Saturday, February 3, 2018

Super Bowl Dawgs

Malcolm Mitchell hasn't played for the Patriots this season as he has been nursing a knee injury. The former Georgia star receiver has been in the NFL for just two seasons. But if New England wins tomorrow night against the Philadelphia Eagles Mitchell could have just as many Super Bowl rings! Regardless, there's no doubt Mitchell wishes he was on the field to help Tom Brady out and everyone back in Valdosta GA wishes the same thing.

Boss Andrews' best 75 meter sprint.
One former Bulldog and now Patriot that will be playing is David Andrews. "Boss" wasn't drafted in 2015, but signed on with Belichick's team and eventually earned the starting spot to start their 2016 season. Like Mitchell, Andrews is a homegrown Georgia boy having graduated from Wesleyan High School. Dawg fans remember Andrews as a consistent starter having played in 50 games as a Bulldog. There's no doubt that Tom Brady and the New England coaches appreciate that consistency as well.

The lone Dawg on the Eagles' side is Dannell Ellerbe. Philadelphia is Ellerbe's fourth NFL team, and this will be his second Super Bowl having won one with the Ravens in 2013. Unfortunately, the former two sport star out of Richmond Senior High School in Rockingham NC has played sparingly this season. But when he does enter the game both Georgia fans and Ravens fans will look for him around the ball. Ellerbe has a knack for creating and recovering turnovers. In fact, his interception of Brady in the 2013 AFC Championship game helped the Ravens slip past the Patriots into SB XLVII.

NetBet Sport currently has the Patriots as a 4.5 point favorite. As an NFL agnostic, I only have those three former Dawgs in the fight. It's even more popular to root against the Patriots in the NFL as it is to root against Auburn in the SEC. And Belichick's team usually enjoys the role so much they simply keep on winning.

Still, I think the Eagles could run away with this one, much like the Falcons last year for the first 45 minutes. But I think Philadelphia closes the deal. Most importantly, I hope my smoked wings turn out as good as last year.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Two initial Tuesday thoughts

First, as well as officiated as the Rose Bowl was, last night was about the opposite. The Tyler Simmons offside call on the block punt missed the fact that he was drawn. Still, in real time that was probably forgivable.

However, when Swift gets dragged down by his face mask and collar right in front of the head official, that’s more than a head scratcher. 

Second, we’ve relied on halftime adjustments all season. Last night we went into the locker room thirty minutes away from a National Championship with a 13-0 lead. Chaney had Pruitt on the ropes after that Hardman touchdown run. And clearly Tucker was having a relatively easy time of making Hurts use his head and his arm more often that his feet. 

But somewhere along the way our offense neglected itself of Sony Michel. He was clearly the player that needed the ball most often and yet we didn’t give him the reins. That’s something that I know will haunt me for a long time. Surely the same goes for Jim Chaney. 

And that Tua kid, you’ve got to give him credit, stepped into the biggest game and delivered. They’d been working Parrish’s side all along. Somehow we failed to close that window. 

Feel bad for you and I. Feel bad for the coaches that had worked so hard and came so close. 

But I’m heartbroken for that team, especially those seniors that deserved that stage and everything that comes with it. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

the Sunday Misery is moonlight through the pines

"Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers..."

Love me some Skynard. But this week, like no other, I prefer just an old sweet song.

My tell-tale Dawg heart
In elementary school, teachers invited us to the front of the room to either show or tell. You had an option to show the class something that was important to you, or tell them something that was important to you.

Can you guess what I usually chose?

In 1972 my parents moved to Athens GA. I was two and a half years old. I didn't move away until I went off to college.

In my grade school years I remember passing the railroad tracks on the east side of Sanford and seeing it full of empty beer and whiskey bottles plus the occasional worn-down recliner on the way to Sunday School.

After the National Championship in the 1981 Sugar Bowl, I remember all of the billboards around Athens featuring the Junkyard Dawgs and the phrase "Hunker Down"!

Somewhere around 1983, I remember the house that was built adjacent to the Dooley's home near the intersection of West Lake Dr and Milledge Cir. The joke was that Coach was building it for Herschel. I was almost young enough to believe it.

