ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 19: Marc Deas #25 of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrates after their 19-10 win over the Kentucky Wildcats at Sanford Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The win over Kentucky: ugly. An SEC East title trophy, a shot at a 10-win season, and a glimmer of hope for the program: all beautiful.
One of my editors at my day job is a proud South Carolina alumna who's been glowering at me ever since the Gamecocks coughed up their SEC East lead against Arkansas a couple weeks ago. Team affiliation aside, I like this woman, and lord knows I experienced the same death by a thousand cuts in 2007, waiting for the Tennessee loss that never came.
So I tried to warn her about what was coming in the Georgia-Kentucky game: "It's going to drive you fricking crazy," I told her Thursday. "We're going to screw around for most of the first half and leave it just close enough at halftime that y'all are gonna think we might lose, but then we'll get our heads on straight in the second half and end up winning by 10 or 13 anyway."
Which turned out to be uncannily accurate, though I didn't anticipate just how aggravated I would get as a result. I cursed more during the first half alone than I probably had the entire season up to that point; by the second turnover of the afternoon, I was apologizing aloud to God for taking His name in vain, and by the third I was being asked if all the toasters in the house had been safely locked down.
(Answer: Not applicable, because now that my girlfriend and I are living together, we're using her toaster and I would no sooner damage any of her kitchen implements than I would root for Georgia Tech or spit on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.)
But the defense did what it's done almost all season -- i.e. plant its hobnailed boot on the opponent's neck and not let up until the clock hit four zeros -- and the Dawgs have officially clinched their first SEC East title since 2005, and perhaps their most improbable title of any kind in decades. Yes, the game was ugly as sin, surely the ugliest win we've earned since that stretch in 2006 where we beat godawful Colorado and Ole Miss teams in back-to-back weeks by a combined score of 28-22. But I'm not gonna lie: On a weekend in which Auburn, Florida and South Carolina all struggled to put away D-IAA teams early and teams with ambitions much loftier than Georgia's saw them blown into smithereens by supposedly inferior opponents, the aesthetic qualities of Georgia's latest division-title clinch bothered me a lot less in the aftermath than I thought they would.
I don't know how much you can really take away from the game in terms of decisive judgments about Georgia as a team -- not to make excuses, but with Kentucky desperately needing a win to retain any kind of bowl hopes, whereas Georgia had been hearing for a solid week that they effectively already had the division title sewn up, so there seemed to be a definite motivation gap on display.
If there's anything about the game that truly bothers me, it's that the offense took so long to recover after Isaiah Crowell went out with a leg injury. If the Wildcats could contain us for that long without Crowell or Carlton Thomas on the field, then I shudder to think what LSU (or even Georgia Tech) might do to us should either of those guys get taken out for an extended period of time. Following the Dawgs' shellacking of Auburn, you started to hear Georgia fans (among others) talking about how the Dawgs might actually be able to hang with LSU in the conference championship game after all. After Saturday, I would expect to see that talk die down some, particularly with a rather important game coming up between now and the SEC title match.
But a division title is a division title, and a 7-1 league record is a 7-1 league record -- even if it, like the Dawgs' win on Saturday, was earned against less-than-impressive opposition. But I'm not going to sweat that, because the Dawgs were due for a break after having played grueling schedules each of the last three years, and besides, it's not like South Carolina's division-winning 5-3 league record last season was anything to write home about, either.
And even if the wins we earned this year came against mediocre opposition, it's still nice to know we can win those games, rather than coming close but still finding ways to lose them like we did against Mississippi State, Florida and Auburn (all losses in 2010, all wins in '11). We can argue later whether Georgia's success this season was merely a statistical anomaly or a sign that Mark Richt has turned things around in Athens, but for right now, at a point when plenty of people thought we'd be looking for a new head coach, the Dawgs are division champions and have a shot at the league title.
Whether or not this ride ends in the Sugar Bowl, the life of a Georgia fan is once again sweet.