All is not lost for Georgia, Georgia Fans Need to Wake Up
There is a time and a place for me to be critical in my analysis of the game (if we can call it that) on Saturday, but this isn’t it. That time will most likely come tomorrow and that place will be right back here at DudeYouCrazy.net. Fear not, if you’re seeking any semblance of explanation for what the hell happened on Saturday and where the Bulldogs can go from here that will be coming your way. But for today the post may take a tone different than what you might expect.
Today I want to talk about reality and how it relates to the Bulldog nation. Unfortunately, that relation is about as vague as the bloodlines of Alabama cousins right now. There is a huge disconnect between what is real and what Georgia fans expect. The expectations that are set year-in and year-out for the Georgia Bulldogs typically forecast a holiday season of SEC Championships and BCS contention – that is not a typical Georgia season. Accordingly, everything that follows suit (outside of the once in a generation National Title) is deemed subpar. But, the truth of the matter is the University of Georgia football program is not Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas or USC. Accordingly, those expectations are founded in ignorance, bliss and unbridled optimism.
A Little Perspective
The loss to South Carolina was undeniably upsetting. As I will discuss at length tomorrow, I was disappointed in Georgia’s performance in every phase of the game (offense, defense, special teams) as well as how the Dawgs competed (lethargically, without precision, timidly). But, in the grand scheme of things, the score doesn’t matter; it was a loss to South Carolina that can be overcome as far as the SEC East goes if the following occurs:
South Carolina beat a top-5 team two years ago and followed it up with a loss to Kentucky (in football)
- Georgia needs South Carolina to lose one or two conference games. The way the Gamecocks looked Saturday night does not offer much hope to that notion, but keep in mind that one South Carolina expert called Saturday night the best first quarter in Gamecock history – so I’m not sure that we should expect 21-0 leads every week. And, keep in mind that Carolina didn’t come close to resembling the team Georgia (unfortunately) saw on Saturday when they needed a blown Pass Interference call to beat Vanderbilt six weeks ago or when they trailed Kentucky 17-7 at halftime just last week. The Carolina team that showed up Saturday was just as surprising as it was terrifying. Last season the Dawgs suffered a setback to the Cocks’ before Spurrier’s squad dropped games to Auburn and Arkansas. South Carolina travels to LSU this weekend and Florida next weekend in two undeniably dangerous games then takes on Tennessee and Arkansas (two teams who might or might not be improving) at home. There is a lot of room for the Cocks’ to slip up, and frankly, they always do. Prior to this season South Carolina had defeated Georgia in three of the last five matchups, but following those head-to-head games Georgia had outperformed South Carolina against Conference foes in four of the past five seasons (with 2010 being the lone exception). If Georgia can outperform Carolina from here out they’ll have a great chance to go to the Dome.
- Largely because one of South Carolina’s losses could come at the hands of Florida. And, if Georgia can defeat Florida they can re-group at the top of the East (assuming the Gators beat South Carolina), even if the Cocks only lose one game. Now, that may sound like a big “if” but, if you believe South Carolina’s performance on Saturday was an outlier (which I still do), and you believe that the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is the type of rivalry that transcends rankings and in-season performance (which it often does), and you believe Georgia is the more experience squad (which is undeniable) then you have to believe the Dawgs still have a shot at that game regardless of what happened two days ago in Columbia. Obviously, if the Dawgs’ get blown off the ball consistently and outplayed in every phase that won’t be the case, but if you assume a competitive Georgia team shows up, great things could still happen in Jacksonville. And if Florida can beat South Carolina and Georgia can beat Florida and all involved parties win-out otherwise, Georgia may have a real shot at winning the East by virtue of the BCS tie-breaker. Think of it this way, Georgia is taking the hit this week (dropping to 14th in one poll and 12th in another), South Carolina would take a hit in two weeks and thus drop (not quite as far as Georgia, but later in the season with less “make up” time) and Florida would drop two weeks later with even less time to make amends. With essentially identical losses Georgia would have seven weeks to rebound its image, South Carolina would have five and Florida would have three. It could shake out for the Dawgs, especially as South Carolina and Florida’s out-of-conference closers (Clemson and FSU) are tougher than Georgia’s (Tech) and could also present further stumbling.
- If this scenario came to fruition Georgia would be a one-loss team from what is appearing to be the toughest division in college football, much like last year’s Alabama squad was. I’m not ignorant in saying that Georgia is like last year’s national champion because I’m not comparing those two on-field products but rather equating records and happenstance of divisional play. Let that be clear. That situation could put the Dawgs in the SEC Championship game, or it could position them to sneak into another BCS bowl without having to play in the Dome.
