Sunday, October 31

I've seen too much for a little while, I want to forget.

Well, what can I say about this past weekend except I shouldn't have watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" Friday night -- everything I needed to know about what was going to go down the following afternoon was right in there.

Except when you get right down to it, the above scene, iconic though it may be, is insufficient -- and entirely too simplistic -- to accurately portray Georgia's misery in this rivalry, particularly when there's a far more apt metaphor in the very same TV special. I mean, yeah, Charlie Brown gets the ball whipped away from him at the last second every single time, which is embarrassing enough, but you'll notice nobody is ever around to watch it; the humiliation is at least a dark secret shared only between him and Lucy. To declare that "Lucy = Florida" also doesn't work -- while Lucy and the Gators are both bitches who wear blue and aren't nearly as hot as they fancy themselves, that statement implies that Georgia's chances for success are entirely in Florida's hands, which, no matter what Bulldog Nation may be thinking in its most desperate moments, isn't true either.

No, the better metaphor is "Great Pumpkin = equal footing in the Georgia-Florida rivalry." More obscure, I know, and definitely more abstract, but sometimes to make sense of cosmic absurdity like this you gotta be willing to try and wrap your brain around something challenging. Every year, we think it's coming; every year we think that if we just believe enough, it will reveal itself to us and, out of moral obligation, reward us for our seemingly unending persecution in its name. OK, I just totally fucking freaked myself out by sussing out that the Great Pumpkin is a metaphor for the Second Coming -- seriously, Charles Schultz, way to blow a brother's mind on what is otherwise a day of perfectly festive debauchery -- but all that being said, we believe, it doesn't show, and we get publicly humiliated for our faith all over again.

I believed. Oh, boy howdy, did I believe. I believed even after Aaron Murray got picked off on the game's very first play from scrimmage, believed even when Florida's previously moribund offense started gathering steam, believed even when we went into halftime down 21-7. Because look! We roared back after halftime and went on a 17-3 run to tie things up, and then, when Florida scored a relatively rapid-fire TD that put them back on top, we went right back down the field to tie it up again and, just for good measure, held on Florida's final drive of regulation and successfully forced overtime. All the trappings of that rare amazing Georgia victory were there: More than 30 points against a very good Gator defense? Check. Great QB play? After a miserable first half, Aaron Murray settled down in the second, going 13-of-21 for 198 yards, two TDs and no turnovers, looking once again like the stunningly poised player we'd seen over the first eight games. Confident squad? By the time Georgia tied it up with four and a half minutes left in regulation, our guys were jumping all over the place. The defense couldn't wait to get out on the field and make a stop; the offense looked hungry to get out there and take a stab at getting the winning score.

But obviously we didn't. Yeah, some of it comes down to inferior play -- the turnoverpalooza in the first half, f'rinstance, without which we might have been up by two scores and simply handing the ball off to Caleb King and Washaun Ealey to see how much clock, and how much of Urban Meyer's soul, they could grind down. Some of it also comes down to inexplicable coaching -- we were lucky enough that the Mikey Henderson "One and Done" play worked the first time three years ago, so did we really think we were gonna outsmart Florida's secondary with it a second time, particularly with a QB who I'm not sure has hit a fade to the end zone all season?

Some of it, though, I'm struggling to justify with any word other than "luck." Take these four situations:
  1. Trey Burton fumbles at the Florida 14 and Georgia picks it up.
  2. Aaron Murray fires a pass over the middle to 6'4" TE Aron White, and it's a little high but White gets a hand on it.
  3. John Brantley gets sacked by Darryl Gamble at the Georgia 35 and fumbles, and a Georgia player gets a hand on it.
  4. Aaron Murray throws another one over the middle to A.J. Green, the best receiver in college football, and A.J. gets a hand on it.
Two times the ball began the play in Florida's hands, two times it started off in Georgia's; all four times Georgia gets a hand on it at some point; but all four times it belongs to Florida by the time the whistle is blown. Yeah, yeah, I know: Inferior play had a hand in some of this, too, even the blown opportunities with the fumbles -- if we just fucking fall on that first one rather than trying to pick it up and run with it, for example, we start inside the Florida red zone with three near-automatic points and a pretty good chance at seven, and we deny Florida the long TD drive that swing momentum in their favor for pretty much the rest of the first half.

Still: Four times we get a hand on the ball and we don't get any of them? Not one? If we can have a game like that less than a year removed from going -16 in turnover margin, fuck a regression to the mean. It wasn't just the turnovers, either. Late fourth quarter, game tied at 31, Florida's gotten another good KO return from Chris Rainey -- and oh, God, don't get me started on his sociopathic ass being suited up and in the game to begin with -- and they've got 2nd-and-9 just a couple yards shy of midfield. Darryl Gamble crushes Brantley eight yards behind the line, resulting in 3rd-and-17 from the 40 (on a day when we're actually covering third downs pretty well, wonder of wonders), which gives us a chance to force a punt and set ourselves up with not-horrible field position and a couple minutes and two time-outs with which to get Blair Walsh in place for the game-winning field goal. Awesome, right? Right?

