In the past I've looked back on the 5 Things I said you'd see in the prior week's game. I figure that if I'm going to be totally wrong about what happened, I need to acknowledge it. But since there's so much more to talk about in any given week, this season Ill be going beyond the 5 Things and discussing in torturous detail all the things that are on my mind in the wake of each Bulldog football game.
Like my coathor on this blog, I am a bit of a pessimist as regards Georgia Bulldog football. To paraphrase Elliot Gould's character from Ocean's Thirteen, we've both been around long enough to have shook Ray Goff's hand. And there's a special paranoia amongst guys what shook Goff's hand.*
So don't expect me to go all flowery over the Bulldogs' 55-7 victory over the University of Louisiana. It was a victory. It wasn't a triumph. There's a difference between the two that is more than mere semantics. But I noticed a lot of things on Saturday and frankly most of those things were psoitive, despite my best efforts to see them otherwise.
In no particular order, these are the items which I find most noteworthy about the day that was:
The Hutson Mason to Logan Gray touchdown was the type of giddy irony that almost cannot be made up. While it should have been Logan Gray's second touchdown reception in a Bulldog uniform rather than his first (I didn't realize until I watched the DVR'ed game later exactly how egregious that drop in the endzone was), the TD was a great moment. Plus seeing Hutson Mason means that one of my "5 Things" came to pass. Proof that even a blind 'Dawg finds a bone every now and then.
Logan showed good effort getting in for that score, by the way.That, to me, was the story of the game. Effort. Branden Smith and Brandon Boykin struggling to pick up every yard on kick returns which set us up in excellent field position again and again. Carlton Thomas doggedly breaking tackles that should have brought down a 170 pound back. Sanders Commings and Mike Gilliard flying to the ball on special teams. Christian Robinson getting to the point of attack like his hair was on fire play after play. Effort has a way of revealing itself when you look for it. Our guys gave a good effort yesterday, which is not something we've always been able to say over the past couple of seasons. That's encouraging.
Perhaps the only exception to this praise came right before halftime when Kris Durham didn't quite fight hard enough to a pass from Aaron Murray which was picked off as a result. Bacarri Rambo then got caught trying to read the QB's eyes, bit on a double move and thereby gave up the 60 yard touchdown pass that comprised nearly half of UL's total yards of offense and all of their offensive points. I'm not half as down on Rambo as I'm sure he is on himself. And he made some great plays yesterday which made up for that one. Neither of us is anywhere near as down on Rambo as Todd Grantham was after the play. Television cameras caught the DC seething on the sideline and uttering some "encouragement" not safe for tender ears. It looks a lot like Todd Grantham does not believe in pity parties. I dig that.
And that was it for the letdowns. Which is a huge, huge difference versus past seasons. Longtime readers will remember my post-Cocktail Party post in 2008. It was about as down on a Georgia football team as I have ever been. And the reason was simple. The team dealt very poorly with adversity that day. They began to feel sorry for themselves and fell apart like a cardboard pontoon boat. Even though it was only the Ragin' Cajuns, I really like the fact that we charged right back down the field for a score.
About that score. Don't listen to Andre Ware, who wants Coach Richt to "let him play and be himself." Ware was clearly hit in the head too many times as a quarterback. That's because he was probably doing the same hazardous things that Aaron Murray spent his afternoon doing. What Murray did with 8 seconds left might have been OK with 8 minutes left in the half. As my father likes to say "the fact that you got away with doing something stupid doesn't mean that it wasn't stupid." Those are words to live by.
One thing you cannot teach quarterback is confidence. Murray clearly has it. He was having fun on Saturday, made plays and threw the ball very well. As I said last week, Aaron Murray throws the ball very well. On the "short fade" TD to Kris Durham and the longer fade thrown to Durham later, he demonstrated exactly how well he throws it. He exhibited touch, he avoided locking on receivers. He did a lot of good things. He also threw at least 3 balls that probably should have been picked off. He didn't throw it away when he should have. He executed a head first slide that would have gotten him decapitated against an SEC defense. Coaches Bobo and Richt will work with him on those things. Murray's progression will not be linear. There will be setbacks this season, moments when we are reminded that we are starting a freshman quarterback. But Aaron Murray confirmed yesterday that he has the tools to get the job done. At this point that's reallt all we have a right to ask for.
