Welcome to the Friday Tailgate, Free Form Friday's slightly more task-oriented cousin. It's the place for you to hang out prior to kickoff exchanging stories, predictions, and occasional smack talk while waiting for the weekend's football action to begin. Enjoy.
One change for this year's Friday tailgate will be that we're making it, well, more like an actual tailgate. I don't know about you, but around our tailgate the music playing is a part of the whole experience. As a result each Friday Tailgate will get its own playlist composed of songs which either I choose or which you suggest. Maestro:
My wife actually asked me the other night if I wanted a pair of the Nike Pro Combat gloves the Bulldog skill position players will be wearing tomorrow night. I said no without even really considering it (I wasn't a big glove guy even when I was actually playing football) but I'm now starting to reconsider it. I have a lot of yardwork to do, and they would be a considerable upgrade over my $8 Lowe's work gloves. Plus I could throw them up in the air every time my neighbor the Tennessee fan walks outside. There's a palpable awesomeness quotient there.
Speaking of awesomeness, my piecemeal barbeque tour of Georgia continued recently with a trip to Riverfront Barbeque on Broad Avenue in Albany. I have to be honest, walking in the front door I was apprehensive. The decor was a little bit chain restaurant with corrugated tin all over the place and exposed brick. In other words, the shabby chic look that a hundred different "casual dining" franchises have spent millions to effect. It looked like the kind of place where some guy in crazy suspenders was gonna try to sell me on some sliders and cheddar poppers, and that made me uneasy. But I wasn't going to turn back.
Fortunately, I was totally wrong about Riverfront Barbeque. I ordered the pork lunch special: smoked pork served with thick-sliced buttered toast and two sides. As I often do, I opted for baked beans and slaw as my sides. The pork itself was exceptional. Truly, some of the best I've had. It didn't come out slathered in sauce, which is of course the last resort of the barbeque restaurant trying to hide dry, reheated que. There were also identifiable chunks of chewy, spicey delicious "bark" in with the pork, which was pulled, as God intended. It was flavorful and moist enough not to require sauce, though I added some just so I could say I really tested the place out.
Regarding the sauce: Riverfront does something which has become more common in the barbeque world, somewhat to my dismay. They stock 4 different sauces on each table. There's a vinegar sauce, a mustard sauce, a spicey mustard, and a sweet sauce. I understand that barbeque sauce is a matter of personal preference, and that 4 people dining together might have very different tastes. But I just prefer for a place to have one sauce and do it very well. More and more in the world of modern American barbeque that seems unrealistic. I can say that I gravitated toward the spicey mustard sauce, just because that's kind of my thing. I'm fairly certain the other mustard sauce was yellow mustard, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, brown sugar and maybe a little onion powder. Which was fine, it just didn't have much of a kick. The vinegar sauce was very well executed, thin and peppery with a good bite. I found myself sopping it up with the buttered toast. The sweet sauce was just not my cup of tea. I'm fairly certain it was ketchup with a little vinegar and brown sugar added to sweeten and darken it. Think KC Masterpiece, only much, much thinner and with no liquid smoke added.
The sides were each solid efforts. The beans were oniony and had a touch of brown sugar (maybe even liquid molasses). As a result they didn't taste like they'd been poured straight from a can, which is what I'm generally looking for. The cole slaw had a great "tang" to it, almost as if it had a little buttermilk added. I'd highly recommend it. I also noticed that they serve macaroni & cheese as a side, which is not something you see in every Q joint.
Other than the fact that I felt like I was in a Loco's Deli & Pub where the moose had been slow smoked over oak coals, I had only one other complaint: the price. My lunch of pork, 2 sides and bread was $8.92, and with sweet tea would have been over $10. The food was good and plentiful, and I don't want to give the impression that I felt I was being ripped off. That was definitely not the case. I just could have gotten the same meal at Chicken Comer's in Columbus, Old Clinton BBQ in Gray, or any number of other great barbeque spots for less.
