Sunday, October 07, 2007

How Long, Willie?

"We are gathered here today for celebrating this year of bicentenniality, in the hope of freedom and dignity.

We are celebrating 200 years … of white folks kicking ass. White folks have had the essence of disunderstanding on their side for quite a while.

However, we offer this prayer, and the prayer is – how long will this bullshit go on?

How long! How long? How long will this bullshit go on?

That is the eternal question man have always asked, 'How long?'

When man first got here, he asked, 'How long will these animals kick me in the ass? How long before I discover fire and stop freezing to death?'"

Richard Pryor, "Bicentennial Prayer"
At the end of the third quarter, I'd had enough. Watching a fully prepared Tennessee kick a fully unprepared Georgia's ass all over Neyland Stadium for three quarters had been sucking the life out of me, so I took what little was left and went for a run to shake off the malaise. While on the trail, Richard Pryor's "How long?" refrain was going through my head. This was the second consecutive ass-kicking Georgia had suffered at the hands of Tennessee, which has gone 12-5 against us since Vince Dooley retired in 1988. Tennessee is now 20-15-2 against us overall, so if you do a little math you can see that I've been watching Tennessee kick our ass for most of my life. Between 1975 and 1988, we were 3-0 against them, a tally that mostly occurred on Herschel Walker's watch.

So, indeed, how long?

First off, I'd like to take back most of what I wrote on Friday, particularly the part about Georgia having the coaching staff that "inspires more confidence in a big game setting." This is the second time in three years that Willie Martinez's defense has spotted an opponent a four-touchdown lead in the first half, getting gashed up the middle for over 100 rushing yards in the first 30 minutes of play. Given that Tennessee has struggled to run the ball all year and OC David Cutcliffe's bona fides as a passing game mastermind, it might have been fair to expect more of an aerial attack. But no matter: we didn't get a single soul into Tennessee's backfield all day, leaving QB Erik Ainge to do as he chose. And, seeing our confused LBs and DBs out of position for most of the game, Erik did what you'd expect a three-year starter to do: complete 77% of his passes.

Thing is, we saw this movie last year, when Tennessee torched Georgia in the fourth quarter en route to a 51-33 shelling. At the time, the blame fell on the turnover-prone offense, which gave Tennessee short field to work with for much of the second half. Still, when Fulmer crowed to his charges at halftime last year that "they can't stop our offense," that wasn't some idle boast: The Vols have scored 86 points on Georgia in two games, including 65 in the past five quarters.

So, Willie, how long? How long will this bullshit go on?

This isn't like trying to figure out how to stop the spread offense. This is Tennessee, good old meat-and-potatoes Tennessee. They've been running this offense since 1992. And this wasn't a particularly good version of it. Tennessee's running game was ranked 11th in the conference going into this game. Gallingly, a ground game that averaged 130.2 yards a game raked us for 190 on Saturday.

Really, the first drive was all you needed to see to know what was going to happen: Georgia DLs getting blown off the ball as Tennessee RBs Arian Foster, Montario Hardesty and Lamarcus Coker churned through arm tackles to average, respectively, 5.8 and 4.9 yards a carry. That opened up a passing game that left burn marks all over Asher Allen and Bryan Evans.

On the other side of the ball, Georgia's ground game, which ran for over 300 yards last week and featured a returning Kregg Lumpkin, got swallowed whole in Knoxville, to the tune of 68 total yards at 2.8 yards/carry. Hell, the whole offense had less than 60 yards total at halftime.

There were a few high points: Tripp Chandler found his hands and led the team in receptions (4) and caught a touchdown that was almost reminiscent of P-44 Haynes in a rare moment of Tennessee's DBs being utterly being out of position. Demiko Goodman's touchdown catch was spectacular. Kregg Lumpkin played with a lot of fire, coming off injury, and had the team's longest run, for 10 yards.

In hindsight, it seems pretty clear that we ran into a buzzsaw. Tennessee's coaches, fighting for their jobs, had two weeks to watch film and prepare. Georgia's coaches, fat and happy from two straight conference wins, seemed pretty breezy just before boarding the bus to Knoxville.

But too much of what happened on Saturday was not an aberration:

Matthew Stafford's progression has been steady – but slow. The bad mistakes and five-interception games seem to be well behind him, but the timing and quick reads have far from fully arrived.

The inexperience of our OL really came to the fore today, but it's always been there. Against teams like Oklahoma State, Western Carolina and Ole Miss, you can cover up the shortcomings with screens, draws and misdirection, but the South Carolinas and Tennessees of the world will not be fooled. You can't make your OL bigger, faster, stronger and more experienced in a week.

But the defense, sheesh. At one point yesterday, the thought crossed my mind, "We can't stop the run, we can't stop the pass, we don't tackle – exactly what is it that we're good at?" I know we're young along the line, but there seems to be a good bit of experience among the LBs and DBs, which are whom you count on for heady play.

But on Saturday, you saw the full chain reaction that illustrates – for better or worse – the yin and yang of how a defense line and backfield works, or doesn't work, together: As the DL got pancaked, LBs and DBs had to adjust. Instead of stopping plays for no gain, their task was keeping five-yard plays from turning into home runs. And that's the nightmare scenario, because, if you're playing on your heels, eventually the dam will break, as it did on the trick play from Lucas Taylor to Lamarcus Coker.

Dawg fans will turn their lonely eyes to departed DC Brian Van Gorder, even though the last serious asskicking by an SEC team occurred on his watch. But that was in the SEC Championship game against an LSU team that went on to win the BCS Championship. Whereas Tennessee wasn't thought to be an SEC contender before yesterday and nothing would shock me more than to see Georgia re-enter the race anytime soon.

On balance, Martinez' defense usually does its job. But it is also given to moments of wild blunder, glaring lack of preparation, poor tackling and a lack of intensity that has been painfully obvious in opening drives, such as

  • The 2005 and 2006 Florida games,
  • the 2005 West Virginia debacle and
  • Saturday's Tennessee wipeout

And at the end of regulation against

  • Auburn in 2005,
  • Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky in 2006 and
  • Alabama this year

Van Gorder's defenses were staffed with players like David Pollack, Thomas Davis, Sean Jones and Odell Thurman – disciplined, mostly blue-collar guys who played like every play was the last play of the Super Bowl. Coach Van went 3-1 against Tennessee. With Martinez (1-2 against Tennessee), we're still waiting for plays like this:

and this:

Again, Willie, how long?

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