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We welcome the 13th Wriphe.com Batman and Football Month with the UGA home opener!
First things first, today's season opener was quite possibly the hottest game I've ever attended. Thermometer said 95°, but I'm positive that it was much hotter in the direct sun. Mom was particularly affected, and rather than tempt a case of heatstroke, we left halfway through the second quarter. That's by far the earliest I've ever departed the stadium. Of course, by then, UGA was up 24-0 on the helpless Austin Peay Governors, so it didn't fell like I was missing much. (Final score would be 45-0. The game was so lopsided and the heat so bad that the teams agreed to skip playing the last 5 minutes of the fourth quarter. Even the teams went home early.)
The game was notable for another reason: the debut of the offseason renovation to Sanford Stadium, complete with a new locker room, larger video monitor, and revision to the pregame ritual. Players now enter the field from the west endzone.
All that's nice, sure, but I personally found a more notable change to be that the television time-out official now holds up a large digital timer that lets fans know exactly how much longer the time out will last. That's an improvement, but given the weather conditions, it felt like I was looking at an oven timer telling me how much longer until I was done cooking.
Most of you reading this know that I spent the entire offseason debating whether I wanted to continue purchasing UGA season tickets. The school has capitalized on its SEC championship and national second-place finish by making a naked cash grab, including increasing ticket prices by 50%. With the season finally underway, I feel I need to get twice the enjoyment from my games to justify the price. Did I do that today? Yeah, I probably did. If nothing else, it was a unique experience I wouldn't have gotten on my couch.
Another year in the books!
Today's Kentucky/UGA football game was the last home game for outgoing seniors Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, who combined for 238 yards and 5 touchdowns on the way to a 42-13 win.
(It wasn't really as close as the lopsided score indicates. By the end of the game, Kentucky players were gassed, and Georgia's second line of running backs kept gashing them. UGA had 381 rushing yards overall on the day.)
The win doesn't exactly make up for last week's collapse at Auburn, but it does inspire confidence going forward to Georgia Tech and the SEC Championship. Go Dawgs!
Back in September, I had planned to take friend Michael to his first UGA game. That plan was disrupted by Brian's wedding. Today was the make-up date.
Mike had never even been in Athens until arriving for today's game. He's not much of a football person, but he tells me that he had a good time watching the #1 Bulldogs running over the Gamecocks, 24-10. I'm inclined to believe him. I had a good time myself.
Whew. A 53-28 Georgia win shouldn't be stressful. It should be easy, a walkover that you can leave before the fourth quarter knowing the second string can put it away. Not so much this one.
Four teams ranked inside the top ten lost to unranked opponents this weekend, and during the first half of tonight's game, I was terrified that UGA would be a fifth. Missouri, 1-5 on the season and a 30-point underdog against 4th-ranked, undefeated Georgia, scored on three consecutive drives in the first half to tie the game at 21-21. I admit it; I was watching through my fingers.
Fortunately, the UGA defense finally applied the brakes, and when the homecoming court took the field at halftime, the score was 21-34. Missouri was never a threat again.
I think being undefeated on the season is starting to give me an ulcer. I don't know that I can take many more blowout victories like this. Up next: Florida. Ugh! I might watch with the covers pulled over my head. Comments (1)
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I was worried Georgia might have their hands full today. Turns out, not so much.
UGA and MSU entered the game undefeated and ranked 11 and 17, respectively. However, early season rankings don't mean much. UGA squeaked by Notre Dame while MSU had walked over LSU. That made it seem that MSU might be tough competition. The final score, 3-31, proved otherwise.
It's still early in the season, but if Georgia can play as well as they did today against the rest of their SEC schedule, it could be a pretty good year.
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It didn't take long for the 2017 UGA football season to go off the rails. Eight minutes and thirty seconds, to be precise.
There between the goalposts you'll see UGA's 2017 season being helped off the field.
That's when sophomore starting quarterback Jacob Eason went down with what has been called a "knee sprain" on a late hit out of bounds. As I write this, the true extent of the injury is unknown, but judging by how quickly Eason disappeared from the sideline never to return, this thing is serious.
Eason wasn't exactly tearing up the field in the brief time he did play. He completed one of three passes for four yards. His two misses were overthrows of open receivers. Like the rest of the team, he seemed too "tight" to start the game, a recurring problem for the team during Smart's increasingly dissatisfying tenure.
Everyone loosened up when true freshman (and the latest in a line of "No, Seriously, He's The Next Great Thing℠" at quarterback) Jake Fromm replaced Eason, and the Bulldogs went on to win in convincing fashion. Chubb and Michel looked game ready, and everyone was happy. Until the fourth quarter, when Bryce Ramsey, in true Bryce Ramsey fashion, threw two interceptions on two consecutive drives on the only two passes he attempted in the game! All 10 of Appalachian State's points came indirectly from Ramsey turnovers. Sigh. I hope next week's opponent — Notre Dame — wasn't watching.