Nope -- a false start by Florida, their fifth false start of the day, negates the sack. They get the first down, drive into Georgia territory, pin the Dawgs at their own 6 and it's off to overtime we go. Even when they fuck up, it turns out better for them.

I realize I'm leaving myself getting open to getting flayed here -- by fans both Florida-identified and non -- with charges of whining. Hey, you're taunting a dude who's lost the ability to feel, so you're the one who's arguably wasting more energy here. And yes, again, I realize that no small amount of what I've described above goes back to Georgia's players not having the focus or fortitude to make the optimal play in a given situation, whatever that happens to be. And not long after I got home from Atlanta this evening, as I gathered my thoughts and tried to figure out what exactly I wanted to say in this space, I'll admit I briefly entertained the thought that the loud, heavily publicized, tension-fraught atmosphere of Jacksonville might have something to do with that lack of focus, which of course led to me wondering if maybe we should move the Cocktail Party out of there after all. (I mean, we've already officially ripped the words "Cocktail" and "Party" out of it to begin with; after that, any talk of tradition, on the parts of the respective university presidents at least, is pretty ridiculous.)

But no, I'm not gonna go there. Even if you think the series would be more fun for the students as a home-and-home; even if you can make a case, in spite of Georgia's still-pretty-good road record under Mark Richt, that the Dawgs' greater travel distance is a tangible hindrance to their chances of winning in this rivalry; even if you think that the Dawgs face a "hostile environment" in a stadium that is divided directly down the middle between Dawgs and Gators, it would be wrong to move this game. Why? BECAUSE IT WOULD BE A BITCH MOVE. If we were to go to a home-and-home, then no matter how dominant a run Georgia went on immediately afterward, no matter how supposedly solid our reasoning was for moving the game, we'd be the the school that whined the Cocktail Party out of Jacksonville and one of the sport's last remaining neutral-site rivalries out of existence. I'll be damned if I'm going to have that on my conscience, or the University of Georgia's.

Unfortunately, that doesn't get us a millimeter closer to solving the critical question: What do we do? I'm sorry if you came here for answers, because I don't know. What I do know is that I won't be watching the game next year. If I'm in front of a TV, it'll be tuned to something else (maybe I'll put a "Mad Men" DVD on); if I'm in the Jacksonville area, I'll be relaxing on a sunlit beach, stuffing a lime into the neck of a Corona and thanking the good Lord that, independent of any fortune or misfortune being visited upon my football team, I'm gainfully employed, living in what remains the freest country on earth, and blessed with an inordinate number of family and friends who care about me dearly. But I can't put myself through the misery of another one of these -- not for another year or so, anyway. Believe me, I've got nothing but admiration for Linus for going out there year after year in the face of overwhelming odds and public humiliation and laying bare his trusting soul for all the world to see. But I'm not Linus; I don't have a blanket to turn to anymore; and when I dated a girl named Sally in high school, she dumped me for a dude in the band. I've had an inkling for a while now, in other words, that the Great Pumpkin ain't coming for me. So I think I've earned a year off.

Wednesday, October 27

Manic-Depressive Preview: This might be the weirdest Cocktail Party ever.

The Dawgs now have three consecutive dominating victories under their belts, and Manic Doug is kind of over the moon about it -- to be exact, he had to be physically restrained from whipping his junk out and pressing it up against the window of the last car he saw with a Gators license-plate frame. You'd think that even Depressive Doug would be heartened by this recent turn of events, but this is Florida we're talking about, so . . . no dice. In this week's Manic-Depressive Preview, we'll find out if Manic's "Woohoo! We don't suck anymore!" can overcome Depressive's relentless focus on 3-17:

Manic Doug: THREE IN A ROW, BABY! And second place with a bullet in the SEC East! Can you believe it?

Depressive Doug: Now that you mention it, no.

MD: Dude, we're about the hottest thing going in the division right now. Meanwhile, the Gators have lost three straight and are basically tripping over their own shadows on offense. We're gonna leave our cleat prints all over their Pro Combat asses and give 'em a taste of their own fuckin' medicine.

DD: Wow. Congratulations.

MD: On what?

DD: On coming out of the coma you've apparently been in for the past 20 years. Does our modern technology confuse and frighten you? It's OK! This thing I'm typing on here is called the In-ter-net, and look, you can use it to get thousands of songs and put them in this tiny little box!

MD: You're mocking me, aren't you?

DD: Brilliant deduction, and yes, I'm mocking the shit out of you. Seriously, have you forgotten everything that's happened over the past two decades in this rivalry? Three-and-seventeen? Do you seriously not get how retarded it is to be taking a win for granted?

MD: I'm not taking anything for granted, but come on, man -- have you seen Florida this year? These aren't the Gators of the Tim Tebow years. Frankly, I'm not convinced they're even the Gators of the Ron Zook years. They're godawful in literally every phase of the offensive game, and they're meeting up with Georgia right when we seem to be hitting our stride on defense.

