Monday, September 20, 2010

Report from the stands: Georgia-Arkansas

Your humble correspondent ended up with a ticket (thanks to buddies Zane, Michelle and Little Z) to the game on Saturday. As you probably know, it ended up as a gut punch to Georgia fans. Now that I've had a couple days, I can think about it with only mild profanity. So here's a report from Athens.

The scene: Quieter than it used to be. I haven't been to Athens in five years or so, and in that time UGA has banned tailgating next to the stadium and curtailed it on most of North Campus. So the guys who used to park their old school bus on Sanford Drive and put 30 drunk friends on the roof, all singing Hank Jr.'s "Family Tradition," are somewhere else now. Or dead from expired livers.

I'm of two minds about this. I don't miss all the examples of Obnoxious Fan No. 1 (drinks 20 Bud Lights, leers at every girl who walks by, pukes in bushes, passes out before game starts). But for my tastes it could've been about 30 percent more rowdy. Then again, we weren't in the dorms, where several unspeakable things happen every day before breakfast.

The heat: Brutal. The scoreboard kept saying it was 83 degrees, which might have been true if the thermometer had been buried three feet under the turf. In the stands, with the sun bouncing off those metal benches, it was death on a stick. Every Day Should Be Saturday went to Florida-Tennessee, and tweeted that it was like spending three hours in a kiln; same here.

The mood: Ugly early. I figured coach Mark Richt would take most of the heat for UGA's loss to South Carolina, and its general blah-ness for the past year or two, but based on what I heard in the stands, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is getting most of the blame. A guy a few seats over from me was a perfect example of Obnoxious Fan No. 2 (screams the entire game at players/coaches/refs, sincerely believes he knows more about football than the paid professionals and the athletes who have played since second grade). From the moment the Georgia offense took the field, Ob Fan #2 started screaming "Bobo! BOOOOOOOOBOOOOOOO!!!" in this fashion:

Yeah, that was fun to listen to.

The game: Terrible, wonderful, then terrible.

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett threw two TD passes to receivers all alone behind the defense -- a 57-yarder to Chris Gragg when the game was barely three minutes old, and a 22-yarder to Ronnie Wingo Jr. at the end of the third quarter. It's easy to look like an All-American when your receivers are all by themselves, waving to you like distant swimmers.

That second wide-open TD made it 24-10, and there was no reason to think Georgia had a chance. Arkansas killed us with crossing patterns, and when we had the ball, freshman Aaron Murray kept holding the ball... and holding it... and holding it. For three quarters our best play, by far, was "Murray drops back to pass then takes off running for his life."

(It was hard to tell, watching live, if Murray was just timid or if the receivers weren't getting open. The one guy you knew could get open, A.J. Green, was on the sidelines, suspended. Yes, the NCAA laid down too harsh a punishment for selling a jersey. Even so, Green was a dope for doing it in the first place.)

Early in the fourth, when Georgia turned it over on downs at the Arkansas 30, some people headed home. But for some reason, after that, the switch flipped. Arkansas got one first down on its next two possessions, and Georgia scored two TDs set up by bombs from Murray to Kris Durham. With 3:55 left it was tied, and the stadium was about as loud as I've ever heard it.*

*My three loudest Sanford Stadium moments:

1) Kevin Butler 60-yard field goal to beat Clemson in '84
2) Herschel takes field w/broken thumb, Tron Jackson scores on end-around against Clemson (called back on penalty) in '82
3) UCLA cheerleaders take field in '83, causing several freshmen to collapse from hormone overload

Arkansas had to punt again and we got the ball on our 34. After two 10-yard runs sandwiched around a sack, we called timeout with 1:04 left, third-and-4 at midfield.

At that moment, what kind of odds would you have put on the outcome? I guessed something like this:

25 percent: Georgia wins in regulation (all the momentum, great kicker)
70 percent: overtime
5 percent: Arkansas wins in regulation

But then Murray took another sack. Drew Butler shanked a punt. And it took only three plays and 39 seconds for this to happen:

Nobody screamed at Mike Bobo after that. Nobody said much of anything.

The future: I just don't see Georgia winning many games this year. When Arkansas scored, it looked easy; every time Georgia scored it took great catches and broken tackles. With Green on the bench, there didn't seem to be a single playmaker on the field -- somebody who was simply stronger, faster, shiftier or smarter than anyone else out there. I'm trying not to be Obnoxious Fan No. 3 -- the guy who takes one loss and projects it into a decade of dread and despair. Besides, except for that last minute, I had a blast.

But I think it's going to be a long season.

-- Tommy T.


Anonymous said...

I watched big chunks of this game (flipped back & forth between this and Ga Tech-UNC-CH, which was actually a very compelling game). Tommy is right in that every Georgia score seemed to require a Hurculean effort. Once Green is back, things will get better for them offensively. The bowl game might be before Christmas, but they will be in a bowl - they haven't played Idaho St, Tennessee, Vandy or Misipi State yet, and Colorado isn't much better.