Redemption in the ATL.
The SEC had five of the top defenses in the country in 2011: LSU, BAMA, UGA, Carolina, Florida. Easily the top three defenses in the SEC this season played for the University of Alabama, Louisiana State University and the University of Georgia. Georgia leads the nation in limiting plays of twenty or more yards. UGA leads the SEC in sacks. UGA is second in the conference in team turnover margin. Of those three schools, only one is quite highly ranked in total offense.
Aaron Murray led the SEC in passing efficiency and touchdown passes while shattering the UGA single season touchdown record. In just his sophomore campaign, Murray threw for more strikes in a year than Matthew Stafford did before he was the number one overall NFL pick, than David Greene did as he became the all-time winningest quarterback in college football history, than Eric Zeier did as he set the SEC career yardage mark. He did it to little fanfare outside of the state because UGA had already dropped two games to ranked teams to start the season. And he did not receive the attention he deserves because the second half of his season was much greater than the first as he matured like a second year quarterback can only dream of, and because the SEC East was unusually weak. Georgia was diminished because the historically best division in NCAA football happened to be down this season. But the West had only three good teams, and Arkansas has beaten no one besides a Carolina squad after they lost their weapons. Actually, Bama has beaten no one of note besides a home win over Arkansas and has failed to win their division for two straight years, finishing fourth in the West last year. The East was certainly down this year, though UGA faced Tennessee on the road when they still had the top passing offense in the conference, though UGA faced Florida in Jacksonville where the Gators were starting a senior quarterback and two senior running backs and had a top ten defense and an 18-of-21 mark, though UGA faced South Carolina when they had a full compliment of weapons ready to defend the East title and pushed them around before fading 45-42 after numerous special teams gaffes and unusual plays.
The Boise loss has resonated in the minds of the nation, but Boise has never lost to a BCS team since their current coach has been in place. I took some grief from a reader for saying UGA should not have scheduled that game, but the plain reality is that if we had somehow won we would have been doing what Oklahoma, Oregon (twice) and Virginia Tech failed to do in years their programs were repeated conference champions and BCS bowl teams – and we would have been doing it in the season opener without a proven offensive identity while starting our youngest team since I first attended UGA in 1990 and coming off a bad year. Our freshmen receivers and runner had absolutely no possibility of being ready for that game. All the betting trends said we should lose that football game, and as is usually the case with Vegas in a situation like that, we did. We lost by two touchdowns and the game is recalled as a total blowout. Carolina was simply a matter of a young Georgia mentally finding out how to close teams out and get big wins after losing eight of fourteen football games prior. Mental.
Georgia has the third-longest active winning streak in football. Only the undefeated Houston Cougars of Conference USA and the Bayou Bengals have won more consecutive games. Georgia can move into second on that list, or first if the Cougars are upset by a strong Southern Miss squad. Here’s how: Crowell must play and play well because we need his combination of power, speed and explosiveness to offset their defensive aggression. And Georgia must protect the football. Every other factor favors or is an even for UGA when comparing the two teams side-by-side. Oregon and West Virginia put up big yardage on LSU and were in those games until they started turning the ball over. Both of those teams have gone on to lose games since. Bama has no passing offense to speak of this season but had LSU whipped if they did not repeatedly choke. Bama in no way has done anything in two full years to deserve a national title shot, by the way – but no other team stood up this season besides small conference Houston…and suddenly a two-loss Georgia. The favorite may win Saturday propelling LSU to their only undefeated year since the 1950s, if they can survive Bama again. History says any SEC team on a ten-game winning streak has a very good chance to win any football game. At fourteen points, I am sure that this is by far the biggest point spread a consecutive ten-game winner in the SEC has ever faced playing in their home state. In fact, UGA may be the only underdog ever under such circumstances, meaning this is wholly unchartered territory for an SEC team on a roll like Georgia is to be getting so little respect. One big win here could change a lot of minds quickly. Can UGA shock the world and actually get into the should-have-maybe-been-considered-for-the-national-championship-game talk again? Trends say maybe.
