Nobody said a word last week, at least to my knowledge, about Mark Richt’s sideline demeanor, which is exactly the same as it was when he made his debut between the hedges against Arkansas State on Sept. 1, 2001. He has had the same gameday presence lately that he had when he won conference championships in 2002 and 2005.
I didn’t hear a peep about the play-calling, either. Have you ever noticed that when the offensive line has the upper hand, when the quarterback’s accuracy is assured, and when running backs eat up yardage, it is a whole lot easier to call plays?
Offenses become predictable when the other guy has more talent and his defense executes, putting your back against the wall. Stalemates limit your options. It’s hard to be creative when your offensive line is back on its heels. Gain the advantage early on, which Georgia did against Auburn, and you enjoy a stroll down Easy Street. For example, running back Carlton Thomas is a little guy who doesn’t have that exceptional burst at takeoff. But give him room, and he can do some damage in the open field, as he has demonstrated. Saturday you could use this analysis: The offensive line was so proficient, you could have lined up a tight end at tailback and he would have gained big yardage.
Saturday, dominance was spelled offensiveline. Dominance was also spelled defensiveline. If not for a premature jump offsides in the first quarter, the Bulldog defense probably would not have allowed a touchdown all afternoon.
To determine when Georgia dominated a game to the extent that it did last weekend, you have to go back to the Auburn game at Auburn in 2006, when Matthew Stafford led the Dawgs to an upset victory, 37-15. (Some might want to vote for the blackout game against Auburn in 2007). The fresher the performance, the more memorable it is in most cases, and I would have to rank the most recent dominating victory over Auburn with the 45-16 dismantling of LSU between the hedges in 2004, when quarterback David Greene and his teammates turned in an unforgettable performance.
In the locker room before the game, the players seemed on edge. You never know about that, however. “Lookin’ ready” doesn’t mean a team is truly primed for a successful performance. Loud, outspoken behavior often means that there is more pulp than core readiness. I liked the looks on their faces as coach Mark Richt underscored basic dos and don’ts. Coaches usually say the right things, but sometimes you wonder if the players are listening.
After the game, it was a euphoric scene. This team has come so far and has suffered so much second guessing. There was no ambivalence in Sanford Stadium on Saturday. Tailgating after the game heated up again. There was abundant joy in Mudville. Visions of sugarplums were dancing in our heads over the weekend.
In the locker room, the players danced about with uncontrolled glee, dousing each other with Powerade. I kept an eye on Aaron Murray, hoping he didn’t collide with any large men, like the 300-pound nose guards, who towered over him.
It was a celebration akin to shooting a sub-par round in golf, getting an “A” on a term paper that has been judged by the strictest and most persnickety teacher, or like not missing a free throw with a dozen opportunities.
The Bulldogs’ head coach was all smiles. You noted a bit of elevation in his voice as he offered sincere and heartfelt congratulations. Then he lightened the mood, telling his team, “Congratulations, but it is not mandatory that you go out tonight.” The team roared with laughter.
Outside the locker room at game’s end, the coaches’ wives were lined up to offer congratulations as their triumphant men walked by — a scene reminiscent of another era, when the braves returned to the village from a successful hunt. Wives hear things, they suffer insults in the stands. A championship opportunity is as much balm for their spirits as it is for their companions, who spend all those hours away from the family, preparing for all games, great or small.
There are games left, two consequential ones. Victory over Kentucky would confirm Georgia has half of the championship loaf, and then there is that last one. Georgia Tech. The most important one, the one that, if it gets away, will leave a bad taste in our mouths over the long winter. It is really not time to celebrate anything yet. Saturday, however, was such a good day, you could understand letting the party hang over till the new week. A virtuoso performance needs, at least temporarily, petting and stroking.
But let’s not forget that it is not often that a golfer can shoot a 65 one day and follow it with a repeat score the next. Perspective must now be embraced. There is work to do.