Just thought I’d share some of my opinions on the game yesterday. Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, I thought we showed some really promising signs that make me really, really excited to see what’s in store for this team in the bowl game and especially next year.
First of all, congratulations to LSU. I can’t really be mad when we lose to the number one team in the country. They proved that they are every bit as good as everyone said they were, as everyone thought they were. They proved that they deserved a spot in the national championship game. They are an extremely talented team, and they were the better team on the field yesterday. They had an endurance and a stamina that we couldn’t keep up with, and once they get momentum… you might as well just lay down on the field, because you won’t stop them. Looks like we’re headed for an all-SEC rematch national championship game.
Defensively, we were lights-out in the first half. I mean, we held the number one team in the country without a first down in two full quarters of football. I know LSU’s not really an offensive juggernaut, but that is just incredible. Not to mention the fact that they had 12 total yards at halftime. But that’s the problem — these are halftime stats. We looked very, very good for a half against an outstanding team. Unfortunately, football games last 60 minutes, not 30. I had a feeling that even though we looked really good, our mistakes and missed opportunities were going to come back to bite us, and eventually LSU would impose their will on us in the 2nd half. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Our defensive line got tired, and LSU’s four running backs just powered through and beat us in the trenches. Eventually, we got worn down, and it was all over but the cryin’.
Offensively, we had issues, but we also had flashes of brilliance. We about summed up our entire season in the first two drives — we had some difficulty running the ball, as Isaiah Crowell was gimpy once again (more on him later); there were two passes dropped in or near the end zone that would have been sure touchdowns; and though we came out with some firepower in the first half, the second half became conservative and almost scared, and just like they’ve done all season, LSU’s monstrosity of a defense just suffocated us. Once you start looking scared, they feast on that and just impose their will on you.
Missed opportunities were ultimately the thing that killed us. In the first half, we mounted very good drives, but we killed ourselves when we got to the red zone. There were boneheaded penalties and, of course, those two touchdown drops. There was a missed field goal. (Again, story of the season.) We should have gone into the half up at least 21-0, 28-0 if you count the interception that bounced off of one guy’s fingertips. But we didn’t, and when you don’t take every single opportunity you can get against a team like that, eventually they will come back to haunt you.
I don’t claim to know Isaiah Crowell. I’ve never met him, and I probably never will. I don’t want to judge his character based on what he does on the football field. But for a guy that was supposed to be a premiere tailback in the SEC this season, he simply has not produced the way we thought he would. He looked great in the first half of the season, but took himself out of games at times and could not finish a game, sometimes even finish a drive. Then there were the many knicks and bruises he accumulated in the first half of the season. Then there was the suspension for ‘violation of team rules.’ And then came the ankle injury that has kept him out of the past three games. I’m not saying he faked his injuries or anything like that; I have no doubt they were legitimate. But to be a number-one starting tailback in the SEC, you’re going to have to play through the little knicks and bruises and finish drives and games.
He’s only a freshman, and SEC football is a lot different than high school football — he needs more strength and conditioning training, and I’ll give him all of that. But there is no excuse for the way he acted during the game yesterday. He was interfered with on a pass play that drew a flag, and he chose to fight back; he talked smack and shoved at the guy who pulled him down. The problem I had is that he had yet to produce anything substantial for this team, and yet he felt he was entitled to set them back by negating a penalty that would have given them a first down. In fact, on the play before this one, 5th-string tailback Ken Malcome came out and showed more toughness and heart and gained more yards on that one play an Crowell had showed and gained throughout the entire game. When the 5th-string tailback is more efficient than you, the supposed 1st-string tailback, you have absolutely no right to run your mouth about anything.
I think Crowell will be very successful in the SEC, starting next season. I think he’s young and he wasn’t prepared for the physical toll an SEC season takes on your body, especially as a running back. I think once he gets an offseason of conditioning under his belt, he’ll be better for it next year. But he also needs a little bit of an attitude adjustment and has a lot of growing up to do emotionally. When you don’t produce and really become more of a liability than a centerpiece for a team, there’s really no room for you to act like it’s all about you — clearly, it’s not. I think once he realizes that and starts working for the good of the team, he’ll be a much better player and we’ll be a much better team.
As a side note, I think a month is not long enough for Crowell to accomplish any of these things, and Ken Malcome should start in the bowl game. I think he’s earned it.
We are in really, really good shape for next season. We have almost our entire defense coming back, and while the offensive line is going to be a huge question mark in the offseason — 3 of the 5 present starters are seniors — we are pretty much set in every other position on the team. Going to the SEC championship game is a huge learning experience for those young players. They’ve had a taste of what it can be like when you win, and win consistently, and I think that’ll be a huge motivator for next season. Speaking of which, our schedule is once again very favorable, though I’m almost positive we’ll be playing Alabama.
The fact that we played better than the number one team in the country for an entire half of football speaks volumes. It says that while we’re not there yet, this team is on the fringe of greatness and championships. Early predictions say we’re at least a top 10 team in the 2012 preseason, maybe even a top 8 or a top 5. People are already talking about a rematch in next year’s SEC championship game, and how the Dawgs should be much improved by then.
Regardless, the outcome of this game should not put a damper on the amazing season that we’ve had. Coming back from 0-2 to win ten games in a row and go to the SEC championship is a serious accomplishment. We beat every major rival on the schedule besides South Carolina. We have solved the ‘coaching problems’ (that were never really there to begin with). And we took a very, very young team from a 6-7 finish last year and an 0-2 start to a 2011 SEC East championship and its first SEC championship game since 2005.
Something tells me this won’t be its last.
Some great articles that exemplify how I’m feeling in the aftermath:
There is opportunity here, not just for a tailback but for a team. Georgia figures to be back in the SEC title game next year, and in December 2012 the Tigers — don’t look now, but LSU is also scheduled to return 16 starters — mightn’t hold the same edge in manpower and mindset. In his final words to the media Saturday night, Richt said: “I don’t think we’re that far off. I really don’t.” Right again. A team that couldn’t break .500 last year just played for an SEC championship. The Bulldogs will play for another soon enough, and before long they’ll win one.
– Mark Bradley: ‘Even after another Dome drubbing, UGA’s progress is obvious‘
At the end of the day, a young team grew up a lot over the course of three months. As it turned out, they didn’t grow up enough, and they didn’t grow up as much as we’d hoped, but they came a long way, and they did so more quickly than any of us would have anticipated on Labor Day. That is why I choose to look at the first half and say the glass is half-full, rather than to look at the second half and say the class is half-empty. If anything, this team was ahead of schedule. This team will be back in this building twelve months hence, quite possibly against the same opponent, and, next time, I like the Bulldogs’ chances. . . . the point is that no one who does not spend a significant amount of time in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall thought Georgia even had a chance to be here, much less play toe-to-toe with the Tigers for 30 minutes. That’s how close this team is to finishing the drill at the highest level. Considering where this team was a year ago, I’ll take it.
Still, Georgia fans shouldn’t get so down in the dumps over our Dogs being throttled by what may well turn out to be one of college football’s greatest teams ever that we lose sight of the 10 wins in a row that secured UGA the SEC East title and a trip to a January bowl game. Richt’s program isn’t yet back in the SEC elite with LSU and Alabama, at least not for a full 60 minutes. But Saturday’s first half showed the Dogs aren’t all that far away.
– Bill King: ‘Tigers show Dogs half a win isn’t better than nothing‘