John Parker Wilson has to make plays, and if he makes the same mistakes he's been prone to making in the past, and if our O-line holds up enough for us to maintain that offensive balance everyone's been raving about, and if we can cut down on penalties and channel the crowd's energy into spirited, aggressive play . . .

. . . And if I looked like Brad Pitt and had appeared in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," I'd be waking up next to this every morning.

Well, instead we ended up in the midst of a perfect storm where not only did none of those things happen, we got a series of just plain dumb, mind-blowingly bad breaks thrown our way for good measure: Dannell Ellerbe getting hurt on Alabama's very first offensive series; Akeem Dent's silly, unnecessary use of the ol' hands-to-the-face on JPW that same drive that negated what might've been a momentum-altering fumble recovery; Brian Mimbs's sudden inability to punt a ball farther than 30 yards; the bizarre A.J. Green “fumble” early in the second quarter that A.J. probably wouldn't know how to recreate even if you threw him that exact same pass 1,000 times; Knowshon being rendered a non-factor in the second half due to injury; and on and on and on. Between all that stuff and the injuries we've already incurred this season, I'd like to think that, if nothing else, we've simply exhausted the supply of horrendously bad luck cosmically allotted to the Bulldogs for '08 and won't have to see anything like this happen again for the remainder of the season.

Now, by attributing so many of Georgia's problems to happenstance and shitty luck, I don't mean to take anything away from Alabama's performance, which, let me reiterate, was scary good. In particular, I have to give John Parker Wilson props here, because he was not only the linchpin for Bama's offensive successes throughout the game, but also a symbol for all the things that surprised me about what the Tide was able to do. As was probably apparent in my preview on Thursday, I was reasonably confident that, with a little resistance applied to Alabama's running game, we'd be able to create situations where we could take Wilson out of his well-broken-in comfort zone; clearly that didn't happen. We did hold the Tide to just a little over half their average rushing yardage for the season to date, but if that rattled JPW any, he didn't show it — he was as poised and confident as I've ever seen him, repeatedly moving the chains with nicely placed second-down passes. In keeping with the game plan that had served Alabama quite well in their first four games, Wilson still wasn't asked to do too terribly much — he only threw 16 passes all game — but he did throw a few very nice-looking long balls, and his few incompletions were harmless. With both Alabama's rushing and passing attacks operating at equal levels of dangerousness, Georgia was unable to render them one-dimensional the same way we had against South Carolina and Arizona State; instead, we found ourselves in ASU's place, having to respect both the run and the long ball against Alabama and being shorthanded at that. Aside from those first three defensive series of the second half, in which the Dawgs held Alabama to their only three-and-outs of the night, we just never seemed to have enough guys to both put up a fight against Bama's imposing offensive line and cover a group of receivers who were catching passes thrown more accurately than anyone other than Jim McElwain was probably predicting.

Who are you and what have you done with the real JPW?

Nor do I mean to let Georgia's coaching staff completely off the hook, either, because it's one thing when I underestimate the upcoming opponent, it's another thing entirely when it's someone who's getting paid to do this stuff and who's had a whole week to dissect film on a specific team. I still feel like we should've placed more trust in our defensive backs to cover Bama's receivers in man-on-man situations, rather than putting them in the same old zone coverage that JPW exploited pretty quickly; I also don't know why, in the few situations where we actually get a little pressure on the QB, we somehow end up with late-hit-on-the-QB penalties. We've now been hit with five of these things in the last three games, and sure, a couple of them have been bullshit, but at some point you're going to have to take stock of how many penalties we're incurring, realize that the late-hit flags have been as self-destructive as anything we've done all season, and decide that our desperation for some kind of pass rush is no excuse for handing teams freebie first downs when they should be punting. I'm no coach, nor did I even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but doesn't it seem like “Don't put your hands up in a QB's face” should be a pretty simple thing to engineer out of even the bloodthirstiest of linebackers?

Still, maybe the head cold I've contracted this past week has rendered me too weak to react to this drubbing with the fury it deserves, but as much as fun as I'm sure it would be to get name-dropped in This Week in Schadenfreude tomorrow, I just can't bring myself to shift into meltdown mode right now. As I've already explained, a lot of the chaos from yesterday was due to phenomenally bad breaks that we can hold out reasonable hope of not having to deal with again anytime soon; Paul Westerdawg, God bless him, helpfully adds that the loss is somewhat less reflective of the state of our program right now than it is of the blizzard of injuries we've experienced and the lax O-line recruiting that we've only recently been able to address. I have no problem with putting all the black jerseys in a big crate and stashing them in some huge government warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant, but RESCIND SCHOLARSHIPS FIRE COACHES ARGGH ARGGH is, as a next step, not terribly constructive. We've now got two weeks to prepare for a revenge-a-palooza at home against the flailing Tennessee Volunteers; I doubt we're going to magically develop a consistent pass rush in that time, but we'll have enough time to get guys healthy, find some personnel stability on the offensive and defensive lines, and work on those $#@! penalties. The fixes aren't easy by any means, but the problems, to varying degrees, are fixable. If you don't believe that, then go back and re-watch the Tennessee game from last year — far more expletive-inducing than Saturday night's game, though your mileage may vary on that one — and tell me you had any inkling whatsoever that that Georgia team would go on to beat Florida, finish with the same SEC record as the eventual division champs, win a Sugar Bowl, and finish the season #2 in the nation.

OK, here's one good thing that happened. That's about all I got.

And now, of course, we've got even more time left in the season to shrug off this loss than we did the Tennessee loss in '07. Not only that, but we've got a division in which the two other top contenders for division-title honors were kind enough to lose yesterday also. (Anyone want to go in on a fruit basket for Houston Nutt? I'll even pay the shipping.) If you want to jump the bandwagon now, fine, but don't be surprised if you're in the minority — as Mike Patrick and Todd Blackledge noticed with some admiration last night, Georgia fans were still packing the stands and cheering lustily even as their team was rushing out of the tunnel for the second half facing a 31-0 deficit. Both our team and our fans hung in there better than I could've imagined under those circumstances, so if you're not prepared to clear that bar in terms of loyalty, shove off, we don't need ya.

Feel free to keep your black T-shirt, though, because I doubt we'll be needing that, either.

A few more observations before I turn the lights off and take a friggin' nap:

· There is one relevant similarity between the Bama game and last year's Nutpunching at Neyland — they both happened on weekends already backloaded enough with top-25 upsets that Georgia's loss isn't even close to the most shocking thing that people will be hashing out at water coolers on Monday. We've already had our big collective gasp at Southern Cal's loss to Oregon State on Thursday, but top-10 teams Florida and Wisconsin were kind enough to get punked by unranked opponents as well. The Florida game was the most relevant to Georgia's cause, obviously, not only because Florida's loss keeps the SEC East race wild and woolly, but also because they seemed to combine some of the worst traits of last year's Gator team (overdependence on Tebow/Harvin, a secondary prone to giving up the big play) with one of the worst traits of this year's (an offensive line that still doesn't seem to know what it's doing 100 percent of the time). After last night's embarrassment, of course, there's only so much joy any Dawg fan can take in this latest development, but I still know which team I'd rather be right now.

· Actually, the team in the most enviable position in the SEC East at the moment is . . . Vanderbilt, who did precisely squat this past weekend but still woke up Sunday morning to find themselves in sole possession of first place in the division. Yes, Gators, Vols, Gamecocks, fellow Bulldogs, we're all staring up the Commodores' asses until further notice. Just take that as a sign of how wide-open this division is if you're one of those fans still Chicken-Littling your team's chances after a rough start to the season.

