For the past several days I have heard too much pessimism and gloom from fellow Dawgs. I think part of the gloom is because of the loss of Jeff Owens for the season. I must admit to having a pit in my stomach on Saturday night for this same reason. It does hurt us to lose Jeff Owens, but we still have a talented 4 man rotation at tackle and we should still be able to achieve our goals on defense. We cannot lose more defensive tackles, but so long as we do not, we will be fine.
The larger reason for the gloomy countenance of many Dawgs is because we did not annihilate Georgia Southern by a larger margin. Last year, all would have been content with this easy, cakewalk victory of 45-21. But this year, instead of viewing this game on its sole merits, many have compared our margin of victory against those of the other teams in the Top 5 and somehow found ours lacking. Consequently. these fans have been more critical of the performance than what may truly be fair or necessary. I believe that many feared we would lose our tenuous grip on the #1 ranking if we did not look better in our victory than OSU or USC looked in their respective victories. Well, friends, we could have won 66 - 7 if Coach Richt had wanted to. But, we still would have lost ground to USC who destroyed an awful Virgina team 52-7. Moreover, even if we had beaten GSU 99 - 0 and then beat CMU 66 - 0 this coming Saturday, it would not keep us on top after Sept 13 when USC pounds Ohio State in the first "huge" game of the season. Most bloggers already penciled in that date as the date that we would get leap-frogged in the polls. So, it happened two weeks early based on the strength of a USC blowout over Virginia. Forget about it. Do not get caught up in comparing our margins of victory with those of the other top ranked teams or this will not be an enjoyable season for you. You should not be surprised that Coach Richt was not interested in humiliating GSU. Indeed, Coach Richt has even said that he felt good about the performance. That is enough for me.
Here is a list of the highest scoring games of the Richt Era at UGA. In 7 years, only twice have the Dawgs scored in the 50's and only once in the 60's. There have been many occasions that scoring one or two more touchdowns would have been easy, but Richt substituted liberally to get his younger players some playing time.
2001: 45-17 Arkansas State, 43-29 Kentucky
2002: 45-7 Northwestern St., 48-17 Vanderbilt, 52-24 Kentucky, 51-7 Ga. Tech
2003: 30-0 Clemson, 41-14 Tennessee
2004: 48-28 GSU, 45-16 LSU, 62-17 Kentucky
2005: 48-13 Boise St, 44-7 La. Monroe, 45-13 Kentucky
2006: 48-12 W. Kentucky, 34-0 UAB, 37-15 Auburn
2007: 45-16 W. Carolina, 45-17 Ole Miss, 42-30 Florida, 44-34 Troy, 45-20 Auburn, 41-10 Hawaii
I think we should not despair merely because we did not score 60 points on GSU or that they scored 21 points after the score was 38-0 with 22 minutes remaining. It is not in Mark Richt's nature to roll up points solely for the purpose of impressing poll voters who only look at final scores. Coach Richt believes in allowing his players, lower on the depth chart, who work hard every day in practice, have a chance to get on the field when the situation allows it. For some of these players, this may have been the only game in which they will play all season.
With the schedule we have, we do not need style points. We just need to win. If we win, we will be in Miami in January.
Ally has posted a comment that I think is extremely worthy of further discussion, so I brought it out to the main page here. Ally makes many great points below... Still, I say "Stop being so gloomy" to all of those who have suddenly gone in the tank after one game which we won by a blowout. This is the point in case about why you cannot win when you play Div 1-AA opponents. If you win 66-0 it is unsportsmanlike. If you call off the dogs, it becomes lackluster. Unless one believes we will not improve from this point, then I suggest to sit back, relax, pour a drink and enjoy the ride. It is, after all, a comfortable band-wagon, no? Now, for the counterpoints.
Ally's points in red, my counterpoints in black
For me, its not that I wanted CMR to run up the score. I would never expect that from him, and quite frankly I appreciate that level of sportsmanship. Agreed. I don't think he is going to pour it on a team like GSU merely to impress poll voters who won't bother to look at anything other than the final score anyway.
The issue I had with the score, and what I have read from other fans & pundits, is the number of points given up by our defense. Yes, I understand that many of those were garbage points, however...
