Fans become emotionally involved in a football game, without a doubt. However, when young men compete to the best of their abilities and lose a game on a last-second play, the emotional impact is far greater than a fan can imagine.
Those of us whose job it is to analyze the sport will come up with various turning points and miscues that contributed to the outcome in Sanford Stadium Saturday night, but Georgia’s player have to swallow all that that disappointment – put all of the shoulda, coulda and woulda out of their minds – and begin to prepare for a date with the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia next Saturday night. The toughest job for players and coaches this week will be to self-enforce the 24 hours rule. That is, they must flip an imaginary ‘move-on switch’ and prepare for a team that always plays their best against the Bulldogs – especially at night in Columbia.
I felt sorry for the players selected by the staff to give postgame interviews. How on earth can an 18-22 year old with grass-stained tape unraveling from his arm, grass still stuck to his face and arms and sweat still beading on his forehead, give thoughtful responses to questions that, by the asking, continually reopen the wound slashed into their psyche by the just completed contest? Of course, the answer is that they just suck it up and perform – just like they will next Saturday.
Tennessee is a senior-laden team, but Georgia’s young pups, rebounding from a beating administered by Ole Miss last week, played toe-to-toe with the Vols. That should be encouraging for the fanbase. The bench was into the game all day, and I never saw any sign of ‘quit,’ any heads hanging, and no ‘here-we-go-again’ defeatism. The staff has convinced its team that they can beat anyone if they play mistake-free football, and they are right.
Jacob Eason has ice-water in his veins. I made an effort to watch him on the sidelines after several offensive series yesterday. Regardless what just happened on the field, his countenance never changes.
Eason is very close to having the experience to win big. When he has seen enough to rely on instinct rather than having to think, Georgia’s offense will kick into another gear. It won’t be much longer.
Brian Herrien. What an incredibly tough runner! His YAC (yards after contact) has to be close to a one-to-one ratio with total yards. He just refuses to go down. Several times I watched him run directly toward me through the lens of my camera and marveled at his strength and drive as he powered through multiple Tennesse defenders. How effective will he be when Georgia in the position to wear down a defense with the running game? A back like Brian can be a back-breaker when his bulldozer mentality is paired with a road grader offensive line.
On interesting comment that I heard from a player while leaving the field after the game went something like this: ‘Can’t believe the stupid coaches took me out.’ Sounds bad right? But the context was a young defensive player who was not on the field for the final play who believed that he could have made a play to prevent the touchdown. It was not insubordination, but an expression of frustration – a freshman’s outburst.
Kirby Smart is fun to watch on the sideline. He is the Jacob Eason from an alternate and opposite universe. Every possible human facial expression is momentarily visible as he coaches continually throughout the game. He is a treat.
How would you like to be the poor strength and conditioning coach whose job it is to keep Kirby on the sidelines by holding onto one of his belt loops during the head coach’s manic swings – from hugging a player to in your face confrontation in the blink of an eye. However, the rational Kirby is never far from his consciousness. He appears to sense when he needs to let go of the Coach Hulk and talk professorially with a player. That is not to say that I have ever seen him appear detached, but he does switch into teaching mode with apparent ease when he senses that a player needs it.
The bottom line from the Tennessee game is progress. Yes, these Dawgs are inconsistent. Yes, some of the mistakes are maddening, but this team is better than it was five weeks ago. This edition of the Georgia Bulldogs will be a pretty good team by the end of the year.
My preseason prediction was a record of 10-2. That, of course, could still happen. A more likely outcome would be a ten win season counting a bowl, but Kirby has said all along that he is not approaching games with the scoreboard in mind. He is building a team – a program. It is worth noting Kirby’s mentor lost six games in his first season at Alabama, with Smart by his side. The program, the future, has to be the primary concern. Kirby is laying the foundation.