· If you're interested in starting a This Week In Overall Conference Ineptitude feature — and you could've put together a pretty good one so far — this week you're back to the ACC, where the OK, Surely We Have At Least One Decent Team Award was vacated by Wake Forest after getting punked at home by Navy. The runner-up for that award, the one who will assume the title in the event that the winner is unable to fulfill her duties, was Clemson right until they abdicated any remaining claim to the throne against Maryland. So who does the trophy get handed to now? God help me, it may be Duke, who laid down the biggest beating of any ACC team Saturday by stomping Virginia 31-3. My dad is thisclose to asking the Alumni Association for his last donation check back.

· UAB Blazers watch: Progress! Dear old UAB played their closest game yet against a D-IA opponent, keeping South Carolina's offense sort of in check and covering the spread in a 26-13 loss. At this rate we might actually have a shot at beating Memphis next week and reclaiming the coveted trophy in the “Battle for the Bones,” and no, I don't really feel like explaining what that is right now.

· Wofford Terriers watch: The fightin' Terriers built up a 31-14 lead on Georgia Southern in Statesboro on Saturday, took a little snoozeroo in the second half and let Southern tie it up, but iced a GSU two-point conversion attempt in overtime to win a 38-37 thriller. The Terriers are now 3-1 overall, 1-0 in the Southern Conference, right below 2-0 Elon; next week they take on 1-4 Chattanooga at home in what should be a bloodletting.

· Cheerleader Curse watch: After whiffing the first couple weeks of the season, the curse has now worked its nefarious magic on consecutive Saturdays — the latest victim being UNLV, home of cheerleader Lindsay (above), who punked Arizona State in Tempe but couldn't stay within three TDs of Nevada on their own field. If only they'd chosen an Alabama cheerleader, but . . . no, that still wouldn't have been nearly enough bad luck to hand us a win. Forget I said anything.

Friday, September 26

A memo from the desk of Arnold T. Pants, Esq.:
People without maps, orange outfits, busted Trojans, and other profiles in FAIL.

The Sarah Palin bandwagon is beginning to unload, as right-wing columnist Kathleen Parker comes forward to say Palin should step down from the ticket. Well, there are plenty of equally qualified replacements out there . . . how does McCain/Upton '08 sound?

I guess I shouldn't make fun, though, since John McCain has already won tonight's debate.

Apropos of nothing, a writer for knoxnews.com in Knoxville, Tennessee, read some comment I made on this blog about Tennessee fans' tacky gameday attire and was actually inspired to solicit my opinion for an article he was writing on that very subject. I think it says something about Volunteer Nation's current mental state that they didn't immediately fill up the comments thread with angry questions about why anyone would solicit some pansy-ass Georgia fan's opinion on Tennessee's fashion sense; the first comment ("fitting, considering our team plays a relaxed style of football") pretty much sets the tone.

What this means for Georgia? Precisely dick, thanks for asking, since UT fans were (if memory serves) just as demoralized about this time last year right up until the Dawgs strolled into Neyland Stadium and got Keyser Söze'd by the eventual SEC East champs. (Keenan Ivory Wayans pops his head in through the window: "Message!")

In other adventures in cross-promotion, my Dr. Saturday picks column is up. Trying for a perfect 4-0 after a pretty nice 3-1 record last week.

In the Georgia preview I did for Deadspin over the summer, I made reference to the informal headline contests we'd have back in college whenever the Dawgs beat up on the 'Cocks of South Carolina. Well, the headline possibilities are certainly just as boundless whenever the Beavers face the Trojans, and even more so when the Beavers come out with a shocking upset win. ESPN's own headline ranks pretty high on the Unintentional Hilarity-O-Meter, but something like this calls for a little intentional hilarity as well, so . . . take it away, Holly:

Trojans Can’t Pull It Out

Hungry Beavers Suffocate Trojans

Trojans Can’t Get It Up For Big Night With Beavers

Sanchez Dirtied By Beaver Attack

Trojans Can’t Come From Behind, Fall Short

22 Trojans, No Protection

I would say "It gets even more out of hand in the comments," but that would imply that it was ever in hand to begin with. My personal contribution, "Trojans Break Under Pressure of Too Much Jacquizz," pays tribute to freshman RB Jacquizz Rodgers's 186-yard, two-TD performance; I welcome your suggestions in the comments.

This is as good a time as any to reiterate my support for a home-and-home between South Carolina and Oregon State. Intersectional Game of the Century? I don't think that's too much premature exaggeration, no.

And finally, the 17 All-Time Worst "ESPN Gameday" signs. I actually thought the Goulet one was kind of funny.

The Friday Random Ten+5 ponders life in colors other than red and black.

You know, I like to rag on Alabama's intermittently delusional fan base as anyone else, but deep down I've got a fair amount of respect for those guys, maybe even a little envy. Would I like to have 12 national titles (or 15, or 137, or however many they're claiming) under my alma mater's belt? Hells yes I would. Would I be just as smug about it? I'd be more smug. I'd probably be the kind of guy who shells out $50 for an Auburn University vanity plate, just so that I could order the word "SUCKS" next to the AU logo. I don't think I'd necessarily become this guy, but only because I don't really like different colors in my tattoos.

And this isn't just me talking out of my ass, either, because I seem to recall a time very early on in my college search when I entertained, however casually, the thought of becoming an Alabama student. I didn't end up applying there, but I did apply to a whole bunch of places other than Georgia, meaning my life could've gone spiraling off in a whole host of different directions. Would they have been as good as the one I ended up taking? I don't know, but there's no harm in taking a look inside Dr. Hubert Farnsworth's What-If Machine and find out. This week's +5 is Five Other Universities I Applied To And How Things Would Be Different If I'd Gone There:

Pros: I'd get to flaunt my "2005 National Champions" T-shirt around ghey-ass Aggie fans. Would probably know enough townies that I'd always have a place to stay at South By Southwest. Would get to claim Nanci Griffith, Chris Ware, and Richard Linklater as fellow alums.
Cons: Long way from home, kemosabe. Annual terror of the Red River Rivalry no less spirit-destroying than that of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Having to field the "Didn't Jenna Bush go to your school?" question at least once a week. Running into Matthew McConaughey at ballgames.

Pros: We would've won a national title while I was in school. Getting to brag "Biggest stadium in the country, bitches." Might have become best friends with Brian Cook, perhaps to the extent that I might even get two votes in the BlogPoll. Might be working in Chicago right now.
Cons: Also a long way from home. Colder weather = more bundled-up chicks, which is not cool. Lots of noon kickoffs when your stadium doesn't have any freakin' lights. Lingering shame of the Appalachian State game would counteract a lot of the "'97 National Champs" braggery.

Pros: It's one of the few journalism schools in the country ranked higher than Georgia's. Could've told people I was related to whomever Gillett Hall was named after and gotten special treatment for four years. Would have reasonable hope right now of not only a national title but also a Heisman for Chase Daniel.
Cons: Kind of out in the middle of nowhere. Football team would've gone 23-23 in the time I was there. Going to the top-ranked public journalism school would mean that I probably would've put more pressure on myself to stay in the field for the duration of my career, meaning I'd probably be hating life right now even more than I already do.

