My biggest worry, in my occasional breaks from giddily focusing on the positive is that we could see just the opposite of last week's result. A defense that only gives up 17 points on the road in the SEC should stand a decent chance of being on the winning side. I'm now worried about our offense putting up 28-31 points, which should usually be enough to win an SEC home game, yet still losing a shootout.
Some blogger venting his fears yesterday. Sigh.
Well, I guess optimism is no more effective than pessimism, huh? Just as giving up only 17 should win it, getting to 24 generally shouldn't lose it. But when both such efforts come up short in back-to-back weeks against historically inferior opponents, it has a way of messing with your worldview. Let's talk a little more about that, shall we?
Some bloggers, commenters and journalists seem to be blaming Mike Bobo. That's the equivalent of a guy downing 12 gin & tonics then, as he hangs his head over the toilet bowl, blaming the bartender for serving him tainted ice. It's ignoring the obvious. This loss came down to a veteran quarterback exploiting a defense which clearly hasn't gotten a handle on things yet and a young quarterback who's still making the bad decisions you expect from a young quarterback. Ryan Mallett threw 3 touchdown passes that resulted from clearly blown coverages. That's your game. Add in a couple of drops interceptions by Georgia defenders (I'm looking at you, Akeem Dent) and you have all the plays you need to swing the balance toward the home team.
I imagine that Coach Grantham will have some constructive criticism for our secondary in this week's film review session. Unfortunately a guy like Ryan Mallett has a way of exposing your weaknesses. But it's a learning experience. Those weaknesses were bound to be exposed eventually, we just hoped they wouldn't be exposed so viciously. Oh well. Just as we won't see another tailback quite like Marcus Lattimore this season, we won't be seeing a quarterback quite like Ryan Mallett either. That's cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless.
Regarding the offensive playcalling, I might have called things a little differently on the goal line. I think that's where we might be able to use the play action pass a little more. But I could say that about almost every offensive coordinator in America. Speaking of the play action, I also think that Bobo is relying a bit heavily on a play action passing game on 2nd and 3rd down in situations where it isn't really fooling anybody.Just let the young QB line up in the shotgun, read the defense, and throw it to daylight. It worked for Matt Stafford in 2006, it might be a good idea now.
In a general sense, some of the discombobulation can be put on our offensive line's continued blocking difficulties. Today however, that line actually opened up some nice holes. A couple of times it appeared that our tailbacks didn't quite know what to do with all og that open real estate. Who could blame them? They haven't seen anything like it since November. Still, 139 rushing yards is a reasonable effort, especially with Caleb King (our biggest home run threat in the running game in this disconsolate blogger's opinion) out of action.
The problem with these last two losses, the thing that causes so much internal conflict for Bulldog fans, is that they force us to reconcile logic and ego. 'Dawg fans have come to see our squad as superior to South Carolina's and Arkansas's, and more likely than not that worldview is borne out on the field. But any reasonable fan had to know that our freshman quarterback was not going to play like a senior. He was going to hold onto the ball too long. He was going to be indecisive from time to time. While Aaron Murray's overall line for the day (15 of 27 for 23 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) wasn't that bad, he had moments when he just looked like he wasn't sure what to do. He held onto the ball for 4 seconds or longer repeatedly (a cardinal sin for quarterbacks) and paid for it more than once with body blows and head shots that will reinforce the lesson that SEC defensive linemen won't wait for you to find the receiver of your choice.
Additionally, I don't think a reasonable observer could believe that this defense was going to be implemented seamlessly, and that players who've spent 1-3 years learning how to cover no one would suddenly cover everyone. Ryan Mallett has a stable of talented veteran receivers, and they beat our guys one on one. Juniors Joe Adams and Greg Childs accounted for 212 of Arkansas's 380 passing yards, and each averaged in excess of 21 yards per catch.
I'm still not sure how any of that's Mike Bobo's fault, but I'm sure some guy on the Dawgvent could explain it to me. At this point in the installation of a new defense, it shouldn't be surprising that the most potent passing attack in the SEC would have success against us. These are the things which we all logically knew to be likely before the season started. That doesn't make an 0-2 start in the conference any easier to swallow. But anyone who's particularly outraged at this point either has not reconciled their inner conflict or hasn't been paying attention to the task at hand. This wasn't hard to see if you were looking for it.
I am heartened by the fact that the good guys fought back to tie it in the second half. That takes some guts, and it's a good sign. But I know from experience that when you fight back like that and lose anyway it can be a powerful punch to the gut. In a way it hurts worse than a blowout. I imagine our football team feels as low right now as they have at least since 2006. There are likely some fragile psyches in that locker room. Some folks who occupy coaching offices may not sleep really well tonight either. It's times like this that you find out what your team is really made of, for better or worse. We need a dose of confidence, and we need it in a hurry. Which brings us to the present, and the future.
Where do we go from here? While the Mississippi State game certainly isn't a gimme, it will be a step down in competition. We'll have A.J. back for the Colorado game, and the Buffs are in an absolute state of gridiron disarray. Tennessee looked beatable today at home against Florida. That takes us to the midpoint of the season, which is about as far ahead as anyone should be thinking at this point. There's no reason we can't be 4-2 making the turn. I think that's a reasonable expectation. But 3-3 would definitely be disappointing, and isn't out of the question at all.
2-4 would be apocalyptic, but I don't think we get there. Nothing I've seen so far has changed my preseason contention that this squad would have absolute WTH moments in the first half of the season before rounding into shape to close out the year. Logically, I know that can still happen. But tonight, the getting there is really, really putting a hurting on my ego. Until later, keep your friends close and your bourbon closer, and . . .