More Marlon Brown, please. He got open, and when he got open he caught the ball. What more can be asked? Though Aaron Murray did fail to notice him on one QB scramble on which Brown could only be described using the technical term "wide ass open". There was one drop in the 2nd quarter, but overall a performance that should give him some confidence going forward. Brown also did a nice job blocking, which is what you want from a 6'5, 210 pound receiver.
Speaking of big receivers, the story of the pregame was of course the absence of A.J. Green. President Adams says his situation has been "turned over to the lawyers" which, as a lawyer, does not encourage me in the least. When the NCAA gets on campus, gets people in a windowless room and starts asking questions, it's worrisome. Even when the questions are asked of good kids who deny having ever been to Miami. This may be nothing. It may be something. It's the not knowing (and not playing) that worries me. I predicted we'd see A.J. on the field yesterday. The fact that we didn't (and don't know when we will) gives me a queezy feeling.
But let's talk good news for a second. 5 penalties for the whole game? There were times last season when that was half a quarter. The fact that there was only 1 in the second half, even with all the reserves we played, is mind boggling. Over time we've all learned that a Mark Richt coached football team can be very hard to beat as long as it's not beating itself. I dare not even dream that we'll have only 5 penalties on the road in Columbia next week. But anything close to that and we should be in the ballgame.
In addition to minding the penalties, we must run the ball better in Columbia next week. I hope a fresh Washaun Ealey will help with that. Carlton Thomas, however, looks to have earned some carries yesterday by running tough, showing the elusiveness we all knew he had, and taking care of the football (a very encouraging sign given his struggles last season). I said Thomas would be on the loose, and I think 13 carries for a team leading 61 yards counts for that. Nice work, Carlton.
If the run game is to be better the offensive line will have to perform better. A group with that kind of experience should have been dominant against UL, and they simply weren't. Perhaps it was all those injuries during fall camp. Whatever the reason, there may not have been a single running play on which all five linemen executed their assignments. That worries me silly, because we will not win against South Carolina unless we have the edge in the running game. Book it.
Christian Robinson played a great game. It was even better watching it a second time. He clearly reads and reacts as well as anybody we have on the defense, and may be the frontrunner to lead the team in tackles this season. Vance Cuff had a couple of nice pass breakups. He did have the poor tackle on the opening kickoff when he kept trying for the strip as he was carried down the field. Sanders Commings is the biggest cornerback I've ever seen not named Mel Blount. I was a bit dubious about his ability to cover at 6'2, 210 pounds, but he acquitted himself well, also.
If we can kick it deep and cover it, we should win the special teams battle all season. Branden Smith didn't fumble any punts. After last season's debacle against Kentucky, this almost reduced me to tears. He's a lean, mean field position creating machine. Blair Walsh continues to be as close to automatic as possible inside of 50 yards.
I predicted a final score of 41-20, and missed it by better than a dozen points on both sides. Whoops. Good thing the Bulldogs didn't look as rusty playing the first game as I looked predicting it. The lopsided margin however enabled the coaches to keep it vanilla, just as I had predicted and hoped. I really only saw a couple of blitzes that could be considered novel, including a nice one in the first quarter which brought a linebacker (believe it was Akeem Dent) across the field pre-snap to come off the opposite edge. I also like that we got Branden Smith the ball on offense enough to force Spurrier and crew to have to figure out how to defend him. Finally, Aaron Murray showed that he's enough of a threat to tuck it and run that Carolina will have to defend that too. Otherwise the offense did absolutely nothing that wasn't done in 2009. Excellent.
All in all, it was a solid victory against a cupcake opponent. Nothing less, nothing more. South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State did the same thing (though MSU's evisceration of Memphis was actually pretty impressive, in case you missed it). Bottom line, we'll know a lot more about what kind of football team we have in 6 days than we do now. But Saturday was everything we really could have expected: no injuries, lots of reserves getting experience, and a shot of confidence for our defense and freshman QB. I'm not complaining, I'm just tempering my enthusiasm. At least for now. Until later . . .
*I don't know about Kyle, but I have actually exchanged greetings and handshakes with Coach Goff. He remains one of my favorite Bulldog quarterbacks, and least favorite Bulldog coaches. A walking, talking paradox smelling of chicken fingers, Texas toast and Zax sauce.