Pros: An incredibly prestigious "public Ivy" with tons of heritage. Might've gotten to live on The Lawn. Would share an alma mater with countless U.S. statesmen, three Supreme Court justices, and Tina Fey. Would have an additional avenue for bonding with my two UVA-alum parents.
Cons: "Bonding" these days would mainly involve commiseration over the godawful state of the Cavalier football program (which includes being an underdog to Duke this weekend). The ongoing guilt of knowing I only got in because I was a legacy. Annual soul-eviscerating phone calls from my asshole relatives who went to Virginia Tech the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

North Carolina (where I, like every other applicant from outside the state, was rejected)
Pros: The glorious affirmation of being the one non-North Carolina resident chosen for acceptance that year. Would get to share alumni status with Lewis Black, Russell Banks, Andy Griffith, and Fox News hottie Laurie Dhue. Would've been around for that one awesome season under Mack Brown where the Tarheels went 11-1 and kicked Virginia Tech's ass in the Gator Bowl.
Cons: The seething resentment of all the other non-North Carolina residents who didn't get in. Tough to look manly wearing their school colors. At some point in the last decade, I would've had to learn to like basketball more than football.

You know, no offense to any of these other fine institutions, but I think I'm pretty damn happy with the way things turned out.

So with that done, here's the Ten:

1. Sting, "I Miss You Kate"
2. Underworld, "Born Slippy .NUXX" (Deep Pan)
3. Fatboy Slim, "Everybody Needs a 303"
4. De La Soul, "Can U Keep a Secret"
5. Underworld, "Pearl's Girl" (Tin There)
6. Romeo Void, "Never Say Never"
7. Cee-Lo, "Glockapella"
8. St. Germain, "Montego Bay Spleen"
9. The English Beat, "Too Nice To Talk To"
10. Outkast, "Bombs Over Baghdad"

Good times. Feel free to drop your own Random Tens and tales of what might have been in the comments.

Thursday, September 25

Release the houndstooth: the Alabama preview.

Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Last season: Started a lovely 6-2, then lost a heartbreaker at home to #3 LSU and kind of tanked it from there, finishing the regular season on an 0-4 schneid that included the seppuku-inducing loss to UL-Monroe; salvaged things somewhat with a 30-24 Independence Bowl win over Colorado.

The season thus far: Doing just fine, thanks, clobbering a then-top-10 Clemson team 34-10 in the opener and taking out a trifecta of tomato cans since then. (Yes, Arkansas, you are one of said cans. Don't shoot the messenger.) Currently sitting at #8 in the AP poll, #10 in the coaches'.

Hate index, 1 being Victoria's Secret ads, 10 being those Viagra ads with the insufferable “Viva Viagra” song: Seven, a slight bump up from last year's 6.75. I want to love you, Bama, what with my familial connection and your incredible history and your geographic proximity and whatnot, but dammit, every time I tune in to Finebaum and hear one of you talk about how Saban might be distantly related to Jesus Christ or how an Auburn team that's stolen your lunch money for six straight years is insanely, obsessively jealous of every last little thing about your program, I just want to strangle you, each and every last one of you. Or at least pour some sugar in your gas tank. Please, maintain a little perspective every now and then, and try not to refer to the #3 team in the country as “sitting ducks” in their own stadium, k thx.

Associated hottie: Cristin Duren represented first Alabama and then Florida in the Miss USA pageant, winning fourth runner-up in 2006; a former Alabama cheerleader, she earned her communications degree from UA in 2003, and got name-checked in this 2005 New York Times article about pharmaceutical companies raiding the ranks of ex-college cheerleaders for their sales force. All I can say is it's a good thing that article was written by a woman, because I've been around guys in a newsroom before, and I can just picture a big sweaty group of them going, “Ohh, yeah, dude, let's do an article about cheerleaders who become drug reps and then, like, wear short skirts and flirt with doctors and stuff. Heh-heh. Killer.” We journalists really are that disgusting.

Celebrity preview: Bill O'Reilly's Talking Points Memo discusses the 2008 Crimson Tide here.

What excites me: With the spectacular emergence of A.J. Green as a catch-anything wideout, Georgia will bring as balanced and complete an array of offensive skill talent to Sanford Stadium as they've had in decades. Certainly more complete than anything Alabama has faced this year; theoretically Clemson should've provided a reasonable facsimile of the offensive balance Georgia will bring to the table, but then Tommy Bowden showed why he's Tommy Bowden and gave a grand total of eight carries to C.J. Spiller and James Davis. Knowshon Moreno will have more than that in the first half alone, and if Bama's defensive front succeeds in bottling him up, that's just an excuse to go to A.J. Green through the air. As Todd mentioned in his half of the Georgia-Alabama roundtable earlier today, Alabama's secondary has been susceptible on occasion to missed assignments and/or blown coverages, and given that Matt Stafford is easily the most talented of the QBs the Tide have gone up against this year, that could spell trouble if either Green or Massaquoi are allowed to get open.

On the other side of the ball, Georgia's run defense is currently ranked #3 in the country, having allowed only 183 yards the entire season, at a rate of just under two yards per carry; in their last two games they've allowed only 22 net yards. Alabama will bring to Athens a backfield packed with potential game-breakers, as Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram, and Roy Upchurch have all averaged more than six yards a carry this season, but those statistics might be a tad bit inflated by a neverending series of lengthy TD runs hurled against Arkansas's hapless defense. Incidentally, the four run defenses Alabama has faced have been ranked 44th, 16th, 78th, and 94th in D-IA, so while Georgia shouldn't expect to shut down the Alabama attack entirely, they certainly stand a better chance than anyone else has so far this season.

And if they can merely slow down that attack enough, they may be able to force the Tide to rely more heavily on a passing attack that hasn't been asked to do a whole lot the first four games. Bama's offense has been biased toward the run by more than a three-to-two margin (160 rushes to 101 passes), and while John Parker Wilson has been completing passes at a rate of just under 60 percent, his per-game average is only 135.5 yards on 14 completions. Alabama's passing attack currently sits at 106th in the nation, and I don't know how long they can continue to take it that easy on Wilson. He's become well-known for making some dramatically bad decisions under pressure, and if Georgia can pick off one or two of his passes — they didn't get any last year — that'll change the tenor of the ballgame considerably.

Rough game? Awwww, someone needs a hug.

What worries me: Will Georgia be able to get to JPW, though? They took Rudy Carpenter down four times last week, and looked pretty tough doing it, but Alabama's offensive line — currently tied for 38th in the nation in sacks allowed — is going to be the stoutest wall we've faced all year. Obviously, they've also done a pretty good job opening up some Mack-truck-sized running lanes. Georgia's run defense has been dominant against what could charitably be described as a series of lesser rushing attacks, but other than that we've struggled to control the line of scrimmage, and it's not going to get any easier against the Tide.

Bama's front seven, too, has done a pretty good job of controlling the trenches, which is particularly surprising given what a mess their linebacking corps looked like after the departure of two starters and the public embarrassment of the Jimmy Johns situation in the spring. Their run defense isn't far behind Georgia's at #8 in Division I-A (#3 versus #8 — that's an interesting coincidence), and if you're still having acid flashbacks of the way South Carolina contained Knowshon Moreno a few weeks ago, you're not gonna like the fact that Alabama is currently allowing fewer than half the rushing yards per game that the Gamecocks are. Again, Bama's ability to contain Knowshon has a lot to do with how much we force them to respect the passing game, but there's no way 'Shon's going to have an easy day.

Ergghh . . . little too much of the wrong shade of red in this picture.

