First things first. I’m really not as upset about this loss as I should be. I knew it was coming, I steeled myself for it over the course of a week, and I’ve already moved on from it. We have four games remaining, and will be heavily favored in exactly one of them. If we win three out of four, then a bowl game, we’ll have something to build on for 2010. As Vamoultrie Dawg points out there are some reasons for optimism next season. But right now it is desperately important that the seniors on this team not give up because they won’t play for an SEC Championship. Because 6-6 may see the Bulldogs home for bowl season for the first time since the beginning of the Jim Donnan era. That would make for an incredibly long offseason.
Mississippi State and Arkansas provided a pretty good roadmap for how to shut down the Florida offense. Chris Brown highlighted it on one of the most widely read college football blogs on the planet (and easily the most widely read blog penned by a Southern Miss fan). Willie Martinez ignored this model in favor of the softest soft zone he’s played in all of 2009.
They say that the late converts are always the most zealous. I was certainly a late convert to the fire Willie Martinez cause, but I’m now 100% certain it’s the thing to do. I hate that, because I don’t want anyone to lose his job. It really is something that I don’t think I’ve ever seriously campaigned for, even in the worst days of the Dennis Felton basketball era. But the defense that trotted onto the field at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Saturday played like a troupe of hungover circus makaks for most of the first quarter, setting the tone for the rest of the day. The fact that they turned in this effort with a week off to prepare only makes it more obvious that Willie Martinez is no longer capable of effectively leading our defense. If Auburn puts up less than 35 in two weeks, I’ll be shocked beyond belief. Because Gus Malzahn does this crazy "adjustment" thing we’ve been hearing about . . .
Sure, Willie Two Thumbs can’t be blamed for Joe Cox’s interceptions (more on those shortly). And as we saw this time last year, I’m usually the first to defend a defense which plays the whole day with its back against its own goalline. But at a certain point a championship level defense has to make championship level stops. Every so often, a quality defense needs to be able to force a three-and-out after being dealt a bad hand. By analogy, if Kyle and I only won the easy cases, we wouldn’t be very good attorneys. If a surgeon were only capable of saving people who hit the operating table with paper cuts and hangnails, he wouldn’t be very good at his job. This Georgia defense needed to come out and set the tone for the day early. Instead, they gave up two hot knife through butter touchdown drives. From that point forward, the game was never seriously out of hand for the Gators.
About Joe Cox. All indications are that Joe Cox is a wonderful young man. He is a good student, a polite kid, and all of us who have children would be very lucky if they grew up like Joe Cox. He is what Urban Meyer would call "the top 1% of the top 1%."
That being said, Joe Cox has as much business quarterbacking an SEC football team as I have running for President of Uganda. Sure, the tipped pass interception by A.J. Jones was a great defensive play. But Joe Cox had no business trying to throw that ball over him. Sure, the interception downfield on the ball tipped by A.J. Green was another great defensive play. But it was one of a handful of throws into triple or quadruple coverage that had no business being made. As I’ve said before, when Joe Cox is trying to win a football game he presses. I now believe he presses more than any Georgia quarterback I’ve ever seen. If he were a redshirt junior I think he might learn his lesson and be much better next season. But there is no next season for Joe Cox.
This is why starting a redshirt senior quarterback for the first time as a redshirt senior is an exercise in failure. There’s just no substitute for going out and actually throwing dumb interceptions and holding onto the ball too long and failing to check down to the tailback. But Joe Cox will never have the chance to apply the lessons he’s picking up now. There’s no payoff for this football team in Joe Cox’s current failures. Joe Cox may take the lessons he’s learning and use them to excel in his chosen career. But as things stand now whoever replaces him will be making the same mistakes next year.
Of course, Logan Gray once again showed that Mike Bobo has not necessarily been starting the wrong guy. Gray looked as bug-eyed and terrified as any quarterback I’ve ever seen during his two drive march to oblivion late in the game. The only recent example of similar concentrated futility that I can think of was D.J. Shockley’s disasterous relief work against Georgia Tech in 2004. Of course, he came back from it and turned out OK.
Which brings me to what I believe must happen this Saturday on Homecoming in Athens. Joe Cox should still be the starter, and he will be. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s our best quarterback (even if he may or may not be all that good) and gives us our best chance to win (even if that chance appears disturbingly slim on a weekly basis). But Logan Gray needs to play the second half. He needs to fumble some snaps and hold onto the ball too long and miss some open receivers. He needs to make some great throws and take off running for a big gain and hit Tavarres King in stride for a touchdown. He needs to take a sack and then get up and dust himself off. Because sitting in the film room watching Joe Cox’s mistakes is not making Logan Gray any better. It's time for Logan Gray to make some mistakes of his own.
Next year this Georgia offense will return ten of eleven starters, but the one newby is going to be at the most important position on the field. This may be our only chance this season to get Gray some quality reps, and if Mark Richt and Mike Bobo don’t take the chance they are missing a very important opportunity. They did not play Joe Cox enough the past two seasons, and it has shown. Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistake again.
Miscellaneous Wardrobe Malfunctions and Party Fouls
Brandon Spikes’s eye gouge: Not the worst thing I’ve seen done on a football field by a longshot. Dirty? Yes. Classless? Sure. But that sort of thing goes on two dozen or more times in any given college football game. I’m more outraged that at the age of 47 Brandon Spikes is still faster than any linebacker we have. The guy looks like he should be drawing Social Security by now.
The uniforms: As soon as I saw them I knew it was over. Because if you need a pretty new helmet to get jacked up for this game, or if as a coach you believe that your team needs that to get jacked up for this game, then it’s already over. If Mark Richt really wants to make a uniform statement he should strip the "G" stickers off the helmets and play with plain red headgear. And he should tell his football team that they’ll be doing so until they prove to his satisfaction that they deserve to wear the "G". This won’t happen, but that just makes it item #87,920 on MaconDawg’s list of things that should be but aren’t. It’s right behind "if you go through the drivethrough window at the bank with more than 2 separate transactions, you should have to split whatever is in your account with the people waiting impatiently behind you."
Hope. It Comes In A Thousand Forms: Florida could easily lose as many as 6 starters from both their offense and defense after this season depending on how many juniors choose to head to the NFL. Which means that Tennessee and South Carolina may be battling for the top spot in the East. And there went that ember of hope I was nursing.
Speaking of losing people, watching Bryan Evans lose sight of Tim Tebow on his second touchdown run was pretty much an encapsulation of the season, wasn’t it? I sometimes wonder if Evans was the basis for that new alien abduction movie. On occasion I think scientists from planet Zartxap snatch #3's brain while he’s running down the field, only to return it at the end of the play, leaving Evans dazed, confused and walking kind of funny, with no idea what happened. More Bacarri Rambo, please. This may be the rare Georgia squad that is truly improved by graduation.
If forced to identify a bright spot from this game I would have to point to the running game. Washaun Ealey looks like a slightly less quick Knowshon at this point, which is actually quite a compliment. The holes were there to break some runs against a defense that has been among the nation’s best this season, and in the end the offense turned out 121 rushing yards. Ealey led the team with 70 yards and averaged 4.1 per carry. It would be interesting to see what the outcome of the LSU game would have been had we been able to run the ball like that in the first half. Of course, if my Aunt Fanny had a beard she’d be my Uncle Fred. Or maybe Brandon Spikes.
Until later . . .