Yesterday, the Georgia Bulldogs came out and scored more points than they've ever scored against any opponent in the Mark Richt era. They also beat a team by a wider margin than any UGA football team has since Wally Butts was roaming the sidelines. So why am I not happier today?
The answer to that question, as many of you probably already know, is that the mega-blowout we saw yesterday taught us basically nothing about our team. Troy is a terrible squad. They had previously gotten dump-trucked by UAB. They also lost at home to Abilene Christian; a team who had been playing in Division II (not Division I-AA... Division II) until last year. We knew we were going to demolish Troy. And on top of that, Troy's exceptional ineptness at finishing their offensive drives assisted us in achieving a final score that was not accurately representative of the game our defense played against what might be the worst FBS team in the country.
I mean, I stayed until the clock read 0:00 in the 4th quarter, and I felt the satisfaction that any normal fan would feel at seeing the final score, but most importantly at seeing that the game was, in fact, over by the end of the 1st quarter. As we're staring down the barrels of a loaded Tennessee squad that's coming into Sanford Stadium on Saturday, however, I don't feel any better about our potential performance than I did after the South Carolina game. Last Saturday's game proved that we could thrash a markedly-inferior opponent, but this Saturday will be our first real step down the SEC gauntlet that awaits.
So, I'm letting the following people, places, and things know that, for Week 5, You're On Notice, Dawg!
In no particular order:
1) Steve Spurrier - Why Steve Spurrier? Because he hates us, we hate him, and because I have it from a very authoritative source inside the South Carolina administration that the reason his team looked so unimpressive against Vandy was because Coach Spurrier was on a golf-and-whiskey bender until Wednesday last week after beating us, so his team just wasn't as prepared as they should have been.
2) Hutson Mason - Unfortunately, our starting quarterback is quickly becoming a fixture at this #2 spot. He did have a passing touchdown in the first quarter and another during garbage time in the third quarter, which is a mark in his favor. We once again didn't really need to call on him to do anything significant in this game, though. We only had 180 passing yards all day, though we did rack up a Mark-Richt-era high 367 rushing yards.
I'm not particularly disappointed that every single running back on our roster destroyed the Troy Trojans, mind you. It's just that I still return to the position that we cannot simply run the ball 80% of the time against a quality SEC opponent like Tennessee. At some point this season, we will need Hutson Mason to stand up tall and make a play to win the game for us. (You could argue that, rightly or wrongly, we faced that situation at South Carolina, and Mason was found wanting.) We've got, from top to bottom, the best stable of running backs in the country, but Mark Richt's/Mike Bobo's offense always has been, and always will be, built around a balance between the run and the pass. If a defense finds a way to completely shut down the running game, we need our QB to be able to pop a crisp pass over their heads to one of our talented receivers and make the defense pay. I'm just not convinced yet that Mason can do that. Hopefully, if he's called upon to make that kind of play this week, Mason can learn from his past experiences and grow into that role.
3) The Referees - I'm not going to complain about the one major call that went against us on Saturday, since that targeting penalty was a valid one (even if it probably wasn't intentional by J.J. Green). The referees are on notice because over and over again in this young season, I've noticed SEC referees making questionable call after questionable call. The mind-numbingly horrible (and inconsistent) holding penalties we saw in the UGA/Carolina game is one example, and another is the poor intentional grounding penalty we saw in that game. Several games already this year have been adversely affected by head-scratching calls by SEC officials, including the Florida-Kentucky game and the Mississippi State-LSU game. And I counted 2 targeting penalties on a single drive in the Alabama-Florida game that weren't called against the Gator defenders.
Every year, I find myself surprised by the fact that that the conference with the best players in the country consistently has some of the most inconsistent referee work. I don't know if it's the fact that SEC games tend to be such closely and intensely-contested affairs that the refs have a hard time calling close plays or what... but these guys need to get their stuff together. It's more than just unfortunate when the best player in the country has a 54-yard touchdown called back on a phantom holding penalty. It causes meaningful momentum shifts in games, which can lead to swings in the game result itself. The refs need to raise their level of competence, or we need to get new refereeing crews.
