I'm not expecting to grow flowers in the desert,
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.
Big Country, "In a Big Country"
We knew going in that there was no "good" outcome to this game; the range of options ran from "bad" to "expected." The best possible result was a convincing win in which the Georgia Bulldogs didn’t monkey around with the opposition for a quarter and a half, in which the coaches were able to empty the bench, and in which no one was injured. That mission, however meager in aspiration, was accomplished.
The Red and Black led by 21 after one quarter, by 35 at the half, and by 59 as the Redcoats struck up "Krypton Fanfare" with 15 minutes left to play. The ‘Dawgs led the Chanticleers in virtually every statistical category: first downs (23-7), total offense (470-112), passing yardage (276-49), and rushing yardage (194-63). Georgia held the ball for more than 34 minutes, was +2 in turnover margin, and converted more than half its third-down attempts while allowing Coastal Carolina to pick up the requisite yardage on fewer than one-fifth of the Chants’ third-down tries.
Let’s not oversell the significance or flawlessness of today’s performance, though. The Bulldogs’ 52 yards in penalties included a couple of big holding calls. Too many of Carlton Thomas’s 15 carries were up the middle for minimal gains. A Bacarri Rambo interception was followed by a lost fumble. Aaron Murray was far from sharp, or, at least, as far from sharp as a quarterback can be on a day on which he completes 18 of 26 passes for 188 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions while rushing for another score.
We must not permit ourselves to believe this win means anything. The 59 points were the most scored by Georgia since the 2004 Kentucky game, but it means no more than the 55-point outburst against Louisiana-Lafayette that preceded last year’s four-game losing streak. The shutout was the Bulldogs’ third such blanking in as many seasons, but it means no more than the back-to-back goose eggs that preceded a 3-4 stumble through the middle of the 2006 campaign. As tempting as it is to ascribe outsized importance to Isaiah Crowell’s 86 rushing yards, or to Tavarres King’s and Malcolm Mitchell’s six catches apiece, we, like Tina Turner before us, must try to ignore that it means more than that.
All the Bulldogs’ beatdown of a Division I-AA opponent means is that Georgia dominated an inferior team the way the Red and Black should have. That, though, is more than we are accustomed to getting out of these body bag games, so maybe playing up to their potential against no one in particular offers some hope that the Athenians are ready to play up to their potential against someone of significance for the first time since . . . when? the 2009 Georgia Tech game? the 2008 Sugar Bowl? Well, let’s not start treating wins over Coastal Carolina, Hawaii, and Georgia Tech as equivalent to wins over major conference opposition quite yet.
Let’s acknowledge this much, though: My son and I arrived in Sanford Stadium early this afternoon wearing light jackets to ward against the first faint chill of fall on an overcast autumn day, but, before long, we had shed them, preferring instead to cheer on the Bulldogs in our shirtsleeves as the cloud cover broke, the light shone through, and the day was warmed. Today didn’t get us as far as, "I say it’s all right," but at least it got us as far as, "Here comes the sun."