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Post Enjoy the first of many trips to the Benz

Saturday December 2, 2017

Matt Hinton (via Blutarsky) nailed it: “The Bulldogs are who they are; the results in Atlanta will be a matter of execution.”

12 games in, there’s no getting around the identity of this Georgia team. We know, within certain parameters, what the team is going to try to do. We also know what they’re not likely to do, or at least what they don’t do well. That was perhaps the shock of the first meeting – Georgia didn’t look like itself. They couldn’t run, couldn’t protect the passer, didn’t tackle well, had costly special teams errors, and hurt themselves with penalties. Certainly some of that had to do with Auburn’s own level of play, but some of it didn’t.

I don’t know if Georgia can overcome the deficiencies that only show up against a team of Auburn’s quality. I expect, or at least hope, that the penalties and turnovers can be eliminated, and that would lower Auburn’s ceiling. But can Georgia raise its floor? Against the two best defenses they’ve faced this year, the Georgia offense has scored 20 and 17 points. I expect it might take a score in the 20s or even 30s to win this game. That would mean being able to run well against a stout front. It would mean better protection of Fromm. It would mean a more vibrant and diverse passing game than we’ve seen. It would mean receivers getting separation. It might even take a defensive or special teams score to get Georgia’s point total over the top.

Those are many more conditionals than you’d like entering a game like this especially when the opponent’s checklist for the game is much more status quo. Auburn does have a couple of questions to answer: can they improve on their 3-2 mark away from home and, more importantly, can they do it with their star tailback limited or even out? On the lines though, where games are most often won or lost, Auburn was one of the few teams to outclass the Bulldogs. That disadvantage remains the largest hurdle to clear for Georgia regardless of the location or crowd. If Auburn can control the line of scrimmage and affect Fromm with only its front four, it’s going to be tough to find open receivers. Conversely, if Georgia has to bring defenders forward to slow Auburn’s running game, the explosive passing play is a real threat.

With so much on the line and so much to overcome for Georgia to reverse the outcome of the loss three weeks ago, I should be a nervous wreck. I’m not. I’m giddy, excited, and thrilled about getting ready to watch a meaningful game in December, but I’m not going to be any more of a basket case than I am for every other Georgia game. For one thing, I have a great deal of faith in this team and its own strengths. They’ve done a remarkable job of compartmentalizing each game, and I don’t think they’ll be any more spooked by the loss in Auburn than they will be full of themselves after crushing Tech. I don’t doubt for a second Georgia’s readiness for this game – they’ve been up for every challenge thrown their way this year.

Will Leitch had an excellent piece this week diving into the meaning of this moment for Georgia fans. Leitch is worth reading for many reasons, but I’m not sure anyone is better at tying a moment or event to the fans involved. (Even his book advocates for fans.) It’s no surprise then that Leitch, even after a few short years in Athens and as an observer and now fan of the program, has a pretty good handle on our collective angst and mindset going into this postseason.

I’m just in a different place with this team, and it has a lot to do with some of the points Leitch has raised in his piece and on the podcast with which he, Scott, and Tony do such a fine job. This isn’t a disagreement with Leitch, because I know way too many people right there with him.

Leitch is correct that at some point “you still have to break through.” It could well be today, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens. But it doesn’t have to be today, and coming to grips with that has me a lot more at ease about this game than I should have the right to be. I’m confident that with this staff and the way recruiting is going, Georgia will be back in this position sooner than later. This game isn’t Georgia’s only shot; it’s the first of many shots to come. If you’ve allowed yourself to buy into what Kirby Smart is doing at Georgia, it comes with the expectation to play in games like this.

Blutarsky writes, “If Georgia is crowned SEC champ tomorrow, it’ll feel like the Dawgs will play the rest of this season on house money.” I agree with that (especially in the context of his whole post), but to me the team is already playing with house money. They’ve met every expectation I had for this season, and now they’re in a position to wildly exceed those expectations. If in five years we’re talking about Smart’s program as the Bills or Braves of the SEC who can’t get past this preliminary step into to the playoff, we’ll have greatly misread what’s going on now.

(It’s important to acknowledge that we more than most should appreciate how hard it is to get to this point, let alone sustain it in upcoming seasons. The amazing chemistry and leadership from the seniors, the mix of coaches, the dynamics of the SEC East – all of those are fluid from year to year. So, yes, if you’ve done the work to get to this point, embrace the opportunity and don’t take for granted that there will be others. Least of all for this year’s seniors, this is their only shot, and that alone is enough reason for urgency this weekend.)

Heading into the 2012 championship, I was just hoping the Dawgs would play a competitive game. (They did that, and more.) Though the situation isn’t any easier than it was in 2012, I’m much more confident in this Georgia team. It has nothing to do with 2012 or 2005 or any other previous Georgia team on the cusp of something extraordinary. It’s about this 2017 team and how far they’ve come and where they are in the vision Kirby Smart has for his program. If that vision continues to unfold as it has in 2017, this will be the first of many opportunities for the program to take that big step forward. Why not make the first one count?

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