Barbeque is one of the great social levelers of the American South. To that end I was pleased to see a good mix of folks of all races and ages, wearing business suits and overalls. The thing about good barbeque is that people will find it if you make it. Riverfront Barbeque makes it. I enjoyed it.
Finally, let's take a look at the 5 Things I think you'll see when the Georgia Bulldogs take the field against the Boise State Broncos tomorrow night. Feel free to disagree or include your own 5 in the comments:
Aaron Murray. Okay, you already knew you were going to see Aaron Murray. He's starting at quarterback after all. But what I mean is that you will see exactly how good Aaron Murray is. More than one list of the top quarterbacks in the SEC this offseason put the Bulldog sophomore at the top of the heap. But one gets the impression that was largely a concession to the fact that every other singalcaller in the league is either an unknown quantity (Barrett Trotter, A.J. McCarron) or a verifiable hot mess (Jordan Jefferson, Stephen Garcia) or has a really unfortunate tattoo deserving of repeated and very open mockery (Tyler Bray, Tyler Bray, Tyler Bray).
Now is the time for Aaron Murray to establish on a national stage that he's as good as Georgia fans know he can be. We saw flashes of it last season, but it's amazing what kind of strides quarterbacks have made in their second seasons starting under Mark Richt and Mike Bobo (see David Greene, 2002 and Matthew Stafford, 2007). Part of that metamorphosis for Greene and Stafford was having the ability and permission to control the plays. Both guys mastered the Bulldog playbook and as a result checked into plays better than the one called in the huddle often. If Aaron Murray can do that, the offense could be high octane. If we are to beat Boise State putting points on the board may not in and of itself be sufficient, but it will be necessary.
Jarvis Jones. We don't have a lot to go on in figuring out how good Jarvis Jones will be for the Georgia Bulldogs. We do know he was good enough to see significant playing time in 2009 at Southern Cal in a linebacking corps that many believe was one of the best in college football over the past decade. And he's now had almost 2 additional years to mature. My suspicion is that he will be a force to be reckoned with.
A Special Teams Turning Point. If there's one area of this game in which Georgia should have a decided advantage it's the kicking game. Blair Walsh is as good a kicker as there is in college football. I wouldn't trade Drew Butler for any punter in the nation. Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith are both incredibly explosive returners. I suspect that the Bulldogs will need all of them to contribute if we're to win this one. Boise State's offense is terribly efficient. But even the most efficient offenses will have trouble putting points on the board if forced to cover 80 or more yards every time they get the ball. Conversely, it sure would be nice to give Aaron Murray and crew some short fields to work with. Close games between well-coached teams often turn on special teams, especially early in the season. This one won't be any different.
YPRA. That would be yards per rushing attempt. And it's the most important statistic for the Bulldog offense this weekend. If Georgia can average 4.5 or more per rush out of the gate they'll force Boise to bring more guys into the box, modifying the nickel defense that's their base package. The Boise secondary has some inexperience, and getting them to play run first could really open up the play action passing game. And when Mike Bobo has the ability to work the play action passing game, he can put up as many points as any offensive coordinator in the nation.
Boise State 31, UGA 27. Darius Dawgberry has been trying all week to get me to predict a Bulldog victory in this space. Seriously, you have to give the man points for persistence because he's tried every angle. The defensive personnel is in place. Aaron Murray's more experienced. While the offensive line lacks depth, the first five are pretty good. Tavarres King and Marlon Brown are poised for a breakout. Kwame Geathers is actually a cleverly disguised Centaur who eats the souls of the weak when he needs a little pick-me-up.
But squeezing optimism out of me at this point is like sowing cotton seed in the parking lot at Wal-Mart and expecting mangos to spring from the asphalt. It's just not happening for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that, like the spectacle of tropical fruit growing at WallyWorld, I'll believe it when I see it on the field. Like Ernest & Julio Gallo, I shall predict no victory before its time. I can't shake the feeling that one team will get to 30, and the team that does it will win. It might be Georgia, but I dare not even speak it. Let's just hope I'm wrong. Until later . . .