Don't worry Bulldog Nation. Everything's under control. As Quinton McDawg has already noted in his final wrapup, it's time to move on to Kentucky. You may recall that last year's game against Rich Brooks' squad moved me to engage in a weird juxtaposition of profanity and arithmetic. Ergo, I think we can all agree that we don't want to find out how I'd respond to another loss to That 70's Coach. But before we take an indepth look at Kentucky, let's glance back quickly at the five things I thought we'd see against the Aubies:
1) Brandon Cox. Locked and loaded. I simply do not understand. Brandon Cox should be a good college quarterback by now. And occasionally, he is. But something happened to him when he floated that first pass gently into Kelin Johnson's hands then got absolutely earholed by Reshad Jones simply for being Brandon Cox.
Cuddles Swindle has his own theories, but I'm not going to get into that. I think the answer to why Brandon Cox played like Brandon Cox is that we rushed him the way we rushed Tim Tebow. Somewhat overlooked this season has been the progress of our defensive front four. Kade Weston is playing like a madman. Jeff Owens has finally started getting healthy and is again a threat to take the handoff in the backfield. Rod Battle is playing way more physical against the run and Jarius Wynn has truly found a home at defensive end. Marcus Howard by the way has come into his own as a pass rusher, and is a threat to get the the quarterback on every play. No matter who we replace him with, you have to admit there may not be another DE in the SEC who you'd less like to block on 3rd and 14.
"I say I say Brandon, you throw like a girl . . ." Come on, Auburn fans. You know the words. Music is the balm of the soul, and will help you through the four interception bumfuzzlement. At least he didn't throw five picks on the road at South Carolina.
I will also point out that the Iron Bowl should be rechristened "College QB Cripple Fight 2007". Cox and John Parker Wilson are after all far more dangerous to their own teams at this point than to the rest of us.
2) A Bad Case of the Willies. As was pointed out by Dawgs Online, Willie Martinez is coming down the home stretch with a lot more goodwill from Dawg fans than he began the season with. Will Muschamp, on the other hand, is the one catching flack from the Auburn faithful. My impression as the game wore on was that Auburn's defense just looks worn down. Not bad, but worn down. I think that offweeks sometimes get more credit than they deserve, but this looked like a defense that had played 10 straight weeks.
I also remain skeptical about the decision to move Quentin Groves to linebacker this late in the season and against two slashing tailbacks in Moreno and Brown. Unless I missed something, Muschamp just turned Groves into the big, stiff strongside 'backer than Georgia fans have complained about Brandon Miller being.
And we saw once again that the way to beat Muschamp's defense is to soften it up in the secondary. Anybody can stop the run with 8 men in the box. Well, except South Carolina, but I digress. The point is that once Matt Stafford started hitting the big ones, you could see the Auburn linebackers and especially the safeties hesitating to come up on the run. That's what play action passing and a downfield threat will do for you. I predicted last Wednesday that "(p)erhaps the single most important factor in the outcome of this game will be whether Matt Stafford can connect on deep balls early to keep Auburn from bringing safeties Aairon Savage and Zac Etheridge into the box to stop the run." Mission accomplished. The thing that was interesting is that the long plays weren't really the result of outscheming. Our guys just went out and ran great routes (the MoMass touchdown) and fought hard for the ball (Sean Bailey on seemingly every catch he made). By the way, when was the last time you heard someone say we should fire Coach Eason? September 9th? Yeah, same here.
The Georgia offense hit on 7 plays of 17 yards or more. There were runs, downfield passes, screen passes, you name it. I think this offense is a threat to hang 40 on anyone right now because it is the most balanced offense we've seen under Mark Richt. I'm also pleased that Mike Bobo is no longer calling the slow developing play actions and misdirection plays that seemed to keep us bogged down for the first half of the season. Additionally, I continue to believe that whatever Stacy Searels is being paid cannot possibly be enough. The development of this young offensive line since the Ole Miss game is simply extraordinary, and is a very positve sign for the future.
3) A three-headed tailback monster. Again, you cannot give enough credit to the defensive line in this game. If you look back at the tape, Auburn really looked like the team with three freshmen offensive linemen, which of course they were. A lot of credit also has to go to the linebackers. I think we must have played at least seven of them, yet managed to avoid the missed tackles we've seen so much of the past couple of years. Sure, there were a few, especially in the 3rd quarter. And Prince Miller continues to look as if he has no clue how to play run defense sometimes. But on the whole, I think Auburn's low rushing total was more the result of a solid effort on our part than a poor effort on theirs.
