Well, I was expecting many things when I boarded my flight from Atlanta to Little Rock on Friday morning. I can't honestly say that I was expecting anything resembling that, though. After the first drive of the game (in which I could have sworn the opposing team were wearing helmets with a big italicized "W" on them), the Georgia Bulldogs absolutely manhandled the Arkansas Razorbacks for one half of football, then cruised the rest of the way to a 45-32 victory.
I was, perhaps, not quite as dumbfounded as Desmond Howard, who proclaimed on national TV earlier in the day that, "You can't hitch your wagon to Nick Chubb." Well, Desmond, it takes quite a bit of effort to find something that profoundly dumb to say, but way to go, champ... you managed it. I believe the only thing on your menu right now in the state of Georgia is "crow." Enjoy it, buddy.
Y'all know what our next game is. Y'all know who that game is against. And y 'all know my feelings about that team against whom we'll be lining up in 2 weeks. (Or, if you don't... you soon will.) I'm saving up all my angsty bile for next week, though. We've got a bye week this week, and we just pulled off a huge victory in a game that most of the pundits were picking us to lose. Imma celebrate this one for a few days.
So, I'm letting the following people, places, and things know that, for week 9, You're (Not) On Notice, Dawg!
In no particular order:
1) Nick Chubb - Is there a superlative I can assign to Nick Chubb that he hasn't earned with his heroic play in the last two games? He's a beast, and in 2014 he's not even our #1 beast. We've got him for two more years, though... and even while you're dreaming about what "might be" this year if we get Todd Gurley and Sony Michel back for the stretch run, think also about how awesome those next two years are going to be.
2) Hutson Mason - HE PASSED THE BALL, PEOPLE. HE PASSED IT GOOD. Georgia's first play from scrimmage on Saturday was a 48 yard completion from our quarterback to Chris Conley. Then, on the next play, we immediately tossed it again to Michael Bennett for another 18 yards. After that play, everybody around me was wondering what the name was of that quarterback wearing #14 for the Dawgs, and what he had done with Hutson Mason.
This was easily Mason's best game behind center all season, and it couldn't have come at a more fortuitous time. If one were perusing the stats after the game was over, Mason's 178 yards passing won't look that glamorous, but they were huge in taking pressure off the run game. Mason chucked a touchdown to Bennett on an "obvious running" situation after the turnover at the 9-yard line, and he made several other key passes that forced the defense to stay honest in the defensive backfield. That opened things up significantly for Nick Chubb.
Mason really did fantastic work Saturday... and all without any mistakes. Zero fumbles, and zero INT's. Can't beat that in this offense.
3) Chris Conley - Conley had a great day, as well. He was Mason's favorite target on the day, and he ended up with 128 yards through the air. With that haul, he became the first Georgia receiver in 2014 to amass more than 100 yards receiving in a game. A mighty passing juggernaut, we are not. But we don't need to be. We've got weapons like Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell, and Michael Bennett, and more and more this year we are getting to where we can gash you when we need to. Then, we crush your soul with a devastating running attack.
It really disturbs me how excited I'm getting about this team now. They're showing real heart. they're showing true fight. And they're showing everybody, not just the Bulldog Nation, that they have what it takes to win big games.
4) Leonard Floyd and his band of Merry Dawgs - Oh, man, our defense was awesome yesterday. Once Arkansas got desperate in the second half, they let in probably a few too many points, but as long as we didn't give up a quick-strike TD or two, we knew at halftime that the Razorbacks didn't have the firepower to come back from the huge hole in which we'd put them. Jordan Jenkins, Ray Drew, Dominick Sanders, and the whole dang defense played lights-out in the first half, and stood up tall as many times as we needed them to in the second half, as well.
I honestly think the whole team came out in the second half and played kind of like we figured they'd play the whole game. They were pretty much on "cruise control," it seemed, which isn't exactly great, but hey, it worked out just fine, and that's all that matters for now. We had a massive halftime lead, and we did what we needed to do to shut the door on the Hogs. The defense had a huge hand in that effort, including scoring 7 points and practically gifting us another 7 with the turnover on the Arkansas 9 yard line.
Well done, defensive Dawgs. Well done, indeed.