1. Twice before the 2nd & third stringers came in gsu was about to strike. 6 points were saved by Ellerbe's int and 3 were saved by a missed field goal. Here is a summary of GSU's first 9 possessions that yielded zero points:
GSU 1st S20 15:00 Kickoff S16 14:04 Punt 3--4 0:56On these 9 possessions, GSU amassed 134 yards on 45 plays for an average of 2.98 yards per play. Of these 134 yards, a net of 11 yards were due to penalties. The first two possessions were 3 and outs. The 3rd would have been a 3 and out but for an offsides penalty. Further discussion about the offsides penalties is below. The 4th started at the UGA 35 yard line resulting from the Samuel fumble. On the 5th possession, which was nine plays, we started with many fresh faces with Boykin, Cuff, Wood and Tyson all registering tackles. The 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th possessions totaled 12 plays. By the time GSU got the ball for their first scoring drive, the 3rd Quarter clock showed 5:55.
GSU 1st S24 12:17 Kickoff S30 10:29 Punt 3-6 1:48
GSU 1st S48 08:15 Kickoff G19 03:22 Missed FG 9-33 4:53
GSU 1st G35 03:02 Fumble G10 14:17 Interception 9-25 3:45
GSU 2nd S24 12:31 Kickoff G42 08:45 Punt 9-34 3:46
GSU 2nd S18 04:51 Punt S25 03:01 Punt 3-7 1:50
GSU 2nd S27 00:24 Kickoff S29 00:00 End of half 1-2 0:24
GSU 3rd S30 14:08 Kickoff S37 12:41 Punt 3-7 1:27
GSU 3rd S19 11:06 Punt S35 07:35 Punt 5-16 3:31
So yes, we were fortunate that they missed a field goal on the third possession, but the possession would have ended after 3 plays and a sack by Dowtin (true Freshman) but for an offsides penalty by Lomax. And yes we needed an interception in the end zone to stop the 4th possession, but GSU started with a short field as a result of our fumble. So those things balanced out.
The first GSU touchdown drive, which started with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter (6 plays - 53 yards), was against our starting rotation on defense. So I grant that it was disappointing to see them yield a scoring drive. After that, we had many guys from the 3rd string and below (DeGenova, Tully, etc) in the game so I don't think you should place much weight on what happened in the fourth quarter.
2. The reason why we were so successful in last season's stretch was because we rotated in fresh legs from the depth chart. Our D was so strong there wasn't that much of a difference between the starters and 2nd stringers. That should have been the case Sat. The difference is that we saw many guys who played their first game that are not even on the two-deep getting reps from the second quarter until the end. This will pay dividends later even though it led to some missed assignments Saturday. This is how these newcomers will learn where to be and when to be there. Remember Curran's progress last season. It happened because he got reps. If they are going to make mistakes, this was the time to do it.
Also, our play was sloppy. Did you see J Lo jump TWICE in a row forcing Martinez to bitch out coach Fab? I don't blame him - that was ridiculous! The D looked sloppy. I saw it, fans saw it, and pundits saw it. Lomax was careless in trying to get a jump on the snap. Coach Richt addressed this on his show Sunday saying that he doesn't want to take away that aggression such that our d-line are slow to get off on the snap, but that we do need to avoid those penalties. He said Lomax will do the bear crawls or sprints and he will learn. Richt is not too concerned about this, so neither am I. When we were sloppy on defense, I think it was due to conditioning. Richt even mentioned this and pointed out that it had not been very hot for the previous week of practice. Also, remember that most of our ends and several other defenders were in green jerseys for a good portion of camp and that also affected their readiness. This is an excuse and it was a problem because so many were at least slightly banged up during camp. But, if they were unable to practice due to injury, what more can you do. They will improve the conditioning and hopefully we will see the fresher legs that we are looking for as we rotate players in and out.
