Momentarily, I will present to you the five things I think you'll see this Saturday against the WarPlainsTigerSociologists. First however, let's stop to take abrief look around the conference.
Remember back in July when we were all sweating profusely and staring into our crystal balls, trying to predict the 2007 college football season? While a lot of predictions haven't gone as planned, some things have turned out just like we thought they might. For example:
Darren McFadden may well be the best player in college football. The fact that he has accomplished this while being coached by the crack-addled ferret who inhabits Houston Nutt's left pocket only enhances his resume. As every quarterback who we thought would go #1 overall continues to disappoint (and Adrian Peterson shows what a really great rookie tailback can do for a team), DMac may well be moving to the top of the NFL Draft Board. The lesson to be learned? There are still truly transcendent players on the college gridiron.
Florida was, upon further review, too young. Tim Tebow is a very good quarterback, but he's not "great". Great quarterbacks don't lose to Auburn, LSU and Georgia in the same season. But the real reason Florida is gunning for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is that their defense has been torched consistently by even mediocre offenses. That won't always be the case, because young corners eventually grow up and defensive line depth eventually grows, well, out. The lesson? Youth hurts, even talented youth.
South Carolina was in serious contention for the SEC East. That was what their Coach, who used to be some sort of genius, promised. It was about the best that could be expected with what they had on hand, and if you're a Gamecock fan you should be pretty pleased. No one in the East will be able to take you for granted anytime in the foreseeable future. That said, South Carolina is a case study in why depth wins championships in the SEC. It doesn't really matter who your best 11 are in August. It matters what 11 players you can put on the field in November. Minus Jasper Brinkley, and with a host of key players cramping or banged up, the Gamecocks have struggled down the stretch. The lesson? Football is still a game where large men collide violently with each other, so that many of them get tired and hurt. You have to be able to replace the tired and hurt ones.
And way back when, Paul Westerdawg captured the zeitgeist of Bulldawg Nation when he said:
Assuming we stay relatively healthy, I think the team should get dramatically better as the season goes along. Said another way, Georgia Tech is in for another beating, and the Cocktail party could be a ton of fun no matter what happens in September. However, these first two games could be painful to watch. That's why I say this season is more about the journey to get better than the destination of a title. If we win the East, I wouldn't be shocked. But I would be pleasantly surprised. Get past the first two without a blemish, and we brace ourselves for an incredible ride. My prediction:9-3 would be par in my mind. Win 10 or more, and the season is a huge success. Win fewer, and it's a bit of a disappointment.
Paul has been largely right. The first game was not as painful as the second. And the sixth game was the most painful of all. But there has been consistent upward trend with this Georgia football team. And that's really what we needed from this season. All of which leads us to the 5 things you'll see on Saturday:
1) Brandon Cox. Locked and loaded. Cox sat out the second half against Tennessee Tech last week, and is coming off the most demoralizing performance of his career against the Dawgs last season in the prettiest little post-apocalyptic shantytown on the Plains. The Tigers' senior quarterback, to understate things a bit, has a lot to prove. Omar Haugabook by the way proved last week that Willie Martinez's defense can still be ripped to shreds 7 yards at a time by a quarterback with time to throw and reasonable ball velocity. I'm not entirely sure Brandon Cox will have either of those. I also know that he'll be planning revenge. But as esteemed sports psychologist and honorary Aubie Mike Tyson once said "Everybody's got a plan until they get hit in the mouth." That, in a nutshell, is the story of Brandon Cox's life.
2) A Bad Case of the Willies. Muschamp and Martinez. It's not exactly Ali/Frazier, I know. But one storyline that hasn't gotten a lot of play in the media coverage of this game is the fact that it is a referendum among certain Bulldog fans on Willie Martinez's coordinatorship (I'll be copyrighting that phrase now, thank you very much). Those of you who read Dawg Sports made clear a few days ago that you collectively want Will " Woo! Boom Mofo!" Muschamp as your defensive coordinator in 2008. That was of course before Georgia's defense gave up 30 points to Florida without anyone really noticing, or 34 to Troy without anyone really caring.
Make no mistake, without Muschamp's defense, Tommy Tuberville would not be entertaining (or not entertaining, whatever you choose to believe) overtures from Texas A&M. He'd be preparing to defend his credentials again while Bobby Lowder gassed up the plane for a trip to Coaches-R-Us.
Of the six units on diplay in this game (offense, defense and special teams for each squad), Auburn's defense is the strongest. Many have pointed to the 43 yards on 17 carries that Darren McFadden had against this defense on October 13th. While McFadden was nursing some hamstring issues (and had as many carries in the game as he usually has by the midpoint of the third quarter), it was indeed an impressive effort.
But it is a bit misleading as a predictor for this game. Arkansas finally got on the board when they started throwing the ball in the fourth quarter. It wasn't so much because they were completing passes, but because it kept Auburn from going into the 8 man frontal assaults Coach Muschamp likes to employ from time to time. Matt Stafford is a threat to go up top at any time, and I think we'll take a lot of shots deep against an Auburn secondary that gave up 319 yards through the air to Matt Flynn three weeks ago. Perhaps 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.
3) A three-headed tailback monster. This game will also be a contrast on offense where, for once, Mark Richt isn't the one trotting out more running backs than you can shake a stick at. I'm getting the impression that Thomas Brown is more of an emergency option than a key part of the gameplan. But Auburn will most certainly run Ben Tate, Mario Fannin and Brad Lester right at us. For all the talk coming into this season about Georgia's defense having trouble against so-called spread offenses, our D has struggled most mightily against teams (South Carolina, Tennessee and Ole Miss) that have simply lined up and run it down our throats. This one definitely shapes up as a "man enough" type of game for the defense.
4) Can we "knock the lid off" again? When Coach Richt arrived in Athens in 2001, he talked about "knocking the lid off" the Georgia football program, exceeding the level of expectations to which we had become historically accustomed. One gets the feeling that this young Georgia team is just discovering how good they can be, and need to learn how to perform at that level week in and week out. They have to expect to win every week, and prepare to do it. That's a psychological and physical hurdle late in the season, but one which we have to clear to get where everyone wants to go.
5) UGA 30, Pat Dye School for Creative Academic Incentives 24. The prevailing wisdom is that this game will be a low-scoring streetfight. I think that would have been the case if it had occurred 5 weeks ago. But in the meantime Georgia's fledgling offense has sprouted wings. Our fledgling defense however is bruised, banged up and facing an offense that excels at the thing (smashmouth running) that we have the most trouble stopping. I still think Matt Stafford is the key to this one. If he can hit MoMass on another 84 yarder early, things open up significantly. I also think we'll need Tripp Chandler to make some key drive sustaining catches as Stafford's safety valve. If we can do that, we'll be OK. I still have that vague feeling of dread which I also had before the South Carolina game, but I'm bravely ignoring it and going with the 'Dawgs.