Filed under: championships
As the late, great Larry Munson once famously said, “The Sugar is falling out of the sky.” That’s if Georgia can do what they did in our last trip to the Dome to face LSU. Ranked in the Top 5 and heavily-favored, LSU appeared too much for UGA…until kickoff. Behind top league QB DJ Shockley, two-loss UGA totally blew out the Bayou Bengals to claim Mark Richt’s second league title.
LSU-BAMA is being hailed as a national title rematch, though if UGA beats LSU no team can say they did what we did. We would have won eleven straight and be the SEC Champions, the only team to beat LSU. And then the two runners up in the SEC would go play for the National Championship. So if we had not turned the ball over and given up so many fluke plays after far out-gaining Carolina in a 45-42 loss, or if we had simply not scheduled Boise, UGA would be one win away from playing for it all. Fair? Hardly. If Georgia can beat LSU, Georgia would be an obvious choice to win a playoff. Not so long ago, Bama failed to score over six points at home versus LSU. While we would have taken LSU out on a neutral field and have not lost since the summer. But, that is the frankly sad state of NCAA football – my favorite sport by far but this year would and does just scream PLAYOFFS. The SEC Champion would be a favorite to win any playoffs, having won the past five championships. What evidence is there this season that a BAMA program that hasn’t won their division in two seasons could outscore us? A Penn State or Arkansas win?
Oh yeah, we beat little Tech Saturday for the tenth time in eleven tries. And we lead the SEC in sacks, the nation in limiting big plays; we have the 4th-ranked D in the NCAA, the number 2 run D in the country. We have the 2nd-ranked offense in the SEC and the conference’s top passer, by far statistically surpassing LSU-BAMA in offensive dynamics. But, we scheduled Boise – a team that has not lost to a BCS conference team in years and years, while beating Oklahoma, Oregon (twice), Virginia Tech…and a very young Georgia team opening the season without a known identity.
Sure, if LSU does what they have never done since the 1950s and goes undefeated to win the SEC, they would be a clear and deserving team to play for the championship, against undefeated Houston. Could Bama outscore the Cougars? We will never know. TCU may have shut Auburn and Cam down last year, like they did every team they played. That is just a fact. No one will ever know. Houston is probably not as strong as the undefeated Rose Bowl “champion” TCU Horned Frogs were last year – we think – well you get the point…
UGA is in a position similar to that of the NFL Champion Green Bay Packers, when the playoffs started last year. Except unlike them, we actually won a football division. We made the playoffs! Bama would be the top wildcard.
The two times LSU has advanced to play at the site of the Sugar Bowl for BCS Championships, they lost football games. Last time, they lost late season to Arkansas, and KENTUCKY and still were voted in to play a home game for it all against hapless Ohio State. But, there is no chance UGA wins this game? Come on. LSU is the favorite, as they were that championship year versus the Big Blue Mildcats, but this game Saturday is a real championship. The BCS is not. The BCS is a bunch of mythical BS, though it would be a huge thrill to go to New Orleans and win the sUGAr bowl anyway. Beating Hawaii there was fun. Right?
Georgia is destined for the Sugar unless Vegas is right Saturday. Then we would have three losses. Bama-LSU will play for it all (regardless). Arkansas has two losses; Carolina has two losses. Arkansas beat Carolina badly and gets the Capital One, probably. Carolina gets their best bowl ever again, the Outback. The Chicken Sandwich Bowl would normally get UGA again under this premise, but would the SEC banish the SEC East Champion Dawgs to the ATL for the fourth time in one season while straight shafting the Big D Cotton Bowl by giving them crappy Auburn? Probably. Maybe the league would work it out and we’d be back in Texas for the first time since we beat Texas 10-9. That’s what time it was in Texas that winter: Ten-to-Nine.
