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Post A great night for maligned coaches and units

Tuesday September 4, 2007

It’s amazing how some guys making plays can make coaches look good.

Now that Neil Callaway has left the staff, the three coaches that catch the most crap are John Eason, John Jancek, and Willie Martinez. Eason gets the blame for a legacy of drops (even when it’s not a receiver dropping the pass). Jancek gets criticism mainly because he follows a linebacker coach who worked with guys like Boss Bailey and Odell Thurman. Though Martinez had a top 10 defense last year, fans remember Tennessee’s 51 points and late drives by Vanderbilt and Kentucky and of course the West Virginia game of 2005.

After Saturday’s season opener, these three maligned coaches suddenly look like Broyles Award candidates. (OK…we won’t get ahead of ourselves.)

The receivers have said that they have something to prove this year, and the early returns are very promising. I saw only one ball I’d consider a flat-out drop, and Tony Wilson did plenty to make up for it. What a debut. Sean Bailey – welcome back. He looked like a senior ready to make the most of his final season. Massaquoi didn’t have many catches, but his blocking and that special teams play showed how an upperclassman makes an impact even when passes aren’t coming his way.

The linebackers were everywhere. If Ellerbe wasn’t in the backfield, he was chasing someone down. Miller was knocking people silly. Curran had an impressive debut. I admit that I was worried about the unsettled alignment moving Ellerbe inside, but there is no question that it worked.

So for the second time in three seasons, a team widely picked as a possible upset special because of a sophisticated offensive scheme gets handled in Athens. We knew that Georgia had speed and talent on this defense, but there was a question whether or not the inexperience would hurt. Being “all over the field” isn’t just a cliche with this defense.

The defense set the tone for the game. Oklahoma State elected to receive, and the Bulldog defense held the Cowboys to a 3-and-out. The appreciative crowd rattled the long-snapper, OSU muffed their punt, and Georgia grabbed the momentum barely a minute into the game. The Georgia defense allowed only one OSU drive over six plays and over 50 yards.

Georgia was well-prepared on defense, executed nicely for an opening game, and made the self-proclaimed “greatest show on earth” look average. OSU looked like the team with the freshmen offensive line. Georgia pressured Reid with stunts, twists, blitzes, and just straight speed from the undersized ends. Howard settled any questions about his ability, and fans now know who Roderick Battle is. Even Lomax and Dobbs had an impact. The pressure clearly got to Reid – he made several throws under pressure that would make Reggie Ball wince. Some of Georgia’s biggest defensive headaches last season came against mobile quarterbacks, and the Dawgs handled this one well.

Here’s where I make the usual disclaimers. It was only one game against an unranked opponent. It wasn’t an SEC game where you only get one week of preparation. Let’s hold off on proclaiming Georgia an SEC contender based on one game. There is still plenty to work on.

All of that is true. But for one game, Georgia had as good of a performance as most of us could expect in a season opener. The coaches had the team prepared, and players at almost every position came through. Is this the best the Dawgs will offer in 2007, or is it just the beginning?

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