If you’re thinking clearly on a morning like this, hats off to you. I can’t do more than snag a couple of the million random things zipping around my head the past few days.
- I just hope they show up. I hate going into such a big game with that negative thought in the back of my head, but I imagine that a lot of Bulldog fans have had that thought pop up this week. Was the Florida game a one-time emotional response, or has this team figured out how to play ranked opponents in big showcase games? If they have, we can buckle in for a competitive game. Their play over the last month leads me to think (hope?) that it’s a different team, but they still have a lot to prove, especially to themselves.
- Make sure strengths are strengths. We started the season assuming that a strong defense was a given. It wasn’t and still isn’t a given. The defense discovered that performing as a unit at a top level requires the effort, attitude, and commitment we’ve seen down the stretch. Georgia needs its strengths to show up in order to have a chance. That includes strengths at the macro level – defense – and also at the individual level. Murray must look like one of the nation’s most efficient passers. Jones and Ogletree must look like elite linebackers. Gurley must find a way to create tough yards against a good defense. Good performances in areas of strength will elevate the rest of the team.
- Cash in on opportunities. We remember how close Georgia came to a big lead against LSU last year, and we also remember how quickly things turned once those opportunities went away with only 10 points to show. You won’t get many chances against a good team like Alabama, and you have to make them count. Passes have to be caught, placekicks have to be made, fumbles have to be recovered, and catchable interceptions have to be secured. It’s not about an impossible requirement of being perfect for the entire game. It’s about executing at exactly the biggest moments. When Richt’s Georgia team throttled Saban’s LSU squad in Athens in 2004, David Greene was only 10-of-19 for 172 yards. But 5 of his 10 completions were for touchdowns. Make the big plays when they present themselves. The Dawgs were wonderful at capitalizing on short fields last week, but this is a different challenge.
- Conversely, Georgia has to make Alabama work. Of course that means avoiding turnovers, but special teams is also important here. Coverage units on both punts and kickoffs can’t allow long returns. Barber has been very good with his punts lately, and I wouldn’t mind Jamie Lindley continuing to put kicks through the endzone. The offense also has a role here – three-and-outs can be as costly in field position as a shanked punt or a midfield turnover.
- Create opportunities. Sometimes in big games you have to make your own luck. We saw the onside kick against LSU last year. Richt’s two SEC championship game wins have both featured a pivotal blocked punt. Georgia’s attempts at trick plays this year have pretty much been a flop, and they always come with big risks. Will Georgia have something along these lines ready, and will they need it?
- Watch the screen. There’s nothing like a well-executed screen to slow down and burn an aggressive defense. Right, LSU? Alabama loves to run them, and we’ll see them on all downs. Sniffing them out can lead to big losses and even turnovers. Forgetting about them will have you watching an Alabama player’s taillights.
- Is this Murray’s McCarron moment? Heading into the national title game last year, there were still questions about AJ McCarron’s ability to shoulder the burden of leading the Alabama offense. The Tide were content to lean on Richardson and use the passing game conservatively. McCarron was turned loose in the BCS championship game and completed 23 of 34 attempts to lead a much more potent Alabama offense than they had showed in an earlier meeting with LSU. With Murray, it’s not so much a question of turning him loose and throwing 25-30 times. It’s more about rising to the occasion. His self-prescribed isolation this week shows that he recognizes the importance of the moment and his role in it. Will that recognition lead to a tight performance, or is he ready to shine in the biggest game of his career?
- This one is for 2002 and 2007. Those great Bulldog teams came on strong at the end, but they never got the breaks they needed to rise above their flaws from earlier in the year. We’ll always wonder how it would have turned out if those teams had a chance to play for the national title. This team has that chance. What will they do with it?
Our team, our time, no regrets. As we prepare for another game, let all the Bulldog faithful rally behind the men who now wear the red and black with two words — two simple words which express the sentiments of the entire Bulldog nation: Go Dawgs!