4) Damian Swann - Unfortunately, Swann missed the entire Troy game due to a "contact headache" he suffered after landing awkwardly during practice last week. Coach Richt said that the team doctor didn't think he had a concussion, and that holding Swann out was a precautionary measure taken because they "didn't want to take any chances," and I applaud that concern for our players' health above all other matters. The fact remains, however, that Swann is probably our best player in the defensive backfield, and before this past game, he'd started 29 straight games for us at cornerback. We'll be missing him even more if he's not there this Saturday against the Vols. Get well soon, Damian. We definitely need you.
5) J.J. Green - J.J. had what, I'm quite confident, is the shortest football game in UGA history yesterday, with a well-deserved targeting penalty causing him to be ejected on literally the third play from scrimmage. The only bright spot is that because he sat out essentially the entire game, he won't miss any time against UT. Green has to be more controlled and more disciplined, however, in his play next time. He might not have intended to hit the Troy receiver helmet-to-helmet, but he came in with his head down, just looking to lay a hard blow, and that was result. It's bad form, and it can result in dangerous tackles, as it did on that play.
The delicate balance is in how you find a way to play "all out" while still remaining in control and not laying down dangerous hits like the one he put on the Troy receiver. I hope this ejection won't cause the converted running back to be more hesitant out there, because we just don't have enough depth in the defensive backfield without him.
6) The rest of the defensive backfield - Look, I know we got a shutout yesterday, but that wasn't really our doing. We were going to crush Troy no matter how you look at it, but the Trojans missed an easy TD pass on their first drive, and then missed a chip-shot field goal on that same drive. Later in the game, their QB also missed a wide-open receiver that would have been streaking down the field untouched for another TD. And repeatedly in the first half, we continued to see the Charmin-soft defense in the middle of the field that we saw in both of our first two games.
This game did nothing to disprove the blueprint that we've shown to every team in SEC as to how our defense can be beaten. Pass routes over the middle and wheel routes are what set us up, then when we blitz, send your fastest WR on a vert down the field and toss it to him. That's it. That's the blueprint.
7) Pass Rushing - The biggest Achilles' heel in our defense, and the reason the blueprint to defeating us works so well, is that our pass rushing just doesn't work against a good offensive line. Against Troy, we were able to crush them because we got to the QB over and over again. Technically, we "only" got 2 sacks, but when we blitzed, we were constantly in the backfield, and it was enough to rattle their quarterback, who was starting his first game for the Trojans. That's the catch, though. When we blitz, it has to work, because our man-to-man defense is just not that good. When we come up against good SEC O-lines, our blitzing still has to remain effective, because the entire outcome of the play depends on it. Give a QB even a second too much time, and we'll likely be sitting there looking at the tail end of a receiver as he crosses the goal line with the ball.
8) Fans with tickets - Note that this applies to all fans with tickets, not just students, whom I have previously been wont to call out in this feature. The students proved against Clemson that they can show up en masse and get loud when the situation warrants. What I'm worried about this week, with a noon kickoff against a legitimate SEC opponent, is that all of the fans will be late in arriving, and won't be particularly fired up when they get here. Look, y'all: Tennessee ain't a doormat this year. They gave Oklahoma all they wanted for 3 quarters in Norman, and they treated Chuckie Keeton like a revenuer out looking for moonshine stills when they dominated what was supposed to be a close game against Utah State.
No, this game will not be a walkover. It will be a dog fight, just as virtually every game against Tennessee has been, even in years when we were supposed to be "good" and the Vols were supposed to be "bad." I know it's a noon kickoff, and everybody might still be bleary-eyed, but we need every fan this week. You need to be in your seat by kickoff, and we need every fan to be engaged and supporting the Dawgs. We've gotta make life miserable for the boys in orange when they have the ball, and we've got to have just as much energy as we would if it were a 7:00 kickoff. The stadium needs to be just as raucous as it was during the Clemson game. That's the key to success from a crowd standpoint.
That's it for this week, Dawg fans. I apologize in advance for not being more optimistic, but just like Tennessee fans, I have my own classic piece of bluegrass music with which I am often associated:
I'll be in Sanford Stadium this Saturday at noon cheering my fool head off for the Dawgs as they take the field against the Tennessee Volunteers, and I hope you will be, too! Until then...