Thus far we can’t quite distinguish Will Muschamp from any other drunk fraternity brother at an SEC Game. Coaching polo: Check. Khaki Pants: Check. Matted, sweaty, unkempt hair: check. Drunk face: check.
So, although the loss was disgusting on Saturday, it has not ruined the season. And while the Dawgs certainly handicapped themselves, there are still realistic scenarios for a return to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. A little perspective from Georgia fans would be welcomed right now.
Gloom, Doom and Lowering the Boom
What’s more disappointing than what amounts to a “set-back” (not a season-ender) on the record book is the way Georgia fans have responded. Truth be told Georgia has been over-hyped by all those (including myself at times) who believe falsehoods regarding other teams. Contrary to what some asserted (especially in the state of Missouri), the Mizzou win was not a “signature” win or even a “big” win for Georgia. Missouri is 0-3 in the conference with a sure-fire fourth loss coming up this week against Alabama. A lot of people believed that Vanderbilt was a good team because their idiot of a head coach said so over and over, but his promise of “competing” fell short as quickly as he ran his mouth. We didn’t learn anything about Georgia from a 45-point win over the Commodores, although we sure wanted to think we did. Last week’s shootout with Tennessee might have been a gritty win against an up-and-coming coach who will be a force for years to come, or it might have been an ugly game that exposed several of Georgia’s fatal flaws against a team that has lost nine of its last 10 conference games.
There was certainly no reason to expect what we saw from South Carolina on Saturday and, again, the score was surprising. But the outcome was not. This game was always a toss-up in my mind. On August 16th I handicapped the SEC East and labeled this game as a toss-up. Sure, I picked Georgia to win on Friday but that was because I run a Georgia blog that looks at the SEC and predicts every game each week, so I couldn’t choose the “toss-up” option, and because what I had seen thus far indicated that Georgia’s best game could beat South Carolina’s best game. I stand by what I said. If I was picking the game this week I’d obviously take the Cocks as their best game looks much better than Georgia’s, but with the information at hand as recently as last Friday and the requirement that I choose somebody, I took Georgia. But, this was still very much any man’s game. You’re fooling yourself if you didn’t think Georgia could lose this game and you’re being unrealistic if you think this season is over because they did.
If You Want to Fire Richt, I want to Fire You
Know what else is unrealistic and based in ignorance and emotion? The re-vamped “Fire Richt” campaign. If Richt wasn’t fired after a 6-7 season was followed up with back-to-back losses to Boise State and South Carolina last year, he’s not going to be fired for losing to what is now the nation’s third best team. At its very fundamental core this movement is unfounded as its desired result is not going to happen. If you think firing Richt in the midst of a 15-3 stretch that features losses to then-top-ranked LSU, a triple OT loss in a meaningless bowl game and the aforementioned South Carolina game I’d welcome your reasoning. Because what in Georgia’s storied, but not-quite-elite football history requires wins against teams ranked in the nation’s top three?
If Richt did get fired he would retire to the Jersey Shore where his fist-bump combined with his regimental routine of Gym, Tan, Laundry would make him a legend.
But, before you start researching and angrily typing out your “we’re better than this” reasoning go ahead and have a better coach in mind who is both a candidate that would actually come to Georgia (if you say Jon Gruden, I’ll kill you) and would actually do better than Richt has (keep in mind that at this stage in his career CMR is the winningest coach in UGA history both in wins and winning percentage).
And, before you pull out the 0-10 in last ten games against teams that finished ranked let me explore a few of those games:
- Michigan State last season – this was a bowl game that meant absolutely nothing, against an opponent with no bad blood that was lost when a senior, once All-American kicker who is now on his way to being a Pro Bowler (Blair Walsh is 3rd in the NFL in scoring) missed two field goals. Don’t pin that on Richt. The players didn’t care about the game, and Walsh screwed up.
- You cannot knock Richt for losing to LSU (ranked 1st in the nation) in an SEC Championship game that was earned by Georgia for good performance. LSU only lost one game and that was to the National Champs (Alabama), and even that series was split.
- Similarly you cannot fault Richt for the Auburn loss in 2010.
- I struggle to blame Richt for the 2009 loss to Florida as the Gators were ranked 1st in the country meaning nobody was supposed to beat them. And the loss to 4th ranked LSU is equally hard to knock Richt for as Georgia entered the game ranked 18th.