Of all the players on Alabama's roster, though, the most dangerous might be Javier Arenas, the DB/PR/KR who's averaging 26.3 yards per kickoff return (he also has a punt return for a TD against Tulane). It's not exactly a state secret that Georgia's kick coverage has been lacking this season, particularly against KOs; last week, for instance, Georgia's average kickoff resulted in the Sun Devils starting at their own 31. Considering that we have yet to demonstrate a consistent ability to land kickoffs within 10 yards of the end zone, there's an unpleasantly high likelihood that Alabama will be starting a lot of drives closer to the 40 than the 20, and that's not the kind of freebie we need to be handing a team who can expect a nearly six-yard gain every time one of their running backs touches the ball.

Player who needs to step up: C Ben Jones. Howdy, freshman! Welcome to Georgia, in case I haven't had the chance to tell you that yet. Nice job against Arizona State, by the way — couldn't have been easy making your first start in the middle of a freaking desert. Well, guess what: Your reward is another start back home in the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium, where you'll be tasked with defending Matt Stafford's life and limb from . . . Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody, a dreadlocked Denali of a human being who outweighs you by at least 60 pounds (give or take a Big Mac). No joke, he's 6'5”, 370 pounds when his stomach's completely empty; if you're of an age where you can remember Unicron from the “Transformers” cartoon series, you have an idea what this guy looks like and what he's capable of. How about we set some manageable goals for this weekend — just start off with keeping Stafford and Moreno out of the ICU, and we'll go from there.

Another planet consumed whole . . . just another day at the office.

What I think will happen: Am I nervous? Well, yeah. This is the biggest game that's been played at Sanford Stadium in quite a while — only the ninth meeting of top-10 teams between the hedges, as hard as that is to believe — and a prime demonstration of how the tune-up part of Georgia's schedule is well and truly over. Better get as much relaxation in on the bye weeks as you can, people, because literally every team remaining on the slate is an upset risk. And Alabama, thought by most in the preseason to be a good-but-still-not-great team shooting for eight wins and maybe a Peach Bowl, now has every reason to think they can make Georgia a notch on their belt on their way to representing the West Division in the conference-title game. Maybe a few months ago, we were hoping that Alabama would come into this one with a “Let's just play 'em close and set ourselves up for 2009” kind of attitude, but they're way past that now.

Georgia does, however, have an ace in the hole in terms of intangibles in this game, and I'm not talking about the Blackout: It is that Georgia has been battle-tested this season and Alabama hasn't. After a couple of get-the-kinks-out games in weeks 1 and 2, Georgia went on the road and won a major gut-check game against one of the SEC's most experienced defenses in the stifling crucible of Williams-Brice Stadium; the very next week they flew 2,000 miles and dominated a totally unfamiliar opponent in a game where the ambient temperature at kickoff was near the triple digits. Alabama, again, was supposed to get a major early challenge from Clemson in the Georgia Dome, but even Alabama fans are admitting that most of Clemson's roster packed it in before halftime; their only other game away from Tuscaloosa was an admittedly dominant victory over an Arkansas squad that could very well go winless in conference play this year. This isn't meant as a knock on Alabama's toughness — I'm certainly not about to give anybody any “man enough” bulletin-board material — but Georgia has proven they can pull out a crucial win in trying circumstances when the opponent isn't giving them anything for free. As good as Alabama is, I'm just not sure they've done that yet.

I mean, let's be honest with ourselves -- is making Tommy Bowden look silly that hard?

I think that's particularly relevant as it pertains to John Parker Wilson. As Senator Blutarsky explains, given that both teams bring awesome running backs but also smothering run defenses to the table, there's a good chance the running games may "cancel each other out" and create a situation where the passing attacks, not Knowshon Moreno or Glen Coffee, are what win or lose the game. I think even Bama diehards will admit that that kind of situation breaks in Matt Stafford's, and Georgia's, favor. John Parker Wilson has mostly been very efficient and mistake-free through the first four games of 2008, and kudos are due to Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain — JPW's third OC in as many years — for successfully implementing a game plan that plays to Wilson's strengths and doesn't force him to put the entire game on his back. Another way of looking at it, though, is that JPW has been more sheltered from actual challenges than anyone this side of Sarah Palin. (OK, that was uncalled-for political content in a sports post, and I apologize. Don't e-mail me.) Wilson has attempted 94 passes this season, which isn't a shockingly low number, but they've mostly short, low-risk throws — his average yards per attempt (5.77) is more than three yards shorter than Matt Stafford's. Quite simply, he hasn't been asked to do much so far this year, and the Dawg defense needs to ratchet up the pressure a few notches.

That doesn't necessarily mean sacks, something that the Georgia front seven has been only intermittently good at this year. What Georgia needs to do is stack the box, contain the run and the short passing game, and trust their corners to make plays in one-on-one coverage. Alabama's receivers are good, but like their QB, they haven't been asked to do too much — their leading receiver in terms of number of catches is tight end Nick Walker (12 catches for 102 yards), while Julio Jones, the freshman phenom to whom everyone's been comparing A.J. Green all week long, is only averaging 12 yards per catch (compared to Green's 18.8). I know Georgia fans have been antsy about our pass coverage ever since entire geologic eras were taken off the collective life span of Bulldog Nation during the flag-riddled fourth quarter against South Carolina, but for all the cardiac events that took place in that game, it's important to remember that the Gamecocks came out of it with only seven points. Given that Alabama has yet to prove they're substantially superior to USC on either the quarterback or the receiving side of that equation, I think Asher Allen and Bryan Evans should be trusted to make the plays they need to make until further notice.

The last piece of the puzzle, of course, is keeping Matt Stafford upright enough to make that vertical passing game work, and that's probably my biggest worry going into this weekend; I don't think there's any way to avoid putting two guys on Terrence Cody for pretty much the entire night, for example. And I'd be lying if I denied that I'm unnerved by certain aspects of the Alabama-Clemson game, in which Clemson's dirty little secret -- to wit, the weakness of their interior O-line -- was laid bare for all the world to see. I don't think it's unfair to say that Mark Richt is a far better coach than Tommy Bowden, though, and Stacy Searels has done a mind-blowing job of making the best of suboptimal personnel situations in his first 17 games as Georgia's O-line coach. Early last year, for example, we were fairly successful in game-planning around a young and un-gelled offensive line by giving Stafford a lot of quick-release plays, with Knowshon proving himself to be a sneaky receiving threat out of the backfield; we can now add to that Israel Troupe, with whom I think we've only scratched the surface in terms of his playmaking ability, and even Tripp Chandler appeared as though he might be re-learning how to catch passes in Tempe last week.

I can only hope Nick Saban doesn't leave him horribly disfigured in an arson fire, after which point he has a psychotic break, etc. etc. etc. . . .

So what we're looking at, I think, are a couple of slow, deliberate-moving offenses and a lot of field goals, at least in the early going. Maybe Georgia pulls ahead with a long pass play at some point -- I found out this morning that Arkansas actually had more yardage than Alabama at halftime last week, and though he threw three picks, Casey Dick had what was for him a decent game yardage-wise, so there will be deep-ball opportunities if Stafford can spot them. Even if the Stafford-Green hookup does manage one long bomb early, though, I think this one still goes down to the wire, as Alabama is likely to enjoy pretty good field position most of the night and has the kind of power running attack that can keep Georgia's defense on the field and wear them down over time. The seven-point spread, I think, is generous, but if Georgia can carry a lead into the fourth quarter and put Alabama in a position late where John Parker Wilson has to become the hero, then we can come out of this with a very close win in what should be not only the best game of the weekend but one of the most exciting games of the year.

