I'm not as young as I used to be, so I definitely felt the aftereffects of staying up too late, but I watched the Sugar Bowl---horrible Fox announcers and all---to the game's glorious conclusion, remaining attentive to the splendid spectacle through the presentation of the victory trophy to Mark Richt, the presentation of the most valuable player award to Marcus Howard, and the lowering of the American flag and the unstitching of one star after Georgia beat Hawaii back into territorial status.
While I generally agree that the Warriors are a better team than this game indicated, Georgia's 31-point margin of victory (which was by no means accidental or unrepresentative) confirmed that at least one of these two teams was playing in the wrong game, and perhaps both of them were. I spoke to The Blogger Who Came In From the Cold on Wednesday, and, when he asked me whether Hawaii played badly or Georgia played well, I answered that it was the latter.
Other than the back-to-back penalties to begin the game, June Jones's squad did not play poorly until Colt Brennan and his receivers had been battered so badly that they threw off target and dropped passes, respectively, while attempting vainly to execute the offense in mid-flinch. It wasn't that the islanders did what they intended to do in a substandard manner; they simply lacked the size, speed, and scheme for even their best to be good enough.
The end result wasn't pretty. The 'Dawgs played a complete game, finishing the drill in every phase. Willie Martinez's defense brought pressure without leaving exploitable gaps in the coverage, bringing a bruising style of physical play to bear and making tackles in open space to limit severely the Warriors' yards after catch. Mike Bobo's offense masterfully mixed runs and passes while methodically building an insurmountable lead that was never threatened. Although the Red and Black allowed more return yards than they should have, the special teams proved that letting Brandon Coutu kick field goals indoors just plain ain't fair. Kevin Butler's game-winner against Clemson continues to set the school standard only because Coutu wasn't trying from more than 60 yards away, not because Coutu wouldn't have connected on a field goal attempt that long.
It was a beautiful game to cap off a magnificent season by a wonderful team. I can remember Georgia squads with better records---though not many; only eight Red and Black units have won eleven or more games, and three of those have been coached by Mark Richt---and greater achievements, but I can't ever recall a Bulldog squad that was more electrifying, more energizing, or more fun than this one. This has been the kind of campaign that pays big dividends down the road, but it was quite a ride even while it was a work in progress.
At the end of the night, Hawaii's moment of truth arrived in the company of a Georgia performance so totally dominant that it almost caused an international incident: George W. Bush reportedly had to reassure the prime minister of Japan of America's peaceful intentions towards the Land of the Rising Sun because, the last time Hawaii got shelled this badly, the United States nuked Nagasaki.
In the Pacific, New Year's Day 2008 is considered a date which will live in infamy.
I take nothing away from the Warriors, who are a fine football team as far as they go. The Hawaii fans are decent folk to whom I hope the Bulldog faithful behaved decently and, aside from Keenan Jones, the islanders generally represented their university, their state, and their conference well. However, the Warriors were outclassed and they simply had no business being there. When your head coach's pregame pep talk is all about how you need to act like you belong, you don't belong. If you did, it wouldn't be acting.
I have been ripping on the Aloha State Adventurers all season long, and with good reason. June Jones's squad played a creampuff schedule comprised of two Division I-AA teams (Charleston Southern and Northern Colorado) and five Division I-A opponents who each lost at least nine games: Idaho (1-11), New Mexico State (4-9), U.N.L.V. (2-10), Utah State (2-10), and Washington (4-9).
Three of Hawaii's other five victims were Louisiana Tech, Nevada, and San Jose State, each of whom finished the year with seven losses, leaving Boise State and Humanitarian Bowl champion Fresno State as the only two teams the Warriors defeated who finished the season with winning records. (Between them, the Broncos and the Golden State Bulldogs beat two Division I-AA teams, three Division I-A teams with winning records, 14 Division I-A teams with losing records, and one Division I-A team with more than seven wins.) Nevertheless, despite the appalling weakness of the slate they faced, the islanders had to survive five serious scares.