Were there games during that stretch that Georgia could/should have won? Absolutely. Boise State in 2011 would have been nice (but the Broncos were ranked higher), Oklahoma State in 2009 (the Cowboys were at home and ranked higher), and Arkansas (again, ranked higher) in 2010 all stand out. But, we have these things called polls and rankings for a reason. And, last time I checked they were supposed to reflect the experts’ opinions. Experts are often wrong, but not as often as they are right – that’s why they’re experts. And, I don’t think there is another coach in the country who is expected to upset elite teams the way Mark Richt apparently is. I don’t think any coach in the country is catching flack today for losses dating back to 2008 that were against the nation’s top-ranked team or the eventual national champion. But, for some reason today all of those figures are once again relevant to Richt and his job security because Georgia lost a game on the road, to the nation’s 3rd best team. At least, that is the case for a large number of Georgia fans.
Who would Aaron Murray, Georgia’s leader, want coaching?
Aaron Murray found out this weekend that his father has thyroid cancer. Murray’s stat line (11/31, 109 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) might reflect that type of distraction. Not represented in that stat line is the five or six drops that receivers had. Missing from the box score is the fact that Murray was on his back or buried by a defender even more often than he was off-target. Lost in that stat line is the fact that Aaron Murray played in a hostile environment against a beastly defense – neither of which was as concerning to him as his family’s situation.
Send out some prayers for Aaron Murray and his family. His parents raised a couple of good athletes (brother Josh was a pro baseball player before walking on to the UGA football team a few years back) and three great Dawgs.
Ask Aaron Murray who should replace Mark Richt. He won’t give you an answer. Because lost in the final score is the fact that Murray – and probably every other Bulldog on the field Saturday night – would rather fight for Richt than for another man. There’s not a better coach for Murray on the field right now than Richt, because there’s not a better man off the field for Murray than Richt.
And, I’m not the guy who equates good people with good coaches. The two aren’t synonymous. But right now Mark Richt is telling Aaron Murray that there are bigger things in life than football. He’s giving him some perspective. And if Georgia fans – like the jackasses who vandalized Murray’s home this weekend and who should be forever banned from Sanford Stadium – would take a step back they’d realize that the season is also bigger than one game. And they’d realize that if history is worth repeating, the Dawgs are still very much in the SEC East race. Perspective is the key.
For What it’s Worth: Where I’m Coming From
I’m sure that I’m going to hear plenty of dissenting opinions, so I wanted to clarify three things with regard to where I stand as a UGA fan:
- I think I stressed this at the beginning, but I am in no way pleased with Saturday’s game. I am not condoning the poor performance. I’m not ignoring it. I will write at length about the game itself tomorrow. But, I want it to be clear that I’m not going to dwell on the game for the next two weeks until Georgia suits up to play Kentucky. I don’t find that to be productive, and frankly I think the SEC East could look very different this time next week so it would be ignorant for me to shun the possibility that this isn’t the apocalypse in Athens.
- I love Mark Richt as a person, I have been luke-warm over the years in my opinions of his coaching. I am defending Mark Richt today and I stand by that conviction. As recently as last fall I was calling for his head. After the Boise State game I expressed lack of faith in the following areas (some direct quotes):
- None of the problems that have plagued the team for the past few years have been fixed.
- Georgia is undisciplined.
- “Aaron Murray is our team’s greatest offensive asset. Maybe somebody should tell the coach about him.”
- “Mark Richt had over eight months to get ready for this game and failed to do so. I think we now have four months to get ready for the next coach in Athens. It’s hard to picture this team turning things around.”
I am not a blind Richt supporter. I never have been. I never will be. But Georgia football has improved tremendously since December 31, 2010 and nobody can convince me otherwise. I’m a season ticket holder, an obsessive fan and a somewhat knowledgeable person. If you didn’t fire him then, you can’t fire him now.
- I want Georgia football to be great as much as the next guy. Just because I’m aware of what Georgia football has typically been, doesn’t mean I don’t have higher aspirations for the program in the future. Just because I know that a 10-win season has been a great season for UGA in the past doesn’t mean that I want to continually settle for one. I don’t go to Georgia games to look for excuses. I don’t follow Georgia football so that I can watch games like I did last Saturday. I haven’t written 45,000+ words about college football because I want my team to be good – but not great. But, I’m not ignorant to what the current state of Georgia football is. If I was ignorant I would be angry about Saturday’s game and depressed about the future. I’m not. I’m disappointed in Saturday’s game and looking forward to the future of Georgia football. And if I may toot my own horn a bit, I’ll say this: I think I have a decent general idea of what’s going on with Georgia Football.
That’s all I got/