Wednesday, August 24, 2011
31-0! WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS BEFORE?
During Coach Mark Richt’s press availability after Wednesday’s practice game, it was hard for me to focus after something Coach said right off the top got my attention. The practice game was set up to start with the second half of play with Boise State leading 31-0. Other than the fact that there were no injuries on the day, I can’t really pick out anything else that stood out to me after that opening statement. I just kept thinking…31-0. Second half. What is it that…? Then I had it. Thirty-one to nothing was the score at the half of the Alabama game back in 2008. A game in which the DAWGS were thoroughly whipped…in their own back yard…with a prime time national television audience watching. A game that had blistered the media in the week leading up to it with a dizzying display of hype complete with back and forth jabs between players and even coaches. This was the game that abruptly silenced all of the positive noise that had surrounded a Georgia team that came into the 2008 season ranked number one in the land. A game that, when it was over, had showed the college football universe that Georgia was no longer a prime time player, even with the likes of Matt Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and AJ Green on the roster, and was in fact…soft. A game from which Georgia, both the team and the DAWG Nation, have never fully recovered. That is why it sounded so familiar. That is why I could not forget.
In the unlikely event you need a reminder, this is how it happened.
Thirty-one to zero. Why would Coach Richt have chosen THAT score as a set up to be used in a practice game in preparation for THIS game with Boise State? Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe he just wanted to not make it too easy for the first unit Georgia squad to overcome the deficit. Coach Richt nearly said as much saying that he wanted to create a little urgency late in the half to make every rep valuable. I can see that. So, maybe there is nothing to it above and beyond what Coach said at all. Then again maybe there was, even if just on a subconscious level. Or, maybe there was even more to it than that.
Because I have the freedom to do such things, I decided to look back just a bit to see if Richt’s chosen scenario was just a random set-up or if it was actually a cunning maneuver by a coach that is both burdened and driven by all that game back in 2008 meant at the time and in the days since in an effort to insure a different result for his squad this time around.
A quick review of the schedule following that awful night in Athens in 2008 reveals that in every really big game the DAWGS have played since, a game that has attracted the attention of the college football world, they have lost. Later that season, Georgia teased us in a late October game on the bayou with a win at LSU only to lose a week later in Jacksonville. In the end, that was a win over a LSU team that finished the season 8-5, and just when they were back on the radar the DAWGS got ripped by Tim Tebow and the Gators. The DAWGS would go on to win a New Year’s Day bowl game, but by that time it just wasn’t enough to keep anyone not in red and black all that interested. In 2009 Georgia kicked off the season on the road with another big time match-up against Oklahoma State. There was a lot of reason for the nation to pay attention, but the DAWGS went down to defeat once again. Georgia would go on to lose another marquis match-up with LSU at home, followed by a stinker of a flop on rocky top. The DAWGS were standing well outside the spotlight the rest of the season and would wind up with an 8-5 record. Last season started awfully as Marcus Lattimore and the Gamecocks punched the DAWGS in the mouth in the second game of the year in a game that seemed to pretty much set the tone for how things would go the rest of the way in 2010. Colorado was interesting to non-DAWG types because of the inter-sectional match-up, but Georgia would lose despite the return of AJ Green to the line-up. Everybody was down on the DAWGS, but the team was at .500 heading into the annual grudge match with the Gators in Jacksonville. The boys fought hard, but in the end it was just another loss. Georgia salvaged a bowl game, but didn’t show up to play in it and the 2010 season came to a merciful close.
Ugh. That was awful to write and even worse to read back to myself. Now there were good moments during that span, and I am a DAWG through and through, but those are NOT the things that championship teams and programs are made of and everybody knows it. Coach Richt certainly knows it. He knows that the old “At least we tried. At least we played hard.” mantra is not good enough at Georgia and he believes that it is not good enough for his players or for himself. That is why I think Coach Richt’s selection of THAT score…31-0…set up to be used in a practice game in preparation for THIS game with Boise State…has a little deeper meaning whether the dean of SEC coaches would ever admit it or not. Coach Richt sees it as a reminder of where the train came off the tracks. I believe that it, even if only for him and only for a moment, added a little fire to the spirit and a little edge to the personality. It’s a little extra motivation in the odd span of time that is the in-between days that follow the end of camp, but precede excitement of game week installation. Or, maybe I’m just making too much of it all…adding a back story to a random and singular fact. Maybe I am completely off base and it was just a random number assigned to just another scrimmage.
Either way, this much is fact: Coach Richt knows that if his DAWGS can get a win on September 3rd in the Georgia Dome against a top five Boise State team…in front of a national television audience…under the glare of the bright lights of prime time with the entire college football universe watching…then this years Georgia team will have taken the first step on the long road back to SEC relevance, national prominence and will have begun to put a shine back on a program that has certainly been dulled in recent years.
I hope I’m right, even if Coach Richt would never admit it.