DD: We gave up 31 points to Kentucky last week. That's what you call "hitting our stride"?

MD: OK, first of all, a lot of that was bullshit points they scored after we'd already gone up 41-17 in the fourth quarter and took our foot off the gas.

DD: They were moving the ball pretty well on us even when we supposedly had our foot on the gas, though. Nine-of-fifteen on third downs? Even third-and-long?

MD: But see, Florida doesn't have the playmakers to pull that off this year.

DD: Don't have the playmakers? So you've never heard of Jeff Demps? Or Trey Burton, who straight-up murdered Kentucky at the goal line a few weeks ago? Or Chris Rainey?

MD: OK, Demps is a gamer, but we've got a guy who scored five TDs against Kentucky, too, and he ended up with a ton more rushing yards than Trey Burton did. And don't even talk to me about Chris Rainey -- he had all of 16 rushing yards this season before he got himself "suspended from team activities." It's gonna take a lot more than Rainey to turn this offense around. What they need is another Tim Tebow, and they don't have one. Turns out Tebow's departure killed this team even more than anyone thought it would, which sucks for the Gators because John Brantley can't do half of what Teebs did, and sucks for everyone else because now we don't get to see pictures of his girlfriend, Erin Drewes, all over the place.

DD: Hmm, I sense an Associated Hottie coming. You do know she wasn't actually his girlfriend, right?

MD: Yeah, but when she got mistaken as his girlfriend while she was at UF, she did what any hot chick in her position would do -- got body-painted up and appeared in Playboy.

DD: (witheringly) A true virtuoso of the segue, you are.

MD: You know you're the only person I know who can still be that sarcastic when he's looking at a chick wearing nothing but paint? If you'll allow me to continue, there's a guy the Florida program might be missing even more than Tebow right now, and it's Dan Mullen, their former offensive coordinator. The new guy, Steve Addazio, is trying to run a Tebow-centric offense with only a John Brantley under center, and it's clearly not working; he's pissed off so many people in Gainesville that he's probably one or two botched snaps away from having to hire someone to taste his food for him.

DD: His offense does look wretched, I'll give you that.

MD: Meanwhile, ours is clicking -- everyone's healthy, the offensive line finally seems to be coming together, and we've now unloaded 40 points on three straight SEC opponents for the first time in Georgia history.

DD: Yeah, but you don't seriously think it's gonna be that easy against the Gators, do you? They've been OK against the run, but straight-up murder against the pass -- 15 interceptions in seven games, top 15 in the nation in terms of both yardage and efficiency allowed. You know as well as I do that the only way Georgia's been able to win this game recently is to score bucketloads of points, and you can't think that's gonna be easy this weekend.

MD: It won't be easy, but it's not impossible. First of all, none of the teams Florida has beaten gave them an A.J. Green to worry about. A.J.'s gonna stretch the field and open things up for the running game, which gets Caleb King back this week, by the way. Second, Aaron Murray has been a straight-up baller this year -- you ask me, I think he's even more poised than David Greene or Matt Stafford were in their first years. And honestly, I kind of like the fact that he's a freshman -- it's almost like he's coming into this game fresh, not knowing or caring about Georgia's baggage in this rivalry.

DD: Wow. As intangibles go, that's a bit of a stretch even by TV-pundit standards. I'm sure Kirk Herbstreit is very impressed.

MD: Fuck you, dude. You're determined to be depressed and miserable about this game, aren't you? In spite of the fact that Florida's weaker than its been in decades and Georgia's got an awesome opportunity to beat them down?

DD: An awesome opportunity, sure, but let's be real here. Urban Meyer may be a megalomaniacal asshole and perhaps even a sociopath, but the guy's no dummy -- you know he's been spending their bye week coming up with new wrinkles to try and give this offense some kind of spark. And regardless of Addazio's incompetence, he's got the playmakers to pull it off. Given how our offense is struggling to stop the pass and defend third downs, I think he's gonna find a way to break just enough big plays to put some points on the board. And if their defense plays up to its potential and finally makes Aaron Murray look like the freshman he is, then that'll be enough points to win. I'm calling it Florida 27, Georgia 17.

MD: That sucks, man! You really think they're gonna make it three-and-eighteen? Who wants to live in a world like that?

DD: I don't like it any more than you do. But this has been an ugly rivalry for us lately, there's no way around it. I've been burned too many times to believe otherwise.

MD: Don't think like that! Open your heart, man! This rivalry can change! Let the Cocktail Party love you! . . .

(extremely awkward pause)

DD: OK, now I'm just embarrassed for you.

MD: Whatever. For those of us who have faith in the mighty Bulldogs, here's how it's gonna go: Florida's offense continues to suck, while A.J. burns the Gator secondary on a couple big plays. That forces Florida to move their defense back and Georgia gets to open up the run and the short passing game, and they hold off a late Gator rally to win, 31-23.

DD: That's a nice story.

MD: Thanks.

DD: But tallying up our respective predictions, I see they average out to . . . a 25-24 Florida win.

MD: You Judas! I can't believe you still managed to screw this one up! I want a do-over on my prediction.

