Now that wasn't fun at all. I've held off on posting, because I've learned from experience that anything posted within 12 hours of a defeat is usually not really that enlightening. And after a bad loss, it takes even longer to claw yourself back to reasonability. That said, here's your 5 Things Revisited, and the long road ahead:
1) A defining performance for the UGA defense. I proclaimed last week that "Tennessee is plenty good enough to embarass this unit if we don't bring pressure, tackle well and play smart." I wish I had been wrong about that. All of the hobgoblins of the Willie Martinez defense were on display in Neyland Stadium on Saturday: poor tackling, an anemic front four and boneheaded blown assignments. I've never been Coach Martinez's biggest fan, and I'm not calling for his ouster. But the effort we saw on Saturday was unfocused, unmotivated and unsettling.
My random observations included a) Marcus Howard getting bulldozed and failing to keep contain, b) Darius Dewberry wandering around like he was looking for the corndog vendor and c) Asher Allen tackling like Adrian Monk in the ebola ward at Kinshasa Memorial Hospital. I'm pretty sure it was Dewberry who missed the assignment on the trick play touchdown, though Prince Miller didn't show great field awareness on the play when he took off across the field and let the tailback go.
I could fill an entire post with criticisms, but you've heard them all before. You know them by heart. This defense is no longer young. There are no guys on the two deep (with the exceptions of Reshad Jones and Rennie Curran) who've played in fewer than 15 games. These guys are SEC veterans who simply did not get the job done on Saturday. I get the feeling that some of them will be held accountable this week by having to play their way back into the lineup. The problem is I don't know who we have to keep the underperformers out.
They are a better unit than they played on Saturday. But the fact that we continuously play this poorly against quality SEC competition has to fall on Coach Martinez, Coach Jancek, Coach Fabris and Coach Garner at some point. My fear is that this unit's only hope is that this year's sophomores and juniors show more resiliency and leadership than last year's seniors.
2) Kenny O'Neal. I figured we would see more of him, but there was really no need. As I half-jokingly observed at halftime, this defensive unit simply does not exhibit the testicular fortitude to stop a truly motivated SEC offensive line from running the ball down their throats. That is truly frightening, because a team that can run the ball can beat anybody. A team that cannot stop the run can beat nobody. Tennessee's offense is better suited scheme-wise to take advantage of our defense than any other in the SEC (with the possible exception of Florida). But they didn't need to be. Not on this afternoon. They just needed to have a little more pride and a sense of urgency. They had both, and the game was never really in doubt.
3) Sean Bailey. Bailey caught one pass for 14 yards midway through the 4th quarter, when the game was really no longer in doubt. This was either a horrible job by Coach Bobo and Matt Stafford of getting the ball to our top receiver, or a brilliant job of scheming by Tennessee. I dare not hazard a guess which was the case.
I do know that Matt Stafford had another one of his sub 50% completion percentage games, which tend to go hand in hand with Georgia losses. While our young offensive line did get whipped on 6 out of 7 plays, there comes a time when a quarterback throwing to senior and junior receivers just has to find somebody open and get the damn ball out to them. It's a fact of life in major college football that you're going to get hit, so you might as well just take it. Don't read too much into this folks, but Matt Stafford has now started 16 games for the red and black, and played in 19. He is just about a month and a half shy of being halfway through his career in Athens. I am squarely underwhelmed at this point, as he continues to throw some of the most powerful and pretty incompletions I've ever seen.
4) One big special teams play. The blocked punt really was the nail in the coffin for me. Lately, it's not really a Tennessee game until Kregg Lumpkin turns someone loose unmolested on a punt inside our own 30. I'd like to bring good news, but instead I offer you this. Thomas Brown will be out for 4-6 weeks and is the gunner on our punt coverage team, as well as the safety on the kickoff team. Those units may have just gone from bad to worse.
5) UGA 34, Tennessee 30. I felt bad vibrations, but I never could have predicted how wrong I would be on this one. But when things go bad on the road in the SEC, they tend to go very bad, very fast in front of 107,000 people who glory in nothing more than the suffering of the visitors. I do take heart that no less a pair of oracles than Kyle and SMQ also predicted a Bulldog victory.
So, where do we go from here? Last year we followed a heartbreaking loss to the Vols with a sleepwalk performance against Vanderbilt. I'm hoping this team can rebound a little better. If not, well, I hesitate to think about that. Folks, I'm not sugarcoating this. These are the kinds of games that send programs into tailspins. We are truly staring into the abyss here. Right now we have a young team that will either grow up in a hurry and continue moving forward, or curl up and die. It's an either/or proposition, because if this team plays like it has the last two weeks, 8-4 will be ambitious. Every game left on our schedule is losable. Including the one against the Troy team that embarrassed the Oklahoma State team we were once so proud of beating. This, people, is what the concept of dread is all about.
The preceding moment of Fear and Trembling was brought to you by Soren Kierkegaard and an 0-6 streak against division rivals. You can thank me later.
On a related note, I have to ask: are you as tired as I am of playing "rebound" games? For once, I would like us to play a complete, mental and emotional game that isn't necessitated by having our backs against the wall following a loss (Tennessee 2004, Auburn 2005, Kentucky 2006, South Carolina 2007 . . .) that never should have happened in the first place. Am I the only one who wonders why this team only appears focused and motivated after they lose/underperform? Because if having at least one blemish on our record is the only way this team can be motivated to play its best, then we will never get to where we all had thought we were going.
I'm still confident in Mark Richt. I still believe he's going to do great things in Athens. But the 8-6 stretch we are currently enduring has me wondering at what point "having growing pains" becomes simply "having a mediocre football team". When exactly do we step over that gossimer line? I fear that we're nearing that point, and I know that it's usually darkest before the dawn. But right now 7-5 looks about right, and that scares me. Wasn't last year supposed to be the rebuilding year?
I'll be back in off the ledge tomorrow. Until then . . .