Later, I went to Cedar Shoals High School. I was a couple years behind Athens Good Samaritan Bryant Gantt. He's the guy you've seen on the Georgia sideline probably since the Donnan years. As a lifelong fan turned employee of the University, he's on his way to becoming the only contemporary I know that is on a trajectory that legends like Coach Dooley and, dare I say, Coach Magill were on decades ago.

In 1988 I graduated high school at Stegeman Coliseum. The same Steg I used to (occasionally) skip Wednesday night choir practice with Chip to see Durham's Hoop Dawgs play.

In the Fall of 1989 I completed my transfer from LaGrange College and enrolled at UGA. ("Still in peaceful dreams I see, the road leads back to you.) It was what I have sometimes affectionately referred to here on the blog as my "first sophomore year" of college. It was also Goff's first year as head coach.

In 1990 Coach Webber's Diamond Dawgs won the College World Series. At this point I had been to (at least) twice as many baseball games on campus as I had football games. I bet a majority of today's freshman don't even know what or where Foley Field is.

Beauties.
Also in 1990 I went from being on Academic probation to Honor Roll. A feat Coach Goff, unfortunately, could not replicate. I eventually graduated in 1993. He was fired in 1995. After the similar up and down trajectories of our UGA careers, I got a diploma and he got Zaxby's. Since it was Guthrie's that got me through all those years, I still say I got the better separation package.

In 1996, at Coach Donnan's debut they gave out t-shirts. But we lost to Southern Miss 11-7 and I saw a dude take our a lighter and burn his new souvenir before he even left Sanford. Sidenote - I think Kirby was a sophomore on that team.

In 1997 I married Jenn, the biggest, most badass Dawg fan I know. Our first dance was to a little tune called Georgia, by Ray Charles.

Also in 1997 I cried after a football game for the first time when Donnan's Dawgs beat Florida. Well, they didn't beat them so much as they whooped their ass until the rules stated that they had to stop.

In 2000 I went back to UGA to become what we affectionately refer to as a "Double Dawg", so I had a student ID for both Donnan's final season as well as Richt's first.

In 2002 Jenn and I began our lil Dawg family. Nothing cuter than a girl in pigtails wearing Georgia red!

I documented most of the remaining years in this post-Richt firing post. I don't want to bore you down an already beaten path, but I would like emphasize that all the way through the Richt era I strengthened friendships with friends like Nama, Fred, Joe Waterloo, Cord, and their wives and families around Georgia football.
Undefeated Tailgate Crew

Like you I've also made many friends around tailgates like Tanner, Hillary, the Wrangler, Dustin, Doherty, Matt, and their wives and families. Saturdays in the fall just aren't the same without them.

Thanks to social media I got to meet Robert and Kerri plus her husband Barry out in Boulder in '09. I also met Tony on that trip, on a bourbon aisle of a local liquor store of course. On the concourse right before Ralphie ran onto Folsom Field, Ben screamed at me and we yelled "Go Dawgs!" together for the first time.

On other trips, UGA events, and the occasional Drive By Truckers concert I've met other Damn Good Dawg fans like Mackie, Krisi, Jen from La Jolla, Buddy, the Thinking Bulldog, Groo, Kit, Jake & April & Bryan, Sorrow & Trevin, DentalDawg, Chase, Andrew, Brad, Sandy, Angie, Scott from the Boro, Paul Westerdawg, John aka the Oconee River Rat, Tony & Russ, Jason, and of course the Eternal Redcoat Brett.

I've shared a ride to Columbia SC with Salty to share some beers with Ben, only to suffer through the worst beat down I've seen our Dawgs take.

After the Dawgs' win in Jacksonville Derrick, Colby, and Eddie helped me sacrifice my car. Next year we're going to find a different way to celebrate a WLOCP win.

Even through all the ups and downs, the relationships have held me true.

OUR tell-tale Dawg heart
That's a really, really long way of pointing out that we all have a story. It's moments like this, before your team plays its biggest game in decades, that we as fans tend to reflect on how we, personally, got here.

As the old saying goes, it's not the destination but the journey that's important. Today, here on the eve of the 2018 College Football National Championship, I respectfully disagree. It's both the journey and the destination.

