Good evening, Bulldog fans. So... that happened. And though I don't like to frequently say, "I told you so" when writing this feature... I did, in fact, warn about this exact possibility last week. In fact, if you're the kind of person that skips the intro and goes right to the "on notice" list... well, you're probably not reading this, anyway. But if you did, you'd notice a striking similarity to the list that I posted last week. That's not an accident. Going into last night's game, we thought we already pretty much knew what our weaknesses were on this team, even after just one game. Turns out we were right, at least against South Carolina.
It bothers me that the Georgia fan base seems to be rapidly becoming Alabama-ized. So many people start thumping their chest and proclaiming that UGA will be national champions after one win, then scream FIRE ERRBODY after one loss. The old adage still applies, folks. You're never as good as you think you are after a win, and you're never as bad as you think you are after a loss.
That's not to say you shouldn't be passionate about the Georgia Bulldogs, of course. I'm a passionate person by nature, and I get just as up and just as down as anyone else following good and bad plays in games. It's important, though, to try to maintain a little perspective on the wider picture, both after wins and losses.
In that vein, we need to remember that all of Georgia's preseason goals are still within reach. You know South Carolina isn't going to run the table. They have at least one team on their docket (Auburn) that runs the same kind of offense Texas A&M does, and runs it nearly equally as well as the Aggies. Not only that, but Carolina always has at least one inexplicable faceplant against a team they should easily beat. They already have 1 SEC loss, just like we do, so we just need them to trip up one more time, and our destiny is back in our own hands. Let's just back away from the edge of the cliff for a couple of weeks.
This week, we come up against a Troy football team that is currently 0-3, including losses to UAB and Division I-AA newcomer Abilene Christian (who played in Division II until last year). It's fair to say that we are not, by any stretch of the imagination, expecting this game to be close. With that in mind, I'm letting the following people, places, and things know that, for week 4, You're On Notice, Dawg!
In no particular order:
1) Steve Spurrier - Ugh. After that frustrating crap last night, this ain't even an honorary #1 today. You think he doesn't reserve a special place in his heart dedicated to hating Georgia? See how he's JIG JIG JIG'ing during this CBS postgame interview:
That there is the mannerism of someone who has just defeated his own personal #1 rival... again.
2) Hutson Mason - I have to be fair to Mason and admit that the primary problem I have with him is that he's not Aaron Murray. Well, nobody is Aaron Murray. It's pretty rare to get a QB that has the uncanny ability to find the right read in almost any situation and put the ball precisely where it needs to be virtually on demand. Murray's miracle 4th quarter touchdown drives over the past 4 years have spoiled us to the fact that such a thing isn't always a reasonable expectation to have of your quarterback.
Mason didn't have a horrible game, but he couldn't find his receivers (which were very briefly open on both of the passing plays) on Georgia's last drive late in the game. He also had trouble locating passes throughout the whole game (his passes were consistently underthrown to the point of being just barely out of the receivers' grip). In my opinion, Hutson's biggest problem on the night, though, was that he dropped the ball twice on the Center/QB exchange, which adds to his drop in the Clemson game. So far, he has 3 fumbles just because he couldn't hold onto the ball. That'll cost us more than just a wasted down, eventually, if he can't hang onto the ball better.
3) The Passing Game - Last week, I predicted that we would, at some point, be relying on the passing game to put us in a position to win in Columbia. I was sort-of correct, in that Mike Bobo's facepalm-inducing first down play on first and goal from the 4 yard line was a play-action pass. Unfortunately, we let Gerald Dixon come in unblocked, and instead of dumping the ball over to the wide-open Quayvon Hicks standing just beyond Dixon, Hutson Mason panicked and intentionally grounded the ball at the line. Since intentional grounding is still an illegal thing, we lost 10 yards on the play, leading to 2nd and goal from the 14, which is an entirely different (and far more difficult) proposition.
I don't really fault Mike Bobo for calling a play-action pass on first and goal from the 4, though. We were still lined up in the I-formation, after all, and 9 of the 11 Gamecock players on the field immediately ran in the direction of Todd Gurley on the toss fake. If Mason had the situational awareness to dump the ball over to Quayvon, that play just might have gone in for the TD. Hicks did have a blocker in front of him. (At the very least, it would still have been 2nd and goal from inside the 5.)
Mounting a 4th quarter comeback is never easy, especially in front of a hostile SEC crowd. And it almost always relies on the passing game to do something that helps your cause. We need to hope that Mason can learn from this game and use the experience to make him better in future close games, because we're likely to have at least a few more this year.
4) The Cornerbacks - We can gripe about FIRE BOBO and RUN THE DANG BALL all we want, but at the end of the day, we still gave up 38 points on defense. And unlike past years, not a single point was given up on special teams or on a pick-6 or near-pick-6. South Carolina never once started a drive on our side of the 50. In fact, only one Gamecock drive even started past Carolina's own 40. Our defense just got flat-out roasted like a Thanksgiving turkey. You can't give up 38 points and then lay the blame solely on the offense for not winning the game.
Just like in the Clemson game, our cornerbacks got blown away over and over again on man coverage whenever we tried to blitz. (And that "blitz" thing didn't work out, either, against what is touted as the best offensive line in the SEC.) Unfortunately, Steve Spurrier doesn't just give up on what works like the Clemson offense did, so they just kept right on burning us over and over again on those routes across the middle.
