International Bulldog Tooth of Mystery

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging to bring you something that I know a couple of you out there have been waiting for.  Because it’s that time of year again, the time of year when quarterbacks start checking down and going through their progressions, receivers start running routes, running backs start hitting holes, tackles start sealing the corner, and paranoid head coaches start closing off practice so the media can’t get in and leak information to the enemy.  The air is heavy with anticipation as pollsters, pundits, and prognosticators of all stripes are coming out with their projections, prognostications, and in some cases outright prevarications, concerning the upcoming season.

ICYMI:  Angry white supremacists descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia, with tiki torches.  This is a very sad and very difficult moment in our nation’s history.  We have discussed at length how horrific it is that such a thing can happen, and especially the way in which our president, the toxic-waste-dump-in-a-bod Donald Trump, responded to it.  But I think we can at least have a good laugh over the way these morons went about it.  We can laugh at the irony of using Polynesian tiki torches to assert white supremacy.  We can laugh at the idea of all these guys running down to Lowe’s to get tiki torches and then heading over to the protest.  We can laugh at the color-coordinated polo shirts and the irony of a crowd screaming “We will not be replaced” when you could swap anyone in that crowd with someone else and no one would notice.  We can laugh at just the overall wrongness:  “Guys we need to look tough.  GET THE TIKI TORCHES!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Which brings us to Georgia football.  How do we get there from here?  Don’t know.  Just say that there will be people marching in the streets with tiki torches if this year isn’t better than the last.

History is on Kirby Smart’s side in this regard, as there seems to be a fairly strong trend of new coaches taking a big leap forward in Year 2.  Nick Saban, Smart’s mentor, went from 7-6 in Year 1 at Alabama to 12-2 (8-0 SEC) in Year 2.  While that may be a problematic comparison as Alabama had an experienced quarterback in John Parker Wilson and Saban had already won a national championship at LSU, the trend remains:  Mark Richt went from an 8-4 debut season at Georgia in 2001 to 13-1 and an SEC championship in 2002.  Urban Meyer went from 9-3 in his first year at Florida to 13-1 in his second.  Ohio State’s Jim Tressel went from 7-5 to 14-0.  Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops went from 7-5 to 13-0.

There is reason to believe the same could happen at Georgia.  The defense is expected to be among the best in the country.  With Nick Chubb and Sony Michel returning for one more season, the running game is expected to be great.  Decision-making from quarterback Jacob Eason is expected to be improved.  The offensive line remains a question mark.  (Isn’t it always?)  But the questions surrounding the offensive line have more to do with experience than size or athleticism.

Look around at the rest of the SEC East and the view is equally encouraging.  Once upon a time the road to the SEC championship and even the national championship routinely ran through Knoxville, Tennessee and/or Gainesville, Florida.  Those days are no more.  Instead, the SEC East has been a toxic waste dump for the entirety of this decade and is expected to continue to be so this year.  Tennessee is replacing a lot of key players but still has the same coach, whom they might not have by the end of this season.  Florida is pretty good but not great, in an era in which pretty good is good enough to win the SEC East.  South Carolina under Will Muschamp is pretty good, which is good enough to meet expectations over in Columbia.  Missouri is not that great these days, but still fun to watch.  Vanderbilt and Kentucky are, well, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

So Georgia has a shot this year, at least.  (Don’t they always?)  Yet just because they can win the SEC East or because they should, doesn’t necessarily mean they will.  Recent history is littered with the corpses of Georgia teams that were dead in the SEC East by the end of October after starting the season as prohibitive favorites to win the division.  Kirby Smart was hired to bridge this gap between potential and reality.

Appalachian State:  This team upset Michigan in Ann Arbor back in 2007.  The last time they were in Athens, they were still in the game at halftime, though Georgia picked it up in the second half and ran away with the game.  With Notre Dame coming up next week, look for a similar showing.

Prediction:  Georgia 45, Appalachian State 14.

Notre Dame:  Brian Kelly is coming off one of the worst seasons Notre Dame has had in years, and he is feeling the heat from fans and boosters.  Notre Dame will be better this year, and the game is in South Bend.  They don’t call it the Luck of the Irish for nothing.

Prediction:  Notre Dame 36, Georgia 31.

Samford:  If you liked that Youtube short video of Bambi vs. Godzilla, this is the game for you.

Prediction:  Georgia 51, Samford 14.

Mississippi State:  Dan Mullen has had a pretty good run of success at Mississippi State, in that he has taken them to seven straight bowl games.  He is known for developing quarterbacks and has one this year, Nick Fitzgerald, who is supposed to be pretty good.

Prediction:  Georgia 27, Mississippi State 13.

Tennessee:  As noted earlier, Tennessee has lost several key players but still has the same coach, whom they might not have by the end of this season.  Butch Jones is their version of Jim Donnan; he consistently wins more than he loses and he was an improvement over what they had before, but thus far he has been unable to lift Tennessee into championship contention.  Knoxville has been the site of many a horrific Georgia nightmare over the years, but I don’t see that happening this year.