If the B.C.S. rules allow teams of such meager achievement to qualify for major bowl games merely by virtue of having gone undefeated against powderpuff schedules any reputable program should have survived unscathed, the B.C.S. rules need to be changed. I know that a game against Georgia has become the de facto litmus test whereby putative programs on the rise gauge their readiness, vel non, for the big time (West Virginia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, si; Boise State in 2005 and Oklahoma State in 2007, no!), but the 'Dawgs not only deserved better than what the Warriors offered, the 'Dawgs deserved better than what the Warriors could have offered.
When Bulldog Nation breaks out the black shirts for a night game, it's lights out for the opposing team.
Last year, I was disturbed by the notion that a Big Ten team could ever consider the Rose Bowl a disappointment; likewise, I am hesitant to declare a Sugar Bowl bid a letdown for the Bulldogs, whose goal every year should be to capture the Southeastern Conference's automatic berth in the Big Easy and make the trek from the Classic City to the Crescent City.
Nevertheless, I have to say that a Georgia-Southern California Rose Bowl would have been sweeter than the Sugar. Naturally, a national championship game berth would have been nice, as well, although I believe, as I always have, that it is cognitive dissonance to claim that a team can be the national champion without being its conference champion. Asserting that a team is the best in the country without being the best in its conference is as nonsensical to me as claiming you are the tallest man in your neighborhood without being the tallest man in your household. (Yes, I know, "best" is an amorphous concept at best, but, if the national championship game cannot plausibly claim in some sense to have produced the best team at season's end, what possible use is there to declaring a national champion at all?)
Since any national title talk is a fool's errand---for 2007, mind you, not for 2008---we are left to try to assess the import of the season just concluded. The Red and Black produced impressive results this autumn, scoring more than 30 points eight times over the course of the campaign and doing so five times in their last six outings, topping 40 points six times overall and four times in their final half-dozen contests. Ten Georgia opponents were limited to 20 or fewer points in regulation play and the Charles Rogers Theorem---which previously posited that Auburn was overrated in 2004 and Florida was overrated in 2006---yet again proved inapplicable to a well-coached Southeastern Conference squad when it forecast that the Bulldogs' "pre-season #13 ranking is significantly overstating their merit" for what "look[ed] like an 8-4 team" in 2007. Somewhere in Indiana, The Hoosier Report is smiling after being vindicated as virtually the only Big Ten blogger who did not hate him some Georgia.
In offering my reflections on the bowl game just won, though, I prefer not to note angrily and broadly what is wrong with the opposition, but instead to focus fondly and specifically on what is right with my team. (While outsiders may doubt it, we here in the S.E.C. prefer to conduct ourselves with class.) The closest comparable campaign to 2007 by a Bulldog squad that did not capture a Southeastern Conference championship is that posted by the 1945 Red and Black unit, which went 9-2, rung up 33 or more points on six of eleven opponents, held eight teams to seven or fewer points, and won the Oil Bowl on New Year's Day. The following year, in 1946, the 'Dawgs went 11-0, scored 33 or more points eight times, allowed more than 14 points only once, and won the conference and (in the Williamson poll) national championships.
The Bulldogs are reaching for the next level. (Photo credit: Josh D. Weiss.)
Doug may not be ready to pencil the 'Dawgs into next year's national championship game, but the Red and Black are among the frontrunners and I'd be willing to bet that, next autumn, the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will decide a berth in the B.C.S. title tilt. Where, then, is this stellar program at this extraordinary moment? Let me put it to you this way:
On the day my father could truthfully say Georgia had won two Sugar Bowls in his lifetime, Dad was a little under two months shy of his 38th birthday.
On the day I could truthfully say Georgia had won two Sugar Bowls in my lifetime, it had been a little under two months since my 34th birthday.
Today, my nephew, David, can truthfully say Georgia has won two Sugar Bowls in his lifetime.
David turned five last spring.