Sept. 15, 2011
I hesitate as I write this. I hesitate because many will say I am simply blinded by my loyalty to this University...to this Coach...and to the players on this team. But that is not the reason for my hesitation. The true source of my hesitation is my superstitious nature. I have been superstitious from the time I first put cleats on as a 5 year old playing soccer in El Paso, Texas. Left cleat had to go on first and then the right. I ate the same meal two nights before every football game I played in from the time I was a freshman in Heidelberg, Germany until my last pre-season game before my playing days were over with the Atlanta Falcons. That meal...a calzone with pepperoni, ham and mushrooms in case you were curious. I don't believe you talk about a no hitter...ever...while the game is in progress. I believe the mere mention of a kicker being perfect is pre-cursor for his first miss. This is the reason I hesitate.
Our Georgia Bulldogs are 0-2. We are coming off of a 6-7 season. There really should not be much reason for any optimism...and yet, the more I see this football team the more excited I get about our future. While many across the Country have written off the Bulldogs...I believe this Georgia team will finish the season with 10 wins barring any serious injury and it still may win the S.E.C. East if South Carolina follows suit on a history of starting strong but not being able to finish late. On top of that, if you put the two teams we just lost to at the back end of our schedule this year we win at least one of those games if not both. There...I have said it.
Many will say I am making this statement because our schedule appears to be a favorable one the rest of the way out. I am not one that necessarily believes that. When you play in the S.E.C., every single game you play is a battle. Every single team is capable of beating you on any given night. I know how difficult it can be to play Ole Miss in Oxford. We all know how difficult it can be to play Tennessee in front of 100,000 plus. We only have to look to last year to know how good Mississippi State is...even with their loss last week to Auburn. Do we even need to talk about the Gators? No, I don't make this statement because of our schedule from here on out...I make this statement because I am seeing the makings of a football team that has the ingredients to win every game it plays in. Championship teams excel in three areas: they can shut you down defensively, they can run the football, and they play great special teams. While it is true we are not there yet, we are starting to see glimpses of good football in all three areas. It is now a matter of a young team shaking off mistakes and playing at a more consistent level. If this team stays healthy...and stays together after starting 0-2...this team can post 10 wins in 2011 and they can win the S.E.C. East.
Let's start defensively. South Carolina returned from their 2010 squad a 3,000 yard passer, a 1,000 yard receiver, and a 1,000 runner. They are coached by one of the best offensive minds in all of college football. They are an explosive unit that can take games over. And even with Garcia, Lattimore and Jeffries on the field...take away a pick six, two fumble recoveries that resulted in 14 points, and a fake punt that went to the house...the Carolina offense could only muster 17 points. We are starting to grasp Todd Grantham's 3-4 schemes and play with the kind of aggressiveness you have to play with to win big games. I know Boise State executed with a surgical precision against us, but they have done that to everyone they have played over the past several years and are easily one of the best offensives in all of College Football. The mental lapses of last year, at least for the first two games, appear to be gone. And in its' place is a variety of different fronts, coverages, and blitz packages that the 3-4 allows you to put in place. And the best news is...we will only get better. As each game goes by, this defense will become more and more comfortable with the schemes and with each other. And is this comfort level rises...so will the ability for this defensive to take over games.
How long have talked about the need to develop a running attack? How long have we longed for the offensive line to dominate the line of scrimmage? Well, this past Saturday we found what we have been looking for. Isaiah Crowell stepped into the spotlight of Sanford Stadium and showed all of us that all of his accolades coming into Athens were well deserved. He was not alone of course, he did his work behind an offensive line that appeared to take personally the questions that were coming its' way out of the Boise State game. We dominated the line of scrimmage last Saturday in Athens. Holes were opened, edges were gained, and when asked to protect Aaron Murray...it was done in dominating fashion. Add to this attack the ability to insert a Brandon Boykin or a Malcolm Mitchell and you create nightmare match ups and situations for opposing defenses. Running attacks allow you to control the tempo and flow of games. Running attacks allow for consistent performance. If we grow on the steps we took last Saturday, this offense will become increasingly difficult to stop...especially with one Aaron Murray at the helm calling the shots.
Blair Walsh, Drew Butler, and Brandon Boykin...do we need to say more about the potency of our Special Teams? All three men can be, and should be, in the discussion for who is the best at their respective positions across the country. Every time Brandon Boykin touches the football he is a threat to score. Drew Butler can flip the field on you in the blink of eye. You put a running game and defense with the ability to flip the field consistently and you give yourself the opportunity to completely stifle opposing teams. And finally, when Blair Walsh is on your side...you almost feel as if you can put points on the board from anywhere on the field. Last week you could argue it was a special teams play that lost the football game for us, but before this season is over...this unit will be the defining factor in two or three victories.
Championship teams play great defense, they can run the football, and they can win close games with their special teams. No, we are not there yet. But if you ever had a reason to be excited about a football team that is 0-2...this is the team. There is a lot of football left in the year. We have a hole we have to dig out of. But this team is starting to show signs of a team that can contend and win every game it plays from here on out. Only time will tell...but I for one cannot wait to see how we finish!