Prediction:  Georgia 28, Tennessee 20.

Vanderbilt:  Last year Vanderbilt came to Athens and embarrassed Georgia on homecoming.  Hey, it happens.  This year, expect a reversion to form.

Prediction:  Georgia 27, Vanderbilt 10.

Missouri:  With their schedule this year, Missouri could easily win 6 games where the best team they’ve beaten is South Carolina or Vanderbilt.  Their hurry-up offense will be interesting to watch.

Prediction:  Georgia 24, Missouri 12.

Florida:  Like Tennessee, Florida also has its version of Jim Donnan in Jim McElwain.  Florida has been fortunate enough to be pretty good in an era in which pretty good is good enough to beat Georgia and win the SEC East.  Florida has owned Georgia for the last three decades almost, frequently with teams of demonstrably lesser talent.  I refuse to expect anything different until I see it with my own eyes.

Prediction:  Florida 20, Georgia 13.

South Carolina:  South Carolina figures to be another pretty good SEC East team this year.  But unlike Florida, this is a team Georgia can actually beat.

Prediction:  Georgia 24, South Carolina 10.

Auburn:  Gus Malzahn’s spread offense is extremely dependent on having the right quarterback, whom he has struggled to find after Nick Marshall left.  After a horrible 2015 season that left Malzahn on the hot seat, 2016 was a bounceback year for Auburn (sort of).  But Auburn faded at the end of 2016 with losses to Georgia and Alabama, and Malzahn remains on the hot seat.

Prediction:  Georgia 24, Auburn 20.

Kentucky:  This is how much of a toxic waste dump the SEC East is these days:  Kentucky was actually relevant in the SEC East for about a week in November 2016.  Being Kentucky, they pissed it away.  This was the game in which our bespectacled hipster placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship kicked a last-second field goal to win it and became a viral sensation.  This win was one of the highlights of our season, which says a lot about where we were in 2016.

Prediction:  Georgia 24, Kentucky 10.

Georgia Tech:  Georgia Tech’s star running back just got kicked off the team for an unspecified violation of athletic department rules (those will get you every time).  Though this changes the complexion of Georgia Tech’s season, they still have eight winnable games on the schedule.  Unless they are able to pull a miracle with the personnel on hand (could happen), this isn’t one of them.

Prediction:  Georgia 28, Georgia Tech 16.

As a bonus feature, please enjoy this video of Tina Fey, a UVA alum, on Weekend Update satirically suggesting that we respond to this and future alt-right protests in the whitest way possible:  When shit gets real, gorge yourself on sheet cake.

Closing Thoughts from Aloysius on the Year 2011 in Sports

Aloysius, our Executive Director of Sports Information here at Everyone's Entitled to Joe's Opinion, goes into hibernation during college football recruiting season.

Aloysius, our Executive Director of Sports Information here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion, usually hibernates when the college football recruiting season starts up.  He is a little (make that a lot–Aloysius just glared at me threateningly) weirded out by the whole idea of grown adults obsessing over where some 18-year-old kid is going to spend the next four years of his life, and he prefers to just sleep through the whole thing.  If I didn’t have to work for a living, I’d be right there with him.  (Not that I’m complaining about having a job.  Especially in this economy.)  He usually comes out of hibernation when spring practice starts up.

Before he goes into hibernation, Aloysius would like to offer these thoughts on college football and the sporting world at large:

–I’m not sure who I hate more, Lane Kiffin or Jim Mora.  Lane Kiffin is an ignorant, loudmouthed doofus who thinks he’s a rock star and the whole college football world owes him a living just because his daddy can coach.  Jim Mora wanted the Washington job so bad, he mouthed off about it on talk radio while his Atlanta Falcons were in the middle of a playoff chase.  The Cons didn’t make it and he got fired.  Served him right.  So he went to the Seattle Seahawks and lasted all of about two years there.  Now he’s at UCLA.  Put it like this:  Both of them would taste really good right about now.

–Jerry Sandusky belongs in my tummy.  So does anyone up at Penn State who enabled him to do the things he did, or who supports those who enabled him.  What’s up with everybody up there speaking out in support of Joe Paterno?  Those people have their priorities all out of whack.  Just let me loose up there, and I’ll teach some people a lesson.

–LSU is going to beat Alabama next week, and it isn’t going to be close.  At least not as close as everyone thinks.  For starters, it’s in the Superdome, which is a home game for LSU.  Do you think Alabama has a chance there?  LSU is a very fast team.  Alabama relies very heavily on size and strength.  This game is on artificial turf, which favors speed.  LSU hasn’t lost on artificial turf since the 2005 SEC championship in the Georgia Dome, when they ran into a very fast Georgia team.  I don’t think they’re going to lose this time.  And if I’m wrong about this one, well, I’ll be in hibernation by the time the game rolls around so you’ll just have to deal.

–Mark Richt is totally living right.  He caught a huge break when the new SEC schedule came out for next year and featured Missouri instead of Alabama.  This means he has a team just as good as this year’s, with a schedule just as easy as this year’s, if not easier.  Of course I expect the SEC to compensate in 2013 by scheduling Georgia in road games at LSU, Alabama, and the Green Bay Packers.

