Sunday, September 20, 2009

DAWGS Grow Up in Arkansas!

Dawgs 52 - Hawgs 41

That was one helluva rocket ride last night. Petrino's followers were used to that type of scorched-earth affair at Louisville. WAC and MWC fans are used to the "whoever has the ball last, wins" format. Us Dawg fans? Not so much. Can our ground-and-pound trained cardiovascular systems handle this pace much longer? As Bernie advises, better load up on some nitroglycerin.

Once Joe Cox established his vertical passing game, I buckled the seat belt on my lazy boy and enjoyed the ride. These Dawgs are something else and they are forging this team into a formidable arsenal under the heat and pressure of the first three games. For two straight games, we found ourselves two scores down in the first quarter. And for the second straight game, we flipped it around by halftime and held on through all manner of second half turbulence to escape with a win. To say that there is no quit in these Dawgs is not really on point. There isn't, but that is not the type of test they passed in the first two SEC games. These Dawgs have proven to be like the very best cagefighters who get knocked loopy in the first round by being a little careless, but hang on to the first bell by force of will. Then regain their balance and strength going into the second round and then punch and counter punch with laser sharp effectiveness for the rest of the fight.

Do you realize what this team has done in the past two weeks? They have gift-wrapped the first quarter by committing inexcusable turnovers deep in their own territory leading to points for the opposition and double-digit deficits. Then, through sheer determination and heart - and no doubt, superior talent - righted the ship and sailed intrepid through the storms to glorious victory. Make no mistake, we will get our butts beat again (like OSU) if we keep doing this. But, take heart that, if nothing else, this team has shown a resilience and iron will that will serve them well throughout the season. If they take care of ball security, great things are in store.

But what about the defense? On that question, I feel a little like Jim Donnan a few years ago... "I don't want to hear about no damn defense, Loren." Right now, I am relishing in the thrilling victories that have made us 2-0 in the SEC. The pass defense has now faced three consecutive pass-happy offenses with three very distinct styles of throwers. We played pretty good against OSU's Robinson, we kept USC's Garcia out of the end zone the final 3 quarters, and we got lots and lots of learning opportunities from Arkansas's Mallett. Yes we have been torched a few times. But there were a few indefensible perfect throws ending with diving circus catches in the first few games. So we have made mistakes... good. Success is a shitty teacher and had we not faced all of these serious passing threats early, we would have little opportunity for growth and learning. Trust me, our young corners are growing up and will make the plays down the stretch. Can we hang on until then? I don't know, but they have gotten a baptism by fire these first few weeks and that is more valuable than weeks and weeks of practice time. Our LBs and DTs are playing outstanding football and our end play is coming around. Cornelious Washington is emerging as a man-child and Justin Houston looked fast in his first game back. Hang in there folks... this defense is growing up before our eyes. The depth is tremendous and they never looked tired last night despite the number of reps and the fact that they were on the field forever against SC.

On the other hand, the one thing that had us all crapping the bed three weeks ago now has us giddy with every single offensive possession. This offense is thrilling. How the hell can that be with Stafford, Moreno and Massaquoi gone? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joe Cox. This is now, unquestionably and indisputably Joe Cox's team. I have been getting my ass kicked since Tuesday by what is probably H1N1 and it sucks. I have never been sick for this long. I hate it. But, it has allowed me to gain some appreciation for how impossible the task was for Joe in Stillwater. Seriously, I don't have the energy to fart above a whisper, and he tried to play a decent team in on a hot day in their stadium with their refs. I feel like a vampire... when I feel the sun for 3 minutes, I want to go lay down in the AC for an hour. How did he hang in there for 60 minutes? Anyway, in the past two weeks he has improved, gotten comfortable and established himself as the man and I am sure that his performance in Arlansas (18-26-375, 5 TDs and one INT) has proven that he is the man that gives this team its best chance to win. What I loved about his game last night was not the percentage of completed passes, but how they were thrown. He stretched the field with extremely accurate deep balls to open receivers. Now, I loved Stafford, but he missed many deep balls in his time in Red and Black. Joe showed that he can put it where it needs to be and if that continues... great things. He just missed a sixth TD pass when the streak to T. King was about a foot too long. If it had been AJ Green, that is six because his long arms would have reeled it in. Joe made the east throws and he made the hard throws. He seems to be totally dialed into his TE's on the seam route and that is awesome. With AJ Green, all you have to do is get it in the same zip code and he will go get it. One more thing... how about a nice slow clap for Bobo's playcalling to answer the qucik strikes from the Razorbacks! I am impressed that he didn't stick with dink and dunk. And, when the starting CB Crim went off the field, we twice went right after the replacement Gaston in the next two plays. The second resulted in T. King's long TD. Bobo was on top of his game as well.

Last thing I want to point out in this post... I noticed two thing Mark Richt did to manage the game at crucial points that were brilliant. First, when he called the time out with 50 seconds left in the half when Arkansas had the ball facing 3rd down. That call allowed us to have enough time on the clock to engineer the field goal to end the half. How big was that? Second, with about 7:00 to go in the game we had an 8 point lead and had the ball on our own 28. He called two consecutive running plays to chew up the clock even though we most likely could have continued throwing the ball based on what had been working all night. (I am assuming he had the input on this instead of Bobo.) Anyway, that decision took 2 minutes off the clock at point when time was more precious than points. That seems like an obvious thing to do, but apparently the genuis Charlie Weis doesn't understand this - see Michigan-Notre Dame, 2009.

I will come back later today with more observations in a follow-up post. For now... HOW 'BOUT THEM DAWGS!

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