Football is an Imperfect Game, Just Ask the Georgia Bulldogs
A few weeks ago I had breakfast with former Tennessee Volunteer coach Phillip Fulmer. The purpose of the breakfast was not football-related, but seeing as the vast majority of my recreational conversations end up involving pigskin, the topic was all but inevitable given Fulmer’s long SEC coaching tenure.
Somewhere along the way we came to the subject of college vs. professional football. I stated my case to Coach Fulmer the same way I have on this very site several times. I favor the collegiate game for two distinct reasons:
- The atmosphere at a big-time college football game is not paralleled in American sport.
- I enjoy the imperfect intricacies that can only be found when the game is played by 20 year-old college students.
As I expressed my appreciation for the unexpected, Coach Fulmer laughed ironically. “That’s the very thing that makes coaching at the collegiate level so difficult,” he offered with a wisdom that was suddenly inescapable.
To be certain, the point was not necessarily an uncommon one. Obviously, a different level of skill, precision and preparation separates professionals from amateurs in any vocation. There’s a reason you seek medical attention from doctors, not pre-med students. The same distinction is also found within athletics.
And yet, although he wasn’t preaching a previously undefined principle, there’s a certain degree of undeniable truth that accompanies a BCS National Champion when he says, “You never quite know what’s going to happen in a college football game.” And in the parking lot of the Marietta Diner, Phil Fulmer (the winner of the first ever BCS National Championship Game) was saying just that.
In the sort of dramatic irony that only the most devious of external football forces could conjure up, the imperfection of college football was on full display in Knoxville on Saturday when the Georgia Bulldogs took on Fulmer’s alma mater.
The sixth-ranked Bulldogs arrived in Knoxville with plenty to be proud of and a number of causes for optimism. The Dawgs’ lone setback – a three-point road loss to Clemson in a game that was riddled by early season mishaps – seemed to have taken place centuries ago. Simultaneously, the celebration of home wins over two Top 10 SEC teams (South Carolina and LSU) seemed to still be in full swing.
Throw in a seemingly reasonable upcoming stretch of games against Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt, and the logical assumption was that the Bulldogs would be 7-1 heading into the annual Jacksonville showdown with the Florida Gators in early November.
That scenario is hardly eliminated, but the deficiencies that were exposed (or perhaps, created is the better word) along with the general unexpectedness of Saturday’s game against the Volunteers have replaced optimism with doubt, hope with concern.
On paper and in sportsbooks, Georgia was heavily favored against Tennessee. Even the perceived obstacles for the Bulldogs – a potential lack of focus, Tennessee’s tendency to “play up” against UGA – seemed a bit contrived. But in a few randomly chaotic plays – the type that drives coaches mad – the game nearly slipped out of the Dawgs’ hands and the roots of growing optimism turned dry.
Keith Marshall was injured on a pass attempt out to the flats. An ACL tear will keep him out for the remainder of the season. Justin Scott-Wesley tore his ACL running downfield in punt coverage; the punt was caught without a return. Michael Bennett, who suffered an ACL tear of his own last season, went down with a knee injury away from a play’s action. He might return this season, but he’s having his knee scoped this week and is certainly out against Missouri.
In three plays of little in-game consequence, Georgia lost nearly one-third of its offense. In an overtime road victory over a division rival, Georgia seemed to lose all momentum.
To be sure, players will step up. J.J. Green, Brendan Douglas and Rantavious Wooten are already doing their best impressions of the stars they’re trying to replace. Todd Gurley will return. The defense will mature and presumably improve.
On one hand, I trust Mark Richt to make personnel changes that benefit the team. I expect him to do the most he can with what’s left on the roster.
But on the other hand, I’m not sure if it will matter. College football is an imperfect game. And that imperfection sure made the sport hard to love this weekend.
Oddly enough, I suppose that puts me and Phil Fulmer on the same page.
Don’t get me wrong: I still love the game and this team. But that hurt, and I wasn’t even on the field.
That’s all I got/