–Speaking of Georgia, they have issues this year and possibly next.  Apart from their special teams, which were atrocious and cost them at least two games this season, they have an even bigger issue:  Are they really that good?  Not that anyone thinks they aren’t any good; it’s just that–we just don’t know.  And that’s why the Michigan State loss hurts so badly:  win that one and you remove all doubt.  All they had to do was hold on to a 16 point lead or make a field goal in overtime.  But they didn’t, and all doubts remain fully intact.  And with no Alabama, LSU, or Boise State on the schedule next year, it is entirely possible for Georgia to win the SEC East and us still have no earthly idea how good they really are.

–Georgia Tech has issues too.  For them, the issue is talent–or the lack thereof.  Chan Gailey couldn’t coach worth a lick, but he sure could recruit.  With Paul Johnson they have the opposite problem.  He can coach, but he can’t–and doesn’t–recruit.  If they’re ever going to get any better, they need to get some better players into their program.  But I’m not too much concerned about this; the whole recruiting thing weirds me out.  Wake me up when spring practice starts up.

–And what’s this I hear about Harvey Updyke (the suspected Auburn tree poisoner) selling T-shirts on Facebook?  Seriously?  SERIOUSLY???  This idiot TOTALLY belongs in my tummy.  That’s all I’ve got to say.

A Word From Our Executive Director of Sports Information

Aloysius, our Executive Director of Sports Information here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion, has a few words to say about the sports story that everyone has been talking about this week.  If you don’t know what story that is, then what rock have you been hiding out under?

There are some pretty sick stories out there in the world of college football.  Georgia players toking up before the Florida game.  North Carolina players cheating in their classes.  Miami taking money from a known thug to fund their athletic programs.  Ohio State players selling memorabilia for tattoos and the coach pretending like he didn’t know a damn thing and the president going all Henny Youngman on us.  Southern Cal players accepting obscene amounts of riches from agents.  Agents throwing massively huge crunkfests for players.

But what happened this past week up at Penn State takes it all to a completely and totally different level.

Joe Paterno is out as head coach at Penn State.  Good.  This couldn’t have happened soon enough.  Why hasn’t Joe said anything about this already?  I guess he’s been too busy thinking about that hottie over in Athens he’s been seeing.  So I guess it falls to me to speak out about this one.

Now some of you are running around out there talking about how we shouldn’t rush to judgment on Joe Paterno.  After all, he did what he was supposed to do.  Right?

Uh…no.  Yeah, he told some people that some crazy stuff was happening.  But those people sat on the information and didn’t do anything with it.  When he saw that nobody was going to do anything with it, he should have gone to the police himself.  He didn’t.

People have likened this thing to the sex abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church back in the early 00’s.  As well they should.  There are definite parallels here.

A program that made a living out of portraying itself as above all the craziness and dirtiness of big-time college football now turns out to have been harboring a sexual predator.  For a very.  Long.  Time.  And Joe Paterno was in on it.  All the way up to his eyeballs.

There were signs of trouble all the way back in 1998.  Penn State investigated an incident of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky showering with an underage male.  Shortly after that, Paterno informed Sandusky that he would not be taking over as head coach after him and Sandusky retired, at the not-so-ripe old age of 55.

Yet Penn State continued to allow this guy access to the program.  They gave him emeritus status, which entitled him to an office on campus and a whole bunch of other perks.  From there, Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant and now the recruiting coordinator, caught Sandusky doing crazy things in the shower and reported it to Joe Paterno who reported it to his superiors–in 2002!!!!!

Penn State should have known something wasn’t right here.  If they didn’t know, it is because they didn’t want to know.

Jerry Sandusky belongs in my tummy.  He deserves to be hunted down and eaten alive, to remain alive while experiencing the full agony of having his insides ripped out and eaten by a bear.  So does Joe Paterno, and anyone else who was involved in allowing this creep to stay on at Penn State for as long as he did.

Aloysius’s Take on New Mexico State

Our Executive Director of Sports Information here at Everyone's Entitled to Joe's Opinion: Smarter than the average bear

Today I am going to let Aloysius, our Executive Director of Sports Information here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion, weigh in with his thoughts on this week’s Georgia game.  Take it away, Aloysius.

OK, so once again Joe wants me to write about the Georgia game this week.  He goes away to Athens and won’t take me with him.  Something about not letting teddy bears into the stadium at Georgia.  Yeah right.  They don’t let alcohol into the stadium either, but that doesn’t stop fans from bringing it in.  If he wanted to bring me, he’d have found a way to get me in there.  And what’s more, this time he stays gone for the entire weekend.  What’s up with that?  Maybe I’ll start a rumor about him seeing some chick over in Athens.  We’ll see how well that plays over at his church.

College Square in downtown Athens

By the way Joe, if you’re wondering where all the honey went, it’s all in my tummy.  Burp.

