ATHENS GA - NOVEMBER 27: Jerrard Tarrant #37 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets forces a fumble by Shaun Chapas #49 of the Georgia Bulldogs on the opening kickoff at Sanford Stadium on November 27 2010 in Athens Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Georgia prevails over its in-state arch-rivals despite making every effort not to. Is it possible to be superior and humbled at the same time?
Well, for one thing we learned that Georgia's going to a bowl. We also learned that if the two worst teams of the Mark Richt era can still beat Tech, then the Jackets are stuck with "little brother" status in this state until they step up to prove otherwise. Once we get past the celebrations for those two achievements, though, there are going to be some thorny questions for Richt and his team.
1. "Balance" still takes precedence over "logic" for Mike Bobo. Coming into the game, nobody, not even the staunchest Jacket fan, really thought Tech would be able to cover A.J. Green and/or stop Georgia's passing game. And for the most part, Tech didn't -- Murray finished 15 of 19 for 271 yards, three scores and no interceptions, while Green caught eight balls for 97 yards.
Yet just when the passing game would really be clicking, Bobo would arbitrarily go to the run, such as on Georgia's first drive of the second quarter. The Dawgs rocketed down the field thanks to two first-down completions and a GT pass-interference penalty, but once inside the red zone, Bobo called rushes on three of four plays -- including the 4th-and-1 on which Aaron Murray was stopped for no gain.
There's something to be said for keeping the defense guessing, but there's also something to be said for dancing with the one what brung ya, or hammering away at an opponent's weakness until they figure out how to stop you. It looks highly unlikely that there will be any sweeping changes on Richt's staff this offseason, but Bobo's questionable play calls -- capping off a season that was marked by them -- didn't leave a pleasant taste in the mouths of Bulldog Nation.
2. Todd Grantham's number-one priority this offseason is finding some big beef for the defensive line. All season long there were major questions about whether the Dawgs had the personnel to run Grantham's new 3-4 defensive front, but at no point was the relatively undersized line exposed quite like they were Saturday night. By the time the final gun sounded, Tech had rung up 411 rushing yards -- two yards more than they'd amassed in their trampling of the Dawg defense in 2008, and more than twice as much as they managed in last year's game -- with the Dawgs getting little, if any, push up the middle.
Basically, when the Jackets ran anywhere that linebacker Justin Houston wasn't, they made big plays. The game made apparent Grantham's pressing need to recruit bigger bodies for the defensive front, especially a gap-stuffing man-mountain in the Terrence Cody mold to play nose tackle. Otherwise, any defensive renaissance in Athens is going to be a long way off.
3. The final verdict on the 2010 Dawgs: They're just not very good. At times this season, one could make the case that the Dawgs were a talented team plagued by bad luck and bad timing. You couldn't make those excuses after the Tech game, though. The Dawgs faced, on their home turf, a 6-5 Tech team with an underwhelming defense and a backup QB making only his third career start, and had two weeks to prepare besides -- and still needed the full 60 minutes and more than a few lucky breaks to pull out the win. Not that Tech didn't get their share of fortuitous bounces, either, but those breaks wouldn't have been there if Georgia hadn't handed them over.
Georgia still needs a win in whichever lower-tier bowl they're invited to in order to avoid their first losing season since 1996, but it's not hard to make the case that the team that played Saturday night looks pretty much like a 6-7 kind of squad.
Overall impressions: Does it feel like the celebrations following Georgia's victory were suspiciously muted? If so, you don't need to turn your hearing aid up -- that was an ugly game, and everyone in red and black knew it. And in a tidy, 60-minute package, it included everything that helped reduce the Dawgs' 2010 season to near-ruin -- only sporadically effective defense, so-so offensive line play, ill-timed turnovers, and the kinds of mental mistakes a team with this much talent shouldn't be making under a coach who's about to wrap up his 10th season at the school.
In the near term, Georgia can only sit and wait to hear where it'll be playing its bowl game and whom it'll be facing. Once that game takes place and the book is finally closed on the 2010 season, though, a very loud clock will be ticking on Mark Richt's tenure in Athens. In theory, with a QB who will by then be a seasoned veteran and a defense that's had two offseasons to adjust to Grantham's defensive scheme, the '11 Bulldogs should show marked improvement over the previous year's team -- but we were saying the same things this past August, right as the Dawgs were poised to start the season 1-4.
What this team needs more than major changes in the offensive or defensive philosophy is a change in attitude and much greater focus, in terms of what they do both on and off the field, and it's no longer just the lunatic message-board fringe who are openly questioning whether Richt is capable of providing it anymore.
Player of the game: How many times has Aaron Murray gotten a mention in this space? Well, who cares, he deserves another one. Murray's diabolically efficient evening (his QB rating for the day was 250.9) helped spackle over a highly forgettable game by the Georgia defense and led the Dawgs to their second straight victory over Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets. If Ryan Mallett and Cam Newton make their expected leaps to the NFL after this season, it's highly likely that Murray will head into 2011 as the SEC's top quarterback.
Stat of the game: 9 -- the total number of interceptions and fumbles Saturday night: a pick and four fumbles (three of them lost) by the Jackets, four more fumbles (two of them lost) by the Dawgs. For a rivalry heated enough to be referred to as "Clean Old-Fashioned Hate," it sure looked at times like neither team was all that interested in winning the game.