Dawg Sports was fortunate enough to have a few brief minutes with Laura Rutledge. Mrs. Rutledge has been a fixture on the SEC Network for several year, and has joined several ESPN properties as a sideline reporter, as well as duty on the ESPN morning show “Get Up!” alongside Mike Greenberg. She has been in the guest chair on many an afternoon of the Paul Finebaum Show, gathering quite the following from that... audience.
Thanks to a sponsorship by Pilot Flying J, she was able to make herself available to answer some questions about the University of Georgia and the upcoming SEC Championship Game. GlimmerTwinDawg (GTD) was the sacrifical lamb and conducted the interview with the suprisingly resilient Laura Rutledge (LR). The transcription is as follows:
GTD: Should we get this out of the way first? The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Being a Gator, did you enjoy the game this year?
LR: It didn’t go very well for my Gators. But what I would say about the game is that I had a different rooting interest this year because I had made this bet with Maria Taylor (DGD) about whoever won. Basically if if Georgia won I would have to put on a Georgia jersey and do Georgia cheers, and if Florida won Maria would have to put on a Florida jersey and do a cheer.
And I’m thinking I really didn’t want to have to go do this because this is going to be kind of embarrassing as someone who went to Florida, right? And look, in the years that I have covered the SEC... I love Athens, I love Georgia… the school there is incredible. I would say then that my fandom for Florida and then subsequent hatred for Georgia has probably tempered itself a little bit. Which is probably a good thing. But then of course Georgia puts a complete smackdown on Florida. It was a little close in the first half so I was kinda feeling good about myself. So that’s how the WLOCP went for me this year. Because I ended up at home, putting that jersey on and having my Dad take a video of me doing the Georgia cheer for Maria. And the other kicker to all this is that my Dad went to Georgia Tech so I think he had still not recovered from that particular incident and I really have never seen him more ashamed of me in my life.
GTD: I saw the video and appreciate the good sportsmanship; you could’ve put maybe a little more into your “Woofs” but it was still very well done.
LR: My “woofs” were lame, I will admit that.
GTD: You’ve been spending some time in NY hosting “Get Up” with Mike Greenberg on ESPN, in addition to splitting time with SEC Nation. So in all your travels, and considering the current playoff rankings, give us the read on Alabama and SEC fatigue? How strong is it in truth?
LR: Yeah, I do think its out there. And you’re right… spending time in NY and spending time with people who are a little more in the Northeast, and then doing some Big 12 games on Thursday nights and some American Conference games and getting exposed to the PAC 12 as well (because I do Thursday night College Football on ESPN); there’s a lot of SEC fatigue and even just this total feeling of SEC bias everywhere, not just with ESPN. Its funny because I’m like hey, if you look at the facts the SEC does happen to be better. And being involved with a team outside the SEC. Like Notre Dame, not even in a conference, and already secured a playoff spot. This is one of those things that happens in other sports too. Maybe there’s (Golden State) Warriors bias in the NBA, or they think that there’s fatigue along those lines. So there is something to that and I sense that, to your point, I sense it so much more when I’m outside the conference during the week then I get back inside the SEC on the weekends and we don’t feel that at all. But there is a feeling, specifically Alabama fatigue and even some people have talked about that it could affect the Heisman race between Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray.
GTD: Wow. I had not considered that aspect. It’s certainly an interesting slant. But getting to the game, the Georgia Bulldogs are clearly the underdog in the SEC Championship Saturday afternoon against one of the best Crimson Tide teams under Nick Saban. What things need to happen in order for Georgia to compete and pull the upset?
LR: Well it sounds like I’m Kirby Smart and using coach-speak, but I think the biggest thing is they’ve got to get off to a fast start. If they can score a couple of times early on in this one and put Alabama maybe on their heels a little bit, maybe Alabama goes 3 and out a couple of times, or stop them or hold them to field goals, then I think Georgia is squarely in the game. Georgia does have the ability with their rushing attack to control the Time of Possession a little bit and get some things going there.
And I think one of the big keys, and this is not secret, but it relies a lot around Jake Fromm. And Fromm has been so much better especially after that LSU loss. He really did come back, it started with Florida and has really gone on from there. He came out and got this thing done. I’ve been impressed with him and he has a chance to really solidify himself. Look, if you compare numbers with Tua Tagovailoa over the last few games, his numbers at certain points are actually better – I believe his QBR is even better – so Jake Fromm will be crucial.
And then the other thing is Georgia’s defense is actually matched up well against Alabama’s offense with what they want to do. With Alabama a little more spread out, using a little more of that speed with their playmakers - Georgia has some freakish guys defensively. They are younger, and maybe a little more inexperienced so they’ll have to stay disciplined but I think with their defensive rotation they can keep up with some of Alabama’s speed and some of the things they want to do.