It’s been a while since I did one of these.  I thought Joe was going to let me do this every week.  Guess the bit about eating Scott Howard alive kinda scared him off from that.  Tough.  He can deal.  And Scott Howard can deal too.  What a doofus.  I don’t care what he thinks.

The tailgating scene on the Myers quad. A little light this week.

So I was all alone here in the Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion compound for the whole weekend, and I didn’t have a TV to watch the game because Joe’s too cheap to spring for a widescreen plasma TV.  But I sure as hell wasn’t going to sit there and listen to that doofus Scott Howard for four hours, so I hacked into and watched the game online.  They had it blacked out here in Atlanta, but I hacked in through Kamchatka, Siberia, and watched it that way.  Heh heh heh.  What can I say?  I’m smarter than the average bear.

One thing about New Mexico State: They sure travel well.

I believe Joe is going to post some pictures here to give you an idea of what it was like over in Athens this weekend.  These better be good.

Okay, so about the game.  Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas, and Ken Malcome all decided to get their ganja on.  Dude!  In the middle of football season?  What were they thinking?  Offer a toke and a brownie to the next person who attempts to tackle them?  (“Come on, Gator man, it’s all good!”)

The old-school cheerleaders: Always a hit at homecoming

So anyway, they all went for their drug test, and their urine specimens blew up the lab.  So they all had to sit out this week.  Mark Richt found a couple of walk-ons to play running back, Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempolis.  Harton rushed for 98 yards on 15 carries and Karempolis rushed for 63 yards on 13 carries.  This was one of the worst defenses in all of Division 1-A; Richt could have pulled a Georgette to play running back and she would have rushed for 98 yards against this defense.

The Redcoats performing their halftime show

Harton did make it interesting though; on Georgia’s first possession he got loose and then fumbled into the end zone and New Mexico State recovered for a touchback.  But he redeemed himself in the second quarter; he scored the game’s second touchdown and put Georgia up 14-3.  That second quarter was a laugher; Georgia scored 42 points in one quarter.  How do you do that?  (By the way, that is the second most points ever scored in a single quarter according to NCAA records; the most is 49.)

Hairy Dawg conducts the Redcoats during the postgame concert

If anything, this was a game to inspire confidence in the nether regions of Georgia’s depth chart.  That was done this week.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading up to Penn State to dispense some ursine justice to Joe Paterno and all those crazies up there.  Having sex with boys in the showers?  So not cool.

Georgia Players Behaving Badly: Coach Richt, You SO Did Not Need This

Coach Richt, you SO did not need to have a whole bunch of your players start acting like knuckleheads. Not now.

After starting the season 0-2, Georgia rallied to win the next six straight.  Georgia is now back in the top 25 and moving up, and has an outside shot at winning the SEC East.  Along the way they beat nemesis Florida for only the fourth time in 19 years.

But that’s not what we’re talking about this week.

Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas, and Ken Malcome are out this week.  Their urine specimens blew up the laboratory when they went for a drug test.  With Richard Samuel out for the rest of the season due to injuries sustained during the Florida game, this leaves Georgia without a running back this week.  I think Richt is planning to pull a Georgette to play the position.

This does not pose any worries; Georgia plays New Mexico State.  The line is Georgia by 33.  They would probably have to have half the team flunk a drug test to change that.  That’s just reality when a major BCS team takes on a team from the lower echelons of Division 1-A.  But there could be a hangover next week when Auburn comes to town; that would be a huge problem.

The blogosphere and Twittersphere have been rife with all sorts of conspiracy theories about who knew what and when.  Isn’t it convenient, they say, that the players in question were tested before the Florida game and not suspended until the New Mexico State game?  To which I say:  Not true.  Laboratories are not always immediately forthcoming with confirmation of test results.  It is entirely possible that the test was administered before the Florida game and confirmation of the results did not come in until after the Florida game.

Still, the whole thing is not a good situation and it is definitely not what Coach Richt needs to be dealing with right now.  Georgia is coming off its biggest win in the last few years and has a realistic shot to play for the SEC championship, but the story this week is all about the knuckleheaded actions of a few Georgia players.

Isaiah Crowell is one of the players who was suspended.  He is by far the most prized recruit of the 2011 recruiting class, and he has been instrumental to Georgia’s success this year.  But this incident brings up fresh questions about his character.  Sure, he’s a freshman.  Freshmen do stupid things; that’s why they’re called freshmen.  But this isn’t the first time he has broken the rules and lost playing time as a result.  (Against Vanderbilt, he was held out the entire first quarter.  Richt later revealed that this was a suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules.)

Is Crowell capable of straightening up and getting his head together?  Or will he become yet another paragraph in the ongoing tale of Georgia running back infamy?  Caleb King and Washaun Ealey, the last two incumbents at the running back position, were kicked off the team this summer because they couldn’t follow the rules.  Washaun Ealey transferred to Jacksonville State; Caleb King entered the NFL draft but went undrafted until he signed with the Minnesota Vikings practice squad.

