I've discovered that one of the perks of getting older is a minor sense of perspective. I've reached a point where, if the words "malignant" and "indictment" aren't involved in a given situation, I figure I can handle it.
But make no mistake, games like the one we played on Saturday still leave me with a knot in my stomach. I may be a little grayer around the temples, but I still believe that if you show me someone who doesn't hurt when they lose, I'll show you someone who loses a lot. That said, David Ching caught a great quote from Coach Richt's Sunday teleconference, which I think shows his sense of perspective:
We knew that we just don't have a lot of experience to draw on in some areas. We're playing some guys that are living through those types of games for the very first time. Sometimes that's just enough to get you beat. But I do believe we've got the right guys in there and I know we're gonna improve in a hurry. Young guys that are as talented as the guys we have, they get better in a hurry. We're gonna hit our stride here pretty soon, I would hope, to where everybody's got enough experience under their belt to where they're ready to play these types of battles, these types of wars, and I think we'll fare a lot better when that happens.
And that, in a nutshell, is what happened. We're young and inexperienced, and we did just little enough to get beat. As Coach Richt pointed out after the game, we had four separate touchdown passes lost because of either a dropped ball or a bad throw. If Stafford doesn't overthrow Knowshown on one, and if Mike Moore doesn't miss another, we have a much different game. Then again, were ifs and buts instead candy and nuts, it would be Christmas every day. Such is life in the SEC, where the difference between the Sugar Bowl and the Music City Bowl is about 3.8 plays per game. Looking back at Wednesday's 5 things:
1) Blake Mitchell. I thought that Mitchell would be responsible for at least one momentum turning, boneheaded mistake. He wasn't. He certainly was not spectacular (20 of 31 for 174 yards), but he got the job done the way a senior quarterback should.
2) Cory Boyd. Everyone knew that Cory Boyd and Mike Davis would get the ball a lot, and that how well we stopped them would go a long way in determining the outcome of the game. After reviewing it, we didn't have quite as many missed tackles as I initially thought we did. We did have enough to hurt us though. And our front four was really manhandled at times. That's extremely disappointing and a very bad sign. On the bright side Kade Weston seemed to get penetration almost every time he came off the ball and really derailed things on more than one occasion. He finally played like the huge run stuffer we need him to be.
3) Running yards. We showed sparks in the running game, but never consistently. This all starts up front, where we had a raftload of missed assignments. You could see that this line will be really good when we finally get 5 guys each making their blocks on any given play. Right now we have 3-4 making the blocks on most plays. As Coach Richt indicated, they have all the potential in the world, and this game was certainly a learning experience.
4) Play action passing. There just wasn't enough time. Stafford's disasterous 13 yard sack on 4th and 2 was only the most visible example. Not a lot has been made of it (either during the game or after), but South Carolina defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix deserves a lot of credit for calling a great game, especially in the secondary. The Gamecocks mixed coverages well, and their corners played very physical. I think this contributed to some of the dropped passes.
5) UGA 29, SC 20. Congratulations Gamecocks. You didn't play your best game and still managed to squeak it out. That's the sign of a good football team. As I said last week, this outcome is not really surprising. Discouraging? Of course. But not unexpected. We all knew at the beginning of the year that this team was vulnerable for the first month of the season. We knew that young teams are far more susceptible to let downs.
The Alabama game now worries me even more than it did before. The Tide beat Vandy 24-10, but I didn't think the game was really that close. I watched snippets of it before our game, and thought the score was 42-10 before I learned better that night. I'm afraid that we'll be catching Saban's team as they begin to hit their stride. It's going to be quite a matchup, and as close to a must win in September as you can get. I don't even want to think about being 0-2 in the SEC and on the way to Knoxville.
But we have a game on Saturday and a lot of improvement to make before then. As Coach Richt said, we'll get there. The question is whether it will be in the next 3 weeks. Because if not, it could be a long year. Make no mistake, I think by the time we get to Jacksonville, this will be a very good football team. But between now and then it is going to be hard to know what to expect. I suggest you stock up on Rolaids, just in case. I'll be back tomorrow with some recruiting coverage. Until then . . .