(Huge tip of the hat to Darius Dawgberry, who took time out of his busy postgame Gator-baiting schedule to snap this picture for the ages. Of course, this was made easier by the fact that there were very few Gators hanging around by that time. Go figure.)
At this point in any given football season,you are what you are. Except, on those rare occasions, when you are what you are going to be. This convaluted expression pretty much sums up the 2007 Georgia Bulldogs. There is still a lot to be said about the Dawgs 42-30 victory over Urban Meyer's Gators down by the St. John's River on Saturday. But first, let's take a look at what one moron said before the game:
1) Caleb King in a clean uniform. Well at least I was right about something. Knowshon Moreno is such a weapon running the ball right now that there's just no reason to play anyone else. It's my sincere hope that he carries the ball 15 times this week against Troy, then leaves the game at halftime with a sizable lead, because we're going to need him the rest of the year. Knowshown is truly the spark that makes this offense go. I think the CBS analysts may have touched on this during the telecast, but Knowshown is now 4th on the all-time freshman rushing list at Georgia. While he'll not likely catch Herschel's improbable 1700+ yard 1980 campaign, he might enter 2008 as the top returning tailback in the SEC.
2) Reshad Jones. I thought he would lay the wood to Tebow at least once. It turns out he wasn't alone. By the end of the game, Timmy the Timid looked shell-shocked. I know there will be some who say "but he was really hurt." If that's the case, he shouldn't have been playing. Once any player (and especially the starting quarterback) takes the field, the excuses become irrelevant. If Tim Tebow is really such a gritty winner, then games like this one, the overtime affair with LSU, and the defensive struggle with Auburn are where he'll show it. At this point, all he's proven is that he's the Charlie Weis of college quarterbacks, blowing out the Troys and Western Kentuckies of the world and piling up moral victories against the big boys.
3) 36 pass attempts by Matt Stafford. Boy was I wrong. I thought Mike Bobo would try to constantly pick on Florida's inexperienced and porous secondary. But, being way smarter than I am, he realized that the best way to expose the young Gators was to bide his time, sucker them up with Knowshown "I up in yur Municipul Stadeum, dancin' on your linebackers" Moreno, then go deep selectively. Stafford by the way really only made a couple of bad throws, and was just brutally efficient. The interception of course was a stinker, and the ball he threw to MoMass into double coverage was somewhat ill-advised. The TD to Mo however was exactly what we signed him for. It was the type of frozen rope to a spot that is just heck to defend.
4) Go, Go Gadget Coordinator! I believe it was a comment on Paul Westerdawg's blog that read "Look! Willie bought a VCR!" That about sums it up. Willie Martinez brought pressure early and often. By the third quarter, Tebow was hearing footsteps on every third down, and his accuracy showed it. Coach Martinez mixed up schemes a lot, though in fairness none of it would have looked as good as it did if our defensive linemen had not gotten to the quarterback as much as they did. Kudos also to Mike Bobo for working in the direct snap to Knowshown a la Arkansas's "Wildcat formation". I think that's a deadly look for us, even more so if we start motioning Stafford back into the backfield, or bringing him around on reverses and fake reverses. It will certainly give Auburn and Kentucky one more thing to think about, and I don't think you can go wrong at this juncture finding ways to get the ball in Knowshown's hands faster or more often.
5) UF 31, UGA 24. I like it when I'm right, but sometimes I just love it when I'm wrong. I wondered at some point Saturday evening if Larry Munson's legendary pessimism was the result of a night like this. I'm tempted to never pick a Georgia victory again if it means enjoying the unbridled euphoria I felt Saturday (and Sunday, and today for that matter). Or maybe Larry's dower outlook was just the result of an upper-midwest childhood filled with copious portions of lutefish. That would to it, too.
Just a few more random observations:
1) The celebration. Well, maybe Coach Richt did learn something during his time at "Da U". Frequent commentor randomterrace has already done a great job evaluating this, as has Quinton over at the Georgia Sports Blog.
It's worth noting that Coach Richt never told the bench players to go out on the field. The original plan was for the players on the field to "take a picture" of each other with invisible cameras. But in retrospect, that would have probably been good for a 15 yard penalty and little else. The bedlam that the larger, impromptu celebration created was actually far more effective at jacking up the players and the crowd.
Also, remember last year when Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema had his kickoff team jump offside repeatedly against Penn State to kill the clock before halftime? That intentional infraction was hailed as sheer genius, and I don't quite understand the distinction. I would analogize Coach Richt's admonition to his team more closely to a baseball manager intentionally going out to spar with the umpire to fire up his charges. And no one has ever argued that doing that is poor form. If so, then Bobby Cox would probably be banned from the game.
