The only sour note for me during a truly memorable night was the asshole Georgia fan sitting behind me. (He may have been drunk and obnoxious, but it didn’t make him finer.) Ten years ago, he would have been sitting in the Sanford Stadium stands, railing about Bobo after every play that didn’t result in a touchdown. Monday night, it was about constantly giving Monken advice — Georgia should run the damned ball, throw the ball to Bowers or throw the ball to Pickens on every play, depending on the result — and about how Georgia was destined to lose because Stetson Bennett was not national championship material.
The obnoxious part was easy to discern. The drunk part? Well, buddy, when you feel it’s important to repeat the exact same point six times in a row, despite the fact that everyone around you, including your wife, is trying their damnedest not to become involved in the conversation, it’s a pretty good clue you’ve loosened your sensibilities with the devil’s beverage.
I mention this, not because he was right — mercifully, Bennett’s touchdown pass to Mitchell shut him up for the rest of the night — but because it reflected a similar talking point sober fans were making here at the blog during the time between the SECCG and Monday night. Georgia wouldn’t win the rematch, hell, couldn’t win the rematch, because Kirby didn’t build his team the way Nick Saban built his.
While the building part of that is true, it missed the larger point I went out of my way to make several times here; namely, that Bennett was fine for Smart’s and Georgia’s purposes as long as he wasn’t asked to do the one thing he wasn’t really good at, chasing an opponent with an explosive offense. Georgia was going to have to win with defense and Bennett playing within himself. As Matt Hinton put it before the game,
Smart has made some concessions to the spread revolution but never embraced the premise quite as fully as his old mentor. The Bulldogs’ insistence on sticking with Bennett behind center when most of the outside world expected his run as QB1 to be temporary was implicitly a bet that the defense would render the question academic. If they succeed in making a blue-chip, NFL-ready superstar look ordinary enough to win with a former walk-on on the sport’s biggest stage, it will be a landmark victory for the counter-revolution. Can defense still win championships in college football? We’re about to find out.
So we did. It turned out to be the SECCG that was Georgia’s outlier, not the body of work from the other twelve games. Imagine that.
You can find all sorts of takes on what the key to the game was, but for my money, the biggest of them all was that Georgia never found itself down by more than one score. Yes, Bennett was shaky to start the game out, but he never found himself in a situation where he had to operate outside his margin of error. He managed to regroup after his questionable fumble, when Georgia was still only five points behind, with the great throw to, and even better catch by, Mitchell. But even there, he took a shot on a free play due to the ‘Bama offsides penalty. He didn’t force a throw because he felt like he had to be the hero, and that’s because he was never forced to play hero.
In other words, the defense allowed Bennett to stay within himself when it counted. Just like Kirby drew it up.