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Broken, beaten and scarred

October 5, 2009

It’s not just a Metallica tune, folks. It’s Monday and I’m still feeling the same way the most of you likely are. Just heartbroken. Sitting in the corner endzone where AJ Green caught that fabulous TD pass, I was at the forefront of one of the biggest eruptions in Sanford history. People were literally falling off of the bleachers with joy. I jumped into the arms of a stranger. We embraced. It was bedlam. “This may go down as one of the all-time classics,” I thought to myself.

Then came the 15 yard unsportsmanlike call on AJ Green (which the SEC later announced should not have been called), the kickoff from the 15, the Trindon Holliday return to the UGA 45… and suddenly I had a terrible feeling in my stomach. LSU had over a minute and a half to get about 15 yards for a long field goal try, which would give them the win. They would do one better; Charles Scott broke loose for a TD run that put LSU on top, 20-13 for the win, and 90,000 UGA fans that two minutes prior were overcome with joy, all fell deathly silent and found themselves shaken and in disbelief.

I have sat in the bleachers looking down on the Dawgs for many wins, and quite a few losses. But I’ve never experienced a gut-wrencher quite like that. After a first half which was extremely frustrating, not only because UGA couldn’t score, but because there were more TV timeouts than was decent and human, the 2nd half gave us an exciting game and what looked like would be a UGA victory over a top 5 opponent between the hedges for the first time since 1984. Instead, we all left Sanford stadium that day wondering what might have been if not for the excessive celebration penalty, and we woke up Sunday to polls in which we found ourselves no longer ranked.

A loss like that has to be a blow emotionally to the team as much as it is to the fans. And one thing we cannot afford right now is to go into Knoxville this coming Saturday playing without passion. As hard as it is to be optimistic right now, one has to remember that although our overall record right now is 3-2, we are 2-1 in conference play, and we are not out of the race for the East yet. If we want to win the East, we have to beat the Florida Gators. We knew that going into this season, and it hasn’t changed.

What we have to ask ourselves now is: can we right this ship and make the adjustments necessary to beat Florida? Well, let’s talk about the problems we’ve had, and if we learned anything about where we may be headed after Saturday.

1. Defense – Through 4 games, the defense (not unfairly) took a lot of heat. The pass defense looked atrocious, there was no pass rush being generated, and we were getting into shootouts with offensive powerhouses like South Carolina (note the sarcasm). If you took anything positive out of the loss to LSU on Saturday, it was that the defense played out of their minds. The defense gave up only two field goals in the first half, despite that the UGA offense managed nothing, zilch, zero points and hardly any clock time. They racked up 6 sacks on Jordan Jefferson, 2 coming from the emerging dominant DE Justin Houston. They forced LSU into a couple of crucial 3 and outs in the third quarter. They made one fatal mistake in the game; letting Charles Scott break through for the game-winning TD. But let’s be honest, special teams is what set that up, and even without the Charles Scott run, LSU likely kicks a field goal to win… and the offense could have put that game out of reach for LSU long before, if they had managed to score earlier.

2. Special teams – still killing us. Jon Fabris must have pictures of Mark Richt. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why that man still has a job. He makes stupid decisions in critical situations, and our kickoff coverage is abysmal. None of that has changed at any point during the season, and there is no reason to believe that it will get any better this year as long as Fabris is calling the shots.

3. Offense – The pass blocking has come along nicely, as has the passing game. Cox has been as billed, a competent game manager who won’t dazzle anyone, but will make the throws you need him to and get the ball to the game-changers (*cough, AJ Green, cough*). The running game has, at times, sucked. There are exceptions, such as a couple of big breakout runs that we’ve had, but we’re not seeing the great running game that we’re used to seeing from a UGA offense. That may have more to do with a lack of good running from the tailbacks than with poor run-blocking. At least, that’s what Mark Richt seems to think. I’m inclined to agree with him, because I saw an apparition wearing #24 on Saturday that looked like… well, a tailback. Washaun Ealey might not be the next Knowshon Moreno, but he damn sure looked more like him than either King or Samuel have thus far. Ealey brought a spark to the offense in the second half, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the new starter by Saturday. For that reason, I believe we may see more consistency from the offense in the future. If you can establish both your ground game and the pass, you’re going to be alright. The play-calling has also been garbage, but this too could be a result of the lack of a good ground game handcuffing the options from Bobo’s side.

The good news is, we haven’t been blown out by anybody. There hasn’t been any “disappearing acts” like we saw in 2007 against Tennessee, or in 2008 against Alabama and Florida. We may still be facing a blowout in Jacksonville, but thus far I have not seen the capacity in this team to quit. Hopefully that doesn’t change. We have games against the Vols and the ‘Dores left on our conference slate before we head to Jacksonville. We should be able to win both of those games. So our season will come down to the cocktail party. But hey, at least it ain’t over. Keep your fingers crossed for a 2007-like turnaround.

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