Any coach worth his salt should be looking at the Carolina game and the first half of the Clemson game as the blueprint for how to beat the Dawgs this season. As long as you can protect your quarterback, it's not even that complex a task. Carolina kept running the same routes over and over again across the middle, and every time it was open for a nice little 15-yard gain.
Damian Swann (or, as Uncle Verne and Gary always call him, "Darius Swain") did get that huge INT late in the fourth quarter to put us in a position to win, and I give him full credit for stepping up and making a big play in a crucial situation. The fact remains, though, that as a whole, our CB's just underperformed all night. They have to find a way to improve quickly, or every single team we play is going to continue to abuse them mercilessly.
I also want to give a hat tip to commenter Swarles_Barkley for summing our situation up far more succinctly in the 2nd half game thread:
5) The Defensive Backs - See above. It applies to the DB's, as well.
6) The Freshmen - Actually, most of our freshmen performed relatively well in their first SEC road game. (Well, the ones not stationed in the defensive backfield, anyway.) The reason they're still collectively on notice this week is because this is the first loss they've experienced in a Bulldogs uniform. Adversity can take a lot out of you, and when you lose a close game like we did in a hellhole like Williams-Brice Stadium, your confidence can take a beating, too.
I don't honestly expect our freshmen to be too rattled by Troy, but you just never know. This week is when we'll find out how well the young Dawgs can pick themselves up off the ground, dust themselves off, and get back to work. One of the keys in this process is having experienced junior and senior leaders that can help get the young guys back on track. I'd like to think that we have some good leadership on this team, but this week (and, really, next week) will tell us if I'm correct or not.
7) Unwarranted Pessimism - No, this doesn't suddenly mean I'm an optimist and everything is just fine and hunky-dory. Unwarranted pessimism is different from my usual brand of regular ol' Munsonian pessimism. We have things we should be worried about, and about which it would be foolish not to be worried. What's uncalled for is melting down and proclaiming that we're not even going to a bowl game because we lost by 3 points in Columbia to a decent South Carolina team. FIRE ERRBODY!
You're never as good as you think you are after a win, and you're never as bad as you think you are after a loss. If we let Troy hang around for longer than the first quarter on Saturday, some people will be calling in earnest for Mason to be benched, Bobo to be fired, and Vineyarddawg to stop being so damned optimistic in his "on notice" column. This is a long season, folks, and we do have a very good team. It just has weaknesses that can be exploited. The success (or lack thereof) that we have in our remaining games will be determined by how well we can work on patching those weaknesses and/or covering them up with help from other parts of our game.
8) Greg McGarity (or, alternately, whomever is in charge of the student ticketing and admission procedure at Sanford Stadium) - After the Clemson game, we had a significant number of students coming to Dawg Sports to let us know that the process of getting into Sanford Stadium was inordinately delayed and inconsistently executed before that game. It seems that in some locations, the lines moved relatively efficiently, while in other places (like the main gate next to the Tate Center), students had to wait in line for an hour or more even after they got into the stadium to get the bracelets they needed to enter the student sections.
To be honest, my dander doesn't get raised that much by students queuing up for 90 minutes+ before the gates even open to make sure they get a good spot. The "first come, first served" seating method is used by a number of schools, and getting there early to stand in line to ensure you get a good seat is just part of the deal. The administration needs to consider and improve the following items, though:
a) Once the students are through the initial gate, the process of distributing bracelets and steering the students into their appropriate sections needs to be done by more than just 2 or 3 people. You've got 10,000+ students waiting to get in all at one time, and you need to have the appropriate number of staff there to make sure the bracelet distribution is handled quickly and efficiently. There's no excuse for causing students to wait an extra hour after the gates open just to get a bracelet.
b) The administration needs to be mindful of the health and welfare of students as they're standing in these long lines waiting for entry. On a hot day like we saw for the Clemson game, somebody needs to be there making sure the students in line have water and appropriate medical attention if they need it. I'm not aware of any incidents that occurred before the Clemson game, but it's a nightmare just waiting to happen if a student were to fall out and have a major medical problem because something happened to them while they were waiting in line and nobody was there to help them. (Also, the AD should formally institute a policy of, "If somebody's in trouble and you help them, you're guaranteed not to lose your place in line." I would like to think most students would help another student regardless of those considerations, but it needs to be officially stated, because some people are idiots.)
c) This is separate from the first two points, but if you're going to go to a "first come, first served" model of game entry for students, why are you having a ticket lottery in the first place? If each student isn't assigned to just one ticket, I don't understand why there's a need to have tickets for students at all. You already scan student ID's as they come into the stadium, so just say that any student with a valid, current, ID can come to a game, and use the same "first come, first served" method you're using now. You could save yourself the grief and wailing and gnashing of teeth that we see from students complaining both about the lottery and about the "penalty points" thing. If you want to come to the game, show up (as many, many students have, and full credit to them for that). If you wake up Saturday morning in some random stranger's house in Lawrenceville, then spend the rest of the day wondering how you got there and how to get back home. It works for everybody.
Greg McGarity was quoted after the Clemson game saying he would "make changes" to the student ticketing situation, and he's generally done a good job making sure these types of things are handled well during his tenure, so I believe he'll make sure the situation is under control the next time we have a big game and everybody wants to make sure they have a seat. I hope that time is this Saturday, but it's Troy, and it's a noon kickoff. I'm realistic, and I know the student section won't be full for this game. I'd be ecstatic to be proven wrong, though.
That's all for this week. Let's pick our hearts up off the floor, show up in force on Saturday, and cheer on our Dawgs as they play their first ever game on the SEC Network!