.500 Florida gets a bowl; .500 Vandy gets a bowl; .500 Miss State gets a bowl. And that’s that for the SEC this year. No Tennessee bowl practice this year for Lil’ Dooley. And Kentucky is solidly into basketball season. We could have used mediocre Mizzou and .500 Texas A&M just to fill our league bowl slots. Down year for the middle of the league, I guess.
The league runners up may play each other for it all while the SEC Champions are locked out, because we can win it. Either way the scenario is somewhat disappointing, and we are loaded for next year and had a nice season. We have nothing to lose Saturday. See y’all in The ATL for what had most of the year been deemed a play-in-game to the big one. Just not for us.
Filed under: athens, ATL, championships, GEORGIA, records, richt, SEC East, UGA
If there is a such thing as an ugly win for a championship, this was certainly it. UGA had no running game in the first half, and the lowly Kentucky Wildcats had a slim lead and threatened to win a football game in Athens for only the second time since the 1970s. Their last win Between the Hedges? On their last trip to the Classic City just two seasons ago. That was a bad loss near the end of Georgia’s first down year under Richt, a five-loss campaign which prefaced a program-defacing awful season last year, an actual losing season of UGA football. Unacceptable at the nation’s oldest public university.
The most-tenured coach in the SEC in his eleventh season, Mark Richt has the fifth-best winning percentage of any active division one head football coach. He is 7-3 in bowls, 2-1 in BCS games, 2-1 in SEC Championship games. He has a #2 and a #3 national finish. And he was this close to being fired. At 0-2, a gloom set over the Dawg Nation rarely recognizable outside of Jacksonville. This was the great coach, the coach with the best winning percentage in school history, the great man. Shunned. Nearly fired. Any loss could have resulted in it, could have eventually led to it. Even in this game after eight straight wins including big wins over Tennessee, Florida and Auburn. None came and Mark Richt will get a contract extension and will probably retire someday from football as the head coach at the University of Georgia. Fact: He will go down in history as one of the greatest coaches ever.
Carlton Thomas was suspended again. Isaiah Crowell was hurt on the game’s second play. We had no running game. But we had enough heart to find one. Our fourth string running back, a tiny little former walk-on receiver named Brandon Harton, ran for 101 yards Saturday (89 in the second half) to overcome three ugly UGA turnovers. Our defense gave up no yardage in the second half and extended the conference lead in sacks. In one game today, we essentially accomplished the maximum that the University of South Carolina has ever accomplished in the history of their program. We won the SEC East. For the first time since the Dawgs beat LSU for the title in 2005, Georgia will play for the SEC Championship in the Georgia Dome. First up is another ATL contest, this against a hungry and talented GA Tech program we have beaten nine of ten times for the Peach State Governor’s Cup.
Georgia has the #2 offense in the SEC and the #4 defense in the NCAA; we are statistically-speaking the most complete team in the SEC. Playing as favorites at Tech this coming Saturday at noon and as underdogs in the Dome the following Saturday at 4:00 p.m., we will have a great chance to win both of these huge contests and be champions again and again.
Regardless of what happens, make no mistake about it: We are champions!
