Monday, November 15, 2010

What we think we know: Week 12

1. On the golf course over the weekend, some Big 10 friends were amazed when I said Alabama will be a solid underdog at home against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. I'm no bookie and I've never used one, but if the line is less than 6 points for the Tigers, I will be sorely tempted.

2. Mr. St. Onge and I disagree on much of what I'm about to say, and I hope he adds his point of view. My point of view is this:

There's a microscopically fine line between hard play and violence that can be almost impossible to see, depending on which side of it you stand. From my vantage point, the atmosphere of the Georgia-Auburn game was unnerving.

Who knows what role the unprecedented weight and heat of the Cam Newton played. But both teams -- neither of whom I care for -- were chippy and mouthy from the start. An angry energy soon took hold -- from Newton's right-cross stiff arm to Georgia's tag-team assault on Nick Fairley in the final minutes.

Both teams earned equal shares of personal fouls. We also watched ample airtime of highly agitated coaches who clearly weren't concerned about keeping their players in check.

Fairley, as the best defensive player on the field -- and, according to commentator Gary Danielson, the subject of a growing number of complaints from rival coaches -- got more replay time than any other player besides Newton and Georgia receiver A.J. Green. That's rare for a defensive lineman, but the added exposure captured the mayhem of the afternoon.

This is not a game for kiddies, and I can't remember as big a man as Fairley playing so hard on every single play. Still, his helmet to the back of Georgia QB Aaron Murray was the cheapest shot we've seen this year in the SEC. His pile-driving of the QB was excessively and unecessarily violent. And though blocked late in the game, I think Fairley had time to stop himself before his helmet hit Murray's knee and put him out of the game. (Go on any message boards and you'll find widespread disagreement on this last point.)

Georgia, for its part, has never behaved under Mark Richt. The Dawg coach is still living down his role in his team's mass end zone celebration against Florida two years ago. On and off the field, the Dawgs remain undsciplined, as do at least one prominent member of Richt's staff. The inability of the coaches and players to handle the emotions of the last minutes lead to a near mob fight and speaks to a larger problem. And that may explain why Georgia, for all its talent, is not very good -- again.

Auburn, on the other hand, is very good. And more than any other team in the country this year, it has fed off the energy from its home stadium and performed at a feverishly high level when it has needed it most.

Saturday, that energy overwhelmed the players and coaches from both teams, the officials and the game itself. It was not fun to watch. And, too often, Nick Fairley played out of control.

3. Unless he gets hurt, Aaron Murray will be the best quarterback in Georgia history.

4. Can Houston Nutt survive? Expect the Right Rev to thrust his name in as many coaching vacancies as his agent can turn up. Still, the humiliating beatdown by Tennessee raises questions that have haunted Nutt wherever he's been.

5. I owe the ball coach and his team an apology. Twenty-four hours after I opined about the Gamecocks' inevitable defeat against Florida and Steve Spurrier's continued role as coach, Carolina thoroughly pummeled the homestanding Gators to win its first every SEC East crown. This was by far South Carolina's best road performance of the year, a pounding, and it came when doubts about Spurrier and his program were at their peak.

By the third quarter, Florida coach Urban Meyer was in his straight-jacket mode: aimlessly roaming his sideline, arms garroting his bent-over body, haunted eyes, the walls of a humiliating defeat closing in. Let's hope the Gamecocks play this well in Atlanta. We need a good game. For now, it will be interesting to see how much energy the team can muster for its exhibition game with rival Clemson.

6. And what of Florida? The post-Tebow fall from grace this year by the Gators has been breathtaking. Saturday night's beating by Spurrier's teams ranks right along with the thrashing in Tuscaloosa during Meyer's first year as the worst defeats of the Urban Era.

What's Meyer's next move? Does he wait for the emergence of the next generational player (both Tebow and Cam Newton, after all, were in Gainvesville for a time)? Or does he find something that works year in and year out? This year's team is chock full of veterans and the nation's very best recruits, and make no mistake, it is still bad. Something essential is missing or must change. The Meyer system and the coach's pathological dread of losing are no longer enough.

7. Sorry, it's a sign of the times. But this couldn't be an SEC football blog without someone's latest opinion on the Newton mess. This is the best we've found today.



pstonge said...

Let's see. On Sunday, Mr. Gordon criticizes the Auburn president because he has decided not to annoy the NCAA and change the minds of no one by saying the same thing about the Cam Newton saga that his coach and athletic director said last week. Today, Gordon criticizes Nick Fairly for being dirty. It's 11 days until the Iron Bowl, Mike. Gotta pace yourself, or you'll be left next week with criticizing Wes Byrum for kicking his field goals too far through the uprights.

Actually, Mike has been fair to Auburn all season, to the point where I think there some sort of penance involved. But yes, I disagree with him - some - about Nick Fairley. His flagged late hit penalty on Georgia QB Murray was dumb, but I can't remember another late-hit flag he's received this year, and it's my guess that if Fairly wore a crimson-and-white No. 90, he would be celebrated by Tide fans for his motor and mean streak. Kinda like former Georgia player Buck Belue did in a post-game Georgia-Auburn blog post.

