After many years of photographing UGA games, I am skipping some away games this year. Auburn was my first time reporting from television, and as much as I feared missing the game’s feel, there were some advantages. Television has always been the best seat in the house for viewing the action, especially when my normal game day position is on the sideline with a powerful camera lens restricting me to a narrow field of view. My biggest overall takeaway? Games are far more nerve-wracking on TV, or I just picked the wrong game to change my perspective.
Coach Freeze’s first edition of the Tigers has plenty of issues inherited from his predecessor, but getting a home-field shot at the two-time defending national champions was enough for him to rally his troops and punch the Dawgs in the mouth from the opening kickoff. At the same time, Georgia continued its season-long first-quarter malaise. After interceptions, poor blocking, and big plays by Auburn on both sides of the ball, my positive takeaway from the first quarter is it could have been worse.
What’s the problem with the Dawgs? There must be some fundamental flaw holding back the 2023 version of the Red and Black, right? Wrong! Winning SEC football games is hard, and living up to fan expectations after back-to-back natties is harder still. We (Georgia fans) must stop judging the 2023 Bulldogs by the accomplishments of those championship teams. Those champion Dawgs put the current team in the crosshairs of every team in the country (especially SEC opponents) with their achievements.
Fans often gloss over less than exceptional performances during successful seasons. Last year, for example, the high-flying Dawgs waltzed into Columbia, Missouri and got their heads handed to them for 3.8 quarters. Georgia’s first lead of the game came with 4:03 to go in the fourth (deja vu yesterday?). Then, in the playoff, Ohio State came close to derailing Georgia’s natty quest. Close, but no cigar!
Based on many of the comments I saw on social media after the game, one would think the Dawgs are 0-5 rather than 5-0. Those keyboard warriors should take some deep breaths and check the results. Style points are not part of the rankings and do not impact inclusion in the college football playoff.
Individuals may have underperformed at Auburn, but the bottom line is on the scoreboard. The TEAM did not panic. They weathered the storm created by an energized Auburn squad, ignored the incredibly boisterous hostile home crowd and took the game away from both when it mattered.
The Plains trip was not the last test for these Dawgs. Beating Georgia has become the common motivator in the SEC. Kirby Smart and his charges know they are targets and are happy to meet those challenges as they come. Remember, after the trip to Auburn, this Bulldog team remains your unbeaten, untied, defending national champion: warts and all.