I really, really like Groo’s take on what the winning streak means.
… As Saturday wound down, this was the question on my mind: was South Carolina’s 16-13 loss to Auburn the most shocking SEC regular season outcome in 2011? The Tigers lost to Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and Arkansas by a combined 170-45. None of those teams scored fewer than 38 points, none gave up more than 14 points, and none won by fewer than 24 points. South Carolina picked a bad time to have a poor game against a team that was a whipping boy for the rest of the top of the league. What’s more, they flopped at home and with Lattimore and Garcia in the lineup.
That Gamecock performance against Auburn is a good illustration why it’s so hard for any team to sustain winning over the course of a season. On any day, your starting quarterback can go 9-for-23, or your stout defense can give up 141 yards to a good tailback that didn’t manage but 67 YPG against the top four teams in the league. If Georgia had one of those games against, say, Florida, they were able to find a way to overcome it and still win. That’s why Georgia is representing the East this week, and they deserve to do so.
Was Georgia fortunate to avoid the big dogs of the West? No doubt. But that’s not the same thing as saying it was lucky to win the East. Luck doesn’t account for 10-game winning streaks. Not in this conference. This team put in the work and ground it out week after week. This trip to Atlanta has been fully paid for.
Okay, that’s the uplifting part. The reward for all that is playing the best team in the country. You don’t have to check the stats to confirm that, just the schedule. LSU is the only team in the country with three wins over Sagarin’s top ten ranked schools. No other team in the country has more than one. But, yeah, since I mentioned the stats, consider this: the SEC keeps a statistical ranking comparison at its official site of fifteen key stats and LSU leads Georgia in eleven of them.
More sobering information – Georgia is the fifth biggest underdog in the history of the SECCG. As Marc Weiszer notes, “(t)he favorite has a 15-4 overall record is 8-9-2 against the spread…”
So it’s fair to say that I approach this game with a certain amount of trepidation. But that’s just me. The one huge advantage these Dawgs have going into this game is that they can afford to play without an ounce of fear in their hearts. They have nothing left to prove at this point other than being deserving of sharing the field with the Western Division champs.
I don’t mean that in the sense that LSU is going to be burdened in some way by what’s at stake. If there’s any team in the country which has proven its big game mettle this season, it’s LSU.
What I mean is that this is a game in which Georgia shouldn’t be burdened by timidity and uncertainty. There’s no reason to wave Logan Gray out there to fair catch punts. Richt doesn’t have to send a message to his team that they have to be tougher on third-and-short if they don’t want him calling for a field goal early against a CUSA squad in a meaningless bowl game. No, they’ve proved themselves by regrouping and clawing their way into the title game. They’ve accomplished their primary preseason goal. In a sense, they’re playing with house money now. They can afford to be a little loose.
That’s not the same thing as being reckless. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of prudence when you’re playing a Miles-coached team. Given Georgia’s special teams’ issues, guarding against a little trickeration in a tight game seems a wise move. But that’s far from the same thing as trying to avoid the worst possible outcome of every play instead of trusting your players and coaches to make the right move and execute it. This team has learned a lot about itself over the last ten games. Now’s the time to apply those lessons.
It wouldn’t hurt if Isaiah Crowell were healthy for the entire game, either.