They played hard. They really did, and that’s what makes the outcome disappointing. After four straight wins in this series, putting up a good fight (literally, as it turned out) isn’t much solace. Yes, it would have been worse had the Bulldogs accepted their role and come in scared of the #2 team, and it would have been worse to look as outclassed as Florida did on Saturday. So there’s that. It felt a lot like the Blackout game did in 2007. Georgia had hit its stride after the Florida game, and there was no way that they were going to lose in front of the frenzied home crowd. Auburn shook off a close call at Kentucky, shifted to the next gear on Newton’s long touchdown run against LSU, and no one has come close to touching them since.
In that context, I understand why a lot of Georgia fans are patting the team on the back for a decent effort. The Dawgs ran into a good team and a great player on a roll. It’s a little depressing though to think back to when Georgia was that team. It wasn’t long ago, but it’s getting longer. Georgia might be better than their record indicates, but there are some very good reasons why they are a 6-loss team. You can start in the trenches – neither the offensive or defensive lines are bad, but that’s not what we expected. The offensive line was billed as one of the top units in the nation. It’s not. The defensive line just doesn’t have the size and depth it needs to be effective, and that’s shown up in a lot of these close games where a stop against South Carolina, Mississippi State, or Auburn might have made a difference.
Shrugging off the Auburn loss as a valiant effort against a juggernaut is fine – it was overall a pretty good effort, and the team didn’t quit. There are a lot worse things you can say about a team. You’d hope that some wins come from that resolve, but that takes something more. Even little things like the disappearance of the return games make a difference, and it explains why some teams are better than others in close games. Take the final series of the first half. The decision to run out the clock changes (we hope) if the drive starts on the 35 rather than the 21. Auburn’s secondary is getting roasted in post-game analysis, but did Georgia’s fare much better? Rambo was fortunate to be out of position on his interception, and did the unit make another significant play all day?
The “play” of the game? There were a number of big plays in the game, but a misfire on two similar play calls served as turning points. I need to set aside a separate post for this, but Georgia just isn’t good at executing the screen pass. I don’t know it it’s a skill Murray has yet to refine, something to do with blocking, backs who aren’t the best receivers, or something being telegraphed that allows defenses to read the play. As with most plays, a screen isn’t intrinsically a bad call. A lot of teams run them against pressure or in long-yardage situations. A screen is a bad call though when 1) you’re not particularly good at them, and 2) you have better options. Georgia’s two attempted screens were disasters and killed significant drives. Throwing to a triple-covered A.J. Green would have had a higher chance of success than throwing it off the back of Caleb King’s helmet.
Speaking of Green, his performance on Saturday was at once breathtaking and heartbreaking. Did Georgia get away from Green? His receptions were split pretty evenly – five in the first half, four in the second half. The yardage tells a different story. At halftime, Green had 114 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 164 yards and two touchdowns. Facing a secondary on its heels, the offense gave Green four catches and 50 yards in the second half. Certainly other receivers became involved as Green opened up opportunities: had Georgia won, Kris Durham’s third quarter catch would be one of the biggest plays of the season. For whatever reason, Green just had far less of an impact the later the game went. Is it a coincidence that the Dawgs managed only 10 points after the first quarter? The heartbreaking part? The best Bulldog receiver of all time is playing during a stretch of years we’d just as soon forget.
There have been enough words wasted on Nick Fairley, and if that outrage gets the players good and fired up over the next two weeks, great. Otherwise – yes, he’s a cheap shot artist, and none of it changes the scoreboard. I do want to say something about an incident from the game that’s getting slightly less play – the injury to Reuben Faloughi. If your memory needs jogging, it’s the only injury you’ve seen outside of Philadelphia that got booed by the crowd. As much as we like this CBS crew, we all know of their propensity to go over the top with the cheerleading. But it was a reach even for Gary to lavishly congratulate the Auburn crowd for its savvy in booing the hurt Georgia player – as if it were a calculated bit of gamesmanship (by a former walk-on) to slow down the momentum of the Auburn offense. The crowd at least has the excuse (though not much of one) of not having ready access to replay. Faloughi did go to the turf a ways from the play after trying to walk it off. Verne and Gary, if they had looked at their monitors, would have seen the same replay we all did – Faloughi, coming off the bottom edge, taking a legal cut block from #32, Eric Smith. The left knee takes most of the impact. Watch this segment and pay special attention to what the replay is showing right as Verne claims that the injury occurred on the opposite side of the field.
I won’t waste much more time on Auburn because my most important game of the year is next. Justin Houston’s ominous quote about assignments is going to bother me for the next two weeks. If there’s one trait you want in a defense going up against an option attack, it’s attention paid to assignments. Tech doesn’t have Cam Newton; they don’t even have Josh Nesbitt. But what they do have is a similar offense that can use numbers and misdirection to hurt a defense that isn’t playing its assignments. If you got tired of seeing Onterio McCalebb go for big yardage on the sweeps, wait until Paul Johnson runs the toss to his A-back over and over.