Georgia sits on the verge of another SEC East Title. Only a matchup at 12:21 Saturday versus a very down Kentucky team Between the Hedges remains in the conference regular season. Georgia faces little Georgia Tech next week in Midtown Atlanta, where Mark Richt is undefeated over a full ten years. With Oklahoma State joining the long list of the clearly overrated-while-undefeated teams with a crushing loss to Iowa State Friday night, parody (not parity) is the real punch-word for the BCS Championship this season. Boise State was upset in close football games by tough as nails TCU (twice) and a one-loss Nevada over the past two years but has not lost to a team from a BCS conference in many years. Meanwhile, they have defeated generally well-regarded BCS programs: Oregon (twice), Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and finally Georgia. For no explicable reason, the University of Georgia agreed to play a polished program in the type of game they love, with an unproven squad that would eventually be led almost exclusively by underclassmen. It was a bad move in retrospect because, check this out: Georgia would clearly be competing for a National Championship this season if that game had never been played. Here is why: the past five SEC Champions have been National Champions. The winner of the SEC Championship game – unless it is two-loss Georgia – will definitely play for it all. When we scheduled Boise, I wondered why (with an aloud expletive). We were coming off a 6-7 campaign and faced the peaking defending SEC East Champion South Carolina Gamecocks in week two in Athens. The same Carolina program that had Lattimore and had mashed Georgia, and for that matter the mighty Bama, the year prior. Richt must have hoped for one win out of those two huge games. Georgia was ineffective and unprepared for the poise of Boise. Against Carolina, UGA mostly dominated statistically but big plays cost them dearly in a 45-42 heartbreaker. He got none. The team was 0-2. With the team rebounding and in the process of winning out, that quirky Boise contest ultimately may cost UGA a shot at playing for it all. No team in the nation is undefeated besides Houston and LSU. Houston is currently not in consideration for the big game due to their weak schedule. If LSU beats Arkansas, they face Georgia. If Georgia was a one-loss SEC Champion while every other BCS team also had one loss, we would play for a crystal ball. This is reminding me more-and-more of the year LSU lost games near the end of the season to Kentucky and Arkansas and was still allowed to play for a title in their state, which they won. You remember: the year Georgia lost two early games and then Moreno hit his stride and Georgia won out and was playing the best football in the country, then was relegated to playing against Hawaii. PLAYOFFS NEEDED!
Beat Kentucky on Saturday and UGA will be the first team in the SEC to clinch a division. If the morose offenses at LSU and Bama don’t scare their fans, they are as utterly delusional as usual. Bama is a hype machine that had one great year and has failed to win their division since. Bad defense at Arkansas will doom the Hogs. That leaves only one complete football team to vie for the conference title. Sure, LSU can win out and be heavily favored to defeat UGA as they have Bama, West Virginia and Oregon, but let’s have a closer look at those big wins. Bama could not score much that game and has not been able to score much in the first half of the vast majority of football games they have played this season. Their offensive ineptitude dictates that they wait for other teams to make mistakes and give them the game. LSU did not. West Virginia has lost to Syracuse and Louisville this season; enough said. Name the last time Oregon won a big game out of conference. In recent seasons, they have lost to LSU, Auburn, Boise State (twice) and have not beaten a single quality opponent not in the PAC 10/PAC 12 – not one. LSU went 11-2 last year and is undefeated this season and deserves to be number one – at least until Arkansas and/or Georgia simply outscores them. They have an average at best offense and do not get quality quarterback play consistently.
Georgia will have nothing to lose in the GA Dome and nothing to fear but fear itself. If we play our game and protect the football, we have a great chance to be league champions. Aaron Murray has already set the single season UGA mark for TD passes. Crowell is as talented as any runner in football. Our young receiving core is making big plays and has so much versatility. Our blocking has been stellar. And our D is 4th in the nation, while we lead the SEC in sacks and the NCAA in limiting teams big plays.
The vast majority of talent at UGA is underclass. Murray is still just a sophomore, Crowell a true freshman; three of our best four wideouts are freshmen. Basically our whole defense returns next season, and Grantham has a year remaining on his contract and may get an extension. Tennessee and Florida are in the gutter. South Carolina has had one ten-win season in school history and only won the East last season because others slipped.
Since D.J. Shockley led Georgia to an SEC crown, no SEC Champion has come short of winning it all. That may change this season if UGA plays to potential in Atlanta. Next season, UGA will compete for it all. Year after, the same. Since UT won the league in ’97-’98, no SEC program has repeated as champion. Georgia can change that this and next season. Or should we slip this season, over the next two seasons. UGA is the last program to repeat as outright SEC East Champions (’02-’03) and appears loaded enough to make an even more impacting run this time around.