GTD: That segues into my next question: Georgia was fairly injury-free last season with a lot of upperclassmen leadership, whereas the team is very young this year and have been bitten with the injury bug (especially on the offensive line). We seem to have flip-flopped with Alabama: they had tons of injuries last year but are coming in to Atlanta with a lot of experience and health. Is there any way this is a good omen for the Bulldogs in the rematch?
LR: (Laughs). It could be. You look at all that stuff and say “Okay, before the game is played, maybe this matters or maybe that matters.” You don’t really know. But I think that Georgia is healthier at key spots. Deandre Swift being healthy is a total game changer for Georgia. We’ve seen that. And they’ve figured out ways to disguise and put a little band-aid over the O-line health issue over the last few weeks. I think one of the key things especially against Alabama’s D-line is some of their zone blocking schemes which allow them to sort of pull each other along, almost like a pig on a string, and it works really well. It worked well against some pretty good D-lines. Even Missouri’s D-line, who didn’t play as well in that game, but folks don’t realize how physical Missouri’s D-line is . They’ve given some people some struggles. That’s probably a more accurate comp to what Alabama’s D-line is, just from a physicality and size standpoint. I think that yes, health will be a little bit of an issue for Georgia, but like you said the tables are turned this year and maybe it does work in their favor.
And one other point about Georgia: I’ve said this – I don’t know what the committee is going to do, it depends on a lot of things that will happen other places, but there is a scenario, even if Oklahoma wins but they win in some sort of crazy shootout where they give up 600 yards and decide that defense is optional in the game like they have throughout this season, and then maybe Ohio State wins a close one or if they lose, who knows, but something happens there – and Georgia loses by like 3 points. I think the committee will look at it and say “Georgia is still the 4th best team.” There are so many complications in all this; you don’t want to see another rematch between Alabama and Georgia again, maybe people don’t want to see that. But I do think that they will have a discussion or maybe even a heated discussion if this game is close, even if Georgia loses, that Georgia is still the 4th best team.
GTD: You are actually answering a lot of my follow-up questions in your responses. Especially around Georgia’s chances to make the playoffs: do we have to beat Alabama twice, will they not want to see a rematch so Georgia gets left out, etc.
LR: Just so you know, I’ve been in the mock committee room. They are not supposed to think about: would this be a rematch, or would this have regional bias, or anything like that. They’re supposed to take the 4 best teams. And take all that out of it. So we’ll see.
GTD: We don’t expect you to know our 5-deep roster, but I think you can attest that Bulldog running back Prather Hudson has serious game, and seems to hit pretty hard. I know you turned him down on his offer to take you out, but have you fixed him up with any of your friends?
LR: (Laughs) Well, the problem is that when you get to age 30, where I am, most of your friends are married or taken. You know I don’t have a lot of single friends that would be quite in his range. But I will say this about Prather: He made me laugh, the whole thing was so funny, was I not married, I probably would’ve at least considered “let’s go hang out, or go get an ice cream or something.” Just because I did think his line was so funny, and that whole situation was just the craziest ever. Georgia was so wonderful to me. They even took me into the X-ray room at halftime of the game because we thought maybe I had broken bones. So it just a wonderful show of hospitality by Georgia, and then Prather continued that on via Twitter and just a really funny situation.
GTD: It absolutely was, and you were a good sport about that. Final question in two unrelated parts: 1) Score prediction for Saturday’s game and 2) Who wins in a cage match between you, Chris Doering, and Tim Tebow vs. Maria Taylor, David Pollack, and Matt Stinchcomb?
LR: Oh! That second one is really good! Score prediction: I haven’t thought about this yet. I think Georgia loses by a field goal. So the actual number about what it’s going to be I have to think about – you know, how many times Alabama may score. I’m going to say 31-28.
GTD: If it’s that close I’ll take it.
LR: Yeah, and that’s lower scoring that I would imagine going in. But I think the defenses are really going to step up.
For the cage match, I gotta go with the Gator side, right? But I do think it would be a really filthy battle. The thing about Pollack: he is the most athletic person that you’re ever going to run into. He does have a little shoulder issue, so I’m kinda counting him as maybe a little bit of a lame duck. And Maria is incredibly athletic. I am feisty, but I have no athletic skills. I would probably be dead weight in all that as well. But I would still say that the Florida people would win, basically because of Tim Tebow because he hates to lose at anything. Even if it’s a board game or something.
GTD: Thank you for your time. You’ve been most gracious and we appreciate your insight.
LR: Great. Well, thank you so much.
Editors Note: During the introductions before the interview, Laura stated: “ Athens is one of my favorite spots of all time, so I’m all in.”
Also, this was a spoken conversation, then transcribed by me. Any faults in grammar or flow or verbiage lie squarely at my feet, not Laura’s. I did capture it almost word for word. She was extremely gracious, put up with dumb questions, gave excellent answers in the time allotted, and really showed her knowledge of football and the programs in question. Complaints may be directed to management (@macondawg, don’t @ me bro).
And as always, just like Laura Rutledge says...