Tuesday, December 2
Disappointed, once more.
Mark watches Georgia nail the extra point on its second TD of the day. Wow, we're doing so well! I can't wait to find out what happens next!
I watched the 2008 Georgia-Georgia Tech game in the sports bar at a hotel/casino in Commerce, California, about ten miles west of Los Angeles. The game started at 9 a.m. Pacific time, so I sat there watching it while eating a breakfast burrito and drinking Irish coffees until I started to hate the taste of both coffee and Irish whiskey. Given that kind of a surreal environment, maybe it only figures that the outcome of the game turned out as surreal as it did.
And the thing is, when we had 'em down 28-12 at halftime, I thought -- like every other Bulldog fan out there, I'm sure -- that we had 'em. The vaunted Tech triple-option running game had been clamped down upon to the tune of 22 rushes for 123 yards, and half their points had come from an ugly pick-six in the first quarter; other than that interception, meanwhile, their defense had barely provided any kind of obstacle for a Georgia offense that would finish the afternoon within spitting distance of 500 yards. Yet all it took for the game to go irrevocably pear-shaped was about 13 minutes' worth of game time in the third quarter, as the defense appeared to pack it in for the day and let Tech go on a 26-point run that will go down as maybe the most embarrassing single quarter of football in the Mark Richt era.
Saturday marked a first for Richt's Georgia tenure, and I'm not just talking about losing to Tech for the first time in eight matchups. Rather, for the first time in the Richt era, we were watching a team that was worse at the end of the season than it had been at the beginning. That contrast was particularly ugly against the triumph of last year's team, which started a rocky 4-2 but reeled off seven straight wins, most of them dominating, to close the season; now, not every Richt team has necessarily gotten better over the course of the season -- Richt was kind of feeling his way around with the '01 squad, for instance, while for the '03 team, simply keeping their heads above water and winning 11 games in light of their injuries and offensive-line greenness counted as progress -- but at least we could expect them to hold the line. This team, though, started the season strong but has spent nearly every minute since halftime of the Georgia-Florida game looking like a bunch of guys who just wanted the season to be over. The guys who refused to say die against South Carolina are no longer making the big stops; the team that crushed Rudy Carpenter and the Sun Devils on that glorious weekend in Tempe apparently decided to stay out West. Throw out the preseason #1 ranking that was already looking pretty shaky and unearned a few weeks into September, even; you don't need preseason rankings or inflated expectations to be disappointed by what they ended up producing.
MoMass has yet another career day -- one that should've ended in a victory.
I should backtrack a little here and say that, for the most part, I'm not referring to the offense when I say this. Matt Stafford, after all, set new career highs against Georgia Tech by breaking the 400-yard and 5-TD marks for the first time in his career. Knowshon combined for 168 yards rushing and receiving and bounced up after nearly every single play with the expression of someone who appeared determined to pile the whole team on his back if fate asked him to. And Mohamed Massaquoi -- good lord, what more could we have asked him to do Saturday? Sadly, Senator Blutarsky is exactly right when he bemoans the fact that all those fantastic efforts had to be wasted in such an embarrassing loss. No, the non-improved aspects of the team nearly all belong to the defense, which resolutely refused to get better over the course of 12 games.
Why didn't they get better? Simple: Because nobody asked them to.
Twelve games into the season, we're still committing dumb penalties. Twelve games into the season, we're still not wrapping up tackles. Twelve games into the season, we're still starting a free safety who thinks a shoulder bump no more forceful than what the typical New York subway rider experiences dozens of times a day is an adequate tackling technique. And yet after all that, our coaching staff is still trotting out injuries and a tough schedule -- which, for the record, doesn't look nearly as tough in hindsight as it did in August -- as excuses for all this.
AJC.com insists that Reshad Jones is actually pushing Jonathan Dwyer out of bounds in this photo. I'll take their word for it.
Mark, I love with you and your family with all my heart and soul, but let's get real here: Residual psychological trauma over Jeff Owens's torn MCL isn't forcing Blair Walsh to launch kickoffs out-of-bounds. Reshad Jones isn't shoulder-bumping opposing ball carriers because he's too frightened by a tough schedule to wrap them up. Our players are doing these things because they haven't been shown or told the right way to do it. I can't decide whether we looked more like a bunch of guys who simply stopped caring after the Florida debacle or a bunch of guys who thought they were so talented that that talent alone would sustain them even in the absence of effort or discipline, but neither one of those attitudes say anything positive about our team. And if either of those attitudes are allowed to take hold, then that's a failure of coaching, pure and simple.
