Everyone’s had a few days since the Arkansas heartbreaker to let their blood pressure return to normal levels and have repeated proof that the sun will continue to rise on a daily basis. Just as we hope the team and coaches have put the tough loss behind them it’s also time for us to start looking ahead to the next opponent, our fellow SEC Bulldogs, Mississippi State.
This is a truly pivotal game for the program. While some seem to think it would be easier to burn this ship and build a new one than turn the current ship around (or to be slightly less metaphorical, that the Richt tenure is a dead man walking), many more rational minds, like that of the UGA AD, are still not ready to turn in a verdict on the success of this season, the overall direction of the program or whether or not Richt is the coach of the next decade for the Dawgs. Losses to South Carolina and Arkansas are tough to swallow, but they aren’t, by any rational analysis, inexcusable. Both teams are now ranked in the top 15 in the nation. The Dawgs were in both games, even if they were outplayed, until the end of both times. Georgia has more talent and should be favored to win in each of it’s next 5 games. There are lots of reasons to be hopeful about what lies ahead this year even if titles may not be in the picture.
All that being said, if you’re a fair weather, bandwagon-riding fan you probably missed your exit- the one that intersected routes with the Bama train- a while back. As Coach Richt pointed out in his teleconference, and as Bill King said so well, if you’re a real fan you’re on for the long haul regardless of your satisfaction with the product on the field. It doesn’t mean you have to celebrate mediocrity or even make excuses for it. You just won’t turn your back on your team and/or your school.
An interesting post from Chris Low this week gave great perspective on the place of the program in the SEC landscape. Georgia ranks fourth in winning percentage in it’s last 30 games. The problem is that in fourth place they are a full 8 wins behind Bama and Florida. But they are only a game behind third place LSU (the one the refs stole last year against them, if you care to think of it that way). When Georgia and LSU ruled the conference in the early part of the decade they were clearly atop the league, but not with that kind of dominance. But everyone is looking a long way up at the Gators and Tide now, leaving the coaches of the third and fourth most successful teams supposedly on the hot seat this year.
Regardless of how we got here, Saturday in Starkville this teams’ back is against the wall. And without making too many predictions about the game yet I think Richt and the team respond well this year, as they have in that past. After a really disappointing start in 2006, with a new QB, sporadic offense and average defense (sound familiar?) the Dawgs came back from losses to Vandy and Kentucky by beating Auburn, Tech and Va. Tech down the stretch. After losses to Carolina and Tennessee and a narrow escape over Vandy in 2007 the team turned a corner and knocked off Florida and Auburn, won the Sugar Bowl and finished No. 3 in the country. The last two years have had their ups and downs (admittedly, with more of the downs), but few backs-against-the-wall moments. Until proven wrong I have good faith the team can respond well again.
Though some of the Vegas lines favor MSU by a point there is no reason our Dawgs lose this game.
Keys to winning will be creating turnovers (which MSU has been giving quite generously- 5 picks against LSU last weekend), finding a rhythm early on offense and limiting the big play on defense.
We’ll be back later this week with more specific predictions and storlylines to watch.