Perhaps it’s because I came within a single goal-line fumble by Washaun Ealey of predicting the final score exactly, but I actually was more encouraged than discouraged by Saturday afternoon’s result.
Yes, I regret that the Georgia Bulldogs lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks, but I have no fear that the program in Columbia is about to surpass the program in Athens on a perennial basis; the Palmetto State Poultry simply are a better team than the Classic City Canines right now, and they proved it on the field of play. They did that in 2007, too. How’d those seasons shake out for both squads? Don’t read too much into this one result; credit the Gamecocks with the victory they earned, then move on from there.
Thanks to my mentality that, when you expect the worst, your only options are to be proven correct or pleasantly surprised, I came away from the game feeling a good deal better than many of my fellow Bulldog fans, at least based upon the comment threads. Here are a few positives to take away from the game:
- Georgia was the less penalized team, drawing only four flags for 25 yards. While the two false start penalties were annoying and the illegal block in the back on the punt return was maddening, no penalties were drawn by the defense. The ‘Dawgs played penalty-free defense last week, too, which pretty well refutes any argument that Todd Grantham’s charges are undisciplined. The penchant for penalties that defined the Bulldogs’ defense under Willie Martinez slowly but surely is going the way of the dodo. Good things will follow from this.
- Aaron Murray clearly shows great promise. The young quarterback completed passes to seven different receivers in the course of going 14 of 21 for 192 yards. While his performance was far from flawless, he did quite well in his first road start against an SEC team that fields arguably the best defense he will see all season. Like Quincy Carter, David Greene, and Matthew Stafford in their respective rookie campaigns, Murray failed to throw a touchdown pass against South Carolina; unlike those three signal callers, Murray also did not throw an interception.
- The two teams were even in turnovers. As backbreaking as Ealey’s goal line fumble was, it (unlike the similar turnover at the end of last year’s Kentucky game) simply was the result of the ball being jarred loose, rather than caused by miscommunication.
- Despite being on the field for more than 35 minutes on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the South, Coach Grantham’s defense got better. South Carolina’s longest and best drive of the day was the Gamecocks’ first one, which covered 79 yards in 16 plays and ended in a touchdown. The Palmetto State Poultry also put together offensive series of 42 and 62 yards before the break, tallying 14 points in a first half during which the ‘Dawgs forced a single punt. The home team’s four second-half drives produced two punts, a fumble, and a field goal. The tackling needs to improve, but the scheme is sound, the players are getting to the football, and second-half adjustments are being made and are paying dividends. They’re getting after their asses, which is the first step; getting them to hang onto their asses is coachable.
- The most surprising part of the reaction in the comment threads was the level of bile directed at Mike Bobo, which strikes me as odd, given how much complaining there was a few years ago that Mark Richt needed to hand over the play calling to a full-time offensive coordinator. Frankly, I don’t care whether play calling is "imaginative"; I care whether it works. The Nebraska Cornhuskers’ play calling was awfully predictable during the Tom Osborne era, but not a lot of folks could stop it. In the six games prior to this one, the Bulldogs scored 38, 31, 27, 30, 44, and 55 points, respectively. The offensive line needs to play more consistently, but the "first down bomb" criticism simply isn’t accurate. Georgia ran 20 first down plays against South Carolina on Saturday. Ten were running plays: Ealey rushed for 38 yards on nine first down carries and Carlton Thomas had a single first down carry for one yard. Five of those first down carries were in the first half and the other five were in the second half. Murray dropped back to pass on the other ten first down snaps, producing four incomplete passes, five completions for a total of 89 yards, and a sack. Two of the first down incompletions were in the first half and the other two were in the second half. One of the first down completions (for five yards) was in the first half and the other four (for 84 yards) were in the second half.
- Georgia and South Carolina have a history of low-scoring ballgames. 26 of the first 62 series meetings, including seven of the first nine in the Mark Richt era, were settled by margins of seven or fewer points. Defensive struggles have been the norm in this series, as the winning team has scored 20 or fewer points eight times in the last ten contests. The Bulldogs’ offensive output against the Gamecocks is in no way indicative of the sort of season Georgia is going to have; Georgia scored 13 points against South Carolina in 1980 and won the national championship, whereas Georgia scored 41 points against South Carolina last year and went 7-5. Does anyone think the Arkansas Razorbacks’ defense---or the defenses of any of the other teams on the Bulldogs’ schedule---will hold the ‘Dawgs to six points? Give the Garnet and Black their due; they’ve been consistently solid on defense for most of the last decade.
In a close game in which the mistakes, from offsetting penalties to offsetting fumbles, largely canceled one another out, the better team won. I never expected Georgia to beat the best South Carolina squad of the Steve Spurrier era in the Bulldogs’ first road game of the year with a freshman quarterback and a new defensive scheme. On the whole, I was pleased with the defense and encouraged by Murray.
Take a deep breath, Bulldog Nation. Things were never as good as they seemed a week ago, and they’re not as bad as they seem now. We have the right quarterback, we have the right defensive coordinator, and it’s going to be all right. Heck, there’s half a chance we’ll get this one back in the record book, anyway, but, for now, we’re right where I thought we’d be, which is down, not out, and pointed in the right direction.