MaconDawg says the Georgia Bulldogs are "consistently 1/32nd of an inch off." Spencer Hall says the Classic City Canines are "a non-horrible team" with "nothing overtly inept about them" putting together "the most boring fiasco in college football" thanks to "a holding penalty here, a missed assignment there, a moment of hesitation on a play-action pass allowing a receiver to get this much [holds fingers apart] of an opening over his defender." Brian Cook says Mississippi is not a state. (All right, that last one isn’t really relevant, but it still struck me as odd.)
This topic came up briefly in last night’s radio interview with John Frary, then again at somewhat greater length during my conversation with Kit Kitchens for this week’s podcast. How close is Georgia to being a good team? How close was last Saturday to being a great day instead of a disaster?
As always, things are never as good or as bad as they seem. Three quarters into last weekend’s three most consequential SEC games (from Bulldog Nation’s perspective), matters weren’t looking too bad. The Arkansas Razorbacks held a 20-14 lead on the Alabama Crimson Tide, the South Carolina Gamecocks held a 27-21 lead on the Auburn Tigers, and the Red and Black trailed the Mississippi St. Bulldogs only by a single point. Had the ‘Cocks, the Hogs, and the Georgia D all held serve, the ‘Dawgs would have been a lone Blair Walsh field goal away from a .500 record with narrow losses to a pair of top ten teams and division frontrunners. Life wouldn’t have been great, but it would have been good, and our outlook today would be dramatically different.
History, however, took a different turn, as Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State went on fourth-quarter runs of 10-0, 14-0, and 17-6, respectively.
Arkansas began the final period of play with a first down at its own 35 yard line. Three plays later, the Razorbacks punted, and the Tide began a 15-play, 67-yard field goal drive to cut the deficit to 20-17. The next two Arkansas possessions ended in Ryan Mallett interceptions, and the defending national champions were able to card the comeback win.
Auburn began the final period of play with a fourth down deep in Gamecock territory, but the Plainsmen were backed up by a false start penalty, after which Wes Byrum missed a field goal. However, Stephen Garcia fumbled on the next play, and the Tigers recovered to set up the go-ahead touchdown four snaps later. The next South Carolina drive also ended in a fumble, which Auburn again turned into a touchdown.
Georgia began the final period of play with the Maroon and White on the visitors’ 29 yard line, but the Eastern Division Bulldogs held their Western Division counterparts to a field goal before moving the ball to the Mississippi State 25 yard line. A critical penalty put the Red and Black in third and long, leading to a punt. The hometown Bulldogs then went on a ten-play, 93-yard touchdown drive to put the game away.
None of these events unfolded due to luck, of course; capable offenses took advantage of their chances and opportunistic defenses forced game-changing turnovers. Whatever element of randomness exists in such instances was made to break one way or the other based on preparedness and perseverance. However, MaconDawg and Spencer are right: Georgia is just a bit off, just an inch off, just far enough off to make the difference between winning and losing right now, but not so much so that all hope is lost.
That’s not to minimize the extent of the problem or to suggest that changes are not needed; the problems are real, and additional changes are required. The troubles that ail this program will not be overcome with more of the same. While the consequences are large, however, the margins are small, so the trends are reversible.
Remember how irretrievably broken the Florida Gators’ defense appeared, and how horrible Dan Mullen’s play calling seemed, after the 2007 season? Remember how much of a laughingstock Alabama was after the Tide lost to Louisiana-Monroe? Systemic problems seemed overwhelming then, too. How has being patient with proven head coaches worked out for Alabama and Florida the last two seasons and the first portion of this one?
Yes, we’re in a mess. We’re also separated from success by inches and consistency. By all means, call a spade a spade, critique what needs improvement, and propose solutions to persistent problems, . . . but don’t forget along the way that it’s the same distance from the outhouse to the mansion as it was from the mansion to the outhouse.