Wow! SEC Champs! Georgia stood up, hit Auburn squarely in the mouth and dared them to do anything about it. The gob-smacked Tigers could do nothing but watch their fans start to empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the third quarter. To say that Georgia made a statement about the program with the physically dominant victory in Atlanta vastly understates the significance of the moment.
Between the drubbing at Auburn and the physically dominating performance in Atlanta, the Dawgs grew up. The program was changed for the foreseeable future when this team internalized the level of effort and violence that must be delivered to ensure victory over teams that match, or even exceed, one’s on talent. Coaches are fond of saying that the team that wants it most will win. Georgia wanted it more and knew what it had to do to get it. Then they hunkered-down and performed with unwavering focus, the unity of effort and extreme violence. The scoreboard told the story long before confetti filled the air inside the dome.
Next year’s leadership was part of the process – the transformation. They have seen where effort and focus have to be to play winning football at the highest level. But even more importantly, an entire class of freshmen has learned the lesson. Those young pups have seen what happens when a team lets its gaze waiver and they had a front row seat for the rematch that validated all of the lessons from the loss. It is impossible to overstate the importance to the program of the win in Atlanta. The underclassmen have been shown that their considerable talent is not enough to play winning football.
If the spotlight of Mercedes-Benz Stadium had the potential to distract a team, the Rose Bowl will be a three-ring circus of distraction – Hollywood – pop-culture icons – the Rose Bowl itself. The stakes have increased geometrically. Yes, the SEC Championship Game is nationally televised but the Rose Bowl is a truly national event. Travel to the west coast, defeat a national brand like Oklahoma and the “G” will be imprinted on the eyeballs of fans and pundits alike for years to come. The recruiting value of a Rose Bowl appearance is immense – a win magnifies the effect. Therein lies the coaching challenge: Can the staff bring their charges back to the place that won the SECCG given the blinding glare of the moment?
That the Rose Bowl is a huge game for Georgia goes without saying. However, one reason that there is so much buzz around the game is that it was unexpected (admit it – you didn’t see them winning the SEC – did you?). Kirby is well ahead of anyone’s timetable for the resurrection of the program (with the possible exception of Smart himself). For that reason the staff and team should be loose and ready to apply the lessons of the season – the same lessons learned on that miserable day on the Plains and the glorious night in South Bend. Bring everything, every play – few can withstand the force of complete commitment and focus. A shot at the national championship awaits.
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