Monday, October 15, 2007

Game 7: Stepping away from the light

Not gonna spend a whole lot of time analyzing the Xs and Os on this one, as this was one of those games where the details, frankly, just weren't important. In the wake of the obliteration in Knoxville, the subsequent fallout, and the potential for the first losing streak against Vandy in half a century, any kind of win is fine with me.

And, yes, this was an ugly win. So ugly that we needed a last second field goal to win it. So ugly that our players needed to be reminded that wins over Vandy are supposed to be perfunctory, not something you celebrate with a classless midfield logo stomp (save it for when you get consecutive wins in Jacksonville – hell, do that, I'll go Auburn 1986 on that logo).

So ugly, that, at halftime, with Georgia down 17-7, I was strangely unperturbed, given the pervasive, funereal vibe that has blanketed the Dawg Nation since the bright orange devastation two Saturdays prior. Along with my preseason hopes and expectations, I had soberly laid to rest the hope of Georgia beating anyone else left on the schedule besides, maybe, Troy. Being blown out in Neyland is one thing – unpleasant, but not unprecedented. Consecutive losses to Vandy would settle any debate about whether the program is in decline. Bulldog Coaches have been fired for less and may it always be so.

As we cross the season's midpoint, the problems with this team are well-documented: youth, shoddy fundamentals and the kind of gunshy gameplanning designed to preserve a struggling team from total self-immolation, but not to snatch wins by the jugular.

In other words, Chapter 16 in Georgia's Melvillian epic, Limping into Jacksonville, is already being written. All the standard plot elements for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Wake are there: injuries to key skill players, defense riddled with doubts after early season setback(s) and a consequently dyspeptic fan base whose martini of tears is already in the shaker.

Which is why I was simply glad to get the win this Saturday and be done with it, style points be damned. As Doug noted, "coming off a 35-14 annihilation by Tennessee and down 17-7 at halftime against [rhymes with 'shucking'] Vanderbilt, the Dawgs were walking toward the light." What we needed was a reprieve, something to head off a schneid similar to last year's bleak October.

And this could be a particularly auspicious time for a change in momentum, for several reasons.

For one, Florida (4-2, 2-2) isn't exactly rolling. With two back-to-back losses gnawing at them, on tap next week for the Gators is a trip to Lexington to face Kentucky, who is coming off a huge win against a team responsible for one of the Gators' losses. Sure, they're the best two-loss team in the country and their two losses are a hell of a lot more respectable than our two losses. Regardless, the Gators' losses so far are evidence that someone has figured out how to slow the Tebow/Harvin blitzkrieg. And our bye week means Willie Martinez has two whole weeks to figure out how to work a DVD player, watch those Gator losses and gameplan accordingly while Florida splits its attention between us and a sky-high Kentucky team.

For another, two weeks from now, 5-2 is 5-2 and how you got there matters far, far less than the fact that you're not 4-3 and Vandy's homecoming bitch. It's the difference between columns, radio shows and message boards discussing the top 10 candidates to replace Willie Martinez and instead discussing "Well, hell, if Stanford can beat USC …" 5-2 means the burden of being on the bubble for an early December trip to Atlanta is probably off your shoulders, so you can roll into Jacksonville with a what-the-hell attitude, ready to see someone else's cornflakes get pissed in for a change.

For yet another, have I mentioned the bye week? Remember how I said intangibles like bye weeks don't matter? Yeah, about that … turns out they do. At least that was one of my takeaways from the Tennessee thrashing. (Other takeaways include that I should never, ever try to predict a score – the football fates apparently hate it when you try to telegraph their moves and their consequent vengeance is swift, excruciating and replete with flea-flickers.)

Anyway, since many of our problems are of the fundamentals variety – overthrows, drops, poor tackling, missed blocking assignments, off-sides, false starts, lining up in the neutral zone (the litany is never-ending) – we can use the off-week to rest up, heal, re-learn tackle football and fully repress any memories of Knoxville. Actually, two weeks is probably enough time to merely scratch the surface of what ails us. But it's the most time we'll have all season to work on this stuff, so let's value it appropriately. And, for once, blessedly, the bye week comes midway through the season, as opposed to right before the last game of the season when it's too late for any off-week adjustments to have an impact on the season.

The bye week is especially salient given who our next opponent is. In the early 1990s, then-Florida coach Steve Spurrier recognized the importance of the Georgia game to the title-starved Gators' SEC title hopes. Noting that the Georgia game typically came a mere week after what was usually a draining slugfest with Auburn, Spurrier lobbied for and won a bye week before the Cocktail Party.

Of course, it was a lot more than bye weeks that got the Gators to the 15-2 streak they currently enjoy in Jacksonville, but the difference in energy levels between the two teams on game day and the annual late October unveilings of new trick plays in the Gators' arsenal point to Spurrier's bye week productivity.

In 2007, Georgia finds itself where Florida found itself in 1990: If anything great is going to happen for this program, it must retake Jacksonville. In 2001, Mark Richt spoke often of "lifting the lid" off of the Georgia football program. SEC championships in 2002 and 2005 – our first since 1982 – were thought to be signs that the lid had been lifted.

Not so. Until we can win consistently in Jacksonville, there will still be a big orange and blue lid on this program. During Georgia's 2001-2005 renaissance, the Bulldogs' 1-4 record against the Gators screamed "Yeah, but…" The careful wording of Mark Richt's 24-4 record in "true road games" has always rankled me, because it sounds like the commenter is going out of his way not to mention the overall record outside of Athens, which becomes a bit less noteworthy when you add in Richt's 1-5 mark on the banks of the St. John's.

So I'm indifferent about last Saturday's results and I'm neither pessimistic nor optimistic about what lies ahead in Jacksonville. Conventional wisdom says we'll get thrashed. Of course, conventional wisdom said the same about Appalachian State against Michigan, about Colorado against Oklahoma, about Stanford against USC, about us against Auburn last year and on and on and on.

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Blogger Bekah said...

good read man. All conventional wisdom went out the window this season for sure. Thanks for the post and GO DAWGS

9:18 PM  

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