It's the moonlight through those Georgia pines. It's the old sweet song that keeps bringing us back each and every August.

We've all worked through our own moments of fear and trepidation to get here. We've all hugged perfect strangers in the stands of Sanford and other stadiums in the Southeast and beyond when some player wearing that most magnificently beautiful helmet made a play. We've all buried our heads in our hands more often than we've raised them to the Heavens.

And here we are. It started in our veins, it coursed through our heart, and brought us to our feet!

Tweet Champs!
We've stood together in agony. We've put our arms around each other in desperation. We've traveled the nation and drank towns dry. We've suffered through coaching searches and injuries and dropped passes and also getting passed on by the national narrative.

But Kirby's team has punched its own ticket. It's been a fabulous ride...

2017's Final stanza
...but it ain't over. This magical season just had to end with Alabama. Like no other the Tide have stood between us and greatness the most often and the most resolute. They held us five yards short. They've beat us down twice in our own stadium in the last nine years.

And you may have heard recently that our coach is their former assistant. While the national media lazily tries to draw similarities, we need to remember that Kirby is quick to point out the differences. Tucker's defense is more like Junkyard Dawgs than Saban Crimson clones.

After all, sheep are for Tenersee "farmers".

Yes, this season has to end with Alabama. And come Monday night (or very early Tuesday morning) there's no reason the winner can't be Georgia. After all, the Tide had to fight their way in. They are still trying to prove they belong. The national analysts keep saying "It's an all SEC final!". But only one of us is the conference champion. They may like the cut of the Tide's jib, but Saban failed to win his own damn division.

Meanwhile some keep saying "well goshdarn whatever happens happens and beyond a Rose Bowl berth this season is just gravy".

Is that you? Are you satisfied? Is that defeatist attitude something our coaches and players would endorse? Is that why Fromm set the edge for Sony last Monday night so that you could post your #RoseBowl excitement on bookface and scream with glee just so he and Chubb and Zo and Bellamy and Dominick could have the chance to friggin' lose their final game of their Georgia Bulldog career? Is that why Lorenzo Carter finally came back down to Earth earlier this week after hovering endlessly over the Rose Bowl turf to block that damn kick?

Dude, your sadness makes Alanis Morisette want to make another starving dog commercial. Get a gotdamn grip!

We're Georgia and we belong right where we are. They're the ones that need to prove they belong. They're the ones that're bringing their cousins to Atlanta...as dates. They're the ones that have a complacent fan base. They're the ones with a coach that's spent 20 years on AARP benefits.

Let's bring this home. Let's complete this journey! Our destination has been the same since we became Dawg fans! Our goal hasn't wavered since Bellamy stripped sacked that Domer in South Bend! Our focus has been steadfast since the blood coursed through the veins into our heart and brought us to our feet!

Truly, I don't know if we'll win tomorrow, but I can't think of one reason why we can't. We've come this far, we've followed our own paths. For 37 years we've turned our heads towards the Southwest corner for the Battle Hymn until we've developed a crick in our neck. We've joined hands and raised our four fingers and most recently a phone's flashlight to beckon our own inner Glory Glory!

I don't know what the future holds, but I know it's bright and I only want it brighter. Like, NOW! I want the confetti to drench and nearly drown Nick Chubb. I want to see Sony make #JazzHands and snow angels on the Mercedes-Benz floor. I want to see that gap in Zo's smile as he hoists the trophy.  I want to see Bellamy holding the ball he stripped from Hurts with two minutes left on the stage as he accepts the MVP award.

I want to hug my kids with a championship hug. I want my wife to know the joy that she's been been screaming and longing for all these years. I want my friends to feel the joy that I know they've all earned ten times over. I want you, my loyal and eager Reader, to enjoy the long and joyous smile of a truly satisfied Georgia Buldog fan.

Glory Glory, let us bow our thankful heads y'all....dear Lord, we thank you for the opportunity to play in Atlanta one more time. Please let Roquan find many a ball carrier and Wynn raise Chubb to your Heavens at least one more time! In the name of Herschel's Separated Shoulder and Munson's Metal Steel Chair, Amen! Go Dawgs!

#KeeptheMainThingtheMainThing

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Georgia vs. Alabama - could special teams tilt the balance?