Urban Meyer will spin this episode as disrespectful to his team before next year's game, though to his credit he has refused to say such a thing to the media. The fact is history is written by the victors. We needed to come out and break the strong psychological hold Florida had on this series, and strong ailments call for strong cures. The best way to stop being picked on by the school bully is to come out and punch the bully in the mouth. That's what we did. Hamp's comment crystalizes it: "the intended effect was clearly achieved in the players, coaches and fans. It was such a bold (call it immature and foolish if you like) move that it set the tone that this year we were not going to play this game like we played many of the last 10-15 games in this series - like a kid desperately holding onto a toy just waiting for a bigger kid to come take it away." Or, as Coach Richt said after the game, if you do the same thing over and over again, you can expect the same result.
As an aside, I would have personally refused to be lectured regarding institutional control by a guy who gives out incredibly benign punishment to players who discharge assault rifles in crowded apartment buildings, or whose star recruit in the class of 2007 was actually banned from competing in high school sports in his home state for repeated breaches of sportsmanship. When you do things like that, you forfeit your moral pulpit for a while. That's why I'm glad Coach Meyer didn't even bother. I haven't said a lot of good things about the guy, but he really handled this one correctly.
Finally, anyone who think what happened in Jacksonville is even close to the nadir of poor sportsmanship in college athletics hasn't really been paying attention. This was a one off, perhaps one in a lifetime, effort to take back the most lopsided series in the SEC between conference coequals. Was it dangerous? Heck yeah. We could have lost the challenge and had goal to go from the 31 yard line. While it hasn't really been talked about, the refs could have really gone Barney Fife and kicked every player who left the bench out of the game. Technically, that would have been among their options for dealing with players leaving the bench during the game.
But the absolute worst that could have happened was that we would lose the game, which we have done with alarming frequency anyway. Janis Joplin said "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." As Orson pointed out rather gracefully "We could care less as a fan. In fact, we laughed when the mob came out-it was exuberant, silly, and barnstorming theater from a team that came ready to lose it all in one fight rather than take yet another beating from Florida. Losers complain about officiating and 'lack of class.' You know who else complains about lack of class? The aristocrat with his head in the guillotine just before his execution." I couldn't have said it any better myself.
I think Mark Richt breathed some life into what had become a stale, mechanical yearly shellacking. In the future, even Florida fans will agree with me that for the sake of the rivalry, this was a good thing. The Cocktail Party is a lot more entertaining and nationally relevant as a result of Saturday's outcome.
2) The series is all even in my eyes. As friend of the blog Darius Dawgberry pointed out to me today, the old "15 of 17" line is basically arbitrary. I don't think our players care about what Steve Spurrier and Ray Goff did in this series. The number that's more probative is the record for the last 4 years, the period in which most of the young men on the field Saturday have been on campus. That one's knotted at 2 to 2.
3) It's up for grabs in the East. Coach Richt won't talk about it, but we've got about as good a chance as anybody in the East right now. Perhaps only Tennessee is in better shape, with remaining games against Arkansas, Vandy and Kentucky. That Arkansas matchup is always a wild one, and Vandy seems like less of a gimme for everyone this year. South Carolina has 3 losses with Florida still on the agenda. Kentucky looks more vulnerable by the week.
4) Curb your enthusiasm. At the end of the day, a win's a win. This one was a big win. But we can erase all the current warm fuzzies and more by laying an egg against Troy. Or losing a close one to Auburn. Or going down again to Kentucky. As worried as I was about this team when they didn't believe in themselves, I may be even more fretful if they become full of themselves. Remember, we still gave up 30 points, and could easily have given up more. Florida's offense stopped themselves more often than we stopped them, and the Mikey Henderson touchdown was a hair's breadth away from being an interception going the other way.
This team is the same one that struggled against Vandy and got embarrassed by Tennessee. But they are getting better. They are maturing, and you can't help but be excited by some of the individual performances. Rennie Curran is indeed a tackling machine. Kade Weston is becoming harder and harder to stop. MoMass continues to make clutch plays and Knowshon is, well, Knowshon. I think what we saw on Saturday is not how good this team is, but how good it could be very soon. And that by itself is very, very exciting.
5) Orson Swindle, leave Wilford Brimley out of this. He's done nothing but hawk yummy oatmeal and quality term life insurance. Seriously, Orson handled losing this game extremely well. If by "extremely well" you mean with seismic bouts of profanity which wouldn't be safe for work even if you happened to work as a prison guard or Marine Corp gunnery seargent. Sort of like how Urban Meyer handled it on the sidelines.
This was a classic game. Now let's forget about it until sometime in January and get ready for the rest of what now looks like a much better season than it did one week ago.