There was a similar situation at the tail end of the Jim Donnan era.  During the 2000 season, running back Jasper Sanks missed parts of several key games and quarterback Quincy Carter missed the last four games of the season with a thumb injury and Athens was nuclear with suggestions that the team was rife with drug use and the players were being suspended but the coaches were reporting injuries to cover it up.  College football is rife with urban legends and conspiracy theories of a similar nature but this one had at least a grain of truth to it.  When Mark Richt started in 2001, one of the first things he did was overhaul the policies concerning injuries and player suspensions.  Jasper Sanks got in trouble for drugs in the summer of 2001, and Quincy Carter was cut from the Dallas Cowboys after failing a drug test in 2004.

Coach Richt, you SO did not need this.  At a time when your team is finally starting to win and get some positive momentum going, the last thing you needed was to have a bunch of your players start acting like knuckleheads.

Georgia Beats Florida…Wait…Did That Just Happen???

A sight for sore eyes down in Jacksonville. Yes, Coach Richt, you desperately needed this one.

There are times when a single game takes on outsize significance.  This was one of them.

On the surface, there is little if any reason to celebrate beating a 4-4 opponent that hasn’t won since September.  And this game does not do a whole lot for Georgia in terms of the division race; all it does is enable them to keep pace with South Carolina and possibly move into the lead if South Carolina should slip later on down the stretch–which has not happened and may not happen.  And with games against Auburn and Georgia Tech still to come, there is still plenty of time for Georgia to slip down the stretch.

But for some strange reason, Georgia has shown a shocking inability to win this one game.  Going into this game, Florida had won three in a row by a combined score of 124 to 58.  The long-range view was even worse:  Florida had won 11 of the previous 13 and 18 of the previous 21.

This was a game in which Georgia was constantly inventing ways to lose.  In 1992 Georgia scored to pull within 26-24 with about 6 minutes left in the game and needed only one more defensive stop; they never touched the ball again that day.  In 1993 they had the winning touchdown (assuming that a 2-point conversion attempt had been successful) called back because a Florida player called timeout.  In 1999 they fumbled when in position to kick a field goal and take a fourth-quarter lead; Florida went on to win that one 30-14.  In 2000 they went in the space of only three plays from having a chance to go up 24-9 to being tied 17-17; Florida went on to win 34-23.  They have been boatraced by vastly superior Florida teams; they have been shaded by average and even sub-average Florida teams.

Much better Georgia teams than this one have lost to much worse Florida teams than this one.  1992, 2002, 2003, and 2005 stand out as prime examples.  Three times this decade Georgia played for the SEC championship; in none of those years did they beat Florida.  In 2002 they started 8-0 and built a lead large enough to absorb the inevitable loss to Florida; in 2003 they made it only because of the vagaries of a tiebreaker system that involved BCS polls and the phases of the moon and even a vote of the other athletic directors; and in 2005 they made it with a lot of help from other teams.

Considering all of that, it becomes clear that Georgia was not just battling Florida this afternoon; they were also battling two decades worth of demons that had attached themselves to this game.  Overcoming Florida was not that big a deal, but overcoming the demons required a BCS championship-level effort.

For a while it seemed as if the demons would once again have their way with Georgia.  Everything that has gone wrong for Georgia in this game went wrong in spectacular fashion at the outset.  Florida’s first play from scrimmage was a 72-yard strike from John Brantley to Jeff Demps.  Only 7 1/2 minutes into the game, Florida would go for it on 4th-and-19 (Who on earth does that?) and score the game’s first touchdown.  After Georgia kicked a field goal, Demps returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to put Florida up 14-3.  The normally reliable Blair Walsh, who is coming unglued right before our very eyes, missed another field goal.  (He would miss two field goals by the time it was all over.)  And Aaron Murray had a pass bounce off a running back’s helmet and get intercepted.

And that was just the first half.

And then, this team that has found so many ways to lose this game, found a way to win.

The game turned on a play late in the first half as Georgia faced 4th-and-5 from the Florida 20.  Mark Richt–the same Mark Richt who just a few months earlier had ordered a field goal on 4th-and-goal against Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl–rediscovered the nerve that had propelled him and Georgia to the top of the SEC during the early years of his administration.  He had Aaron Murray take a shot at the end zone.  Michael Bennett hauled it in, and just like that the Florida lead was cut in half.

One of the flaws of this year’s Georgia team is that they just don’t know how good they really are, and they have played like it for long stretches of the season.  But on this day, perhaps even starting with this play, they began to believe.

Todd Grantham–say what you will about his end-of-game antics but his defense is playing better these days–made some second half adjustments and suddenly Florida wasn’t doing anything offensively.  Chris Rainey, who has become a non-factor ever since Gainesville police revoked his texting privileges (“Time to die…Hello?…Hello?”) was a non-factor in this one.  The entire Florida offense managed but 51 yards and one first down in the second half.  Their second-half possessions:  Punt, fumble, field goal, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs.

Midway through the third quarter, Richt did it again.  Trailing by a touchdown and facing 4th-and-6 from the Florida 14, he had Aaron Murray throw it again.  Tavarres King outfought Florida defender Jaylen Watkins for the ball, and the score was tied at 17.