DD: Nope. Too late. You can put up another picture of painted-Gator-fan-chick, though.

MD: You know what? No. No. You don't deserve it. When Georgia comes home from Jacksonville victorious, you'll get to see my bare ass running up and down the street screaming and waving a Georgia flag, that's all you're gonna get to see.

DD: If Georgia comes home from Jacksonville victorious? I'll run up and down the street naked with you.

MD: I'm gonna hold you to that.

DD: Please don't say "hold," but yes, fine. Whatever.

MD: You got a deal.

Monday, October 25

Consider for a minute who you are, what you'd like to change . . .

Is it just me or are postgame victory celebrations even more satisfying in other people's stadiums?

My sister told me a joke one time about the difference between Gentile moms and Jewish moms (and she heard it from a Jewish friend of hers, so no charges of anti-Semitism, please): If a Gentile mom gives her son two neckties for Christmas and sees him wearing one of them, she says, "Oh, you're wearing one of the ties I got you, it looks so nice!" If a Jewish mother buys her son two ties for Hanukkah and sees him wearing one of them, she sighs and says, "What's the matter, you didn't like the other tie?"

That joke popped into my head as I was looking back over the stats for the Georgia-Kentucky game this past weekend -- if you looked at the box score and only the box score, you'd think a) the offense didn't accomplish much except for Washaun Ealey and b) the defense got shredded. Both of those statements are true, and yet not. The offense didn't accomplish much other than Ealey's 157 yards and five TDs, but mainly because it didn't have to; Kentucky's cavalcade of turnovers meant our average starting position in the first half was at the Wildcat 40. Which was only fair, given that a turnover-fueled second-half implosion was what basically handed Kentucky the win in Athens last November. Some statistically misleading wins you feel guilty about because you feel like you got lucky and stole something, but if Kentucky doesn't feel guilty about last year's win -- and they don't appear to, not that they should -- then I feel just fine about this one.

Sanders Commings intercepts a pass intended for Kentucky receiver and MSNBC political gadfly Chris Matthews.

Because this win didn't come down to luck -- somebody on the other side of the line of scrimmage had to make those turnovers happen, and that's where we get to statement b), the inference that the defense got shredded because they gave up 427 yards and 31 points. Yeah, our third-down defense was kind of atrocious, and I'll admit the thought of breaking a household appliance flashed through my mind as the 'Cats converted four straight third-and-longs on their second drive. While the defense did a lot of bending, though, it didn't do all that much breaking until the fourth quarter, when the game was pretty well in hand. Not that it was especially inspiring to hear players admit that they "relaxed" with a big lead in the second half, but when you're 19 years old and you're leading 41-17 in the fourth quarter of a conference game, I guess there's a tendency for those kinds of things to happen.

Here's the greater impression I got from Saturday's game: That increased aggressiveness that Todd Grantham promised us all through the off-season is finally starting to make itself apparent. Against Kentucky, we were better than +2 in turnover margin for the first time all season, and for only the third time in the last three years. We only forced 12 turnovers all of last season; just two-thirds of the way through 2010, we've already forced 15, and are sitting at +7 on the year, a blessed number after last year's wretched -16. And the front seven have been playing unbelievably well lately. Akeem Dent is flying to the ball like a guided missile, and Justin Houston . . . I've heard the voices of more than a few rival fans crack a little when they mention his name. (I wish I could describe to you the smile I get on my face when I hear this; you'll just have to watch this and let your imagination take it from there.)

The yang to the yin, of course, is that with greater aggressiveness comes greater risks, and we saw that Saturday night, as Georgia's relentless blitzing did sort of allow the defensive backfield to turn into a crapshoot. When the pressure worked, our guys paved Kentucky's O-line and made Mike Hartline do something stupid; when it didn't, unreasonably long third downs got converted, and occasionally points were scored. Still, if you'd told me before the game started that the payoff for such pain would be a 41-17 lead that turned the vast majority of the fourth quarter into what the average fan would probably call "garbage time," I'd have taken you up on that offer. If the greater aggressiveness Grantham has already preached to his unit is already paying off this handsomely in more turnovers and sacks, then I'm optimistic about what our D could look like once he's had a chance to refine their technique and minimize some of that risk.

Washaun, the evil brother of Knowshon, hits the mushroom boost and speeds into the end zone.

So now it's off to Jacksonville, where God only knows what's going to happen. Three weeks ago, though, who on earth would've thought that the Dawgs would march into this game matching, if not exceeding, the Gators' swagger (and impressing the oddsmakers enough to be favored by three points)? I was as miserable as any of y'all were when the clock ticked down to 00:00 in Boulder and we put the last bit of frosting on a 1-4 start, but if Tyler Durden really was right all along about how once you lose everything you're free to do anything, maybe this was what it took to get our swagger back and turn back into the kind of team we'd wanted to be all along . . . in which case it just might've been worth it.

But I guess we won't know until Saturday night.

