Let me share with you a story...
Bear with Thought #1. It’s a bit long winded...
1. After the SEC Championship Game, I went into depression; a real funk. I was actually feeling “down” prior to the game, but I digress. The all-too-familiar burden of expectations - met and un-met - would be the talking head narrative we’d all have to endure for weeks and I didn’t have the stomach for any of it.
I didn’t want to blog, I didn’t want to Tweet or watch any bowl game coverage. I just felt like we might be stuck in this perpetual loop of being really good, but never great. All those wonderful regular season games were eventually going to become just another part of a season of unfulfilled dreams. No one promised us anything, but it felt like this team had so much promise.
It just wasn’t losing on December 4th that shaped these thoughts. I had lost my mom earlier this summer and we all lost our Housemother, Carol. I had unexpectedly lost another friend at the end of 2020, too. In no way am I comparing a loss of a football game to something so precious and sad as losing a loved one, but all sadness does begin to hammer away at you and I guess it all caught up to me. And to top it all off, I recently turned 60 (big life passage! OMG I haven’t invented a longer lasting light bulb yet!) and realized that I can’t see my feet anymore and need to go on a serious diet.
So, I really did not watch any bowl games, except for the 2nd half of the Gasparilla Bowl because, no matter how down I was, watching Florida lose always perks me up. My football funk was palpable to the point where my wife became concerned about my state of mind. The last 12+ months - work, loss, pandemic, divisiveness in our great Nation - all of it just seemed to grip me because what joy I was feeling was probably way too wrapped up and associated with my college football team. When we lost that game last month, it affected me way too much. It’s probably something I should re-evaluate.
Christmas came and went, and the spirit of the season began to help me. I took several days off from work and did some things around the house that needed to be done. It’s important to be productive outside of your job. It’s good for the soul. I began to feel better. I’m a normally very optimistic person by nature, so that’s a blessing. I was enjoying my time off, my wife’s company and was again looking forward to some more football with no expectation.
Then, on December 31 we played some more football and absolutely dominated a very good Michigan team that came into town probably feeling pretty good about themselves, too. Now, the possibility of winning it all was right there on the table. Okay!
All this week, I’ve had trouble sleeping. Any other opponent on the planet not named Alabama would not have affected my nightly somnolence one bit. But it’s always them, isn’t it? That damned 25,000 lb. pachyderm that lives in that state to the west. It’s that coach without peer; the one with seemingly all the answers, and talent. It’s that team that has either whipped our ass in blow-out fashion, or shattered our collective dreams as we failed to hold a late lead (again and again). Alabama is the team we must play not only to redeem ourselves, but the one we must beat to validate the season because of that December 4th debacle. As the days leading up to kick off drew closer, the doubt does slowly creep in. It’s natural considering our recent past. Alabama over the last 7 games had become very similar to what Florida was in the 90’s and a good part of the 2000’s. A psychological impediment.
Then, something that had to happen did happen. Suddenly, as Alabama looked poised to crush our souls in late-game fashion, we flipped the familiar bad script and everything changed.
After an unmitigated disaster of events that led to Alabama taking the lead - yet again in the 4th quarter - we responded. We threw a long pass and re-took the lead and our gutsy walk-on quarterback found redemption. We played sound defense when it had to be done. We ran the ball while burning clock and our QB found the best tight-end in America for another score. We were back on top, but would it save the day? It was only an 8-point lead - not quite 2 scores.
Then, this happened and it was at this point that I began to cry tears of pure joy and perhaps you did, too:
Do you realize we opened the 2021 campaign and closed it with a pick 6? That’s how you bookend a season, my friends.
2. That whole “1980” narrative/meme our rivals like to sling around that like some sort of negative metaphor associated with something that many, many teams have never achieved, is dead. I’ll always be proud of 1980. Somehow, last night “cleansed” what this has meant to us. When I look at the big scoreboard in Sanford Stadium, it’ll have a newer date affixed to it for all to see:
The “Kirby can’t win the big game” criticism that you can find on everything from The Wall Street Journal to the latest Dan Wolken Tweet, or “Kirby can’t beat Nick,” or “Kirby does less with more.” Yada yada yada. It’s all dead now. Buried. Ancient history.
2A. Kirby is only 46 years old. The youngest coach to ever win a National Championship was Clemson’s Danny Ford (33 years old in 1981). By 1990, he was gone from the program. Kirby is just now hitting his stride if you think about where he’s been and where he’s going.