5) Fans at the Dawg Walk - Overall, the Georgia fans in Little Rock were awesome, starting from the Dawg Walk and going all the way through to the end of the game. For some reason the Razorbacks showed up a good 25 minutes early for their "Hog Walk," so their fan base was kind of thin as they walked into the stadium. In fact, the Razorback band wasn't even there yet. Right as the team started walking down the street, the UA staff tried to shuffle in a heads-up group of band members that were still in their t-shirts and gym shorts, but it couldn't have been more than 20 people. And there were a decent number of Hog fans there, but the noise level was decidedly poor. I've heard louder Dawg Walk crowds for a game against the likes of Charleston Southern than the noise the Arkansas fans put up that day.
On the flip side of the coin, though (and on the other side of the stadium), the Dawg Walk in Little Rock was loud and awesome. The Dawgs came in at the time that had been announced (about 1:00 Central, which was the same time Arkansas was supposed to arrive), and a very sizable Bulldog fan contingent greeted them with raucous applause. I'd say we only had about half the number of fans that Arky did at their walk-in, but we easily had twice the amount of noise and encouragement for our men. You could tell in their eyes that they appreciated it, too. It was a great welcoming party.
I also have to give a solid "two thumbs up" to the Georgia fans for recognizing the moment near the end of the Dawg Walk when Greg McGarity and Claude Felton were walking in pretty much by themselves. When the fans recognized McGarity and Felton, a large number of them (including myself) held up three fingers and shouted loudly, "FREE GURLEY!" over and over again. To McGarity's credit, he didn't seem upset by the furore, but kind of lightly chuckled (perhaps laughed nervously?) and slightly nodded towards the fans, acknowledging our cry, while he kept on moving into the stadium.
During the game, I saw no obvious examples of taunting or "bad fan" attitude of the kind that several fan bases have accused us of having in the past. Yes, they got a little rowdy near the end of the game with a couple of loud "What's that coming down the track?" cheers late in the 4th quarter, but that's just harmless fun. There were quite a number of Arkansas fans in our general seating area, and they were not harassed in any way by the Georgia fans around me. I actually had several positive interactions with Razorback fans as we left the stadium, as they congratulated us and we wished them well in the rest of their season.
In fact, the whole weekend, every Razorback fan I met was very cordial, welcoming, and generally acquitted themselves very well in the hospitality department. It was a great fan experience all around, I'd say.
6) War Memorial Stadium - And speaking of a great fan experience, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to watch a game in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium. The experience is probably not for everybody, since it lacked virtually every "modern" amenity that we as fans have come to insist upon, such as TV monitors and stadium speakers in the concourse area, concession stands with something other than a hot dog, pretzel, and a coke, good cell service, seat backs for your bleacher-style seats, and any vendors that accept credit cards of any kind. It has character, though, and I love that. The stadium was built in 1947, and like many stadia of that time, the rows are extremely narrow by modern standards. You barely had room between the rows to sit down, and if anybody near the middle wanted to get out to the aisle, not only did everybody have to stand up, but the person had to make their way down to the aisle not by walking in the row in front of the standing-up fans, but they had to stand on the seats upon which the fans had previously been sitting and walk down the seats to get to the aisle. It was definitely close-quarters seating.
The fact that the rows are so close together is the primary reason that such a small stadium can seat about 54,000 people. The entire thing is not quite as big as the lower bowl at Sanford Stadium, to give you a perspective on its size. And the slope of the stands is quite steep. In fact, the ramp leading up to the seats from the concourse area is easily the steepest I've ever seen in a stadium. You have to be careful not to walk too fast on it or lose your footing, because a fall could be precarious there.
Still, though, I don't understand why so many Arkansas fans (and the stray LSU fan or two I talked to about the stadium) hate WMS so much. It's a harkening back to a time when college football was more intimate and more fan-centric, and which is quickly fading in the modern world. (In fact, some might say it has already completely faded away, with this one exception.) After the current contract runs out, I have no doubt that Arkansas will decline to play any more games in Little Rock at War Memorial Stadium, and for my part, I think that's a damn shame. (In fairness, Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville really is an impressive stadium, and is a great place to watch a football game. But it will never have the character that War Memorial Stadium has.)
8) Will Muschamp - TELEGRAM FOR SECRET AGENT DOUBLE-OH BOOM. STOP. YOU HAVE IMPLEMENTED THE DESIRED SCORCHED-EARTH POLICY WITH EXTREME SUCCESS. STOP. MISSION NEARING COMPLETION. STOP. ONE TARGET REMAINING. STOP. DON'T STOP. STOP.
That's it for this week, y'all! As I said, I'm going to let this one soak in for a while before I really get my hate-meter revving up for that team down south. Rest assured, though... once next Sunday rolls around, I'll have you covered for HATE WEEK. Until then...