Real life rudely intervened yesterday, delaying our weekly review of the five things I forecast you would see in Georgia's thrilling victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
But first, a couple of general observations. One is that you can't help but feel that this game gives us some confidence, which as I've said previously is probably a good thing. Did we play a great game? No. We played a pretty good game. But I think the general trend is upward on all the right fronts (more on that later). Also, while many in Alabama were perhaps a bit overly optimistic, the Tide really did show us something. Make no mistake, they got outplayed in the first half. But they came back and darn near won the thing. I think both of these teams proved that while they're not LSU or Oklahoma, they're both tough enough to play with anyone. Now, on to the five:
1) A critical first 15 minutes. Dead on. Georgia came out with the ball and drove for points. The defense came out and played physical from the whistle. I think it is impossible to overestimate how important this was to the final outcome. It's also the kind of thing I hope we see more of as this team matures.
2) Rhythm. Matt Stafford did in fact get in a good rhythm, J.P. Wilson didn't (at least not until the second half). There came a point just before halftime when Wilson threw yet another pass that barely missed an open receiver, and I said to no one in particular "There is no way this guy beats us on this night." He showed some mental toughness bringing Bama back late. But if Matt Stafford had the first half Wilson did, I'm pretty sure we lose this game. Now, he did have two picks, the first off a bad decision (he should have thrown the ball away) and the second on a bad throw (it sailed on him). But for the most part Stafford was in control and made the plays he needed to win. There were at least two occasions on which the line basically left him defenseless, and he still managed to get the ball away for completions.
3) A downfield chess match. Checkmate. Both teams wore out the play action portion of the playbook. Georgia went to MoMass for a couple of critical plays, and he continued to accept the challenge. I forecast that he and Tripp Chandler would have the chance to shine against Bama's two deep look, and they did have that chance. Tripp responded with a rough game catching the football, including a couple of drops that really helped let Alabama back in it. I noticed after the second drop that he was walking back to the huddle with his head down and shaking. That's never a good sign, but I imagine the coaches will be talking to him about that. He's still our best all-around option at tight end. And MoMass's block on Simeon Castille was a rib-rocking, tooth-rattling thing of beauty. Last year a lot of us questioned Number 1's toughness, but those questions have easily been erased in my mind. Another promising sign for the rest of the year, when we'll need multiple weapons against teams with weak secondaries.
4) The running game. Perhaps the greatest moment of unbridled joy which I had experienced all season (to that point) came when Knowshown took the pitch around right end, Brannen Southerland, Fernando Velasco and Bruce Figgins got great blocks on the edge, and Moreno went in for the score. This was the best our offensive line has looked all year in the running game. They were decidedly more physical, and were a lot more sound in their assignments. This is an excellent sign for the rest of the season.
5) Georgia 27, Alabama 24. For the second week in a row, Kyle and I were very close to predicting the correct score, and in fact one of us did get the margin of victory. I can't speak for Kyle, but other than the day I proposed to my wife, this is the most correct decision I've probably made.
SEC road wins are one of a million tiny ways that God lets us know that he loves us and wants us to be happy.
To be sure there were some negatives. One is that this team, like a lot of young teams, has trouble dealing with prosperity. Something good happens (like Brandon Miller's half-opening fumble recovery) and they respond with a rash of penalties and blown assignments. That lack of focus will have to improve, especially against teams like Florida and Kentucky who can make you pay for your missed opportunities with a single snap.
The penalties deserve special consideration. We actually got away with a couple. Most were dead-on, though the pass interference call on Prince Miller was an uncatchable ball. I know that was hard for the official to see, but on replay it was clear that Yao Ming was the only athlete who was gonna come down with that one. Essentially though, we have to do a better job mentally. Even in a down year for the Philbillies, a trip to Knoxville is nothing to trifle with, and we could make it a lot harder if we keep backing ourselves up on offense and giving away first downs on defense.
The offensive line was good, but they'll need to be better. Alabama's front seven is still a bit of a liability, and we'll face better units this season. While we ran the ball well, the pass blocking left Stafford running for his life on more than one occasion. That's got to improve, but I believe it will. I think what we saw in this game was a team that's still learning how to get the job done, but is moving in the right direction.
That doesn't mean we won't come out and lay an egg against Ole Miss. It doesn't mean that Tennessee won't hang 40 on us in Knoxville. It damn sure doesn't mean that we'll beat Florida in Jacksonville. But it does mean that we have the ability to put it all together, man up, and beat any of those teams. As a fan, that's about all you can ask from a young group like this. I'll be back tomorrow with some stuff on the Ole Miss game. Until then . . .