Fleeting thoughts:

· I never thought I'd be thinking to myself that I'm far more terrified of a Gene Chizik team than an Urban Meyer team, but when you get right down to it, it's not 5-19 Gene I'm afraid of:

There aren't enough jocks in the entire LSU equipment locker to replace all the ones that their players got faked out of on that one run alone. Maybe Auburn gets caught looking ahead to the Iron Bowl in a few weeks and we manage to pull another 2006-style miracle out of our asses, but otherwise I'm thinking we really better beat Florida (and Idaho State, and Tech) if we want to avoid going 6-6 this year.

· Here's a couple questions for you, and feel free to answer honestly in the comments, because I have a feeling my answers are probably the same as yours: 1) Three weeks ago, how much money would you have paid to switch places with the Texas Longhorns, and 2) how badly would you want that money back right now?

· Here's another one: Over/under on a hypothetical Oregon-Auburn matchup in the national championship game -- how high would it have to be for you to take the under?

Since I was thisclose to going to Mizzou, I kinda have to feel happy for these guys.

· If the regular season ended today, the Big 12's final championship game would be Missouri vs. Baylor. I'll give you a few minutes to stop laughing.

· UAB Blazers Watch: For the second time in the past month, UAB erased a deficit on the road against an SEC opponent only to fall in the final seconds. It's looking highly unlikely that they'll make a bowl this year, but they're sure playing their asses off. (And yes, it pains me greatly that the Blazers gave State a tougher challenge than we did.)

· Wofford Terriers Watch: A 28-21 win over Elon keeps the mighty Terriers undefeated in Southern Conference play; they'll face the only other undefeated SoCon team, Appalachian State, on Nov. 13 in a game that will more than likely decide the league championship and an invite to the division playoffs.

Poll dancing, week 8: It actually is kind of great to be a Georgia Bulldog at the moment.

A third straight SEC win with more than 40 points scored? Yes siree, I'll take that. And who would've thought, a few weeks ago, that Dawg fans would be looking at Texas, Florida, UCLA, West Virginia and numerous others thinking, "Hooooly shit, I'm glad I'm not them"?

Games watched: Parts of South Florida-Cincinnati, Michigan State-Northwestern, the latter part of Iowa State-Texas, Auburn-LSU, little bits of Alabama-Tennessee, Georgia-Kentucky.

The next five: USC, Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas State, Florida.

· The biggest changes in the top 10 have to do with LSU and Oklahoma tumbling out of the top 10, making way for, among other teams, a Missouri team that everyone's taking notice of all of a sudden. Did you know that if the season ended today, the final Big 12 Championship Game would be Missouri vs. Baylor? I do, and I find it hilarious.

· Wisconsin also gets bumped into the top 10 thanks to a second straight big win of the magnitude I wasn't sure they were capable of anymore. Is this really the same team that needed a flubbed PAT to beat Arizona State 20-19?

· Other big droppers: Iowa, for losing to said Wisconsin team, and Oklahoma State, though the Cowboys don't drop much after giving Nebraska everything they could handle. Florida State probably shouldn't drop at all, given that they didn't even play this past week, but someone had to make way for Mizzou and Wisconsin, and I obviously couldn't put FSU above Oklahoma, so there you have it.

· Wave buh-bye to Texas, West Virginia, and Kansas State, all of whom lost rather inexplicably on Saturday, but perhaps none more so than the Longhorns. It wasn't just losing to Iowa State at home, it was never really being in that game in the first place. There's absolutely nothing going right with that offense right now, and that's kind of a cardinal sin in the Big 12.

· Replacing them: Miami, Michigan, and Mississippi State. Only Miami actually did something noteworthy this past weekend -- Michigan had a bye, and Missy State needed the full 60 minutes to squeak by UAB. But the Bizarro Bulldogs are 6-2 and might win the SEC East right now, and that's worth something.

And here's the SEC Power Poll ballot:

1. Auburn -- If you don't have Cam Newton at the top of your Heisman watch list at this point, you haven't been paying attention.

2. Alabama -- Offense seemed to get back on track last weekend, but it was against a Vols team whose defense has really been fading down the stretch. The Tide still have LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn left to go, and I've got a nagging feeling there's another loss waiting somewhere in that bunch.

3. LSU -- The Tigers finally ran into a team even Les Miles Mojo couldn't beat, so of course Miles needs to be fired immediately.

4. Arkansas -- Finally managed to beat Houston Nutt, yet it came despite Ryan Mallett getting outplayed by . . . Jeremiah Masoli? Really?

5. South Carolina -- Yes, Gamecocks, your win over Alabama was huge, but that doesn't mean you get a two-week hangover.

6. Mississippi State -- Speaking of hangovers. Then again, with the Bizarro Bulldogs being bowl-eligible for only the second time this decade, I'll forgive them for not dwelling on that too much.

7. Florida -- Raise your hand if you ever thought people would be saying "I just don't know if Florida's gonna be able to keep up with Georgia on the scoreboard" at this point in the season.

8. Georgia -- I'd dearly love to put the Dawgs ahead of Florida, but look, I didn't just jump on this bandwagon yesterday. I've been at this long enough to know how the script usually goes when the Cocktail Party comes around.

