Monday, September 10, 2012

The Dawgs are all grows up...again

All this has happened before and will happen again.

Do you all remember that night so long ago in Neyland stadium, October 6 2001?  When we as a fanbase just simply didn't expect to win close games on the road? Conditioned by experience to expect the L. Tainted by the mediocrity, late-game collapses, fundamental breakdowns and missed opportunity. Goff years...Donnan years... This would be the game to change all that. The team was young but gaining confidence, there was reason to hope but the pundits and press were quick to point out what a poor record we had against ranked teams. Something we'd struggled with the last several years.  I mean this was in Knoxville a place we hadn't won since before the advent of flight or something. Even though David Greene, a freshmen, had led us down the field and had been solid all night, very few of us expected us to pull through for the victory. With 10 seconds left in the game P-44-Haynes happened, the hobnail boot, and made us all believers again.  Our guys grew up that night.  The program grew up. We became men.  The next year, 2002, when challenged, we responded, proving we were "man enough" to beat an Alabama team that Pat Dye said we couldn't line up against. Turns out we passed that test too, man enough to squeak out a win, but man enough all the same.  Nothing could stop us.  That same year when faced with doubters we beat UT again at home despite the the popular point of reminder of our inability to beat ranked teams. We entered every game with the realistic expectation of victory. We rode that confidence into a SEC championship, and a Sugar Bowl Victory against Richt's former team. It was serendipitous and a long time coming. The Dawgs gained a national respect and a level of success that eventually earned us the (empty) preseason #1 ranking in 2008 based in part by the total annihilation of a vastly inferior Hawaii Team. Expectations were through the roof.  This was to be our year... Then Alabama came to town.  We pretty much stopped winning those types games that very same year, and our expectations have been playing catch-up ever since.

When exactly did we start to get the feeling that being down meant being out? When did the doubt start? When did that feeling of dread creep into your mind?  More pessimistic people than me will  point to 2006 as the year we should have seen the signs...losing to Vandy and Kentucky the same year? I still can't believe it actually happened. I've a coping mechanisim for games like that, it's called denial. Is it denial that I still I consider that season to be an aberration?  Denial would become a big part of my excuse for the next few years.  I think most of us got past 2006 seeing it as just a phase, not a trend. The Peach Bowl victory that year made me believe we'd found our mojo and things were going to be ok. It was a late game come from behind beat down of the Hokies and an epic postgame tailgate recorded by the dawgcast (go to minute marker11:33 for some postgame fun)  that was the medicine I needed to believe again. Yes we were invincible.
 But reality had a way of ruining my spotless mind. But when did those expectations truly change? When did we come to doubt that last minute victory or that hard fought come from behind upset?
Could it have been 2008? The blowout loss to Alabama dressed in our once invincible black jerseys? Getting blown out that same year by the Gators? Losing to little brother in a tight one to end the regular season? Not me; not you; we still believed. Maybe it was 2009 when we lost our opener to Okie State, a game most of us expected to win with ease, or perhaps it was getting blown out AGAIN by Flordia, or had you come to expect that?  Could it have been later in '09 when we got taken to the wood shed by Tennessee or when we lost to KENTUCKY at HOME?  No? Were you still expecting victory at times like that? Did you still think the Dawgs could play from behind?  I think we all did.  I think despite all this we all still believed and expected to win. I'd say our collective expectations didn't diminish until the 4 game losing streak of 2010.  Let me refresh your memory a horrific stretch of loses to South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State and... good god almighty, culminating with a home loss to....Colo..freaking..rado.  Nope you say? Headed into a bowl game we were almost embarrassed to be playing in your expectation was that we would still beat UCF right?  Yeah ok me too after all it was just central Florida. How did that work out?  But still! That was a bowl game and its hard to get up for team like that, and all the time off in between games...and..and....aww hell it was getting hard to deny it anymore.

 The confidence was lost; the swagger gone.  However, despite all the evidence I've laid out here, despite the history of failures that started as hiccups and became more regular and despite a loss to Central Florida and Colorado in the same year, did we not expect victory in the Dome against the smurfs to start our 2011?
Damn right we did. But what about your feeling about playing from behind...that had changed hadn't it. Once down, did you expect the dawgs to get off the mat? I mean, the hope and confidence that began with the Mark Richt era in that game in Knoxville now so long ago still lingered sure.  Why wouldn't we have expected to beat a WAC  MWC  Big East,  uh Big sky, ah hell, who cares what conference they are/were in. We expected victory. We thought we were back on track. We have long memories here in the bulldog nation, but for me, the BSU game was what broke the camels back. I was barely able to walk out of the dome that night and it wasn't due to 12 hours of tailgating. I was floored after that loss and yes I think my expectations started to change. With that game and the hindsight of the last 4 years of selective losses, yes people I'm ashamed to say, I began.... to, gulp, doubt our ability to fight from behind to win the big ones. Slowly over time but then suddenly overwhelmingly my expectations went from expecting come from behind victories and dominating performances to expecting some boneheaded mistake after every good play we made.  Get a big third down stop? Watch out because here comes the a pick when we get the ball back.  Complete a long pass down field? Watch out here comes the holding penalty that negates the gain. Finish the drill was a distant memory. So it was with this feeling of uncertainty that I watched the first 2 and a half quarters of last Saturdays game and Georgia, unfortunately, was meeting my lowered expectations...... But just when the point of acceptance was clear to me, things started to change........ Again.