If you're trash-talking: Jean-Georges Therrinault, HJS's official trash-talk sommelier, recommends that you start off with a mild "scoreboard," a reference to Georgia's overtime win last year, followed by robust recollections of the last three games in the series (26-23, 37-23, 27-25, all Georgia wins). Should a Tide fan make the excuse that Nick Saban was the coach for only one of those losses, and it was his first year in Tuscaloosa, progress to a tart, insouciant reminder that Saban had his derriere handed to him in a 45-16 loss the last time he ventured to Sanford Stadium. And if their palates remain unsatisfied by those selections, serve them a bitter 2007 Chateau Louisiana-Monroe and send them on their way.

Why you should root for Georgia even if you don't care about this game: If you're an SEC fan, you should favor any outcome that precludes Alabama fans from talking about how Nick Saban is the second coming of Bear Bryant and how they're going to need to have some extra fingers surgically attached to make room for a 13th national-championship ring, if only for one week. Even if you're outside the SEC, you should want good, kind-hearted, takes-his-players-on-mission-trips-to-Third-World-Countries Mark Richt to rise victorious over evil, surly, makes-secretaries-cry-for-no-reason Nick Saban. This is good-vs.-evil, kids, freedom-vs.-tyranny, Jedi-vs.-the-Empire, it doesn't get much simpler than that -- and just because we're wearing black doesn't mean we're not the good guys.

Figs. (1)-(4): good guys wearing black.

I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia covers the TD and there's a tribute to Larry Munson somewhere on the Bulldogs' uniforms. Between an incredibly hectic schedule in terms of both work- and non-work-related writing and a lingering head cold that's got me feeling just shitty enough I may not make it to Athens for tailgating this weekend after all, I still haven't gotten around to writing about Larry Munson's sudden retirement, and I hope to get to that in the next few days -- but in the meantime, it'd be nice to see Georgia give him his due, not only with some kind of JumboTron video but maybe also with helmet stickers kind of like the ones they did for Erk Russell a couple years back. Larry's not dead, thank God, but we clobbered South Carolina 18-0 wearing those "ERK" stickers, so maybe an "LM" decal, combined with the Blackout, will be just the good-luck charms we need to win decisively on Saturday.

Before anyone asks: No, I would never let a head cold keep me from the game. If I actually had tickets, you wouldn't be able to keep me out of the stadium even with the Hantavirus or a massive open head wound. Not being able to pony up four or five hundred dollars for a ticket, I was planning on going just to tailgate, but my official injury-report status is now listed as "questionable"; the coaching staff hopes to make a final decision by noon tomorrow.

Georgia-Alabama roundtable, the sequel.

Last year Todd of the excellent Crimson Tide blog Roll Bama Roll was kind enough to participate in a roundtable with me and Paul Westerdawg, answering some of our questions about the Alabama team as we headed toward the big game in Tuscaloosa. This year the big game is even bigger, as Georgia and Alabama are ranked #3 and #8, respectively, for this weekend's matchup between the hedges. The perfect situation, in other words, for another roundtable, which we're both bringing you this morning. My answers to Todd's questions are here, and as for his answers to my questions, they are as follows:

1. What were your honest expectations for the Tide coming into Year Two of the Saban regime, and how have those changed in the wake of Alabama's 4-0 start?

I really expected that we were a 9-3 team with (probable) losses to Clemson, UGA, and LSU and an outside shot at hitting 10 wins since, well, Clemson. My biggest hope and expectation was that we would finally win all the games that we were supposed to and so long as we did that (i.e. no more November collapses) I would consider the '08 season a success. I must say, though, that even as crusty and bitter as the last decade of Bama football has left me, I'm starting to at least sip the Kool-aid here and there. Should the Tide prevail on Saturday, I'll be taking baths in the stuff, and when I say baths I'm talking sexy baths full of sundressed Alabama and Georgia sororit . . . sorry, I went to a weird place there.

Anyway, I'm still very cautious in my optimism since Clemson rolled over after five minutes of play and looked absolutely pathetic, we struggled against Tulane, Western Kentucky is Western Kentucky, and the Arkansas domination was more of a function of their scheme changes and loss of talent than anything we did, which was miss a ton of defensive assignments that allowed their offense to move the chains more times than I was comfortable with and also regress as far as our own ability to convert on 3rd down. But we are by and large whipping hell out of teams, so that has to say something positive about the Tide, and just the simple fact that we avoided a letdown against Tulane and haven't had the kind of offensive meltdowns and boneheaded turnovers/mistakes that cost us so dearly last season has me thinking the team has finally shed the kind of negative (coke-dealing) weight that has caused a lot of internal problems and kept the team from playing like one for the past few years.

2. It seems like the strongest bullet points on Alabama's résumé are definitely the Clemson win in the Georgia Dome and the evisceration of Arkansas -- but as an impartial observer (OK, somewhat less than partial this week, perhaps) I'm still not sure how much stock to place in those. What's your take on that, and what aspects of Alabama's performance in those two games do you think will be most applicable to the game this weekend?

I think the best way to look at a team that is whipping up on inferior competition is to think "Well, they should be." I've been very vocal over at RBR about how the first four weeks haven't really taught us a lot about the team so far, but I've also been very happy to see Alabama finally taking it to teams that they are clearly better than. Watching us struggle and lose to mid-majors (and not even good mid-majors) over the past decade has given me the sense that good teams beat the hell out of bad teams and move on while mediocre teams scrape by the bad teams and are thankful for the victory. The fact that we learned our lessons against Tulane by continuing to play like a dominant, physical football team at Arkansas after a rebound game against the Hilltoppers makes me firmer in my belief that Saban has been able to get through to his players what he is constantly preaching -- namely playing with both physical and mental toughness the entire game no matter what the scoreboard looks like, always respecting your opponent, and understanding that anyone can beat anyone with the right preparation and effort.

3. Which position-vs.-position matchup are you most licking your chops over as we head into Saturday?

I don't know if "licking my chops" is entirely accurate here, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how the UGA O-line handles our front seven on defense. Georgia has given up six sacks so far this year, while our D-line went from liability to strength with the emergence of both The Legend of Terrence Cody and Josh Chapman at NT and the continued strong play of some very underrated DEs. Arkansas was able to corral them somewhat (having Jonathan Luigs at C didn't hurt), but for the most part they've been bullying every offensive line they've come across so far and are functioning like a 3-4 line should: occupying blockers, closing down running lanes, and letting the linebackers do all the fancy stuff.

I can only hope Cody won't be crashing through our offensive line as easily as, say, this guy.

4. Conversely, which matchup has you the most worried?

The UGA passing attack vs our pass coverage. As I already mentioned, Arkansas moved the ball way too easily on us Saturday, and most of that was because of missed assignments in coverage. In years past you could always count on a good many drops from the Georgia receivers (last year's game probably wouldn't have gone to OT if Tripp Chandler has caught even half the balls thrown his way on 3rd down), but this year's model has clearly stepped it up in that regard and it makes the Dawgs pretty frightening when you realize they have two great running backs, a great QB, and now a stable of solid receivers. Also, y'all ran screens all over us last year because our DBs couldn't get off blocks quick enough, and we've seen that happen a couple of times already this year, so I'm not looking forward to that either.

5. Good John Parker Wilson. Bad John Parker Wilson. Obviously I know which one I want to show up at Sanford Stadium this weekend, but is there any way to predict which one will?

Unfortunately there is not. So far this year Bad John Parker Wilson hasn't made an appearance, so we're all quietly hopeful he died a silent death during the offseason at the hands of Jim McElwain. If there was ever a time for him to appear, it was against Tulane, when he was constantly pressured, the biggest cause of his appearances time and again last season, but he was mature enough to throw the ball away if he could or just cover the ball and take the sack instead of trying to throw with a defender on his shoulders, either guaranteeing a fumble or a throw directly into the waiting arms of a defensive back watching all of this take place with sinister glee.

6. Between the two of them, UGA and Bama have a whole stable of very talented running backs -- and two of the most diabolical run defenses in the business. Out of all the RBs who will be on the field Saturday, which one do you think has the best shot at breaking through that and putting up some decent numbers?

I think Moreno probably has the best chance to make the big plays out of the bunch, but I wouldn't be surprised to see our own Mark Ingram come out with a better overall game. Moreno is a phenomenal player and there's no way we are going to simply shut him down, but I do think we have a good chance of keeping him contained enough to eliminate the back-breaking runs. I say Ingram could have the better overall game because he's a great between-the-tackles runner (the kind of stuff we want to run on any and everyone) and his yards after contact are always huge, a big reason he's become our red-zone back, and just really feel like he can pile up the non-flashy yardage in the game.

7. And finally, the Blackout. Cool? Hokey? Intimidating? A lame gimmick? What's your personal opinion on it, and as far as you can tell, what's Tide Nation's overall assessment?

First, all the comments I've heard and read about from our fellow Tide fans are excitement that Georgia is breaking them out for us, and I'd have to agree with that sentiment. There's also talk of an Alabama "White Out" to counter it, which I think makes the game even more exciting by establishing a big time "rivalry" feel to it that normally isn't there. As for my own personal opinion I think stuff like this is kind of cheesy, but it's a good kind of cheesy and is a big reason that college football is so exciting.

Thanks to Todd for participating in this and doing a great job over at RBR, and good luck -- although obviously not too much good luck -- on Saturday.

Tuesday, September 23

Poll dancing, week 4: Don't bother us, we're sleeping.

I'll be honest with you, not a terribly exciting week on the BlogPoll and SEC Power Poll ballots; there were plenty of big games, but not a whole lot of truly mind-blowing upsets outside of West Virginia and East Carolina taking the pipe at the hands of unranked teams on the road. Fine with me, since after three days in Tempe I probably couldn't take the excitement anyway. First, the BlogPoll:

Games watched: First half of Colorado-West Virginia, UConn-Baylor, substantial parts of Florida-Tennessee, and of course Georgia-Arizona State.

Waiting room: Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Cincinnati, East Carolina.

Dropped out: East Carolina (15), West Virginia (21), Tennessee (24).

· Not a lot of movement in the first-class section this week other than Georgia and Missouri exchanging seats. Brigham Young's in the top 10 now after having won their last two games by an aggregate score of 103-0, and while I still feel a little funny declaring the Cougars top-10 material already, I don't know where else to put them until they actually lose to someone.

· Biggest riser for the week is Alabama; am I merely pulling a Lou Holtz and kissing the ass of the team the Dawgs have to play this week? Probably, but my original ballot had them at #15, and that definitely didn't seem high enough since the rest of the country is apparently convinced they're top-10 caliber. My main beef with them is I don't know how much stock to put in their victories over Clemson OR Arkansas, but I guess we'll find out in a hurry. Boise State also gets kicked up a few notches for pounding Oregon far worse than the final score indicated.

· The big droppers are Oregon, of course, and a South Florida team that seems intent on taking it easy on their in-state brethren -- here's a Florida International team that's usually lucky to play its own Sun Belt rivals within a couple touchdowns, much less someone in a BCS conference, but they were an onside-kick recovery away from a chance to tie the top-15 Bulls in the final minute. Maybe the Big East's particular strain of suckfluenza this year is especially contagious.

· Wave goodbye to East Carolina, who went from #15 to nowhere after crapping the bed against a bad N.C. State team. The two other teams that disappeared from the ballot were West Virginia and Tennessee, and oddly enough, fans of both of those teams left comments on my last ballot specifically pleading with me not to jinx the Mountaineers and Vols by including them. There's a lesson here, kids, and that is that you'll have to pony up if you want karmic favors like that. Ass, grass, or gas, nobody rides for free.

· Taking their places are Oklahoma State, Clemson, and Michigan State -- no offense to the fans of these fine squads, but they're basically the flotsam that rose to the top of the just-outside-the-top-25 pool, where nobody had any hugely impressive wins last week. Props to MSU for derailing the "ND IS BACK!" meme for a week or two, though. I almost gave them the nod over Clemson just for that.

And now the SEC Power Poll -- whose roundup to the week 3 roundtable, incidentally, can be found here.

1. Georgia -- Every year, for what must be five or six years now, I would ask Santa, "Please bring me a game-breaking receiver." And it never came. But 25,000 Dawg fans went out to Arizona this past weekend to find a beautifully wrapped A.J. Green next to the tree, or rather the mountain behind Sun Devil Stadium. And suddenly Matt Stafford has a new spring in his step.

2. Florida -- On the one hand, that was as thorough an evisceration of the Vols as I could've predicted, but on the other hand, it was mostly UT doing it to itself; most of the Gators' big plays were on defense or special teams, while Tebow was held below 100 yards passing for the first time since, what, he was in Pop Warner? This is a weird, weird team, but then again, it's not like anybody's ashamed to win with defense in the SEC these days.

3. LSU -- Emphatically slammed the door on the Ryan Perrilloux debacle when Jarrett Lee overcame a lousy start to carry the Bayou Bengals to victory in a slugfest on the Plains. Anyone who thought that the QB situation might be enough to sink LSU this year might want to start exploring other options.

4. Alabama -- Dominated the Razorbacks on the road, but let's be honest, that was against a team that may not even cover a point spread against an SEC team for the rest of the year, much less actually win one. Still, I'm intrigued to see how the Tide's league-leading rushing attack will stack up against Georgia's crushing run defense, currently ranked #3 in the nation.

5. Auburn -- I was amazed that they scored 21 on LSU -- honestly, I figured LSU and Auburn wouldn't combine for 21 points -- but the Plainsmen clearly have some problems, first and foremost being the fact that their once-smothering defense allowed an inexperienced sophomore QB to turn into a hero Saturday night.

6. Vanderbilt -- I got a text message at the Houston airport on Sunday informing me that Vandy was ranked and I nearly had to be carted onto my plane on a stretcher. As Blutarsky points out, though, there are a lot of smoke and mirrors involved in the construction of that 4-0 record. Still, that still-undefeated record means they're not going to need that many more lucky breaks to snag a bowl bid for the first time since Cornelius Vanderbilt was actually alive.

7. Ole Miss -- Rough break for the Rebels on that last play against Vandy. Ed Orgeron's teams, however, would've used a heartbreaker like that as an excuse to pack it in the rest of the season; I'm confident Houston Nutt will be able to do better.

8. Tennessee -- The Vols came out of the tunnel on Saturday against Florida and basically said, "Oh, so you're gonna punch me in the face, are you? Watch this, I can punch MYSELF even harder!" It's like they're looking for ways to fuck up at this point . . . and yet as a Georgia fan I can't get too gleeful over this, because isn't this pretty much exactly where the Vols were at this point last year?

9. Kentucky -- Had a bye this past week, and I just checked the SEC sked for next week and the Wildcats are playing Western Kentucky. Jeez, guys, don't strain yourselves or anything.

10. South Carolina -- FEAR THE TERRIER! Still, Gamecocks, you make it really hard for us Dawg fans to say stuff like "But for real, y'all, South Carolina is actually a pretty good team" when you're getting chased by Wofford all the way into the fourth quarter.

11. Mississippi State -- If you were a child psychologist and asked a six-year-old to draw a picture of "sad," the result would probably look a lot like MSU's offensive playbook. The only reason the Bizarro Bulldogs still avoid the bottom spot is, oddly enough, the 3-2 game against Auburn in which they displayed enough of a defense to hang in there against a ranked opponent. Other than that, they're abysmal.

12. Arkansas -- I'm not too modest to keep from saying I knew the Alabama-Arkansas game would be an ass-kicking, but even I couldn't have predicted just how bad an ass-kicking it would be. At this point you'd have to do a lot of talking to convince me Arkansas isn't going to go 2-10.

Monday, September 22

Go west, life is peaceful there . . .

Damn, I'm such a G, it's pathetic.

If you actually watched the Georgia-Arizona State game as opposed to just taking a cursory glance at the box score, then you know the Bulldogs whupped the Sun Devils on Saturday much worse than the score might indicate. Our defense crushed the ASU ground game to the tune of 19 rushes for four net yards, leaving Rudy Carpenter to pile the entire team on his back -- admittedly, something he's probably getting used to by now -- and save them with his arm; this did not happen, as Georgia's defensive front keyed in on him and pressured him in a fashion that had to look distressingly like the 55-sack disaster of ASU's 2007 campaign. On the other side of the ball, the revelations were even more dramatic, and the star of the night was undoubtedly freshman receiver A.J. Green, whose "coming-out party" was more like Times Square on New Year's: eight catches for 159 yards and a score, the majority of that damage done in a single half, as Green repeatedly knifed through ASU's coverage like an F-22 Raptor dogfighting a squadron of single-engine Cessnas.

And when those Cessnas finally figured out a way to contain Green in the second half, out comes Knowshon Moreno to do the road-paving work, an A-10 Warthog demolishing Arizona State's ground defenses if we're going to stretch this military-aviation metaphor even further toward its breaking point. Then again, maybe the metaphor is pretty damn accurate:

The look on the cheerleader's face? F$#@ing priceless.

Looks like flight to me, hoss. And the funny thing is, Knowshon didn't even get loose until after halftime, when Arizona State flung their entire defense at A.J. Green and the passing attack. 'Shon ran 11 times for 107 yards in the second half after totaling just 12 for 42 in the first; given that the above photograph was taken at the denouement of Knowshon's first touchdown run, just seconds into the second quarter, we can therefore conclude that that's what 'Shon looks like when he's getting bottled up. You can have your spreads, your triple options, your talk of "scheme," period -- recruit five-star talent at as many positions as you possibly can and it doesn't matter how you line them up. The key here was balance, as once Matt Stafford shook out the cobwebs in the first quarter, ASU just never seemed to have enough guys on the field to account for everything Georgia had the potential to do.

It wasn't a perfect game, obviously, and between stupid-ass penalties (12 for 104 this week, as if we're trying to overtake Texas Tech for the D-IA lead) and field goals that should've been touchdowns, we probably threw away about 21 points (I guess they were in the luggage that got checked through to the wrong city when the team changed planes in Dallas). But again, to only scan the scoring summary and the 27-10 final means you missed quite a lot -- a new personal record for Stafford in yardage; Knowshon's eighth 100-yard day as a Bulldog; a defense that went up against the best passing attack they've faced so far this year and figured out how to obstruct it with something other than PI penalties; and, of course, the eye-popping catches by A.J. If you had to go 2,000 miles for a game — or, in the case of my friend Meghan, six-thousand-something, since she came all the way from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to join us in the desert — then that was a pretty worthwhile one to go see.

Not a bad view at all. +1 for you, Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area.

And I feel for you if you weren't able to go to the game, because even if you watched it on TV, even if you DVR'd the whole thing and Zaprudered it from start to finish, you didn't get to experience Tempe, Arizona, with twenty thousand Dawg fans in town. I've been to bars in Athens on game day that weren't as packed with Georgia fans as some of the bars we went to in Tempe, and every time I turned around it seemed like there was something else to make me nearly tear up with pride at the devotion of our fan base. Hearing people yell “Go Dawgs!” at us in Sedona, a hundred miles north of Phoenix. Hearing somebody get a “Mean Machine” started as we walked down an unfamiliar street two thousand miles away from home. Getting honked at by cars decked out with Georgia flags and magnets as we whizzed up I-17 in the literal middle of nowhere. Standing on the balcony at the Gordon Biersch in downtown Tempe, where the local Bulldog Club was having their “official” get-together, with people screaming “GEORGIA!” while other people shouted “BULLDOGS!” from the balcony of the Hooters that was catty-corner across the intersection from us. And all that was even before we walked into the stadium. The upper deck wasn't quite as solid-red as I'd hoped — the red-to-gold ratio wasn't quite as high as what you'd see at a Tech game — but what we lacked in striking visuals we more than made up for in noise. I was looking forward to hearing what the stadium would sound like when we “called the dawg” for the first kickoff, and I was not disappointed; the place positively thundered.

My friend Kristen asked an ASU fan on Saturday why there weren't more tailgaters out and about, and he explained that tailgating isn't a big scene in Tempe because it's just too hot to sit around and drink in an unshaded parking lot, but then he added, “And we're kind of intimidated by all of you showing up here.” Arizona State fans may or may not be keen on Georgia making a return trip anytime soon, but I'll bet you that the bar, restaurant, and hotel owners of Tempe are — depending on whose numbers you trust, as many as 25,000 Georgia fans were out there last week patronizing the fine local businesses. That's approaching Democratic National Convention-type numbers, and I wonder if, somewhere — maybe in Berkeley, maybe in Provo, maybe even in Los Angeles — there might be a Chamber of Commerce bigwig looking up the number of his local university's athletic department so that he can put a bug in someone's ear about inviting the Dawgs for a game.

At least we'll get excited about it, even if the locals won't.

And if they get that invite, whether it's to Berkeley or Provo or L.A., we'd better accept it, 'cause after this past weekend, I wanna go. No, in spite of the condescension of folks like Heismanpundit and others who seem to think a game's difficulty and prestige is determined mainly by how many SkyMiles you racked up getting there, we don't need to play games like this; there are more than enough top-drawer opponents within a single day's drive of Athens, thanks very much, and clearly we'd been doing pretty well just sticking with those for the last 40 years. But we should be playing games like this anyway, for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with our fans getting an excuse to take a semi-exotic vacation. First and foremost, it's just something we should be man enough (yeah, I said it) to do. Second, it's more media exposure, not just in terms of the prime-time ABC cameras being trained on us but in terms of the West Coast journalists who may never have had the inclination to pay attention to Georgia before but who may now be inclined to throw us some more benefit of the doubt in their AP ballots because they've just watched the Dawgs take down one of the local teams. And finally, partly as a result of that, I've got to think that this raises our national recruiting profile at least a little. I have no idea if this will actually pay any tangible benefits in future recruiting classes, but maybe there's a blue-chipper at a high school somewhere in Phoenix or Sedona or Flagstaff who saw Georgia whup the Sun Devils — and, heck, who witnessed the streets of his hometown getting swarmed by sundress-clad Georgia coeds — and is now thinking of calling the registrar's office in Athens and asking for a brochure. I'm probably betraying my complete ignorance of the recruiting process by even mentioning that, but . . . who knows?