9. Kentucky -- It was uncanny how much of a mirror-image Saturday's game was of last year's UGA-Kentucky matchup in Athens. Instead of Georgia giving away the game with turnovers in the second half, Kentucky blew it with turnovers in the first.

10. Vanderbilt -- Raise your hand if you ever thought the Vandy-South Carolina game would be a battle for first place in the SEC. OK, seriously, put your hands down.

11. Ole Miss -- Ole Miss rises a spot not because of anything particularly wonderful they did Saturday, but mainly because Tennessee looked that bad.

12. Tennessee -- Before the season, I thought Tennessee would at least make it to 6-6, even with their depth issues. Now I'm wondering if they'll run out of players before they even get to win number three.

Thursday, October 21

Manic-Depressive Preview: Preparing for anarchy in the UK.

Considering how miserably the first month-plus of the season went, it's been a downright giddy household for our Manic-Depressive Previewing duo the past couple weeks. Manic Doug has been calling the Tennessee state capitol every hour on the hour asking when Mark Richt's title deed will be arriving in the mail, while even Depressive Doug managed to say something positive (and unqualified) about the Dawgs the other day. Granted, it was about Uga VIII being a fine and appropriate heir to the mascot bloodline, but still, that was a big step. Now they take on what probably counts as the Dawgs' biggest challenge in a month: a road trip up to Lexington to face a Kentucky Wildcat team that's been quite a bit more dangerous than many people thought they'd be.

Manic Doug: Eighty-one, eighty-two, eighty-three . . . ergh! Eighty-four!

Depressive Doug: You on an exercise kick or something? What's with the push-ups?

MD: One push-up for every point we've scored over the past two weeks. And I'll add one for however many we get against the Wildcats this weekend.

DD: OK, I was watching you the entire time, so I heard you skip from "twenty-seven" to "sixty-eight."

MD: Whatever. You try doing 84 push-ups right after you've shotgunned three beers in a row.

DD: Thanks, I'll pass. You gonna do a push-up for every point Kentucky scores, too, or are you gonna leave that to the Wildcat cheerleaders?

MD: Why the hell would I do push-ups for their scores?

DD: Might be a better workout, the way Kentucky's been playing lately.

MD: Oh, please. We just shut out an SEC opponent and you're gonna give me some woe-is-us speech about how much our defense is going to struggle?

DD: Our defense is getting better, but come on -- it's easy to show improvement when you're going up against Tennessee and Vanderbilt. You have to admit Kentucky is a completely different ballgame.

MD: All right, so other than Randall Cobb, who do I have to worry about?

DD: What do you mean, "other than Randall Cobb"? That's like saying other than World War II, the '40s were a pretty peaceful decade.

MD: Man, you know I don't understand half the historical references you use.

DD: I'd say it's more like two-thirds, but OK, since you asked, who else does Georgia have to worry about? How about Mike Hartline?

MD: Is that a joke? Mike Hartline, who got yanked for a true freshman midway through last year?

DD: . . . And who leads the current number-two passing game in the entire conference, yes, that guy. Laugh at him if you want, but he's got some good receivers and his line protection has been way, way better than anyone predicted. The guy's got some skills.

MD: OK, but look at the defenses he's been going up against. Ole Miss? Akron?

DD: Or how about 349 yards and four TDs against South Carolina last week?

MD: That was against a Carolina team that was clearly due for a letdown after knocking off the number-one team in the nation the previous week. And let the record show he pretty much had to throw for that many yards because they were down 28-10 at halftime. And had Marcus Lattimore not gone down with an ankle injury on South Carolina's very first series of the second half, they probably would've stayed down by that much.

DD: Just saying, our defense has had it fairly easy the last couple weeks. This weekend is going to be anything but. And I haven't even gotten into the fact that Randall Cobb catches passes and runs out of the backfield and throws passes . . .

MD: How long am I gonna have to sit here for this? I'm meeting people later on tonight.

DD: . . . and returns kickoffs and has a punt return for a TD this season. How are we supposed to defend all that?

MD: That's a fascinating question. My guess would be the same way we defended Warren Norman last week, who does all that shit but didn't do anything against the Dawgs.

DD: Warren Norman doesn't throw passes.

MD: Semantics, motherfucker!

DD: OK, I'm not convinced you used either of those words accurately.

MD: Whatever, I still stand by my point: Kentucky isn't going to beat us with one guy, particularly since they're probably not gonna have Derrick Locke back for this game. And here's another question: What kind of Dawg fan are you when you'll launch into the praises of Kentucky's offense before you even mention word one about our own?

DD: A realistic one?

MD: A shitty one, more like. In the first place: Mike Hartline may be good, but he's not as cool or composed as Aaron Murray, nor has he played the kind of competition Aaron has. For his receiving corps, Hartline has Randall Cobb and a bunch of other guys you probably couldn't pick out of a lineup; Aaron Murray has the best receiver in the country, along with Kris Durham and Tavarres King, both of whom have been playing balls-out the last couple weeks, and a fantastic group of tight ends.