Tebow as a starting QB at Florida won only one SEC Title; Nick Saban while at BAMA has won only one SEC Title. Cam was a one-year wonder at Auburn. LSU is good sometimes but never consistently dominates. Not since Florida’s run of four in a row through 1996 has a single program dominated the league. Georgia has the young talent to compete for three straight SEC Titles.
Filed under: GEORGIA
Auburn and Georgia have played 115 times, and UGA had not whipped Aubie that definitely since 1946. Leading the all-time series in total scoring by 38 entering the game and trailing in the series win column by two games, Georgia dismantled Auburn for our sixth win in the last seven contests versus our oldest rival. The series point lead was doubled, and Georgia can and should even the series by winning on the Plains next season. Replacing three starting offensive linemen appears to be the key for UGA this offseason, as essentially the entire rest of the necessary talent to win big returns with eligibility, besides Boykin. Our secondary is especially deep, and we should be able to come up with someone athletic enough to replace him and return kicks well. I love this team and so much of the talent on it is freshmen and sophomores. Georgia can compete for the next two national championships.
Now is time for the always startling annual news flash: College football season ends in three weeks! (Not counting bowls.)
The next three football games are all essentially championship games for Georgia:
1. Georgia plays Kentucky at 12:21 on Saturday for what will be for the SEC East title for one-conference-loss Georgia or the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. I’m pretty sure we can put that in the win column, as Vandy just blew Big Blue out and they have one conference win, against winless-in-conference Ole Miss. Last time Kentucky was in Athens, I was there and they beat us. Joe Cox played a great half and then a bad half, while our defense was burned by four future NFL weapons that pushed Kentucky to four consecutive bowl games. They are all gone and that only ever essentially just decent era of Kentucky football is over. We moved Kentucky from every other year Homecoming opponent rotating with Vandy, to always nearer the back of the SEC season. This gives us a breather in conference and ceases us ever having to play Auburn and then Tech directly after Florida as we sometimes did in past schedules with mixed at best results.
2. Tech in Atlanta at noon. Georgia has beaten Tech for the Governor’s Cup nine of ten times under Richt, and he has never lost in Midtown Atlanta on the Flats. Grantham’s defense was gashed for 400 yards by Paul Johnson’s ground attack last season Between the Hedges. This year the D is ranked fourth in the nation and leads the nation in limiting teams to plays of twenty plus yards.
3. LSU-Bama-Arkansas in Atlanta at 4:00 p.m. for the SEC. Richt is 2-1 in league title games. 1-1 vs. LSU; 1-0 vs. Arkansas.
Filed under: College Basketball
There is no comparable SEC number two to the Big Blue. Georgia is heavily favored to beat Kentucky in football Saturday at noon to win the SEC East; UGA is rarely favored against Kentucky in basketball. The Hoop Hounds are playing without their best two players from last season: Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins left school early and were both drafted by the Clippers. There won’t be an NBA season. That’s about as should-have-stayed as it can get for draftees. If I had to pick a two in SEC basketball history, I’d take Bama (currently ranked #15). Vandy (#20) is number two of SEC East programs over the course of conference history, but since the divisions were split the definite overall SEC two has been the dreaded Florida Gators (#8). Heck, they once won two national championships in a row. The two future SEC entrants are also ranked: Texas A&M (#18) and Mizzou (#25). Georgia is not so great in the second biggest college sport, though we are 2-0 after beating Wofford and Bowling Green, two program names that don’t ring many bells. This could easily have been year two of Georgia regularly in the NCAA Tournament, but not with two NBA defections.
Filed under: College Basketball, GEORGIA, Mark Fox, media, Sports, UGA | Tags: media
Han Vance of Big Hairy Blawg has joined as a regular contributor to The Georgia Playbook, an all-sports UGA online magazine with monthly issues available to view at http://www.thegeorgiaplaybook.com – here is a basketball preview for the Nov. issue:
Senior Guards Lead Young Hoop Hounds (by Han Vance):
As UGA clawed to an NCAA berth in Mark Fox’s second year at the helm of the men’s basketball program, interchangeable dual scoring point guards distributed to star forwards Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins. With both primary weapons gone as early NBA entrants – awaiting an end to a prolonged professional labor dispute as teammates on the Los Angeles Clippers – more of the scoring load falls to the senior backcourt tandem of Gerald Robinson Jr. and Dustin Ware. Very little differentiates these two from one another in skill sets as both can run, dribble, shoot, dish assists and pressure the ball. Fox plans to go more up-tempo as he plays to the strengths of the only two returning players with extensive game experience.