Like many, I expect a pretty even matchup Monday night between Georgia and Alabama. Two complete teams with elite talent going head to head should make for an exciting game.

Not exciting like the Rose Bowl was, where dudes were scoring every time you managed a breath. But exciting as in close, and hard fought. Every yard inch will  matter. So could this one come down to special teams play?

In a word, absolutely.
VIA

The teams are pretty even in punting and place kicking, although Rodrigo puts it in the endzone more proficiently. But there is a decided Georgia advantage in both kickoff and punt return. (via cfbstats.com)

Mecole Hardman, who has been so, so close to breaking a return all season, averages 11 yards per punt return and 27 yards per kick return. Alabama's top punt returner is Trevon Diggs who averages nearly nine yards a return and their top kick returner is Henry Ruggs who averages 18 yards.

If this evolves into a plodding game of field position, there are two things that can turn things - turnovers and punt returns. I glad we have 4 on our side. Even if he doesn't break one - and good God is Mecole overdue for that one last block!! - a nice return from inside the 20 to their side of the 50 can be a HUGE play for us.

Two more days! Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing...Go Dawgs!

Georgia vs. Alabama, a deep look at X's and O's

If you haven't already I think you'd really enjoy this National Championship preview podcast from Solid Verbal. Dan chats with Chris Brown of Smart Football, who always has a certain depth to his analysis. He has some interesting thoughts on how Chaney specifically could impact the game. And I particularly appreciated how he breaks down the relationship between Kirby and Saban and the role it could play in terms of each others' understanding and game planning going into Monday night.

Suffice it to say, Brown isn't just giving the the relationship cute lip service like many national analysts. Add it to your podcast feed...soon!



Friday, January 5, 2018

Georgia vs. Alabama, the rushing game

One thing is clear, whichever team has the ball Monday night will be trying to establish the run. The Dawgs and the Tide, respectively, are one and two in the conference in rushing the football.

But how they go about achieving that goal are two vastly different animals.

Georgia uses a variety of sets and looks to get Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, college football's most prolific backfield tandem, into space. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney wants to have the opponent's defense sufficiently worn down in the fourth quarter when he can even insert D'Andre Swift into the huddle with fresh legs.

For a great reference to that point, make sure you've thoroughly vetted this post by The Senator where he specifically points out how Oklahoma's secondary grew tired of being blocked the deeper into the game they got.

By contrast, Alabama uses multiple looks as well, but they rely heavily on the legs of Jalen Hurts, not to mention his ability to make the correct reads in the read-option and run-pass-option.

So when someone tries to tell you that this is just the same ol' Bama, take that with a grain of salt. Because they don't have that heavy bruiser of a tailback that they use to tote the rock 20-25 times a game.

Damien Harris is a strong runner and likes to get downhill. He's also athletic, something usually attributed more to his colleague Bo Scarbrough. But together they really handle most of the handoffs, albeit to the tune of just 19 carries/game combined (via cfbstats.com)

And that's because this is Jalen Hurts' show. He doesn't have as many yards as Harris, but he has the most carries. For the most part he does a good job of reading the defense and determining which run option is best.

However, he ain't perfect. This video of Sugar Bowl highlights gives you an idea of how they utilize the running backs mentioned, but also shows you that Hurts can get flustered. For instance, pay particular attention to the moderate pressure (at best) up the middle Clemson throws at him at about the 2:30 mark when they are able to force a fumble off a bad read and exchange.



That's something, as we discussed yesterday, that could play into Coach Tucker's hands. The Tiger linebacker is really just making a read and playing off of Hurts' eyes. I wouldn't even call it a blitz. Plug Roquan in there on a favorable down and distance and it could definitely lead to a positive result.

That's all well and good. But no matter what anyone (myself included) writes or what any expert on the television tells you this week, we all know from past meetings that this game will come down to which team controls the line of scrimmage best.

In the 2012 SECCG it was practically a draw at the line of scrimmage until late when we had used pretty much the same defensive front the entire game. John Jenkins was gassed and we couldn't stop Eddie Lacy or TJ Yeldon.