DD: Well, Murray's a baller, I'll grant you that.

MD: But did you also know that our running game is averaging only eight yards less per game than Kentucky's? They've been trending downward ever since Derrick Locke got hurt, we've been headed in the right direction since Stacy Searels started tinkering with our O-line personnel. You doubted whether Washaun Ealey and Carlton Thomas would be able to carry the load by themselves last week; they combined for 163 yards and three TDs. They're gonna have Shaun Chapas in the game to block for them this weekend, and they're going up against the second-worst run defense in the conference. It was actually the worst before we shredded Vandy last week.

DD: Hey, I'll even grant you that we're going to score a bunch of points. I just think it's going to be incredibly hard to keep up with Kentucky on the scoreboard.

MD: You want to hear something that'll shock you? Georgia's actually ranked 14th in the nation in total defense right now.

DD: You made that up.

MD: Nuh-uhh! Look!


DD: OK, I'm actually kind of stunned that you knew that.

MD: When are you going to stop underestimating me, dude?

DD: Maybe when you stop calling me at work to ask how to use the DVR.

MD: Fuck you, dude, that thing is complicated.

DD: At any rate, yes, Georgia has been improving a lot more than most people have been giving them credit for, perhaps myself included. But again, a big part of that improvement has been getting to play Tennessee and Vanderbilt in back-to-back weeks. Vandy was the first team in more than a month who we didn't let convert third downs all over us, and I'm sorry to break it to you, but Kentucky has exactly the kind of offense that's capable of doing it again. Unless we can find a way for those young guys in the secondary to cover all those Kentucky receivers out there, Randall Cobb first and foremost among them, it's going to be a long night.

MD: So you're saying we lose?

DD: I'm saying it's a shootout, not a blowout, but yes, we lose. They pick us apart with Randall Cobb on the wheel route for as long as it takes to build up a nice little lead, then they go conservative with Cobb and Donald Russell to ride things home to the finish. Final score, oh, I don't know -- Kentucky 37, Georgia 29.

MD: As Sir Charles would say, turrble. Turrble. You should be ashamed of yourself.

DD: That's a pretty safe bet. What do you think is going to happen?

MD: It's a close game at first, we let UK put up a couple early scores, but over the course of the game our guys gradually figure out that they should just double-cover the shit out of Randall Cobb and leave the rest to the defensive front. Meanwhile, Kentucky never quite figures out how to both neutralize A.J. Green and stop the running game now that it's gotten back on track. Another banner day for Aaron Murray, another hundred-yard performance from Washaun, Dawgs win, 41-27.

DD: A two-touchdown victory in enemy territory, huh? Why, because we've been that good on the road this season?

MD: No, because Kentucky is coming off a big victory and they're due for the same letdown South Carolina was last week. Plus Cobb has been running his mouth all week about lack of fan support, and it's gotten written up in all the papers. That's one distraction for them, zero for us, unless you think Uga VIII's cuteness is going to distract us on the sidelines.

DD: No, I think Uga VIII will be the least of our worries this week. Tallying up our score predictions, and it looks like they average out to . . . a 35-32 win for the Dawgs. Quite a squeaker, it looks like -- you'd take a game that close?

MD: And be able to ride a four-game winning streak into Jacksonville against Florida, who, might I remind you, apparently can't keep from tripping over its own shadow these days? Hell yes, I'll take it.

DD: Well, good for you. I hope you're right, of course, it's just that looking over the matchups gives me the sneaking suspicion that . . .

MD: Yeah, blah blah blah, matchups, whatever, just admit that you're a pussy and get over it. Can we get to the Associated Hottie now, or would you like to write a few more love letters to Randall Cobb?

DD: I have never written a love letter to Randall Cobb.

MD: Jeez, and you're annoyingly literal to boot. Here's Emily Cox, graduate of the University of Kentucky in 2008 and Miss Kentucky the same year.

DD: Wow. Hockey, huh?

MD: Yeah. Even if she's rooting for the wrong team, there's something about a girl in a jersey . . .

DD: Particularly when she's proving the stereotype that Kentucky fans pretty much care about every sport other than football.

MD: Wow. Wow. I don't know whether to be ashamed of you for so glibly blowing off a girl in a jersey and no pants, or proud that you actually snuck some trash-talk in there. Well done.

DD: You might as well be the first, because I'm already kicking myself for even that bit of trash talk. I'm sure I've jinxed us already.

MD: Well, while you say a Rosary asking God for forgiveness for that tiny bit of hubris, I'll be composing the posts I'll be plastering all over the Kentucky message boards Sunday morning, busting on them for losing to us in football and for cheating at hoops. Which we're catching up to them in that, too, by the way.

DD: Wow, have you ever met a chicken you wouldn't count before it had hatched?

MD: Have I ever "met" a chicken? What, like exchanged pleasantries with one?

DD: Forget it. I already don't like where this is going.

MD: That makes two of us.

Tuesday, October 19

Poll dancing, week 7: So six terrible football teams walk into the SEC East . . .