Now then, the question of the hour seems to be: Does Willie Martinez deserve to be given the heave-ho after this? As damning a case as Kyle King makes against our D-coordinator, it appears that question has already been rendered academic. I've always been loath to pull the trigger and join the Fire-Coach-Blank brigades -- remember, I was shocked and dismayed back in December 2000 when we fired freaking Donnan, for crying out loud -- and I can't sit here in good conscience and declare that this season's second-half defensive disaster should be enough to wipe out some of Martinez's earlier achievements, like, say, taking over a defense in 2005 that had just lost its top emotional leaders from each unit (all of them to the first two rounds in the NFL draft) and still helped carry us to a wholly unexpected SEC title. In fact, if I'm interpreting this recap of Monday's "Bulldog Hotline" correctly, we've been backing off of tackling drills as a result of an edict from Richt himself because we were afraid of losing too many more guys to injuries. That seems like a scaredy-cat way of running a team -- and it should be pointed out that we managed to lose Darryl Gamble to a broken leg during the Tech game anyway -- but if Richt has realized that they took it too easy and has vowed not to repeat that strategy with what will (hopefully) be a healthier team in '09, then great. It's just a shame that it took a loss to a hated in-state rival -- and whiffing on a shot at a tenth win -- to finally get the picture.
It is hard to tackle when you're on your back. See, I'm not even paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year but even I know that.
Am I taking all of this a lot harder because it was a loss to Georgia Tech that brought it all out in the open? Yeah, probably. And to the extent that I've considered annual wins over Tech our birthright as Dawg fans, that's probably a shitty attitude to have. But I wouldn't have expected a win over Tech if I honestly thought we were the lesser team of the two. And I wouldn't be so mad about our collapse in the second half if the first half hadn't demonstrated pretty emphatically that we could hold down the Jackets if we knew and/or cared what we were doing. Instead, we got cocky and apparently decided that the second half was basically a formality. In a way, we're luckier than we realize: The problems with this team, glaring and embarrassing though they may be, are fixable, and I'll take a situation like that over an un-fixable talent or coaching gap any day. But recognizing that a given weakness falls into the "fixable" category is not a license to sit back, let out a deep breath, and say, "Well, at least somebody can fix this." It's a license to fix it. Maybe even in time for the bowl game: Now there's an idea.
If I seem a little less 'roided up about this than you expected me to be, though -- and really, damn, I wanted that eighth straight win bad -- then it's because we picked our hearts up off the floor of the casino, changed clothes, and went straight down to University Park to find out what an unfixable problem really looks like.
"I don't think Notre Dame even has a single first down," I said as the Trojans and Irish trotted back to their respective locker rooms at halftime.
"Oh, surely they have at least one," Mark said.
But the iPhone doesn't lie, and ESPN Mobile revealed the horrid truth: At halftime, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish had 0 first downs, two picks, and nine total offensive yards against the fifth-ranked USC Trojans. And it wasn't just the Irish players who looked like boys going up against men: The coaches looked the same way. It seemed like every other play was a toss sweep or an out pass, and every time it go blown up for a one-yard gain (if ND was lucky), they went right back to the well to get blown up again. If Charlie Weis had the slightest confidence in his golden-boy quarterback to be able to throw the long ball, he didn't show it, though you wouldn't have that confidence, either, if that QB was too much of a pussy to join in the team-wide pre-game jawing against opposing players and had to resort to taunting the opposing team's band. (Just for the record, each of the piccolo players in the USC marching band has as many Heismans and as many meaningful wins as the young Mr. Clausen.)