There was still some ugliness to come–another long kickoff return would set up a field goal to put Florida back in front–but by then it was clear that today would be different.  A short Florida punt started Georgia off in Florida territory near the end of the third quarter, and Richard Samuel finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run that gave Georgia the lead for good.

With 5 1/2 minutes left in the game, Jarvis Jones sacked John Brantley on 4th-and-10, and Florida never touched the ball the rest of the afternoon.  Thanks to some nifty running by Isaiah Crowell and Richard Samuel, Georgia was able to run out the clock.  The game ended with the ball on the Florida 1.

Georgia spotted Florida a 14-point lead and did not blink.  Their nerves did not fail them as they came back and won this one.  That has been a huge reversal from what we have been accustomed to seeing from Georgia in recent years, in this game or in any other.

It was a flawed win over an average team, marred by special teams breakdowns and other mistakes.  Mark Richt admitted to as much in the postgame press conference.  But Georgia is long past the point of grading wins over Florida.

It was a flawed win over an average opponent.  But it was much more than that.  This game has taken on outsize significance to the Georgia program, largely because of all the pain that Florida has inflicted the past two decades.  Put simply, this was a game that Mark Richt and Georgia had to win.  And they did.

It’s Deja Vu Time

This scene has been repeated all too often during the last 21 years. Is it wishful thinking to hope that it won't happen again in 2011?

Those of you who are Georgia fans know precisely what I mean.

Florida-Georgia is only hours away, and we all know what that means:  Time to prepare yourself psychologically for the inevitable beatdown.

It isn’t just that this year’s Georgia team has done little to inspire confidence despite being 5-2 and ranked #22 in the AP poll, though it has.  Georgia’s four SEC wins have come against opponents that are a combined 1-15 in SEC play, and none of those wins has been a masterpiece of domination.  One of those almost got away right at the end; the Vanderbilt game was not decided until the last play when Vanderbilt tight end Brandon Barden was tackled well short of the end zone.

And it isn’t just that Florida isn’t as bad as we would like to make out.  Though that is true.  Florida got boatraced by Alabama and LSU.  And Georgia would have done any better?  Florida lost to Auburn 17-6 but it is clear they were still missing quarterback John Brantley, who was out that game.  And who’s to say Auburn wouldn’t do the same thing to this Georgia team?  Florida and Georgia have one common opponent to this point:  Tennessee.  They both won.  Yippee.

For Georgia, the problems run much deeper than that.  Florida has won the last three in a row.  The long view is even uglier:  Florida has won 11 of the last 13 and 18 of the last 21.

Another statistic for those of you who are statistically inclined:  Since this 21-game stretch started, 7 classes of seniors have graduated from Georgia without ever experiencing a win over Florida.  Unless Mark Richt can figure something out, the class of 2011 will be #8.

This year’s Georgia team enters the game on a five-game winning streak, ranked #22 in the AP poll, and a 3 point favorite while Florida is on a three-game losing streak.  No matter.  Last year Georgia entered on a three-game winning streak while Florida was on a three-game losing streak.  Florida won for the 18th time in 21 years.

There is no Georgia lead so large that Florida can’t overcome it.  In 2000 Georgia led 17-9 in the waning minutes of the first half and was only a few plays away from going up 24-9.  Three plays later the score was tied at 17.  Florida went on to win 34-23.

And there is no Florida lead so slim that Florida can’t hold it to the end of eternity if need be.  In 1999 Florida led 16-14 but Georgia was only one play away from, at the very worst, kicking a field goal and taking the lead in the fourth quarter.  Jasper Sanks fumbled on the next play.  Florida went on to win 30-14.

Having the better team is no source of solace whatsoever.  Much better Georgia teams than this year’s edition have lost to much worse Florida teams than this year’s.  1992 and 2002 are prime examples.  In the Mark Richt era, three Georgia teams played in the SEC championship game.  None of those teams beat Florida.

Florida has been average or maybe even sub-average in Year 1 under Will Muschamp.  No solace here either.  Florida was sub-average in three years under Ron Zook, and Zook still left Gainesville with a winning record against Georgia.  Georgia couldn’t even touch him until 2004, by which time he was a lame duck.

Another statistic of note:  Mark Richt has worked against three different Florida coaches, and has a losing record against all three (Steve Spurrier:  0-1, Ron Zook:  1-2, Urban Meyer:  1-5).  Lose today and Richt will have losing records against four different Florida coaches.  I don’t think any other Georgia coach has sunk to such a level of infamy.

Believe it or not, however, there once was a time when Georgia owned Florida.  AJC sports columnist Mark Bradley offers reflections from former Florida coach Ray Graves and other eminent Gators who were associated with the program during that era.

Florida-Georgia Reflections: Tim Tebow Gets SERVED!!!!!

It seems incredibly hard to believe, yet Florida-Georgia is almost upon us once again.  Which means it is time once again to jump into the time machine and go back.  Fortunately, we don’t have to go back too far to find something slightly more uplifting than what we have had to witness lately in this game.  So join me as we go back…back…back…

Hillary Clinton and a charismatic young senator from Illinois were gearing up for the Democratic presidential primaries.  Boris Yeltsin, Beverly Sills, and Jerry Falwell kicked the bucket.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hit the shelves of bookstores, much to the protestations of evangelicals everywhere.  The movie version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass came out and barely registered a blip on the radar of the public consciousness.