Florida just scored all of seven points in a loss to Mississippi State, at home. South Carolina, fresh off a victory over the defending national champions, pooped their pants against Kentucky. Georgia just beat someone 43-0 but still doesn't control their destiny in the SEC East, while they team they steamrolled does. We've replaced the 2010 SEC East with the ACC Atlantic Division . . . let's see if these people can tell the difference!

Compared to the cavalcade of craptacularity the SEC East is experiencing right now, a 65-43 shootout between two West Division teams -- or Ohio State getting all of one week to enjoy being #1 before getting pantsed by Wisconsin -- almost seems perfectly normal. But let's wade through it all anyway.

Games watched: Georgia-Vanderbilt, Auburn-Arkansas, the tail end of Kentucky-South Carolina.

The next five: Michigan, USC, Mississippi State, North Carolina, North Carolina State.

· The toppling of last week's #2 and #3 teams headlines this week's ballot, with TCU, Auburn, and Boise State all benefiting from the chaos. As for LSU, well . . . I can't believe I'm putting them up there, either, but God seems to really like Les Miles this year, so I guess I should, too.

· Ohio State's loss, in particular, presented a difficult issue because while Wisconsin had done very little up to this point to merit inclusion in the top 25 -- if memory serves, their marquee win coming into last week was, what, a white-knuckle escape from Arizona State? -- they stomped tOSU soundly enough that there was really no way to keep the Buckeyes ahead of the Badgers. So Tressel's boys plummet 14 spots, probably an overreaction that will be corrected in short order, but whatever.

· South Carolina also takes a double-digit thud down to #19, and I thought about keeping them ahead of Arkansas, but the Razorbacks' losses have both come against teams I currently have in the top 10, while the Gamecocks have one loss to a current top-10 team and another to . . . well, Kentucky. The fact that the 'Cocks remain the only SEC East team in the rankings kind of tells you what sort of year this has been for the East.

· Big risers include Wisconsin (obviously) for beating the Buckeyes, Michigan State for probably not getting enough credit to begin with for starting 7-0, and Oklahoma State for beating . . . Texas Tech? OK, not that big a deal, but they're 6-0 and unloading bushel baskets of points on every single team they play; they haven't even come close to tasting the toughest part of their schedule yet, but for now they get a bump. Arizona, too, gets hiked up despite a fairly so-what victory, but their only loss of the season was by two points to a conference rival, so.

· Everybody who got kicked out of the poll this week deserved it for losing, except for Miami -- but if you force seven turnovers and still only beat Duke 28-13, you're really not "applying yourself," as numerous teachers of mine would say.

· Their replacements: Missouri, Texas (whom I still feel conflicted about given that awful UCLA loss, but beating Nebraska earns you some benefit of the doubt), a West Virginia team that's the only remotely attractive squad in a plug-ugly Big East, and Kansas State, who probably doesn't have a single name on their roster you'd recognize but is still hanging in there at 5-1. And they've managed to get there despite a schedule that's a cut above Bill Snyder's usual peanut gallery of D-IAAs and schools whose student bodies were all-female up until a few years ago, so there you have it.

SEC Power Poll ballot follows:

1. Auburn -- Watching Gus Malzahn's offense in action is like watching old footage of atmospheric nuclear tests: It's almost kind of beautiful and awesome, as long as it's happening far, far away from you.

2. LSU -- A month ago, I never dreamed I'd be ranking the Tigers this high. Even this past weekend against freaking McNeese State, they screwed around just long enough to make you wonder what the hell was going on before they finally got into gear.

3. Alabama -- Still not quite sure what's going on with this offense. Even Paul Finebaum has to be concerned that they didn't even drop as many points on a bad Ole Miss defense as Jacksonville State did.

4. Arkansas -- Given how bad the Razorback defense looked the past two seasons, it's almost kind of comforting that they managed not to have a complete defensive implosion until week 7.

5. South Carolina -- Steve Spurrier better hope that the Kentucky game was just a post-upset hangover and not something more. We're all well acquainted with the script this team typically follows in the second half of the season.

6. Mississippi State -- I got the idea pretty early on in the off-season that State might earn a bowl bid this year. I just didn't think they'd have it practically sewn up by Halloween.

7. Florida -- Before this season, the Gators had only been held to single digits on the scoreboard six times in the previous 19 years. It's now happened twice in the span of three games.

8. Kentucky -- Kind of had to move them back up after earning a transitive win over Alabama, but their victory celebration is going to be short-lived if that defense doesn't tighten up.

9. Georgia -- In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, or can be, even if he lost to Mississippi State and Colorado in back-to-back weeks.

10. Tennessee -- If the Vols continue their season-long pattern of alternating gutsy performances with games in which they completely fail to show up, they're going to give Alabama a pretty good run on Saturday.

11. Vanderbilt -- Vanderbilt may be a bottom-tier team in the SEC, but it's still been a while since they got blown out that bad.

12. Ole Miss -- They got a new mascot and they beat the spread against Alabama. That seems to be about as exciting as it gets in Oxford these days.