Then you have a team like USC who travels across the country to face a BCS team (regardless of crappy conference affiliation) who won 9 games last year & played on New Years Day. USC destroyed them all day, while rotating in 2nd and 3rd stringers. And they didn't just substitute players in the 2nd half either! Frankly, I was surprised that they were not the preseason #1 based on the talent they have and the media love affair with them. They are a loaded team and if they have a strong quarterback, they will be tough for anyone to beat. Still, it was only one game. Last year, a stronger Virginia team lost their opener to Wyoming 23-3. Wyoming ended the year 5-7. Maybe UVA sucks in openers. We know USC is often killer in openers. In 2005 they beat Hawaii 63-17 and didn't lose until just about the last play of the season when Vince Young carried Texas across the goal line and delivered a National Title. Then, in 2006 USC opened the season by dominating Arkansas 50-14. Later, they lost to Oregon State 33-31 and then to UCLA 13-9 (which put Florida in the national title game.) USC is tough, no doubt about it. They may not lose a game all year. Which means that Ohio State will. What we really need to happen is for Oklahoma to lose at least once. But, good Lord, there is som much football to be played that there really is no other way to approach it except to take it one week at a time.
Georgia is more than capable of that type of play and its disappointing to see things fall so flat. Our defense can play better, and will play better. But I did not think it was a disappointing effort based on the fact that so many players got on the field for the first time in a Georgia uniform. I would like to see the conditioning improve and I expect we will. Whether we like it or not, style points do matter and they will matter all season long. I would agree that style points often matter. But, I stand by my point that with the schedule we have, we only have to win. If we win them all, we will not get the Auburn treatment and be left out of the title game. If we don't win them all, then we are at the mercy of the poll voters and opinion makers. Still, the games that can sway opinion our way are not these games against GSU and CMU, but pretty much all the rest of them. Had we pulled a Tech- Cumberland score of 220 to 0, we still would have dropped behind USC because of the opponent. I know some of the voters only saw our final score and thought our defense must be suspect. Well, I think they will be proven wrong soon enough if our defense lives up to its potential. If it does not, it is a moot point anyway because it will mean that we are not one of the best 2 or 3 teams in the country. For now we are #2. That is fine. It may even be better at this point. Either way, this premature and precarious early season ranking should not have this much effect on the psyche of the Dawgnation. The only thing that matters this week is to beat CMU and improve in the process. Oh, and we should also focus on enjoying the moment each weekend instead of looking down the road.
I also think UGA fans recognize that we're going to be fighting an uphill battle of perception all season long. Pollsters are infatuated with USC (as usual) despite their relatively easy conference play, and its going to take SEVERAL dominating wins in the SEC for us to overtake them - especially given how many voters doubt UGA's ability to stay in the hunt. USC has a great program and has had an amazing run of success over the past 6 seasons. They are one of the few teams to have enjoyed greater success than UGA during this same stretch. Our battle is not with USC however, unless and until we meet them in Miami. Our battle is with the eleven teams remaining on our schedule and an ardent hope that Oklahoma loses at least one game.
I am afraid that some Dawg fans are already predisposed to not enjoy this potentially magical season because of these worries about how bad we beat each team along the way so we can impress the voters. I have one friend whose knee jerked so hard after Saturday that he now projects us to lose 3 or 4 games. Huh? I am sorry, but I just did not take that away from the GSU game. It is important that we correct the mistakes we make from week to week. It is important that we improve our conditioning so that we are always in better condition than our opponents. It is important that we develop depth so that we have players ready in case of more injuries. We are not going to have any perfect games, but we will have some special games. GSU was not one of them. CMU won't be either. After that, they are all pretty big and the stakes go higher.
You can be sure that at some point, we will play an ugly game and pray that we come away with a win. We will also open up a 55 gallon drum of whoop ass at an unexpected point along the way. It will be a journey and the journey should be enjoyed in weekly increments so long as we notch a win that week. I think too many are worried about where we are ranked right now. This is a red herring. All that matters is winning our games. If we do, we will receive our just desserts. If we do not, we may play in a bowl game other than the Orange. Our foremost goal is to win the SEC East and then the SEC. If we can do that with a perfect record, hello Orange Bowl.
I say let's have some fun and stop scoreboard watching. I will change my tune if we lose a game and then need to compute all sorts of mental gymnastics to back our way into the chamionship game. But, it worked for LSU last year and Florida the year before, so it stands to reason that the SEC Champ has a great shot at the BCSCG again this year. It is a long season, but it will pass by all too quickly. Be sure to enjoy it before it is gone.
Stepping down from my soapbox now.