Said Buck: "Fairley would be a rock star in Georgia, if he played for the 'Dogs. But he plays for Auburn. So, we hate on him. I get it. Does he take no prisoners, with his nasty style? That's correct. Is he dirty. I think not."

Buck, as you might guess, didn't think Fairley's late-game hit on Georgia QB Murray was dirty. I'll give you this: It's the second most talked-about SEC hit of the weekend, behind a certain SEC West coach getting a little too cheeky with his backup QB. (Don't know what I'm talking about? Google "Saban" and "spank.")

- Peter

Bud said...

Well you can always count on me to be fair and objective when it comes to Georgia vs Auburn, right?? OK maybe not, but I'll do my best. Auburn is a great team this year and clearly outplayed the Dawgs on Saturday. After watching Cam Newton, does anyone even remember Tim Tebow? No I didn't think so. Nick Fairley is also a great player and was a key factor in the Auburn victory. But let's be honest folks. We've all seen thousands and thousands of football plays in our lives and Fairley's 2 body slams and the late spear in the back on the GA QB were unusual. He really seemed to be going out of his way to injure Murray. After Auburn scored their last TD with 2 1/2 minutes to play to put the game away, I said to my wife "Well there's still enough time for Auburn to injure our QB" and sure enough ... The last hit on Murray's knee may or may not have been intentional, but given the pattern of prior Fairley hits on Murray, who can be sure it wasn't. I'm really surprised that Auburn allows such a head hunter mentality against other teams’ QBs when Cam Newton spends so much time running the ball and placing himself in vulnerable situations. I’m convinced that if the teams Auburn has played this year had been trying to hurt Cam Newton the way Fairley went after Murray that Newton would be on the injured list by now.

What else can I say? I agree with MG that the Georgia team seems to be a bit short on discipline and has for a while. And I agree with PSO that a lot of the way we see these events is in the eye of the beholder. Congratulations to Auburn on a hell of a season so far.

Anonymous said...

I have so much to say about this past weekend that I'm going to say it in several posts. I'll start with my take on the violence down on the plains:

Danielson has made mention of the lack of necessity of the force of Fairley's tackles every time he made a tackle in each of the 3 Auburn games he has called. Is Fairley dirty? Yes. Would I sell my soul to the Devil to get him on the Panthers d-line next year? Hell Yes. Then I'd sell the souls of 2 family members to get the 2 trucks on the left side of Auburn's offensive line in Carolina black & blue.

As for the hits themselves - I think every shot he takes at a player has that player going to the hospital as the goal. That being said, the hit that put Murray out of the game didn't seem intentional at all. From the replays I saw, Fairley got submarined by a UGA offensive lineman and Fairly was rolling like a trash can going downhill, and rolled into Murray's leg. I think the retaliation on the next play was a little too obvious, and I wondered why those Bulldogs didn't get ejected like the 2 Auburn d-linemen did for taking obvious cheap shots.

Why is all of this an issue? Because we have about the poorest excuse for a defensive coordinator you can imagine. Who thought hiring an ACC reject head coach with a 10-147 record was a good idea? How about going after our old defensive coordinator and convince him that staying on that sinking ship in Austin is career suicide for him?

Hey, MG, are you saying that if Christian LeMay is smart he will back out of his comittment and go to Auburn like he should have in the first place?

The next few days are going to be fun, as Holy Week is actually 2 weeks long this year, since both 'Bama and Auburn have the week off this week. MG, you're gonna love my prediction of the 'Bama-Georgia State game.

Anonymous said...

Second set of thoughts: You know how Bill Simmons of likes to do a diary of NBA draft night? I tried that during the Auburn-UGA game. Here are a few entries:

– Both teams have scored on their first possession. Break out the Maalox.

– Dawgs up 14-7. I go rummaging through my wife’s drawers in the bathroom cabinet looking for incense to burn. Already have the chopped firewood out back to build the altar.

– Dawgs up 21-7, scoring 21 points on 24 offensive plays. I call an urgent care facility to inquire about the safety of taking Maalox intravenously.

– Thanks to the Immortal Phillip Lutzenkirchen – who, by the way, is Immortal, we’re even at halftime. Take that, Tommy T!

– The best-executed onside kick in football history steals the 2nd half opening possession from the Dawgs. If we win the BCS title, Chizik will officially be named as The Best Coach That Ever Lived based on that call.

– Watching Newton take the shotgun snap and run between the tackles, he is so smooth he looks like he’s walking. Anyone else notice this?

– Memo to all “Auburn is a 1-man team” skeptics: Are you watching Onterio McCalebb running roughshod over the Dawgs today?

– The Immortal Phillip Lutzenkirchen, who, by the way, is Immortal, scores again after UGA kicked a field goal. I’m feeling so confident, I remove the Maalox IV.

– at the rate we’re getting players ejected, we’re going to be sending the cheerleaders out to play defense in the first half of the Iron Bowl. I have finally figured out why our defense has struggled so badly this year – we have an impotent defensive coordinator. We shudda known better than to hire a Duke coach for the wars of the SEC.

– time to watch the SC-UF game to see who we play in the SEC title game. Everyone – including me – loves to bash the Auburn defense, especially the secondary. But once UGA tied it at 28, they shut the Dawgs down. But I'm not giving Ted Roof any credit. 'Bama's offense is back on track. Need more Maalox.