I know I am arriving a little late to the party---ESPN and the Griffin District of the United Methodist Church did not get their schedules straight when the former lined up three straight night games for the Georgia Bulldogs on the very same weekends on which the latter arranged for me to attend my lay speaking recertification course for four hours every Sunday---but I appreciate the way everyone has kept the conversation going in the comments and in the fanposts.
Permit me to add a few observations, but please bear in mind that I haven’t had the time to check out any other weblogs or the game day open comment thread, so some of what follows may be repetitive, or redundant, or repetitive:
- As the first quarter came to an end, I was very nearly ready to flush the 2009 season and get the guy most likely to start under center next autumn out onto the field to get some playing experience. Needless to say, Joe Cox answered any remaining doubts about his competence in the remaining three quarters. He hooked up on 18 of 26 attempts for 375 yards, a record-tying five touchdowns, and one interception. Although undeniably aided by the amazing abilities of A.J. Green (seven catches for 137 yards and two scores), Cox did a much better job of hitting his receivers in stride. This may be damning him with faint praise, but Cox didn’t throw long and incomplete any more often than Matthew Stafford would have.
- I was a bit surprised at how surprised everyone seemed to be at the supposed "emergence" of Michael Moore. When was Michael Moore not clearly the Bulldogs’ second-best receiver following the departure of Mohamed Massaquoi? Why did everyone seem so shocked that Moore caught six passes for 91 yards against the Arkansas Razorbacks when he ended last season by catching six passes for 97 yards against the Michigan St. Spartans in last year’s Capital One Bowl? Who didn’t know already the dude was good?
- I have always admired Mark Richt’s willingness to give a player an immediate shot at redemption after he makes a mistake. After Branden Smith’s gaffe in the return game against South Carolina, he was given the opportunity to make up for his miscue on the reverse. Coach Richt’s charges respond well to his confidence in them and usually make the most of their second chances. Tavarres King had a couple of potentially game-changing mistakes in Fayetteville, which were addressed by giving him the chance to haul in a 50-yard touchdown pass. He made good on that opportunity. Kudos to the coaches for letting the young man atone for his error and kudos to King for justifying his coaches’ faith in him.
- Lisa Loeb. Tina Fey. Sarah Palin. Now Erin Andrews. I don’t know what it is about librarian-style glasses on good-looking women, but, holy smoking barbecue in a wire basket, that’s a look that works for me. Yowzers!
- Although his play-calling sometimes seems strangely streaky, Mike Bobo is better at his job than he generally is given credit for being, and he managed a surprisingly balanced ballgame. The ‘Dawgs ran the ball 36 times and threw the ball 26 times. That demonstrates an admirable commitment to the ground game on a night when your quarterback is hitting almost 70 per cent of his passes. Three Bulldogs averaged four or more yards per carry, Richard Samuel rushed for 104 yards on 16 attempts, and Georgia scored on an 80-yard touchdown run. When that happens at the same time your signal caller is airing it out for a career night, you’re sticking with the running game.
- The Bulldogs’ growing pains this year will pay big dividends next year. Ere anyone criticizes Brandon Boykin for a few miscues in the secondary, I have two words for you: Bruce Thornton. In his first year in the defensive backfield, he looked hopelessly lost and was picked on mercilessly by opposing quarterbacks. By the final year of his varsity career, Thornton was as good a defensive back as the Bulldogs had. Boykin shows great promise, on which he will deliver. Be patient.
- As hopeful as I am for the future, though, I am worried that we’re going to go through this whole thing all over again a year from now if no quarterback other than Cox gets to run the offense for at least a couple or three series per game. As matters presently stand, Cox’s successor is going to come into the job in 2010 with less live game experience than Cox had coming into 2009, which is nothing short of downright scary.
- There was a lot to like out of the Georgia offense last night. The ‘Dawgs answered the Hogs score for score, hung half a hundred on an opponent for the first time since last year’s LSU game, and did it without needing a special teams or defensive score to boost the stats. The Red and Black’s nine scoring drives covered 57, 26, 85, 75, 34, 65, 62, 73, and 17 yards, respectively. Other than the first-quarter drive following the Ryan Mallett fumble and the fourth-quarter game-clincher after the poor punt from the home team’s two yard line, the ‘Dawgs were moving the ball well over long distances.