Tucker's defense is much more versatile than Grantham's 2012 version. And the point of this post is to highlight the possibility that Alabama's offense is less versatile today than it was then. In other words, stop Hurts and you stop the Tide. They just don't have that one running back that can wear on you from down to down.

Well, to be honest, I think Harris especially fits the bill. It's just that they don't use him that way. Perhaps I just haven't watched enough of them to know that they just don't need him or Scarbrough as much as Hurts. In Harris' best game against Vandy he had 12 carries for 151 yards. In the close game against Mississippi State thogh he was averaging over 11 yards a carry but only touched it eight times. Meanwhile Hurts had 19 carries for two yards a clip (sack yardage included).

Have they been saving 34 and 9's legs just for this game Monday?

In the end I'm going to give Georgia the edge in the rushing game, all while hoping I'm not just seeing what I want to see. Because admittedly, I've watched a lot more of Georgia than Alabama. I just see our rushing attack as much more versatile.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing...Go Dawgs!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

First thought on Alabama

I know. It's so hard not to keep re-living those memories of the Rose Bowl. What an epic win! But we didn't do all that work just to rest on laurels, right?

VIA
The halftime adjustments by Tucker and Smart were what we've seen all season, just on a grander stage. My initial reflection was that Tucker got away from trying to contain Mayfield and squeeze the pocket, and used more stunts and blitzes, especially up the middle.

Well, I was partially right, as this video will show best. It's the back to back sacks on Mayfield in the third quarter that really started prove that the Sooners were going to have a tougher row to hoe in the second half.

The first sack is a coverage sack in my opinion. Tucker again uses four rushers to squeeze the pocket and by the time Mayfield tries to use his legs because there's no where to throw, Ledbetter is in his face with an easy sack.

And then...well, Tucker lets the boys loose!



Those two plays prove that, even though it may not have played out that way in the first half, Georgia had the defense to go up against this high-powered offense.

Okay, but aren't we supposed to be talking about Alabama? Yes, and that's my next point.

Jalen Hurts has a high of 16 completions in one game this season. And that was in the Sugar Bowl. We know he can hurt you with his arm, but only if you don't manage to stop the run.

Both of these defenses Monday night are going to be trying to do the same thing - stop each other's run game. And I think both are built just for that.

But I think Tucker will use similar schemes in containing Hurts that he did in the Rose Bowl's second half. He wants to contain Hurts as much as he can and force him to throw when he's uncomfortable. Stopping Harris and Scarbrough is a topic for later, because that is surely Tucker's biggest headache this week. Alabama has gained nearly a thousand more yards rushing this season than they have passing.

But games like this tend to come down to quarterback play. Hurts is a true winner, for sure. I like his style and leadership. Plus he comes up big in big moments.

But I like our guy. I think Fromm complements his offense in ways Hurts can only dream of. I just hope Tucker and those Savages can minimize Hurts' impact on the game.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing...Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Even the little things are The Main Thing

It's taken a while to digest exactly what happened. It's so much more than the game itself. It's the experience and the sheer joy you feel when you see your team come out on top on that kind of stage. After a day of thinking and reflecting I still can't come up with the words. But I highly recommend you read this Tommy Tomlinson piece on his experience and why moments like what happened Monday night are so important.

As for the game itself, it was truly an instant classic. Reminiscent of game like the 2006 Rose Bowl which served as the National Championship game between Texas and USC. But this one was our own Georgia Bulldogs! Two amazing teams with amazing talent, both who clearly wanted to be there and wanted to win.

It was a game full of huge swings in momentum from sideline to sideline, as each big play seemed to be one that would finally turn the tide for good. But then there was another, and then another. And then there was another!

I had wondered a few weeks ago if time of possession would be the key factor in stopping the Oklahoma offense and giving us our best shot. I was right about being able to run the ball effectively, I just didn't take into account how effectively we would run it. Something like three drives that took less than a minute. It was the game we knew Sony and Chubb could and should have. So glad Sony got the chance to atone for that fumble and seal the deal himself. And more on that in a minute...

But there were a couple of smaller things that also became the Main Thing. I'll leave the argument of whether the decision to squib kick it to end the first half up to the Sooner fans. But the heads up play by a former reserve running back turned reserve linebacker in Tae Crowder to instinctively snag that kick and lay on it, was amazing.

