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Post Grinding it out

Tuesday November 18, 2008

"It’s been a tough grind."

Mark Richt had a succinct and accurate reply when asked to sum up the 2008 season on Sunday. But for the different colors, it could have been tough to tell Auburn and Georgia fans apart leaving Jordan Hare Stadium. Both fan bases had become resigned to the type of game they had just watched. Auburn’s offense squandered three scoring opportunities on Georgia’s side of the field. Georgia mixed moments of individual excellence with spectacular breakdowns, blunders, and penalties. Par for the course all around.

Whether it was the cumulative toll of four games away from home or sensing the malaise of the fans, Georgia’s players and coaches left the game drained, searching for explanations, short of emotion, and – after all of that – winners. The Dawgs are 9-2, just as they were at this point last season, but instead of popping the champagne after another win over Auburn, we all could just use a good nap.

It’s time again for the words of Norman Dale…this is your team. On one hand, it’s an injury-riddled mess of unfocused aggression. On the other hand, there is enough talent and playmakers to beat – if not get by – all but a handful of teams out there. None of that is likely to change in the next two weeks. Is there time to tighten things up and focus on specifics for Tech? Of course. What I mean is that it seems silly to expect traits and tendencies that have been there for the better part of 11 games to suddenly turn around. I’m about as accustomed now to the personal foul or the botched kickoff as I am a Rennie Curran tackle or an A.J. Green highlight-quality catch.

I really want to keep the meta program-type stuff until after the season. Believe me, there is one very big game remaining. But there’s a lot of good thinking out there lately under the general "what’s wrong" topic, and it’s worth talking about.

I’ll just say this: the record has the potential to be very nice (one of the top 10 seasons in program history in terms of wins). The injuries have been significant and have affected the team on and off the field. I hope neither the record nor the injuries keeps us from looking critically at the things that could make the program the national title contender it was supposed to be. If this were a 6-6 season, it would be a lot easier to call for wholesale changes. At 11-2, it can be easy to say that things are good enough and have faith that the little things will take care of themselves over the long offseason.

We’re quick to note that Florida and Alabama had 10 losses between them a year ago, so surely there’s hope for Georgia to have the same kind of improvement next year. But both programs didn’t make this season happen by sitting still. Whether through attrition or their own action, new coaches were brought on board. Florida, faced with a woeful pass defense, brought in a new cornerbacks coach. Who gets the credit for a defense that is much closer to the top of the SEC in passing defense and leads the league in interceptions? Whether it’s coaching or the players, steps were taken to address one of the biggest obstacles to success for that program.

At the same time, Tennessee and Auburn also made changes, but they were bigger changes that actually went to the very identity of those programs. The results, as you might have noticed, weren’t as good, and more change is on the way at those programs.

Travis asks us to quantify our satisfaction with the season, but I have to punt right now. Ask me again in a month, or, better, after the bowl. We get the luxury of looking at the big picture when we like. For Richt and the team, they have two weeks in which to prepare for a game that could redefine what we consider “disappointment”. Whatever the flaws and strengths of this team, Richt has 100 guys to fire up for a motivated opponent. I’d rather he not spend so much time doing postmortems on a season that is still ongoing, but I guess it’s unavoidable.

(PS…any Georgia fan who uses the phrase "accepting mediocrity" when discussing this season will be rounded up and used to fill in the lower level at the 2008 ACC Championship game.)

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