- The defense gave up a pair of one-play drives in the first quarter. A 50-yard Cobi Hamilton kickoff return set up a 48-yard touchdown pass to Jarius Wright and Samuel’s fumble was followed by a 30-yard touchdown pass to Greg Childs. I realize that the special teams and the offense put the defense in bad situations in those instances, but the Bulldogs have to do better on potentially momentum-changing drives. No single aspect of this game makes me more fearful for the future than this indication that the Classic City Canines’ inability to adapt to sudden changes in circumstances is one of the ugly holdovers from last year’s meltdown.
- Georgia returned the ball well and kicked field goals well. The Bulldogs turned the ball over too often and drew too many penalties. This is a recording.
- I truly have no clue what to make of our defense. Georgia gave up 21 points before the break and 20 points after intermission; so much for Willie Martinez’s ability to duplicate Brian VanGorder’s trademark second-half shutdowns (and, oftentimes, shutouts). Last week’s excuses do not apply; Mallett isn’t half as elusive as Stephen Garcia, and the Bulldog D wasn’t overworked against the Razorbacks, who ran 63 plays to the Red and Black’s 62. Georgia held the ball for almost 32 minutes of clock time, so fatigue should never have been a factor. The Classic City Canines gave up next to nothing on the ground (77 yards on 24 carries) while surrendering 408 yards and five touchdowns through the air, without so much as a single pick. On third down, though, the ‘Dawgs permitted the Hogs to convert just over 20 per cent of the time (3 of 14). What gives?
- What makes the Georgia defensive numbers appear even weirder is the fact that Mallett was on fire, then, all of a sudden, he was ice-cold. The Arkansas quarterback completed eight of his first nine attempts in the second half, connecting on a pair of 40-yarders and one 30-yarder that was hauled in by Childs for a first down at the visitors’ eight yard line with fewer than five minutes remaining in the third period. At that point, a false start penalty cost the Razorbacks five yards, and, suddenly, Mallett couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Starting with the very next snap after the flag (one of eleven against the Hogs, who lost a football field’s worth of yardage to yellow laundry), Mallett went three for 14 the rest of the way. His last 14 attempts picked up a total of 36 yards, Mallett was sacked once, and he did not lead a touchdown drive. Maybe something changed that I was missing, but it didn’t look like the ‘Dawgs were getting a good deal more pressure on Mallett than they had before, yet his aim went from lethally accurate to absolutely off-target for no reason I was able to discern at first glance. Maybe Mallett was feeling the heat more than he had been before, but it didn’t seem like the ‘Dawgs were getting to him so much faster that he should have gone from looking like an NFL starter to looking like Jonathan Crompton so swiftly.
- In the course of Coach Martinez’s tenure as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, the Bulldogs have surrendered single-game point tallies of 31 and 38 in 2005; 51 in 2006; 35, 30, and 34 in 2007; 41, 38, 49, 38, and 45 in 2008; and 37 and 41 in 2009. Seven of the last twelve opponents the Red and Black have faced have scored at least 37 points on Georgia. That is all.
- The enduring value of Mark Richt’s consistent calm was on full display in Fayetteville. Down 21-10 after fifteen minutes of play, Georgia could have come unglued, yet the Bulldogs remained poised and continued to play their game without panic or desperation. There are a lot of problems which persist from last year, but there are a lot of positives that remain present, as well. What is worrisome is the reality that the ‘Dawgs had to come back and hang on to beat mid-tier league challengers in their first couple of conference outings. What will the Red and Black do when facing a ranked opponent whose SEC pedigree dates back before the early 1990s?
Those are my thoughts, and y’all have done an excellent job of sharing yours. (If I happen to have echoed sentiments I have not yet read, well, I guess great minds think alike.) Keep up the good work, and, as always, don’t forget to savor the win while spotting the flaws. Optimism may be overly extreme, but enjoyment and hope are entirely appropriate.