3. I was in New Orleans on New Year’s Day 1981 in the worst possible seat in the Superdome. End zone, front row, field level. I couldn’t see anything the whole game and had to literally look up at the octagonal shaped hanging old-school pre-LED monitor that hung from the ceiling directly over the center of the field to get any kind of perspective on what was happening. What I do recall is that game was, from an offensive standpoint, butt-ugly. From a defensive standpoint, it’s what saved us that day.
For about 2 3⁄4 last night, the offensive performance was just about as ugly with a few big plays here ‘n there. Just like in 1980 what kept us in the game was the defense. They had to. We forced field goals and blocked one, too. I cannot say enough about this unit. They have been a pleasure to watch all year and are truly generational.
4. When we were running the ball effectively coming out of the half, we got too cute. Our offensive line was knocking guys off the ball and, in reality, I think Todd Monken dialed up some questionable gimmicky stuff that probably looked great in practice, but generally backfired. However, like Stetson Bennett after his “fumble” to set up Alabama’s only touchdown, Monken dialed up the perfect answers as Georgia drove the ball twice in the 4th quarter. We finally took advantage of some of Alabama’s youth in the secondary and it payed off. Both Monken and Bennett redeemed themselves spectacularly.
Stetson’s arm was going forward every bit as much as Bryce Young’s arm was on Bama’s first possession that was ruled incomplete. Fumble, or nah?
5. James Cook and Zamir White were outstanding and got better as the game progressed. I cannot say enough about Zeus. He was determined to get as much yardage after contact as he could and simply ran with great determination. He opened up our touchdown scoring in our jumbo package late in the 3rd quarter, but his 4th quarter effort was special. He led all rushers with 84 yards on 13 carries. Cook ended up with 77 yards on only 6 tough carries, including his 67 yard burst. Georgia generated 140 sack adjusted (-24) yards.
6. How wonderful was it to see our guys wear down their guys late in a game like this - on both lines of scrimmage? The 2012 SEC Championship Game was decided when Alabama leaned on our defensive line and ran the ball for the win. We flipped this script last night when I didn’t think it possible. When I re-watch this game I suspect we’ll see some really good things from Jamaree Salyer and Sedrick Van Pran. Kudos to the offensive line for stepping up late and when it mattered the most.
7. Would you believe it if I told you George Pickens led all receivers in yardage? That single grab he made for 52 yards was it. A.D. Mitchell caught 2 for 50 yards and the spectacular catch while being interfered with to put Georgia ahead for good. Adonai has really come through in the CFB Playoffs and his ceiling is unlimited.
We knew this kid was going to be special after the G-Day game.
8. Brock Bowers doing Brock Bowers things. His acceleration for such a big kid once he secures the ball is really something to behold. He was relatively quiet with 4 receptions, 36 yards and the score. He had to do a lot of blocking on the night as we were trying to get on track for the better part of 3 quarters. Once Bennett began to get into his 4th quarter rhythm getting the ball to his playmakers, good things began to happen.
This was a great play call from Todd Monken. Bowers disguised this formation all night, and finally got a ball in the flat to score.
9. The difference in this game was our ability to disrupt Bryce Young. This was totally lacking on December 4th. Young, like any quarterback, becomes compromised when under pressure and the defense pressured him on nearly every down. It’ll be interesting to see the statistical breakdown once compiled. If Young has any time in the pocket, he’ll absolutely pick you apart with precision. He had some drops tonight as some young Bama receivers didn’t do his QB any favors. I’m not complaining.
We saw none of this on December 4.
10. Lewis Cine, who will probably declare for the draft, was the defensive MVP of the game and deserving with tough, physical play all night long. He had 7 tackles (6 solo) and a pass breakup. Christopher Smith had an interception, 6 tackles and a PBU. In a complete 180 from last month, William Poole III had a good night and a couple of huge defended passes, especially late in the game. Kelee Ringo overplayed Alabama’s tight end Cameron Latu who nearly housed a pitch-n-catch down the Georgia sideline, but he was physical and his aforementioned pick-6 to ice the game will go down as one of the most iconic, indelible plays in Georgia football history.
