After an opening game that I’ll charitably call uninspiring and what then appeared to be a critical loss to South Carolina, Georgia now finds itself perhaps somewhat improbably on the brink of pulling off its first trip to the SECCG in six seasons. The crowd should be energized, as pumped as any… well, since the 2007 Blackout Game against Auburn. There’s even a cherry on top of the sundae, as a prodigal son comes home to take a bow.
It’s a great story so far (Verne should have plenty to talk about, right?), one that you hope the Dawgs can take to completion as they go from chasing the pack to leading it.
Anyway, take what random swirlings my mind has produced for what they’re worth:
- Intangibles. As much as we’ve carped about and criticized Mark Richt over the past three seasons, if there’s one thing he deserves enormous credit for this year, it’s restoring focus to the program. The Boise State and South Carolina losses were disappointments, to be sure (although for very different reasons), but for the first time in a long while, I can’t recall a game this year in which the team pulled a disappearing act and flat out failed to show up for a quarter or a half. You can dismiss the seven-game winning streak as being one crafted on the backs of mediocre opponents, but in previous seasons that level of opposition didn’t stop Georgia from chalking up its share of embarrassing losses to the Vandys, Kentuckys and Colorados (!) of the world. I’m not guaranteeing a win tomorrow, but I don’t think these Dawgs show up and crap the bed, either.
- @#()*^% Fairley! That all being said, Richt’s biggest challenge tomorrow is making sure his team keeps its composure throughout the game. I know everyone is making all the right mouth noises about how they’ve put last year’s nastiness behind them, but that’s a lot easier said than done in the heat of the moment. We saw what happened when Vanderbilt got under this team’s skin. Auburn is a more talented team than Vandy.
- The spread spreads. I admit to being more than a little shocked when the line opened at 12.5. I’m even more surprised that it’s now gone to 13 or 13.5 in some places. Given the overall closeness of the series and the historical success of the road team, I had anticipated a spread of about half that opening number. But even the computer projections are calling for more than that: I showed you BTN’s and Steele’s numbers yesterday; Bill Connelly’s got Georgia winning by 16.5. The most conservative numbers I could find, Sagarin’s 8.5 and SRS’ 10, are still more than I feel easy about. I guess the computers are more comfortable with Georgia’s special teams than I am right now.
- Run the damn ball and stop the run. If you want the key to the game, here it is: “The team that finished with the most rushing yards has been the winner of the past eight Auburn-Georgia games. Auburn enters averaging 191 rushing yards per game. Georgia is averaging 176. However, Georgia is yielding 91 rushing yards per game while Auburn is giving up 186.” Tommy Tuberville was right about one thing.
- Misleading stat of the day. “Since the SEC went to divisional play in 1992, Auburn has an 11-7 record in conference games when coming off an open date. Georgia has an 11-19 record against teams coming off a bye week.” Take Florida out of the equation and Georgia’s pretty impressive against SEC teams coming off the bye. Besides, you can argue that last week was a quasi-bye for the Dawgs (actually, it was a bye week for Crowell and Thomas). Both teams are approaching full strength tomorrow, at least as healthy as SEC teams can be after playing nine games.
- Auburn has a running quarterback. Auburn has a throwing quarterback. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they’re not the same person. In last year’s game, Auburn was 10-14 on third-down conversions. All ten came on runs by Cam Newton. That ain’t happening tomorrow.
In the end, I can’t help but return to a pet theme of mine. On paper, you have to like Georgia’s chances. But these Dawgs don’t play on paper. (If they did, we probably wouldn’t have had to wait six years for another trip to the Dome.)
I really, really like the track the defense has been on starting with the Mississippi State game. If they can keep that up and if the offense and special teams do no worse than not get in the way, it’ll be a good day in Athens.
Which reminds me – Go Gata!