Monday, September 20
Just a little wind, and the trees are falling down.
If there's one thing I've learned in close to 20 years of living and dying with the Bulldogs -- and the Manic-Depressive Previews should provide an inkling of this -- it's that with the Dawgs, things are never quite as good or as bad as they seem at the time. Any win can be a false positive; any loss can be a setup for a redemption story. So when my first reaction to the heartbreaker of a loss to Arkansas was that Georgia football had turned into "The Wizard of Oz" -- to wit, our offense needs a heart, our defense needs a brain, our coaches have no courage, and the fans just want to go home -- it tripped a fail-safe switch that told me things couldn't possibly be that dire. And I went about seeing how I could walk things back to something a little less bleak.
Here's what I came up with: Through injury, spectacularly ill-advised jersey sales, and just plain old bad luck, our coaches have been dealt a hand none of us thought they'd have to deal with. Dump on Mike Bobo all you want -- and trust me, I'll get around to it in a sec -- but put yourself in his shoes: Coming into this season, he thought he'd have one of the best, if not the best, offensive lines in the country; a one-two punch of talented (if still raw) rushers in the backfield; and a game-breaking receiver who could make the rookie QB look like a hero on any given play. Instead, the O-line has stunk for reasons you can only partially blame on the injuries and illnesses they suffered over the summer, we've only been able to get one of those running backs on the field at a time, and thanks to an NCAA suspension, that once-in-a-generation receiver has yet to make his first catch of 2010. That'll fuck with anyone's game plan, and there's not much you can do about it. Except.
Except adapt, and that's just not something we're good at, nor is it something we've been good at for a while now. Here's the thing, Mike Bobo -- it sucks that our offensive line is acting like they're still learning their positions, and it sucks that you don't have A.J. Green, but you don't charge headlong into a game with the same game plan you had before you found out all those things and just hope everything works itself out. You don't ever tell anyone you "really don't know" how you're going to open up the offense for your young but hugely talented QB. You're the offensive coordinator, you figure that shit out. Your game plan counted on having A.J. Green deep and Caleb King in the backfield? Sorry, life sucks, but since you don't have the conditions you thought you'd have, you go out and adapt to the conditions you do have.
I hate to harp on that last play before Arkansas' winning touchdown drive, because it's not like that hasn't been hashed over on every blog and call-in show from here to Toccoa, but . . . to not have any checkdown options for your QB, even though you don't have A.J. Green as a money bet with the deep ball and even though your QB has been running for his life all afternoon long, that is, as Charles Barkley would say, just turrble. Turrble. I don't like to make a habit of psychoanalyzing people, particularly when I've never met them, but it almost seem like the Jon Fabris directional-kicking philosophy on a larger scale: "This hasn't worked before, nor is there any profound reason why it should work this time, but I'm going to do it anyway because that's what I decided I'd do when I was planning all this out the other day."
Or if not that, then it seems like the lingering effects of something I remember hearing a lot of folks remark on last year -- this pervasive idea, from Mark Richt on down, that we could just rely on our talent to get the job done without getting in their faces and teaching and motivating them. If anything, it's worse this year, because it seems like we're relying on talent we don't even have on the field sometimes. (Shaun Chapas is hurt? Well, hell, throw Washaun Ealey in there to block, he's probably just as good. Except he wasn't.) The easy fix for this, of course, is that we should get Caleb King back next week, A.J. the week after that. But what then? What if King and/or Chapas come back a little rusty, or Murray can't get the ball to A.J. because his protection is breaking down too much? We still gonna rely on our talent to pull us through, or are we gonna adapt?
It occurs to me that for a post that started out "I'm gonna try to not feel as bad about this as I did the other day," it still sounds, well, pretty bad. It doesn't have to: We know Murray's good, and will only get better, particularly once his pass protection gets settled. The defense hasn't been great, but unless you were one of those knobs who just assumed we'd magically start holding people to single digits just because we'd managed to usher Willie Martinez to the service exit, you can't be too down on how they've performed so far -- we've now faced two SEC teams, both of whom we played last year, and performed markedly better against them this time around than we did a year ago, despite introducing a brand-new scheme. So that stuff's just going to take time. I'll freely admit I don't know enough about the Xs and Os of 3-4s and 4-3s to gauge progress in that regard, but I do know one thing for pretty damn certain: I'm not going to call for a guy to be fired after only three games of a brand-new system.
