It's almost cliched to say that championship teams often look back over their seasons and can point to a game or two where they just sort of got lucky or were just good enough to survive and advance. We're going to hope that this afternoon was that moment for the 2014 SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs. Penalties, turnovers and "cute" play calling will get you in trouble every time. Sometimes you escape, sometimes you don't. This time we did. A few quick thoughts:
- To paraphrase Michael Douglas's character in the movie The American President, we can no longer afford to pretend that we live in a society where Aaron Murray is our quarterback. As a college quarterback if you're going to be a "game manager" you danged well better to a good job of managing the game. Mason's 16/25 for 147 yard passing effort (5.9 yards per attempt) was not awful until you tack on 2 interceptions and a fumble, all of which really could have been a lot more disastrous.
- I hear you saying "put Brice Ramsey in!" The truth is Ramsey hasn't had enough snaps to be reliable in SEC competition. He's not going to be an improvement on Mason at this point. Instead our best bet is to figure out how to throw the ball effectively with what we have. Maybe getting Mitchell, Scott-Wesley, and Rumph back will improve the passing game. I think the results may be incrementally better, but they're not going to turn Mason into Peyton Manning. We're just going to have to muddle through this year, muddle through next year with another fresh starter, and then finally have a veteran QB in 2016. That's harsh, but it's the reality of there situation.
- We can also no longer afford to believe that Todd Gurley isn't a legitimate Heisman candidate. His 208 yards rushing set a career high. His 51 yard touchdown run late in the fourth should have put the game away (more on that below). The question for me going forward is whether we can keep him healthy for the stretch run. Because like a bar of soap, you can really only lather up a tailback so many times before he eventually just sort of falls apart.
- We can no longer pretend to believe that anyone in the SEC offices has any concept of what the expression "let 'em play" means. The dead ball foul for spiking the ball after Gurley's late TD was the type of over-officious crap that shouldn't affect the outcome of a football game, and which no Tennessee fan would have cried foul over had the flag not been pulled. SEC officials sometimes just can't stand the thought of not throwing a flag when technically they could, and I have come to believe this may be a philosophical issue with the league office. In penal matters, sometimes "can" and "should" are not synonymous.
- We can likewise no longer afford to pretend that Jeremy Pruitt's task in rebuilding the Georgia Bulldog defense is a sprint, not a marathon. The pass rush is there (Jordan Jenkins in particular is a different player after dropping weight in the offseason) but not consistently enough to protect the back end on every play. When it's not on point, you end up with linebackers like Amarlo Herrera traipsing down the field after wide receivers on the post. This is, shall we say, not optimal.
- The secondary continues to be a work in progress. Damian Swann in particular is beginning to remind me uncomfortably of Bryan Evans, a veteran corner who should be shutting people down by now, but is instead being actively targeted by opposing coordinators. When a team like Tennessee has to throw the ball, and they know it, and you know it, yet still you can't stop it, that's a problem.
- I saw enough during the Vanderbilt/South Carolina game to know that Vandy is not really going to test the Bulldog secondary, and they're probably not really going to stop the Bulldog running game either.