Jake Fromm, you better find a way to make a uniform out of bubble wrap. Something tells me you're going to need it.
In 2014, Georgia Tech won in Sanford Stadium on a last second collapse by Georgia. Two years later, here we are again. Mark Richt was fired exactly a year after his mistake. Is Kirby Smart on the same path?
First of all, a word about Georgia Tech. The much maligned Paul Johnson brought crafty play calling and superior discipline to Athens and beat a team with superior talent 28-27. Congratulations. See that it never happens again.
Now back to Smart.
Before the season started, a friend asked me what I thought of Kirby Smart as the new head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. At the time, I wasn't nuts about some of the bad habits he brought over from his former employer (including hiding from the press, influencing the Georgia legislature to exempt his program from sunshine laws, and resisting the transfer of student athletes). However, I said I'd wait until the season ended to render an opinion. The season is now over, and I remain less than optimistic.
Fact: Despite playing all four of them most years for the better part of a century, Georgia has never lost football games to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida, and Georgia Tech in the same season before. Not under Richt, not even under Donnan. Add in that we only squeaked by Auburn because they ran out of players and it gets worse. That's an incredibly inauspicious start to the Kirby Smart era.
All season, I've heard about how Georgia is losing because its talent is lacking. Somehow, that never came up while Richt was coach. Smart started the season with Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb, his talented roommate Sony Michel, and the most talked about quarterback recruit in the SEC. He ended the season ranked 12 of 14 SEC teams in total points per game. Maybe former Defensive Coordinator Smart needs time to adjust to learning to coach offense, but his defense still finished 7 out of 14 SEC teams in total points allowed. Maybe, as his defenders claim, Smart doesn't have the players with the skill sets necessary to play "The System" he brought over from Alabama, but that's not the fault of Richt or the kids he recruited. That's on the coach who chose a system and failed to adapt it to suit the talent he had available.
I hope that the problems of 2016 represented growing pains for a rookie head coach learning on the job. The good news for Smart is that it will be hard to do any worse in 2017. That is, unless he's determined to lose to Auburn, too.
Final score: University of Louisiana at Lafayette 21, UGA 35. It wasn't that close.
Let's see, what else was memorable about the game? It was really windy. The pregame included another flyover (C-130?). By the time we took our seats, Isaiah McKenzie had already scored two touchdowns.
Hmm. Was there anything else?
Oh, right. Black jerseys. No big deal. Can we let that go now? Please?
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Auburn was ranked 9. They were favored by 10 points. Yet they haven't won in Athens since 2005. Do I have to tell you what happened next?
The evening started well, with a rare US flag display in one end zone and an F-16 flyover. Then the fellow who sits next to me showed up drunk. A fight broke out between two UGA fans a few rows in front of me, and then a second scuffle erupted when someone spilled his nacho cheese on someone else's jacket. However, things didn't really get ugly until the teams started playing football.
Auburn began the game with a truly dominant rushing attack. Their first drive was derailed only by a fumble. Their second drive resulted in seven easy points. Georgia, on the other hand, had nothing. They couldn't even get a break on a clear pass interference non-call. Bulldogs fans were not happy. Through halftime, the score remained 7-0. It looked like the sun was setting on what was left of our season.
Then, after halftime, Auburn inexplicably moved away from their run game. Instead, they devoted themselves to a passing attack that was more pass than attack. Auburn eked out only 37 yards in 22 passing attempts for the game and never scored another point. (Next time Auburn fans want to make an argument about firing Gus Malzahn, this should be exhibit A. If quarterback Sean White was nursing an injury, why ask him to do more?)
Meanwhile, UGA intercepted and returned a pass 34 yards to tie the game. Auburn continued to struggle while, in consecutive drives, UGA managed one field goal, missed a second, then made a third. UGA won, 13-7, without ever scoring a single offensive touchdown.
In 2016, we'll take what we can get.
(Special thanks to Friend Randy, an FSU fan who bought me a Coke before the game started and another after the game was over. That's friendship!)
EDIT 2016-11-13: I've been informed that television audiences were informed that Auburn stopped running the ball because they ran out of healthy running backs. All I can say about that is that the running back attrition wasn't obvious to those of us in the stands. I still think Malzahn would have had more success calling running plays for the quarterbacks instead of passes, but I'll have to trust he knows his personnel better than I do.
Frankly, there can be no more debate. The 2016 Georgia Bulldogs are not very good.
Even though I was there and watched every play, I can't tell you why exactly the Bulldogs lost to the Vanderbilt Commodores today. They ran and threw okay (offensive line is still a weakness), but couldn't get points. Special teams were as terrible as usual, if not worse, and I think that was the difference. Giving up 7 points to Vandy in the first 22 seconds (after an opening kick return to the 4 yard line) was probably more than this team could overcome.
At least losing to Vanderbilt 17-16 proves that the Hail Mary loss to Tennessee wasn't as painful as it seemed at the time. This Georgia football team will be nowhere near Atlanta when the SEC Championship Game in December, and rightfully so.