11. Our defensive front were physical all night. They pushed Bama’s offensive line backwards time and time again, and on more than one occasion go enough penetration to knock down Brain Robinson, Jr. for a loss while mostly keeping him in check (Robinson: 22 rushes, 68 yards). Bama’s adjusted rushing totals: 28 carries for 30 net yards (-43 in losses). Nolan Smith played a great game. Nakobe Dean was doing his best to get pressure, although Bama did another good job of picking up stunts and twists from the linebacker spot.
12. Four sacks, 9 tackles for loss went into the ledger last night. The “experts” essentially agreed that Bryce Young had to be sacked at least 3 times which seems legit. Channing Tindall, Nolan Smith, Robert Beal, Jr., and Trayvon Walker each recorded a sack. Quay Walker had 8 tackles, and 7 solos.
13. Did anyone else have an “out of body (OOB)” experience at any point in the 4th quarter last night? I’m pretty certain I had three:
- Stetson’s fumble was number 1. (I’d compare the OOB experience to Linda Blair floating above her bed in The Exorcist).
- Stetson’s 40-yard dime to A.D. Mitchell for the score was #2. (I’d compare this OOB to me acquiring my first Playboy magazine from my naughty older cousin. Everyone should have a naughty older cousin).
- Ringo’s 79 yard pick-6 was #3 and I literally nearly passed out. (I’d compare this OOB to winning the Powerball. Note: I’ve never won the Powerball, but I’d like to think that’s what it’d be like).
The realization that we had won a game late in the 4th quarter when we flat dominated Alabama for the better part of 13 minutes was, in totality, surreal. It literally still hasn’t sunk in as I type. Maybe I should get some sleep? Nah, still too jacked and I’m low on butter.
14. Special teams were solid and Jack Podlesny was perfect on the night, including a 49 yard field goal that, in the moment, was very big. Jake Camarda was excellent on his 5 punts and he pinned Alabama deep when he had the opportunity to do so.
14A. Georgia had a ton of penalties last night which, as much as Alabama’s defense, kept us from getting any continuity on offense, especially in the first half. Ten for 70-yards, most occurring early, is no way to go through a team as good as Alabama and win a Natty. We overcame this to our credit, but damn!
15. I’ve been participating on this site since about 2004 or so; first as a commenter and then as an editor through all the changes from Macondawg and T. Kyle King’s original set up to the current iteration under Vox Media’s umbrella. I was hoping this particular “15 Thoughts” would get written for all the right reasons and there were times, as I alluded to up top, I didn’t think it would ever happen. This is the most satisfying “15 Thoughts” I’ve ever published and none of it has really sunk in yet. Although this is the 2nd National Championship in my lifetime, I realize that this is a first for the majority of you. There are more Dawg fans that were born after January 1, 1981 celebrating today than were present on that date 41 years ago. Man, time flies.
Enjoy this, everyone. I know I will and I know that I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight (I couldn’t sleep last night for some reason...).
This is special. I truly believe that Kirby and Nick are going to square off a few more times before coach Saban retires. I also believe we aren’t going to have to wait another 41 years to get another one of these, either.
You kicked our ass in the 4th quarter - Nick Saban to Kirby Smart, post game handshake
Congratulations Kirby! Go you Hairy Dawgs!!— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) January 11, 2022
Kudos to Mark Richt. He set coach Smart up for success by not leaving the cupboard bare when Kirby arrived in 2016 and he did things the right way.
Kirby is the type of man who loves what he does as anyone who has a calling loves what they do. It’s a tough, tough gig but he’s going to continue to recruit, develop, coach and foster the kind of success that we - all of us - deserve. It’s been a long, long time coming.
Kirby has built Georgia’s program using the best blueprint ever drawn up, thanks to Nick Saban. He’s always going to have to identify coaching talent as his coaching tree spreads out.
“You become a national championship coach only by winning a national championship. Having joined the club, Smart is more apt to become something approximating the next Saban – he was the sorcerer’s apprenticeship in Tuscaloosa before answering his alma mater’s call – than to fizzle in the manner of Gene Chizik and Ed Orgeron. Smart built Georgia in the Bama mold for a reason: The Bama mold works and keeps working.” - Mark Bradley, AJC.com
Yeah, Ed Orgeron inherited a generational talent at quarterback along with spectacular skill position players all over the place, but he couldn’t coach and couldn’t sustain it. Gene Chizik pretty much bought their generational quarterback.
This is cool...
It’s Great to be A Georgia Bulldog. Truly.