After this season's tough home loss to LSU, Kyle pointed out the similarity between that game and a Rorschach test. This one, however, more closely resembled the phenomenon of multistable perception. That is, like an M.C. Escher lithograph, you saw in Georgia's 34-10 defeat of the Vanderbilt Commodores a jumble of dots and lines and shading which looked like one thing, then another. However, you couldn't really control the gestalt switch from one perceptive reality to the other. You saw Megan Fox in an evening gown, then Rich Brooks in drag then the whole thing flip flopped back again. Or maybe that's just me, and this team has finally driven me insane. I suppose that's also a valid possibility.
Still, I bet that if you went into Saturday's contest believing that this team was in a state of freefall which could only be halted by some end of season bloodletting, you saw nothing that would change your mind. The offense looked awful from the beginning, and the running game in particular looked as bad as it has all year. Penalties of an utterly preventable nature cropped up repeatedly and at bad times. The special teams play was inconsistent. The defense gave up a forceful drive to begin the second half that allowed Vandy to hang around far too long, and play action passing again appeared to be a wondrous thing which we've never actually seen before.
If, however, you thought going in that this team was not as bad as its ugly loss to Tennessee and would recover, you saw green shoots of recovery all over the field in Nashville. For one, we actually beat an SEC team by 24 points. Rather than clawing out to a lead then spending the 4th quarter looking for a way to squander it (South Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona State) we actually pulled away in the final stanza. What's more, we did so in the way that Mark Richt's teams used to, by running it right down the throat of a battered and bruised opposing defense. Speaking of defenses, ours gave up fewer than 300 yards of total offense, 10 points total, and very few really big plays. The pressure up front was perceptible, if not overwhelming.
Miscellany of a High and Aggravated Nature
Fred Munzenmaier had as many receptions (3) as A.J. Green. Some see that and think there's something terribly wrong. I think however that you can't argue with the fact that the fullback screen was pretty darned effective. Munzenmaier was thrown to 4 times, and the 3 completions went for 8,9 and 4 yards. I think that if Mike Bobo had been in the press box he might not have called that play that often. However, down on the field and cognizant of the ebb and flow of the game, he saw that it was open. Vandy played a lot of cover 2 in the secondary trying to force us to beat them with the run game and short passing. This was one good way to respond.
Everyone seems to be raving about Bobo coaching from the sideline and wondering why he was up in the box to begin with. The answer of course is that it's a lot easier to see the whole field from up there. All other things being equal, I'd prefer the OC be up there. But right now all things aren't equal. We have an offense suffering a crisis of confidence that needed its General to be a Field General. I assume he'll be back down there against Florida, and I applaud him for thinking, quite literally, outside the box. That being said, if our offensive line doesn't show significant improvement Bobo could stand on Brandon Spikes's right foot and it wouldn't matter.
While most of the rushing offense happened after the game was essentially under control, that doesn't mean it didn't happen. At a certain point, when you can't just line up and ram it down peoples' throats, you have to start passing to set up the run. I'm fine with that, so long as we execute well enough to make it happen. Our inability to execute consistently has been the hobgoblin of this offense since the Arizona State game, and this one wasn't very different. That being said, Mike Bobo did the right thing by taking a few minutes late in the 4th to see which tailbacks really want to run the ball, and to give our offensive line some work on the thing they've been worst at all year long. I think it was a wise use of time. And there's really no better time to run the ball effectively than in the 4th quarter of a game which you're leading.
Brandon Boykin is an absolute weapon. When you have a guy returning kicks who people are legitimately scared to kick to, it cannot be a bad thing.
There's a passage in Jim Dent's great book The Junction Boys, chronicling Bear Bryant's stewardship of a struggling Texas A&M squad in 1954 that has come to mind several times as I've watched this struggling Georgia defense this season. I don't remember precisely how it goes, but I do remember the context. A&M suffered a series of tough losses that season, some blowouts, some close losses, some coming on inexplicable officiating calls. But one of Bryant's assistants noted how excited he was about the youth on the team and its freshmen (who at the time were not allowed to play). "Coach" he said, "with the young guys we've got coming in, if we can just keep the wheels on this wagon we'll be chopping high cotton before you know it."
With Branden Smith, Brandon Boykin, Bacarri Rambo, Deangelo Tyson, Justin Houston, Cornelius Washington, Abry Jones, Nick Williams, Sanders Commings and several others, I feel the same way. I'm not saying we don't need changes on the defensive staff. I have come to the conclusion that we probably do. But if a change is made, whoever replaces Willie Martinez will not suffer from a lack of talent. And that young talent is growing up week by week.
Caleb King quietly played an excellent football game. Sure there was the 21 yard touchdown on a screen pass and a rushing TD to boot. But he also pass blocked extremely well. It was a complete effort, and I have to believe he has a really good shot at starting against Florida in two weeks if he practices well between now and then. On the flipside, I got the impression that Bryan McClendon would rather drink hemlock (which, by the way, will not be in the Thursday Cocktail for Halloween despite DavetheDawg's very valid suggestion) than play Richard Samuel. I think the question of whether Samuel gets moved to linebacker is still out there, but I don't think you'll see it happen. We have tons of depth at linebacker (albeit young depth) and another inexperienced linebacker doesn't do us a lot of good at this point. On the flipside, we really need a battering ram of a tailback who can hold onto the football and get yards on 3rd and short. Samuel's a lot closer to succeeding in that role than as a will linebacker, though there's no guarantee he ever fully fills either role.
I've liked Bacarri Rambo since he was in high school, and have been pretty vocal about it. When I watched the highlights from his junior year at Seminole County High School I said that he just has a knack for making plays, and the kind of athletic ability you can't coach (though admittedly, I thought he'd end up at weakside linebacker. Oh well.) But even I am surprised that he has emerged as quite possibly our most consistent playmaking safety as a redshirt freshman. To repeat, Bacarri Rambo is going to be something else over the next couple of seasons.
To many fans this game was a temporary diversion from a season that seems destined for disappointment. As David Hale notes however, for the players it was something entirely different:
. . . I went down to the field and I watched the players walk into the locker rooms with giant smiles plastered across their faces. I talked to A.J. Green, who raved about the way the running game came through in the end. I talked to Joe Cox who raved, yet again, about how amazing A.J. is. I talked to Brandon Boykin, who went on and on about how much fun it was for Georgia to play that game. I talked to Caleb King, whose jaw was so sore he wasn't even supposed to be talking, but he couldn't contain his excitement either.
Sometimes "just a win" is more than that. I really think this win for Georgia meant something far more than it might have meant for a lot of the fans.
I'm not saying it means Georgia pulls the upset in two weeks, but I do think it was an absolutely necessary step toward making it a possibility.
I got the impression after the game, from the above passage and other sources, that the team didn't let on precisely how low their morale was after that loss to Tennessee. But it's now pretty clear that they needed this one badly. The next five games are like a whole new season.
At this point, Florida hasn't beaten Arkansas any more severely than we have, and they've won one against an LSU team that we were about 2 plays from beating as well. Georgia will rest and prepare for the annual showdown in Jacksonville while Florida travels to Starkville for a Saturday night showdown with Dan Mullen's physical offense, then takes a late flight back. Only a fool or an incredible optimist would predict a Georgia win on October 31. But I thought the same thing after we pulled out a last minute victory over Vandy in 2007. Until later . . .