Tuesday, January 03, 2006

On sugar (aww, honey, honey)

Okay, so it's wicked late, and I've got a big day at work tomorrow. But I just got back from watching the kind of game you don't want to watch - the kind we lost. I don't really mind getting beaten, but ohhhh, do I hate losing.

Losing is when another team hangs 28 unanswered points on you by the opening minute of the second quarter. It's some small comfort that we did manage to put in 35 points of our own by the end of the game, losing by only 3, but that comfort is really, really small. Put plainly, West Virginia did everything right, and Georgia had the occasional Forrest Gump success that made the loss not as bad as it could have been. You know that it's hurting me to write this, but it's the truth.

The bad stuff? I'm still not convinced that West Virginia is the better team. Call it unshakable Bulldog arrogance (from a drunk, obnoxious Georgia fan); that's probably what it is, and in my position, WVa fans would probably be saying the same thing. The Big East is an increasingly tough conference, but it's no SEC, and I don't know that the Mountaineers' strength of schedule matched ours. That makes this loss all the more painful. If we're going to lose, I want to lose to a better team. I want to lose honestly and be sincerely overmatched, not screw up periodically and go down by 3 in the last minute and a half.

The good stuff? We've still got a solid team. I hate to see D.J. Shockley go, especially after a painful loss like this one, but I know he's got good times ahead, and our team is stronger for having his leadership. We've also got potential (untapped, but potential just the same) in our backup players, and our recruiting class for 2006 is top-notch. None of that guarantees performance, but I trust the men who molded David Greene and the D.J. Shockley into competent players and great leaders to do the same with Joe Tereshinski and Joe Cox.

There's more that needs to be done, though, than simply polishing up a few sophomore quarterbacks. Several significant problems plagued the Dawgs throughout their 2005 season, and I'd love to know that they're being addressed over the summer. So while I'm not crazy about making New Year's resolutions for myself, I have no problem doing them for others; Bulldogs, here's what you'll be working on in the off season.

1. The Bulldog defense resolves to stick to every player they hit. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is the single biggest problem UGA's defense faces. During the Sugar Bowl, I'd watch in horror as a Mountaineer would get the ball, take a hit (or three), and still manage to stumble twelve yards before going down, if they did at all. These weren't big guys; our guys just weren't jumping on and riding them to the ground like they ought to. This isn't flag football, and playing like it is is a good way to develop bad habits.

2. The Bulldogs resolve to keep their eyes open on fourth and long. It's so easy to feel overconfident at fourth down and twenty yards. It's easy to get sloppy, and that makes it easy for the other team to slip in a 62-yard touchdown run when you're looking the other way. It happened against Auburn, and it happened tonight against West Virginia (although, in the Dawgs' defense, there isn't a lot you can do to prepare for a faked punt). Our losses this season didn't come, for the most part, from a team just being better; they came from a team taking advantage of us when we let our guard down. The solution? Don't let your guard down.

3. The Bulldogs resolve to play their own game. It's such a ridiculous sports cliche, one that athletes spout in the locker room when they want to sound profound but have nothing to say. You'd think they'd take it to heart. Georgia has a nasty habit of playing the other team's game - playing down to the level of the other team, or just trying to defend against the other team's game when they ought to be offensively playing their own. Tonight, West Virginia showed unbelievable speed, and Georgia tried to beat them with speed. You can't beat them with speed; that's their thing, and they do it really well. We needed to stop their speed and answer it with our own strengths to win the game. I'd like to see more of that in 2006.

The biggest mistake is the one you make twice. If Georgia goes two and ten next season, of course I'll be pissed, but I'll be more okay with it if they go two and ten making all new and previously unexplored mistakes. The 2006 Georgia team is bright green but (and?) busting with potential. Fix the foundational problems, polish out the smaller bugaboos that arise, and next season will be dead awesome.

And whatever may come, we're still better than Auburn.

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