As for the rest of you, adapt, gentlemen, adapt. Use the guys you've got and account for the ones you don't. And as I mentioned in my SEC Power Poll ballot, please, please find a setting for Aaron Murray other than "Do Absolutely Nothing" and "Carry Entire Team On Back"; there's got to be a nice compromise in between there somewhere.
As bad as 0-2 in the SEC looks right now, it's only hopeless if you had your heart set on an SEC East title this year, which I didn't. Now, as someone who was pretty confident about some modicum of improvement over last year's record, 0-2 still comes as a disappointment, even coming, as it did, against two very good teams (and two of the better squads we'll face all year). I was thinking we might face kind of a wild season that, thanks to our state of flux on defense, might be peppered with quite a few shootouts; that may yet be the case. Now, I was also thinking 9-3, two games better than last season, which may not be realistic at this point. I still think there's a 9-3 team buried somewhere beneath the grime and uncertainty of this year's players, I'm just not sure how long we're going to have to chip away before we find it. And it's starting to look like the chip-away process might not be as much fun to watch as I'd hoped.
· As for that game up in Knoxville, it was weird seeing such a flawed Florida team roll up into Neyland Stadium -- even in the Zook years, you had a reasonable expectation that the flaws would get papered over, and they certainly had the center-QB exchange down pretty solid -- and even more weird looking upon the Vols as such a broken program, fighting for some kind of direction. I have to say I was impressed by how well the Vols played, though. It was a moral victory, and that's the kind of thing they're going to have to settle for more than once this season, but you never got the impression that that's all they were playing for. Derek Dooley has done some weird shit in his brief tenure in Knoxville, but after the all-sizzle-no-steak reign of alternating terror and error under Kiffin, a weirdly, defiantly businesslike guy may be just what they need. You know how they say poor people are "weird," rich people are just "eccentric"? Well, maybe the only real difference between weird, insular, businesslike Derek Dooley and weird, insular, businesslike Nick Saban is a whole shitload of wins. I guess we'll see if Precious manages to get his.
· So, Houston Nutt . . . you put us through all those oversigning controversies and the Summer of Masoli, and all just to lose two Vanderbilt by two TDs at home? Nutt seems like a pretty confident guy, which if it works for him then great, but keep in mind this is a place that traded David Cutcliffe in for Ed Orgeron without even being blackmailed into it. You think they wouldn't catapult Nutt into the sun if they thought for one hot second that Mike Leach might come to Oxford?
· How weird is it that the Pac-10, thought to be one of the weaker BCS leagues coming into 2010, now has what could be a very exciting three- or even four-team race for the Rose Bowl -- and the Trojans are not one of those teams (and wouldn't be even if they were eligible for a bowl this year)? Here's another question: How many punters bet on those Trojans to cover eleven and a half on Minnesota last weekend, and ended up getting an unsolicited, unlubricated foreign object in the ass because of Lane Kiffin's continued fetish for fucking around with two-point conversion tries?
· Early prediction: South Carolina horsewhips Auburn on the Plains this weekend. While the Gamecocks were toying with Furman for an afternoon, Auburn spent four quarters and an overtime period locked in one of the hardest-hitting football games I've ever seen, against a BCS-conference team, no less. Just watching it took a considerable level of emotional investment. Even after a win, I'm not sure Auburn bounces back from a war like that in the span of just one week, particularly with South Carolina showing signs of actually being really freaking good this year.
· Finally, I would be remiss if I did not give props to the UAB Blazers, who were staring down a 23-0 deficit to in-state rival Troy on Saturday but stormed back -- behind their backup QB, no less -- to claim a 34-33 win on a 44-yard Hail Mary on the very last play of the game. There's some fight left in this team yet; it's just a damn shame they don't have Ole Miss on the schedule again this year.