Think about how easy it would be to just go out there as a kick return specialist and simply go through the motions. Special Teams coordinator Shane Beamer mostly gives credit where it is due, to Crowder, but I'm sure they had been warned to watch for an "nontraditional" kick off. Still, to be ready to go back to your days as a Harris County HS shortstop and snag that ball ended up being a game changer. It was. We had to have it!

Because with just a few ticks on the clock (and with our offensive coordinator in an elevator on the way to the locker room), we were able to call a quick out to Godwin and grab another nine yards and stop the clock with just a second left.

At this point I'm thinking, "Well, that makes Fromm's heave to the endzone a little shorter." But the coaches had another bold idea and Rodrigo took it from there. And there was never a doubt.

VIA
Another small thing I noticed that was huge was not just the blocking on that Sony Michel 27 yard touchdown trot, but actually who was blocking - reserve wide receivers and Nauta. Of course, Fromm gave his man on the outside all he could handle to give Sony the room to run. But to send out guys like Crumpton and Simmons and Blount, all with fresh legs and bodies in the second over time to lay some wood was a great call, and refreshing to see.

And now it's on to Alabama in the biggest game our Dawgs have been in since 1982. We've had games where we were playing for this chance. It just wasn't until Kirby preached to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing that we actually succeeded in getting it done.

Go Dawgs!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Difference between bowls and actual playoff games

Things shifted when the bowls adapted into the Bowl Championship Series which begat the College Football Playoffs. Similarly things will shift Monday when the mere bowls give way to the real games.

Oklahoma meets Georgia. Alabama meets Clemson, again.

Two epic matchups. And only two winners will prevail.

The real difference between those two bowls and the rest that we’ve witnessed before them is that Oklahoma and Georgia and Alabama and Clemson all are hungry. Teams in mere bowls are subject to changing coaches’ allegiances and seniors eyeing draft prospects and others lacking the hunger.

Every player in the games on Monday are hungry. The playing field doesn’t tilt on the whims of a coaching staff or a running back protecting his draft stock.

It’s almost time to man up.

Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

I'm a Dawg fan, not an SEC fan

Today Missouri opens SEC bowl play in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl against the Texas Longhorns. It will be the first of nine bowls that feature a Southeastern Conference team, and thereby sparks up the annual dialogue about the myth that is "conference loyalty".

Some people like to root for our own rivals. It's a practice that I fail to understand. I am a Georgia fan. Not an SEC fan. I can't stand the other teams in the SEC. I can't stand the referees in the SEC. I can't stand all of the Cracker Barrels in the SEC. And I hate watching those other teams win.

Many of you may know that I graduated from Cedar Shoals High School. Our cross town rival was Clarke Centtral. They were bigger and better at most things as I was growing up. So was I filled with pride when they'd bring home another state title just because I was from Athens?

Hell no. I hated them even more for it. The same way I hated it when Tennessee won the National Title in 1998, and don't even get me started on the Gators during their hey days. My heart skips a beat whenever one of our conference rivals' quarterbacks throws a pick six. Oh the joy!
So, you'd sit next to this and high five it when they scored? (Hypothetically.
since we all know they ain't playing in no bowl game this year.)

I'd root for Russia over Florida and I'd prefer to be friends with JR Ewing over Philip Fulmer. At least when JR'd eventually stab me in the back he wouldn't smell like rank possum meat and gin while he did so.

"But Bernie, what if I picked an SEC team in my bowl pool, or maybe even placed a wager on one of them to win a game?"

Glad you asked. I hope you do well in your pool. I've picked my share of enemies to win some of those games too. But I'll be thrilled if they lose instead. If you placed a bet, I hope you don't lose your money. I really don't. But just because you think highly enough of the Gamecocks to bet $50 on them doesn't mean you need to cheer for them to do well.

And if you show up on my lawn wearing orange it'll be a race between my youngest and my dog to see which gets a hold of your ass first.

I'm a Dawg fan. To root for other SEC teams is a Tennessee Hillbilly kind of sad. Cuz those sonsabitches are sitting at home with nothing to do but live vicariously through the rest of us.