Now obviously these things don't change overnight. And even hindsight can't pinpoint the turning of the tides. But the 3rd quarter of Saturdays game is a pretty good bet. That last half of the Mizzou game and looking back to last years streak..I'll be damned if its not starting to feel an awful lot like 2001/2002. A 10 game winning streak and a brilliant first half in the SECG pointed to better days yes but skip ahead to Saturday pre kickoff with me.  Once again the press is pointing out that we don't have a great track record against ranked teams. Pundits are picking Missouri, (Davey Pollack excluded) Desmond Howard goes so far as to say Missouri wins big.  The spread is 2 points.  Questions regarding our man hood surface only this time, we're just a bunch of old men right?
The more things change the more they stay the same..all this has happened and will happen again. Georgia pulls out a victory despite a few sloppy quarters, but remains focused and resolute in the face of adversity. Something happens like a hobnail boot and changes your expectations again. It's sudden yes, but constructed by men behind the scenes and in the trenches who've spent months training for the chance to prove themselves. It's been brewing for while, but the winning ways are back my friends. You can feel it, I can too.

Jarvis Freaking Jones
No there was no P-44-Haynes to point to as the play that turned the tide.  What we will all talk about years from now in reflection is no doubt one Jarvis Jones and his brilliant play in the 4th quarter. In two consecutive series the beast among dawgs caused two turnovers that resulted in 14 points and a deafening silence at the Zoo. ('zou?) Ruining Missouri's SEC debut and reminding these former Big 12 folks what a real defense looks like, Jarvis gave us the short field and all but smashed any hopes they might have still had of a comeback.  But what we should also remember is Richard Samuel the IV who sniffed out a fake punt that would have fooled lesser dawgs in years past. He stopped a play that could have been a huge momentum changer, a play opponents have been duping us with since that 2006 Sugar Bowl loss to West Virginia.  I am saying right now that he's lifted that fake punt monkey off our back for good.  DickSamIV;  a Dawg worth his weight in gold who undoubtedly will go down as one of the legends on the field. A guy who has done everything asked of him at what ever position they decide to line him up at. And Saturday night on special teams he made Pinkel's decision to fake the punt look silly.  I am loving Richts decisions to finally use starters on the special teams as it paid a huge dividend here.

In the end our much talked about old man style of ball won the day.  Yes there is much room for improvement and no Missouri isn't a highly ranked team, but those guys were ready for a fight and they gave us a game despite what the final score said. This was a game that I don't think last years dawgs would have won and there is STILL room for improvement. So I say, yes Georgia is all grows up again...Grown men..again. Lets hope we get the same bounce for the next decade, only this time lets grab ourselves a National Championship or two.

And now, changing focus to our opponents.  For our new conference brethren. I know I doubted you very early on, even maybe sorta poked fun at you a little but hey Mizzou, you actually, you know, sorta seem like you're going to fit right in.. right into the middle but still... Your fans seem the right amount of crazy or at least look like they could learn how to be the right amount of crazy and with a few thousand more seats in the stands you could rank 9th in capacity among all SEC schools. So you know, solidly lower part of middle.  I know you like the fancy spread stuff, but sooner or later you're going to have play some "grown man 'ball." What makes us the "S-E-C" besides the pride and dangerously fanatical nature of our loyalty to our teams is the punishment our teams take each Saturday for a full 4 qtrs and that punishment can add up over the full year. I'd suspect you'll be jumping out to alot of early leads, but (to beat a damn dead horse to death) the game is 4qtrs. You're going to get hurt as the game and the season stretch on, but I think you'll be just fine eventually.  I for one am glad you're part of the best damn Conference in college football and I'm looking forward to our rivalry and where it goes from here. Please know that we'll all be cheering for you from now on and especially against SC (that's South Carolina y'all). We expect the same from you.  Now, don't forget the S-E-C chant next week when you wipe the floor with Arizona State. Opponents love this, or love to hate it, but no matter what now, you're family so I hope you perform it well.

Thanks for the hospitality Missouri, and welcome to the SEC, now go kick some ass.....

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