Top recruit Kentavious Caldwell-Pope moves out to the wing to replace Leslie and will immediately be asked to potentially lead the team in scoring while defending more physically mature SEC competition. Sophomore forward Marcus Thornton probably gets a bulk of minutes in the post, but at only 6-7 he will need help from a trio of tall newcomers, two freshmen (Cannon and Dixon) and a J.C. transfer (the 7-footer, Florveus). Footballers Nick Marshall and Jay Rome should add quality depth once bowl season ends. Until then look for Connor Nolte, a guard/forward, to be first off the bench. Year 3 of Fox era is a bit of a rebuilding campaign with so much young talent.
Last year’s story: Auburn down 21-7 to a motivated UGA team early in a huge rivalry game. They turn it on to stay undefeated behind alleged at best pay-for-play quarterback Cam Newton and certifiably dirty late hitting D-lineman Nick Fairley. Then trailing Bama 24-0, they do it again and play for it all and survive Oregon to win the national title.
This year’s game has one arching story: that of embattled Georgia head football coach Mark Richt. Coming off a 6-7 campaign, his only losing season in ten years at the helm of the football team of America’s oldest public state university. Having dropped two games to start a 2011 campaign highlighted by hot seat rumors and a less than usually rigorous conference schedule, Richt sits on the precipice of his first SEC East title since the year D.J. Shockley shocked LSU to win the conference. Richt won at Tennessee against the then leading quarterback in the conference. And he won at Jacksonville against a senior quarterback 1-0 versus UGA as a starter, to a program which had beaten UGA 18 of 21 times. He survived and mostly thrived by leading with discipline and a clearly level head and composed steady hand. Georgia has beaten everyone they were supposed to beat. And should win out.
At #15 in the BCS and set to face the #20 and #21 teams in the BCS, much still remains to be proven. Auburn and Tech would be the best two teams Georgia has beaten over at least two seasons. If this team is as improved as it appears, Georgia will beat a young Auburn team with the 11th-ranked defense in the SEC. UGA’s D is ranked 7th nationally. The Kentucky game in Athens would become nothing but a celebration and build-up to Tech. Win the Tech game and Richt will have these accomplishments: 10 of 11 versus Tech; a current 5 of 6 versus Auburn; a winning record against every SEC school except Florida and a clear current edge over them as a football program. Win the next game in the Georgia Dome and Richt will again be a champion and perhaps the National Coach of the Year. Lose any but that game and there will be somewhat deserved major derision amongst the emotional fan base. Richt is 2-1 in SEC title games; 7-3 in bowl games; 2-1 in BCS bowls. And this game is all about him.
On a day when UGA played the statistically greatest quarter in our well over one hundred year history of football, much bigger than our win was the South Carolina loss at Arkansas. Carolina’s first ever year and a half plus reign atop the SEC East came to a close in Hogland in a game that also far overshadowed the missed field goal fest between national #1 and #2 Bama and LSU. Murray tied the complete game school record for touchdown passes with five – all in a 42-point second quarter explosion. UGA leads the SEC in sacks and is first in the nation in holding teams to plays of less than twenty yards. At #7 in the nation in total defense, Todd Grantham’s defensive rebuilding job is beyond complete; the days of Willie Martinez-coached units struggling long forgotten. Junk Yard again! UGA appears so far superior in offensive completeness to defense and running only squads LSU and Bama that an SEC title this year is suddenly a very real possibility. Defending national champion Auburn visits Athens this Saturday in a huge game.