I put off writing this, my customary look back at the preceding week's game, for longer than I usually do. And I think that was with good reason. I've learned from embarrassing past experience that when I blog in the immediate aftermath of a frustrating loss, I'm unlikely to contribute anything positive to the public discourse. Now, armed with the proper degree of distance from Saturday night's debacle, I have come to a few conclusions.
The most significant of those is this: we in Bulldog Nation can no longer afford to pretend that all is well. Nor, however, should we pretend that all is lost. I thought Spencer Hall summed things up pretty well for a Gator in his alphabetical recap of the weekend that was in college football:
There's nothing really right with LSU besides the defense, and yet they stand at 4-0, but the solace of having no idea what's right with a football team is balanced by the total confusion of having no idea what's wrong with another. Of course this refers to Georgia, a 1-3 team who, when viewed on film, appears to be a non-horrible team. Watch the Mississippi State tape and you'll see nothing overtly inept about them. When you think "major program ineptitude," you think full body convulsions of football idiocy like those in the 2007 Notre Dame team or any team ever coached by Steve Kragthorpe, not what you see with Georgia 2010. No one's snapping the ball through the endzone or throwing a post pattern to the back judge, and no one's biting on play fakes like disabled video game defenders. Watching this team implode on the field is like watching a leg break by microfracture: a holding penalty here, a missed assignment there, a moment of hesitation on a play-action pass allowing a receiver to get this much [holds fingers apart] of an opening over his defender.
They may be the most boring fiasco in college football right now, since they deny you even the thrill of disaster.
The emphasis is mine, but the idea is all Spencer. And he's right. This team is the disqualified NASCAR stock car of college football, consistently 1/32nd of an inch off. But that's all it takes to get you DQ'ed at either Talladega or in the SEC.
Examples of this macabre phenomenon abound. The Washaun Ealey fumble at the goalline occurred on an excellent playcall by Mike Bobo. He was doing precisely what we've all begged him to do: get the tailbacks out in space and stop plunging heedlessly into the line. It was also a solid effort by Ealey to attempt to get into the endzone. It was followed however by a solid hit that shook the ball loose. I suppose Ealey could have done a better job of holding onto the ball. Maybe. As someone who's involuntarily relinquished a football because everything suddenly went black and his skull felt like it was on fire, I can't really judge.
Carlton Thomas breaks loose through the kind of offtackle hole we've been longing for all season. He promptly trips over his own feet.
The defense forces 3rd and 4 or longer time and again, then gives up 4+ over and over again down the stretch.
Perhaps that's what's most frustrating about this team. The ability to do whatever it takes to lose on any given Saturday. South Carolina? Hey, let's make a freshman tailback look like the next coming of George Rogers! Arkansas? Let's give up some big plays to a certifiable big play offense! Mississippi State? Gonna require a total team effort, with meltdowns at the worst possible moments. Check! Checkity-check-check-check!
This game reminded me of no recent contest so much as last season's comparably depressing loss to Tennessee. On both occasions, I think we may have let the previous week's foe beat us twice. I knew after last season's heartbreaking last minute loss to LSU that we would have a hard time getting our focus back. I just didn't realize how unfocused we'd be. Last week, I wrote in this space about how it's sometimes harder to get over a tough loss like that than it is a blowout. I think the result in Starkville bore that out.
But make no mistake, that's not meant to sound like an excuse. Everybody loses some tough ones. It's the job of the coaches to get their team refocused on the road ahead. Ours all but admitted late Saturday night that they hadn't accomplished that. It's on Mark Richt. Period.
Speaking of which, some have noted that Coach Richt looked more harried than ever after this one. Who could blame him? You can clearly criticize Mark Richt for a lot of things. But anyone who saw him on Saturday night knows that you can't accuse him of not caring. The first step is realizes you have a problem. But that's the easy part. The hard part is fixing it all. Arresting the downward momentum before it takes the ship to the bottom.
One year ago I would have told you that Mark Richt will right the ship. Like Doug Gillett, however, I can no longer do that. The best I can say is that I think he can turn things around, but I no longer know in my heart of hearts that he will. I hope that we're not seeing the first cracks in recruiting momentum, because this program can ill afford another class that's just "good enough". But no one can doubt that we are perched on a precipice that Mark Richt will either step into or drag us back from. A college football program cannot linger long where we are now. We're either headed back up the mountain or over the edge. I just don't know which yet.
Kyle is absolutely right to assume that were the weakest squad in the conference until that sentiment is disproven. It's tempting to write off these last three losses by saying "those squads are better than they've been in the past." That's a polite way of saying that everybody else is improving and, at least for the moment, they've passed us.That's not necessarily a permanent state of affairs. But it's the current state of affairs. That doesn't mean we fire all the coaches and start yanking scholarships. It does mean we have to do what Mark Richt has already said he will do: look at every single thing we're doing and figure out what has to change. Again, it's the fixing that is hard to do. There's obviously a lot to fix. Some of it will require duct tape. Some of it dynamite. I'm glad Mark Richt is the one figuring out what requires which.
The UGA team that took the field in Starkville didn't play well enough to beat anybody in the SEC. Fortunately that one's behind us. Unfortunately, the road ahead doesn't look much beter than what's in the rearview mirror. If by some miracle this team catches lightning in a bottle and goes 6-2 from here, we're right back to the 7-5 record charted last season. If instead we merely split these next 8 games, which would be marked improvement, we'll witness the first losing season of the Mark Richt era.
Football teams have a way of metamorphosizing in the most unexpected ways as a season progresses. If I'd told you on November 4, 2006, while I was waxing mathematic on Andy Bailey's kicking ability, what I would be writing 9 days later, you never would have believed me. If, improbably, this team beats Auburn and Georgia Tech to close out the regular season then, unbelievably, makes it to a bowl game (hell, there are more bowls than IRS agents, right?) which it then wins, I'd say we have a springboard into next season. Unlikely? Sure. But stranger things have happened. I repeat, I am disappointed as all get out by what I've seen so far. But there are 8-9 more games to be played before I pick up my torch and pitchfork.
I was fully prepared for us to not be very good during the first half of this season. It was simply a matter of how many opponents would make us pay for it before we got things together. I thought the answer would be 1. It seemed realistic that it could be 2. And 3 didn't seem out of the question depending on how Derek Dooley's team performs against us. But we've fallen further than I thought we would, and now we have a hole to climb out of. Will it happen? Again, still don't have a crystal ball to consult. But I'd rather have a team that can't quite get it together than one that never had it to begin with. For my part I'm readjusting my short term expectations and looking for a climb back. If that doesn't happen by the end of the year, then we have to reassess where we are as a program. That hurts. But I'll still be at the Blind Pig Tavern on Saturday, and I hope you will be too. Until later . . .