Please keep that mental image in mind, Dawg fans, as you contemplate blowing up the entire Georgia coaching staff in the wake of the Tech loss, because that is what a truly fucked team looks like -- a team completely overmatched even by an opponent playing at 50-percent effort (because honestly, that's what the Trojans looked like for much of the game), a team that put all of its eggs in the basket of a young QB who is no closer to being able to hit the broad side of a barn than he was when he first set foot in South Bend, a team for whom even minor scheduling miracles had to be worked just to back them into bowl eligibility at 6-6. (When I asked for some clarification as to what ND's record was going into the USC game, an actual Notre Dame fan told me they were 5-6; even he couldn't believe the Irish were bowl-eligible going into last weekend.) Southern Cal, meanwhile, was the same Southern Cal we've seen all season: Just competent enough on offense, murderous on defense, a team that didn't even look like they were trying to hold ND first-downless through nearly three full quarters but merely reached that achievement as the by-product of a team-wide competition to see who could smash Notre Dame ball carriers into the tiniest bits. If the Trojans had kept up their full effort for all four quarters of the game -- after allowing 9 yards and 0 points in the first half, they allowed 82 yards and 3 points in the second, the slackers -- one wonders if the Irish would've ended up with positive yardage at all.
The whole experience -- tailgating, game, associated festivities -- has kind of a corporate whiff to it, and I don't mean that to sound as bad as it probably does. Maybe it was the larger-than-life setting -- honestly, L.A. Memorial Coliseum looked/felt ginormous enough to fit both Michigan Stadium and Neyland Stadium within it, and possibly have room left over -- but the USC-ND game seemed the most NFL-like of any of the college games I've ever been to. There was a dearth of private tailgating within view of the stadium, as most everything seemed to be either a promotion for some drink or snack product or a millionaires' gameday bash being run out of a Greyhound-sized motorcoach; the hoi polloi mostly crowded the main drag through USC's campus, and much of it was less organized than what you'd see at a Georgia or Alabama game, if that's possible. I will say this: Even without the cocktail dresses that brighten even the gloomiest gameday in the SEC, the female talent at USC was outstanding. There's a part of me that wonders if USC's department of undergraduate admissions doesn't have a weight limit just like UGA's flagline does, but whatever the case, the Trojans collectively brought their A game in that department.
So in a way, the game itself was every bit as disappointing as the one we saw last year, only we had more of an inkling this time around as to what a foregone conclusion the final score would be. And the chicks were less bundled up and the weather was way better, so we had that goin' for us as well. And yes, we saw Song Girls.
Like Dreamland ribs, ain't nothin' like 'em nowhere.
Here are some other pictures I took -- my actual digital camera went on the fritz within moments of arriving in Hollywood on Sunday afternoon, so these are all snaps I took with my phone:
The Flynt Publications building, where Hustler is lovingly crafted for your viewing pleasure. We turned onto La Cienega after enjoying a lovely brunch at a little French restaurant in Beverly Hills (or Heaverly Bills, as we started calling it for no particular reason), and when I saw the Flynt name at the top of the building, I hollered out, "HOLY SHIT! THAT'S WHERE THEY MAKE HUSTLER!" at a level of exuberance that probably would've shamed both my parents, had they been there. Just so everyone's aware, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Hustler subscriber; I am simply an enthusiast of Larry Flynt's dedication to protecting our First Amendment rights.
The gate to the Playboy Mansion, which we found in the Holmby Hills neighborhood near the L.A. Country club. (If only we'd found something Penthouse-related, we would've hit the porn trifecta.)
Downtown as viewed from Mulholland Drive, which was not nearly the dark, disturbing phantasmagoria that David Lynch had led us to believe. It was, however, very twisty and turny.
Downtown sparkles beneath the sunset, as viewed from the Griffith Park Observatory.
I touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time ever. "Pacific," incidentally, is Native American for "fucking cold."
The Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena.
A very foggy day on the Pacific Coast Highway. I'd always wanted to drive on the PCH, so after swinging by the Rose Bowl I drove up to Malibu and headed north; there was a huge bank of fog just off the road, so as I drove along I figured, "Well, I guess the ocean's over thataway somewhere." It was only after I'd been puttering along for about five miles or so that I realized the ocean was literally right down there, as in directly beneath me, and the fog was so thick I couldn't see it. North of Zuma Beach, though, it thinned out enough that I could actually see stuff.
I'll throw some more photos up on here as they're passed along to me by my travelmates, but for now I'm just going to sit here and drift in and out of consciousness as I ponder the series of bad decisions on my part that led to me spending the night at LAX. But that's a long, boring story for another day. The trip rocked, we found Tom Selleck's star on the Walk of Fame, end of story. And I think I could actually hack it out in L.A. if I had to -- as long as I never had to get behind the wheel of a car, of course.