And on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in late October in Jacksonville, Florida and Georgia teed it up once more.

Yes, the year was 2007.  Tim Tebow was electrifying crowds in Gainesville and all around the country in his first full year as the starting quarterback at Florida.  Earlier that year he had lit up Tennessee and set Philip Fulmer’s seat on fire with a 59-20 win.  His team hit a few bumps in the road though, including a 28-24 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, a 20-17 loss to Auburn on a last-second field goal, and a 45-37 win over Kentucky in which Tim Tebow got roughed up significantly.  Still, Florida was 5-2 and ranked #9 in the AP poll going into this game.

Georgia, meanwhile, was 5-2 and ranked #17 but struggling through a less-than-memorable first half of the season.  Highlights included a 35-14 win over Oklahoma State in the season opener, a 45-17 win over Ole Miss, and a 26-23 overtime win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa in Nick Saban’s debut season.  But there were plenty of lowlights, including a listless 16-12 loss to South Carolina in the season’s second game, a 35-14 bodyslam in Knoxville in which Tennessee scored 28 points during the pregame warmups, and a 20-17 win over Vanderbilt that was not decided until the last play of the game.  That game ended badly, as Georgia players bum-rushed the field and stomped on Vanderbilt’s logo after the game-winning field goal.

Add to all of this the fact that Florida had won 15 of the previous 17 games in this series, and suffice it to say that confidence was not exactly brimming at an all-time high this weekend.

But all of that changed in the opening minutes as Knowshon Moreno broke loose for the game’s first score and all hell broke loose.  Mark Richt had ordered up a team celebration after the first score; the Georgia players took him at his word and bum-rushed the field.  The resulting excessive celebration penalties forced Georgia to kick off from their own 8-yard-line, but it gave Florida a shock from which they would not recover for the rest of the game.

Florida fought on bravely, but a hobbled Tim Tebow and a porous defense were too much to overcome.  For every big play Florida made, Georgia had an answer.  A 53-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Mikey Henderson was lethal; it put Georgia up 35-24 with 11 minutes left in the game.  The game was over when Tim Tebow fumbled a snap with 2:53 remaining; Georgia recovered and was able to run out the clock.

This win was an energizer for Georgia in 2007; it sparked a late-season run that ended with Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and right in the thick of the national championship discussion that year.

Returning to the present, Georgia finds itself in a much similar situation.  Georgia is 5-2 and ranked #22 in the AP poll going into Jacksonville, but has not done much to inspire confidence to this point; an 0-2 start followed by a succession of flawed wins, the latest of which was a win over Vanderbilt in Nashville that was not decided until the last play of the game and ended badly with the coaches getting into it.  Hopefully the outcome in Jacksonville will be similar to what it was four years ago.  We can hope, can’t we?

Well, We Won, But We Are So Not Ready for Florida

Aloysius, our executive director here at Everyone's Entitled to Joe's Opinion, registers his disapproval of Todd Grantham's antics. Yep, Grantham choked.

It isn’t very often that a team laboring under a first-year head coach, a team that just got punked in its last three conference games by a combined score of 96-27, a team that is now down to its 117th-string quarterback and is using randomly selected fans to fill the position, looks at the schedule and sees Georgia coming up two weeks hence, and begins to salivate uncontrollably.  Even though Georgia has just won five straight after starting the season 0-2.  Even though Georgia is now ranked #24.  Even though Georgia has a week off to prepare.

But now, here we are.

Georgia beat Vanderbilt this weekend.  After leading 23-7, they held on for a 33-28 victory.  For a team that aspires to the SEC East title, or even to something only marginally better than a return trip to the Liberty Bowl, the words “held on” and “victory” should NEVER appear in the same sentence.  Especially when the opponent is Vanderbilt.

And yet, here we are.

Georgia is currently riding a five-game winning streak, yet they have spent most of it making us all wonder just how good they really are.  The four SEC opponents that Georgia has beaten are a combined 1-13 in conference play.  Yet Georgia never really put away any of these opponents; they all hung around in their games and were able to make the fourth quarter a lot more interesting than it needed to be.

This time, the outcome remained in doubt until after the final seconds had ticked off the clock.  With Georgia trying–and failing miserably–at running out the clock after a fortuitous interception that should have ended the game for Vanderbilt, Drew Butler had a punt blocked.  When you’re trying to run out the clock at the end of a game, a blocked punt is the worst possible play at the worst possible time.

The worst possible play at the worst possible time:  Still very much a defining characteristic of Georgia football.  To Butler’s credit, he very alertly tracked down the blocked punt and fell on top of it, thereby preventing any Vanderbilt players from picking it up and taking it into the end zone and winning the game right then and there.