I know Auburn fans are down on Al "Gorgeous" Borges right now. But I would remind them of the same thing we Georgia fans were reminding ourselves of last year. He (and Tommy Tuberville and Wil Muschamp) didn't forget how to coach since they beat Florida. You're talking about the same guy that found enough touches to get two tailbacks drafted in the first five slots in the NFL Draft and turned Jason Campbell from an SEC punchline to a First Round Draft Pick. The guy may be paunchy, but he ain't stupid. If you fire this guy, you will regret it in the long run.
4) Can we "knock the lid off" again? And again, the Bulldogs get a big gold star next to their names on the blackboard. This was the most surreal game of the Mark Richt era, I'm pretty sure. It was, as even Coach Richt admitted, like something out of a movie. I thought after the game that if Mark Richt were coaching in a different era, one in which Letters of Intent could be signed at any time, he could have filled up his recruiting classes through the year 2010 this weekend. All he had to do was gather the young men who came as guests to watch this game in a room and ask, "OK, raise your hand who wants to be a part of that." Who wouldn't?
Obviously this team is starting to have some fun. But I noticed that this time out the celebrations tended to be brief and back on the sideline, where I personally think you can do just about anything you want. That's why there is a "sideline". It's the little chalk line that denotes where the rules of the playing field end. You can say bad things about the head linesman. You can make fun of Tommy Tuberville's ears. People who are offended by dancing on the sideline probably watched the movie Footloose and thought those darned kids were just insulant little brats. By the by, have you ever seen Kyle King do the signature Kevin Bacon dance sequence from Footloose? Two words. Body. Double. But again, I digress.
I'm not going to go on a longwinded rant about people who said that our players displayed poor sportsmanship. Because such blatantly myopic sentiments shouldn't be dignified. But I will say this: You know who calls others classless? People who have no class. You know who else complains about a "lack of class"? People who just got their rear ends handed back to them with a shiny bow on top in a big rivalry game that they didn't think they could possibly lose. As I said before the game, I have a grudging respect for Auburn. I have a more than grudging respect for their bevy of talented webloggers, including SB Nation's own Jay Coulter of Track 'Em Tigers and Jerry Hinnen from The Joe Cribbs Car Wash, among others. You'll note that these folks never said a word about the enthusiasm our team displayed, other than to wish that theirs had matched it. Instead they licked their wounds, and are looking forward to the next game. That's classy, folks. If only the same could be said for all of their readers, not just some levelheaded souls.
5) UGA 30, Pat Dye School for Creative Academic Incentives 24. The thing that struck me about this game was that it looked a little bit like the Ole Miss game. Very similar final score against a team that was supposed to come out and run the ball on us. There's that whole "defense" thing Da Coach O is still teaching them in Oxford, though. This was supposed to be a much better team than the Rebel squad we throttled back in September. And they are. I believe we'll see that in two weeks when they throttle a good but not great Alabama squad for the sixth year in a row. The fact that we beat a team this good this badly is a symptom of both the emotion that this team is playing with, and the fact that they're just by golly making plays.
One final note: the penalties. I struggled mightily with how to address this. I think it's safe to say that Penn Wagers and his crew believe that they are doing a fair and impartial job out there every week, and they're trying hard. But the first rule of officiating is that you cannot lose control of the game, and I think this crew believes that some of the energy the 'Dawgs have displayed in these two games were a threat to their control. I think they view "Evil Mark Richt" as a threat to order, and the last two times they've seen us they've used the only weapon at their disposal, a hail of yellow laundry, to try to restore order. That an excellent officiating crew felt called to do this says something sad about our society and the state of college football. But that's a rant for another day.
We get it, Penn. You have large testicles. Huge, even. And that goes double for the guys you work with. Now, will you please take a step back and a deep breath and let people play football? Officials are like reporters: when they become a part of the story something has gone very wrong. You and the guys on your crew are better than that. Let it go.
I'll be back tomorrow with a look at Kentucky and some wildly speculative Bowl scenarios. Until then . . .