Here, in a nutshell, is my summary of yesterday’s loss between the hedges:
A few days ago, Orson Swindle described Tim Tebow’s injury as a Rorschach test, and the same thing appears to be the case with Saturday’s game in Sanford Stadium. The reactions remind me of a debate held by the Phi Kappa Literary Society in the winter of 2002 regarding the war on terror, in which one of the later speakers on the topic took the floor and said something along the lines of this: "It seems to me that most of you are talking about the same things you were talking about on September 10."
So it is with this. Whatever you thought about the Georgia Bulldogs at 3:30 p.m. yesterday probably had been confirmed for you by 7:00 p.m. yesterday. Consider:
Willie Martinez needs to be fired. Georgia held a 7-6 lead inside the final seven minutes and the LSU Tigers were backed up to their own 12 yard line, yet the Bulldog defense allowed the Bayou Bengals to move 88 yards in thirteen plays to score the go-ahead touchdown. In the course of the drive, a facemask penalty on the Red and Black turned second and eight into first and goal. After the home team went back out in front, the ‘Dawgs gave up a 33-yard touchdown run inside the final minute. The offense had the game won twice, but defensive letdowns allowed Louisiana State to escape with the triumph.
Willie Martinez does not need to be fired. During a first half in which the Georgia offense was accomplishing exactly nothing, the Bulldog defense held the Fighting Tigers to a pair of Josh Jasper field goals when the Red and Black easily could have been down 21-0 at the break. (Compare that to the 2003 effort in Baton Rouge, in which the ‘Dawgs should have been ahead 21-0 in the early going, yet they went on to lose a seven-point ballgame under the sainted Brian VanGorder.) Georgia picked off a Jordan Jefferson pass in the end zone, forced two LSU punts in the fourth quarter, and held the Bayou Bengals nearly nine points below their season scoring average. This was "bend but don’t break" at its finest, particularly from a defense that was on the field for more than 33 minutes of clock time.
Mike Bobo is a poor offensive coordinator. The ‘Dawgs earned one first down and scored no points in the first half. Georgia went three and out four times before the break. The Red and Black continued to try to pound the ball up the middle against a defensive front set up to stop just such an attack; the result was 45 rushing yards on 24 attempts for an average of 1.9 yards per carry. Joe Cox had more rushing yards (8) than Caleb King (7). The usual array of baffling and predictable play calls was evident once again.
Mike Bobo is a fine offensive coordinator. When Caleb King and Richard Samuel weren’t getting it done, Coach Bobo found a way to get the ball into the hands of Washaun Ealey and make some things happen. Georgia’s first second-half drive set up what should have been a chip shot field goal. Georgia’s second drive after intermission was a 60-yard, 18-play masterpiece that ate up nearly eight minutes of clock time and culminated in a shrewd fourth-down pass to Shaun Chapas for the touchdown. Georgia’s fourth drive following halftime moved the ball out and allowed the Bulldogs to flip the field. Georgia’s fifth drive of the second half covered 79 yards in under two minutes and featured a terrific touchdown pass to A.J. Green. The former Bulldog quarterback made sensible halftime adjustments that gave his team a shot at victory.
This team has fundamental flaws that simply are not getting any better. In spite of being a senior, Bryan Evans doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing in the secondary. Penalties at critical junctures made a huge, and perhaps decisive, difference in setting up Louisiana State’s final drive. Cox displayed a Greg Talley-like tunnel vision, frequently failed to find the open receiver, and badly overthrew Green on what ought to have been a touchdown pass. The special teams continue to be a weak point and they are finding new ways to foul up, such as the illegal formation penalty on the final kickoff and Blair Walsh’s missed 32-yard field goal. On top of everything else, after Georgia’s last touchdown, several of the players displayed a lack of discipline by starting off the field, even though the ‘Dawgs obviously were in a position to need to go for two.
The problems that have plagued this team are beginning to be fixed. The Classic City Canines lost no fumbles and Cox threw only one interception . . . and even that lone pick required an instant replay to confirm. The defensive line finally brought some pressure and got some sacks. While it isn’t good to get seven penalties for 59 yards, it’s better than it’s been.
This season is going to be a repeat of 2006. Early close calls against weak opponents proved to be a harbinger of close (and not so close) losses to come when scares against the Colorado Buffaloes and the Mississippi Rebels served as the prelude to four losses in a five-week stretch. The season was only salvaged with wins over ranked yet overrated Auburn and Georgia Tech squads.
This season is going to be a repeat of 2007. The first half of the fall featured a close conference loss at home and a defeat by a wider margin in a lackluster effort against an orange-clad opponent on the road. The Bulldogs somehow managed to scratch and claw their way to a 5-2 record following a road win over the Vanderbilt Commodores, and, after a well-placed open date, Georgia finally put it all together, began playing up to its considerable potential, and went on a 6-0 run to close out the season.
The youth on this team is maddening. Rookie mistakes are killing the ‘Dawgs. Brandon Boykin made a spectacular play on his interception at the goal line, but he caught the ball off-balance and his momentum carried him deeper into the end zone. It was foolish for him to bring the ball out when he should have knelt down, taken the touchback, and given the Red and Black possession at the 20 instead of at the two. Those kinds of youthful blunders are hampering this club on a weekly basis.
The youth on this team is encouraging. Every week, at least one underclassman steps up and proves that the recruiting hype surrounding him was justified. Against the South Carolina Gamecocks, Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith caught our collective attention. Against the Arizona St. Sun Devils, Bacarri Rambo and Rantavious Wooten made their presence felt. Yesterday afternoon, Washaun Ealey began to emerge. There is a ton of young talent wearing silver britches, and those players are only going to get better.
In the end, you saw what you wanted to see and you believe what you already believed. Personally, although I came close (twice) to getting the one-point win I predicted, I feel the same way about this game that I believe South Carolina fans ought to feel about the Gamecocks’ loss to the ‘Dawgs: Georgia almost stole a game the Bulldogs had no business being in a position to win in the first place. The lesson of the season thus far is that the Red and Black aren’t quite as good as teams that are in the top fifteen but are a little bit better than teams that aren’t.
In other words, we are who we thought we were.