But Vanderbilt still had a shot from the Georgia 20 with 7 seconds left.  An illegal substitution penalty backed them up to the 25.  An ensuing pass went off the hands of wide receiver Chris Boyd in the end zone, leaving one second on the clock.  Tight end Brandon Barden made a catch on the next play, but was tackled well short of the end zone at the 16.  Finally–mercifully–this one was over.

Is this progress?

The game was ugly all around.  The offense couldn’t finish drives.  The defense was nonexistent.  And don’t even get me started on the special teams play.  Discipline problems abounded–from the players all the way up to our powder keg of a defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who for the second consecutive year has become a Youtube sensation (more on this later).

Mark Richt was hoping for a quick start.  Didn’t happen.  After four possessions the score should have been 21-0 but was only 3-0.  Here’s how it went:  Missed field goal (49 yards), punt (three-and-out), field goal (52 yards), missed FG (41 yards).  During that time Vanderbilt had two turnovers, one of which set Georgia up at the Vanderbilt 24, and Georgia came away with zero points.

That’s a problem, people.

In the third quarter, Georgia got a field goal to go up 23-7.  Then Vanderbilt returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.  Later, Aaron Murray missed a wide-open Marlon Brown at the 5 yard line for what would have been an easy score before Georgia settled for yet another field goal to go up 26-14.

The defense, thought to be improving, was nonexistent.  Vanderbilt, which had only managed three points in its previous two games, scored three second-half touchdowns.  First was the aforementioned kickoff return for a touchdown.  Then came drives of 75 and 84 yards in which Vanderbilt moved the ball with ruthless efficiency.

Vanderbilt?  Moving the ball with ruthless efficiency?

That’s a problem, people.

So there was Vanderbilt, causing all manner of mayhem at the end of the game.  The aforementioned 75-yard scoring drive cut Georgia’s lead to 26-21.  When Murray responded with a 75-yard scoring strike to Marlon Brown, Vanderbilt showed its resiliency by going on another long scoring drive, finishing this one with a 19-yard touchdown run by Zac Stacy with 9 minutes left in the game.

Vanderbilt?  Showing resiliency late in a ballgame?

Remember when Georgia used to do that?

After the game finally ended, the Vanderbilt players and Georgia players gathered at midfield.  You could cut the tension with a knife.  It was just like the stare-down before the big rumble between the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story.

At the center of it all were Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, exchanging heated words.  The video is all over Youtube; I have included it here at the end.  This marks the second consecutive year that Todd Grantham has become a Youtube sensation; last year he was caught giving the choke sign repeatedly and yelling obscenities toward Florida kicker Chas Henry, who would go on to kick the field goal that won it for Florida in overtime.  I have included this video as well.

This is a problem, people.

Richt on the postgame melee:

All I know is I hate the fact at the end of the game that we can’t just shake hands like gentleman and walk off the field. … It’s like the end of a play. When it’s over it’s over. Go to the sideline. And we didn’t do a very good job of that. It is heated. It is battle. It’s not war with real bullets but it’s war in a sense and tempers do flare up. I don’t mind our blood [pressure] getting high but we can’t do something that may get us beat, or make us look less than a first-class operation.

Grantham:  “Everybody’s competitive. I love my players. I support my players.”

Franklin:  “I went to find coach Richt and didn’t find him, so I found one of his assistant coaches and it didn’t go well.”

This was a Vanderbilt game?????

With 2:53 left in the first half, a transformer blew and knocked out four sets of lights on the east side of the stadium.  Much of the remainder of the first half was played amid dark and shadows.  Just as well.  Most Vanderbilt games are better played in the dark.

This one was no exception.

Mark Richt was not happy about this game.  Nor should he have been.  “I just don’t know if we’re ready to continue at the top of the Eastern Division the way we played. We’re thankful for the victory but we’ve got a ways to go.”

Sounds like Mark Richt might be starting to get in touch with his inner Nick Saban.  If so, that would be a huge improvement.

What we saw this weekend in Nashville does not bode well at all for Georgia.  Especially not with Florida coming up two weeks hence.  Florida is struggling this year, but don’t put any trust in that:  Florida was struggling last year and they still managed to beat Georgia for the 18th time in 21 years.

The good news:  Four years ago Georgia came off an unimpressive win at Vanderbilt that was not decided until the last play of the game.  After the game there was a bit of a ruckus at the middle of the field.  Kinda like this time.  Here is what I thought about that game.

Two weeks after that, Georgia went on to beat Florida.

Maybe history will repeat itself.  You think?

It could, but I am not particularly optimistic.  Georgia won, but they showed that they are still a very flawed team.  The fact that they show such flaws against inferior competition is a huge concern.  What can we expect next month when the competition gets better?

The worst possible play at the worst possible time is still a defining mark of this Georgia team.  For the past five weeks, Georgia’s competition hasn’t been good enough to make them pay for it.  But against Florida, that will not be good enough.

Against Florida, nothing that we have seen the past five weeks will be good enough.

Here is Todd Grantham, our powder keg defensive coordinator, going ballistic at the end of the Vanderbilt game:

And here is Grantham giving ineffective choke signs to Florida kicker Chas Henry: