Sunday, October 12

How to smile behind a frown.

Asher Allen (right), seen here remembering last year.

Between my seething, red-eyed hatred for all things Volunteer, which my HMO has correctly deemed a pre-existing condition, and two straight years of humiliating cover-your-eyes blowouts by UT, I wanted an asskicking Saturday night. I wanted a shutout and at least a three-TD margin of victory. I wanted blood on the field. I wanted the kind of historic dishonor that would drive an assistant coach or two to commit ritual seppuku before the clock even hit zeroes. Maybe the rest of the fan base wasn't especially geeked up for this one after the Alabama disaster, but I sure was.

As the third quarter drew to a close and our fans held four fingers in the air (or, in our section, one finger in the air toward the Tennessee band, which was drowning out the Redcoat Band with some rendition of “Carmina Burana”), it became clear that I wasn't going to get any of that. We'd just given up a short touchdown drive after Matt Stafford's second interception of the game, this one caught by Eric Berry in the end zone and taken all the way to Georgia's side of the field, and could only answer back with a drive that started out pretty well but ended up with the Dawgs getting stopped at the Tennessee 24. On the first play of the final quarter, we kicked our third field goal of the night, and a team that had dominated statistically for 45 minutes had to settle for retaking a two-score lead. We left the stadium with a convincing win but no better than a push on the point spread — certainly not the apocalyptic massacre I'd been not-so-secretly hoping for.

For a while, I'd made up my mind to be cranky about that, but it didn't take long — maybe even within the span of Georgia's 11-minute game-icing field goal drive — to get over it and decide to be happy about the outcome. There were two aspects of the game that, in reflection, helped me arrive at that decision.

MoMass brings Georgia's last drive of the second quarter to a stirring conclusion in the end zone.

The first was Georgia's final drive of the first half, a thing of beauty at the time and even more impressive in hindsight. Again, we'd gotten picked deep in Tennessee territory, and the emboldened Vols took it right back down the field on a truly sweet-looking deep bomb from Nick Stephens to Denarius Moore. (There, Holly, I said something nice about your team. My fake-marital obligations are thus fulfilled.) This unfortunate sequence of events was compounded on the ensuing kickoff, when Richard Samuel overran the ball, had to run back five yards to get it, and received a highly predictable creaming at the Georgia three. Pinned deep and sucking wind, momentum-wise, I started having wild visions of how things would go if this were 2006 — we'd grind the last two minutes and change off the clock without even trying to score, go into the locker room deflated and wondering why we weren't beating them by more, and spend the entire second half flailing around like someone who's just walked into a cobweb, trying to get this pesky (and demonstrably inferior) team out of our hair.

Fortunately, Richt and Bobo had other plans. Rather than just meekly accepting our undesirable situation, they dialed up a heart-pounding 97-yard drive, helpfully aided by a pair of stupid-ass Tennessee personal fouls — the kinds of penalties it was surprising just to see someone other than us commit — and capped off by a lovely Stafford pass to Mo Massaquoi in the end zone. Instead of the Dawgs, it was the Vols taking a knee to run out the clock and trudging into the locker room with frowns on their faces, while Georgia got to go into halftime with a two-touchdown lead.

Even if the recaptured momentum didn't quite last the entire second half, it was still an impressive way of bouncing back from adversity, and again, one we haven't always been great at. And it was a particularly gratifying display of killer instinct by a team that had had its collective ass handed to it in its previous game, to the point where there were actually questions of whether we'd be able to get it up for a hated division rival. Quibble with some of Bobo's play calls if you want, but he deserves props for designing that drive, and Stafford and MoMass deserve equal props for executing it.

A frequent sight on all but a couple of Tennessee's drives Saturday.

The second thing that made me smile despite the meh victory margin was a glance up at the Jumbotron, where the game stats were displayed several times in the waning moments: 458 total yards for the Dawgs, including another hundred-yard day for Knowshon and Stafford's first-ever 300-yard passing day. Make no mistake about it, that vaunted Tennessee defense I fretted about last week is going to be dropping a few notches in the rankings in pretty much every statistical category, because the Vols never really stopped us on Saturday. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Tennessee had fewer than half the total yards we did (209, to be exact), and another worry of mine — that Tennessee might be able to run the ball on us a little — turned out to be just as unnecessary as the nail-biting I did over their defense: The Vols finished with one net yard rushing the entire night, and the Foster/Hardesty/Creer backfield that so completely shredded us in Knoxville last year ended up with only 25 total yards on 11 carries. Nick Stephens had a serviceable performance in his first SEC game ever, with no picks or blatantly bad decisions on his permanent record, but outside of the 60-yard completion to Moore he didn't do a lot that was particularly heroic, either.

Whatever it says on the scoreboard, that was still a dominating performance, particularly since we were still so banged-up at a multitude of positions. Would you have thought that a defensive front seven missing Dannell Ellerbe would've held Tennessee to single-digit rushing yards and sacked Stephens twice? Would you have thought that an offensive line that lost a second left tackle (Vince Vance) for the season would be able to block for an eleven-minute, 17-play (all but two of them rushing), 76-yard drive that produced the game-icing field goal in the fourth quarter? The pollsters and pundits who only look at the final score may not be impressed with this performance, but anyone who takes even a cursory look at the box score should find plenty to appreciate.

If you think about it, Tennessee accomplished virtually nothing that wasn't presented to them on a velvet pillow by our offense. Both of their scoring drives were started off by Stafford interceptions deep in UT territory; they racked up 118 total yards (including more than half of Stephens's 208 passing yards) and 14 points. In the nine drives they had to start thanks to something other than a Stafford pick, they totaled a mere 91 yards and three first downs on 32 plays. Without those picks, there's a reasonable chance that I'm preparing to streak down Highland Avenue in celebration of a Georgia shutout. With a little more discipline in the end zone, 40 points wouldn't have been out of the question. And yeah, I know it's kind of silly to say “Without all the screw-ups, we would've been awesome,” but you have to admit, relatively speaking, this game featured few truly inexcusable screw-ups to mar what was otherwise a solid ass-pounding.

And whether the win had been by 12 points, one point, or fifty-three, I still would've gotten to sing on my way out of the stadium:

Rocky Top, you're oh-and-three
Iiiin the S-E-C;
Poor old Rocky Top,
Rocky Top Tennessee.
You wish you had red pants like me.

I thought that one up not long after we kicked that field goal at the very beginning of the fourth quarter. I'm really glad I got the chance to use it.

Revenge: It's not just for breakfast anymore.

Other stuff I was kind-of, sort-of, in-some-cases-not-really paying attention to:

· There's plenty for me to answer for in both my Dr. Saturday picks column and my SEC Power Poll ballot from last week, but perhaps nothing as egregious as the following sentence from the latter:

[LSU's] defense has been a little less than confidence-inspiring over the past couple weeks, but it's still a real stretch to think that this is the team against whom Tim Tebow and the Gators are finally going to have their offensive breakout game, particularly considering that the Tigers have had a week to rest up for them.

In fact, the less-than-confidence-inspiring aspects of LSU's defense in its outings against Auburn and Mississippi State apparently took over against Florida the other night, because Tebow and his team did have that breakout game, rolling up 475 yards and a 51-spot on the scoreboard in a trampling of the defending national champions. It's still early to call the SEC West a one-horse race, but with Auburn tanking and LSU officially exposed, that division certainly looks like it belongs to Saban, and all the other teams are merely paying rent.

I'm really glad we fired the offensive coordinator. That totally worked.

· Speaking of Auburn tanking, how bad do you have to be to a) allow 416 total yards to Casey Dick and the Razorbacks and b) roll up only 193 yards of your own on the SEC's worst defense? In both cases, I'm going to go with “pretty bad,” and I'm going to use my editorial droit de seigneur to whip out another quote from one of my past SEC Power Poll ballots, this one my preseason ranking of SEC head coaches:

[Kyle King] says Tubs "is the most underrated coach in the league"; I say he's one of the most overrated. I mean, he's hardly a bad coach, but let's see what his nine years on the Plains have produced: one SEC title, two division titles, and a single BCS bowl. He's notched some pretty amazing upsets, but for each one of those there's also a head-slapper of a loss that should never have happened, and many of those losses have been enough to bounce the Tigers out of the SEC West lead so that a team like LSU or even Arkansas can take their place. Doesn't seem to foster a lot of consistency with coordinators, either, which may be part of the problem. (Emphasis mine, of course, but not in original — Ed.)

So now both Al Borges and Tony Franklin are laughing their asses off at the Tigers (and both of them are still getting paid by Auburn, too, if memory serves). Meanwhile, Tommy Tuberville might be praying to God right now that Tommy Bowden gets fired so that he's got a fallback position at the end of the season. Granted, I haven't been privy to exactly what has gone on in Tuberville's office or the locker room this season, but it's safe to say a pooch has been screwed this season, and the primary common thread between this team before and after the Franklin firing — besides the continued yelping of said pooch, of course — is Tuberville.

· Jesus Christ, Vandy. I (and everyone else) thought you were better than that.

· Exactly one month ago, East Carolina was 2-0 after eye-popping upsets over Virginia Tech and West Virginia, while Virginia was 1-1 and preparing for a 35-point cockpunching by the Connecticut Huskies. Today, the Pirates and 'Hoos have identical 3-3 records; ECU has shanked three straight while Virginia has overcome a humiliating loss to Duke by beating two straight opponents by double digits. And at the rate things are going, UVA stands just as good a chance as anybody of representing the Coastal Division in what I can only imagine will be a highly comedic ACC championship game.

Well, there's your problem. That isn't how you wear that.

· Even if they don't, they might beat Georgia Tech, who needed a tipped field-goal attempt with nine seconds left to survive 2-4 Gardner-Webb. In the spirit of this post, I propose a new German word for the satisfaction one feels when something bad doesn't quite happen to a hated rival or opponent, but comes close enough to happening that one can still laugh at them for it: peinlichnaheverlegenheitvermeidungfreude. Ask for it by name!

· UAB Blazers watch: The plucky Blazers led Houston 20-3 on the road last Thursday, only to give up six touchdowns in the second half and lose 45-20. I think this pretty much cements the “Worst Second-Half Team in the Country” title for UAB — this makes like the fourth time they've been within striking distance or even led a game at halftime only to get hammered the rest of the way. I added it up, and UAB has allowed only a handful more first-half points than they've scored; in the second half, though, they've been outscored by more than a 2-to-1 margin. The solution to this, of course, is simple: UAB should petition Conference USA to shorten all games to 30 minutes. I mean, with all the clock-rule shenanigans the NCAA has been pulling the last couple seasons, that's where we're headed anyway, isn't it?

· Wofford Terriers watch: The Terriers were on fire in both the first and second halves in Spartanburg this past weekend, curb-stomping Chattanooga 56-7 (and only needing to complete 4 of 6 passes in the process). They remain one of only three undefeated teams left in the Southern Conference and get a tune-up against 2-5 Western Carolina this week before going on a two-week road trip to face both of the other undefeateds, Elon and Appalachian State.

· The introduction of another planned regular feature, “Washington Redskins Watch,” has been postponed this week due to inclement weather. I'm hoping to roll it out next Monday.


Hebbard said...

The links in the last paragraph are broken.

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

Should be fixed . . . I've been having some issues with these lately.

Anonymous said...

I like your version of "Rocky Top." I created my own (more generic) version a few years back:
"Rocky Top, you'll always be
A piece of shit to me;
You suck, Rocky Top,
Rocky Top Tennessee."