So yeah, it was a great weekend, one of those weekends where I got to go home swelling with pride not only in our team but in our fans. If you'd like to hear more about it from the horses' own mouths, I invite you to go to DAve's joint and check out the Week 4 SEC podcast, recorded at the house we (and by “we” I mean “Meimi Hartman,” the MVP of the weekend off the field) rented in Tempe. The “after dark” part perhaps merits some explanation: Our house was a very nice 3-br, 2.5-bath patio home in a gated community right off Guadelupe, with a pool and a hot tub right around the corner. It was a great place, with more than enough room to keep the seven of us from tripping over each other all weekend, but something about the wide-open interior spaces and the spare decorating kind of reminded us of . . . well, Meimi was the first one who mentioned it to me: “This is kind of a porn house.” Oh, and if only I'd had the wherewithal to bring a handful of ASU coeds back there; I hear some of them are into that kind of thing. Anyway, we toyed with the idea of recording the podcast from the hot tub, but we didn't want to run the risk of harming the equipment; Scott's audio recorder, incidentally, is the first one I've ever encountered that didn't make my voice sound totally ghey. Go take a listen.

A whole lotta Dawgs at the "private party" at Crave on Mill Avenue.

Finally, I have to humbly give thanks to the numerous people (I can call them “numerous,” right?) who chatted me up at the Crave Lounge on Mill Avenue and told me they liked my blog. That really, sincerely means a lot to me, y'all, and all the more so since it happened a couple thousand miles away from home. It really reminded me how small the world is when I was chatting with one of them about his flight out to Arizona, and he was describing how the plane had been turned into a veritable “party plane” full of Bulldog fans (who, he told me, caused the flight attendants to run out of little bottles of liquor). And then he mentioned overhearing the conversation of some Dawg fans sitting behind him, “and they said they talked to this one girl who'd come all the way from Sierra Leone . . . “

Bulldog Nation, for these reasons and so very many more, you are officially the greatest. And don't let anybody tell you different.

I finally get my picture taken with überfan Mike "Big Dawg" Woods, and it's in Tempe, Arizona. Life's funny sometimes.

Now that I'm awake, sobered up, and rehydrated, here are my observations on everybody else's weekend:

· So there's Tennessee, now sporting two losses before the month of September is even over, clicking on one side of the ball but sputtering embarrassingly on the other, and after another humiliating loss to the Gators, Phil Fulmer's job security is once again in question. This remind you of anything? Exactly one year ago about this time, perhaps? I submit this for your consideration, Bulldog fans, as a reminder of the folly of counting chickens in pre-hatch mode.

· Attending UGA-ASU live and in person meant I didn't get to see anything of the titanic LSU-Auburn tilt except highlights, but my immediate take is that that crushing Auburn defense has to be scratching its collective head that they somehow allowed untested sophomore QB Jarrett Lee turn into a hero, and after throwing one of the most hideous pick-sixes in mankind's history, no less. There's two ways they could go from here: Either they go in a shell and cough up an upset this week, or they decide to take their frustrations out on the Vols. If I was a betting man — check that: If I had money to bet — I'd bet that Auburn's front seven is already Googling Jonathan Crompton's injury history to see if he has any bones that might shatter more easily than others.

Bill Stewart: Not actually a football coach, but he did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

· I did, however, catch the wondrous five-car pileup that was West Virginia-Colorado on Thursday night, otherwise known as When Bad Things Happen To Good People Who Are Not Necessarily Good Football Coaches. I have no reason to think that Bill Stewart is anything other than a sterling human being, and I was hoping as hard as anybody that WVU might throw him some sort of bone after leading the Mountaineers to their improbable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, but it's time to face up and 'fess up — since then, the man has given no indication that he has any idea what to do on a football field. When even Erin Andrews is down there reporting that your sideline is displaying all the calmness and organization of a Zimbabwean election, you're in deep ka-ka. And while I think WVU will give Stewart one more year even if they continue their implosion — for appearance's sake if nothing else — Stewart isn't even going to have Pat White in '09, so what good's a last-chance second year going to do? Other than to give the rest of us 12 more months to snicker about the fact that West Virginia, in the words of Brian Cook, married their rebound.

· As if to give the nozzle another squeeze and top off WVU's misery tank, East Carolina went and handed N.C. State their court-mandated inexplicable home win over a ranked opponent, thereby making the Mountaineers' not-even-remotely-competitive loss to the Pirates look that much worse, not to mention leaving one presumptive BCS-buster without a chair as the music stopped. Nothing against Skip Holtz, but thank goodness; the Orange Bowl already has to suffer the ignominy of hosting an ACC team, they don't need Conference USA on top of that. A Wake Forest-ECU matchup would be the kind of thing that'd earn a “Do Not Watch While Operating Heavy Machinery, Or At All” tag; I think Fox Sports might even pass it on down to Raycom if given half the chance.

· Then again, Wake did complete the hat trick against Flawda State . . . who could've predicted such a thing? Oh, that's right, I did. At this point, I don't think it's too risky to assume Joe Paterno will take over the all-time career wins record from Bobby Bowden for good; the only question now is whether FSU will start carrying Bowden's cryogenically frozen head around on the sidelines in a desperate effort to give him credit for any future wins.

They'll probably stash it next to Corso's.

· About thirty minutes south of Sedona on I-17, we passed something called Dry Beaver Creek. I only mention this now because I had to get it out there, and I didn't know where else to put it.

· UAB Blazers watch: Boom, motherfucker — UAB cockpunches Alabama State 45-10 for their first victory of the season. For the purposes of this post, the presiding judge has declared evidence of Alabama State's D-IAA status inadmissible. Whatever — both Georgia and UAB can lay claim to having destroyed ASU this week (and having crushed their running game, too, as the Blazers held the Hornets to only 17 net yards on the ground). Where are our "Bring on South Carolina" signs, Chick-fil-A?

· Wofford Terriers watch: Speaking of South Carolina, Wofford chased the Gamecocks right down to the last couple minutes of the game before finally falling 23-13 in Columbia. You have my permission to count that as a mark in the “moral victory” column, Terriers, and if any South Carolina fans give you shit over it, just remind them that they've been counting it as a moral victory for the past 50 years if the 'Cocks so much as cover a spread against Georgia.

· Cheerleader Curse watch: The Ohio Bobcats fought off the Curse as best they could, but in the end the bad juju of cheerleader Kristine (above) doomed them to a weird 16-8 loss to Northwestern. The Curse finally puts a mark in the “teams successfully rurnt” column, and given that the whole Cheerleader of the Week Curse began with SI.com's spotlighting of Alabama's Jody Reeves two summers ago, I think it would be a fine idea for SI to pay a tribute to grand history by selecting one of these fine young people this week.

· And since there's an Arizona connection here, why not do a Washington Redskins Watch, as my 'Skins got past a tricky Arizona Cardinals team on Sunday in Landover. That's their second win of the season, and their second straight sparkling performance from Jason Campbell. Could the Redskins actually be good without Joe Gibbs for the first time since I was sleeping in a crib? I'm just now getting over jet lag and a hangover; I don't know that I'm prepared for this.