So here's what Georgia's bounce-back 2011 season and its improbable 10-game winning streak have all been leading up to: an appearance in the SEC Championship Game, the Dawgs' first since 2005 and fourth overall under Mark Richt. And it's left our Manic-Depressive Previewers in what is, for them at least, an unusual situation. For most of this season, Georgia has been favored, which means we've been treated to a steady diet of Manic Doug predicting a layup victory while Depressive Doug conjures up all sorts of dire (and frequently obscure) ways in which a winnable game could go completely pear-shaped. But now, with Georgia a decided underdog against the No. 1 team in the nation, it looks like Depressive Doug might not actually need to conjure any bizarre sky-is-falling scenarios to explain why the Dawgs are in trouble, and Manic Doug is going to have his work cut out for him justifying a Georgia win at all. He's been keeping up a near-constant bourbon drip ever since the win over Kentucky, though, so Lord knows he's still gonna try.
Manic Doug: Can't. Believe. It's finally here. After all the fingernail-biting, all the misery over the 0-2 start . . .
Depressive Doug: All the abuse I got from you because we won when I was terrified we'd lose . . .
MD: . . . all the hard-fought victories . . .
DD: . . . all the driving home from games because you ended up too hungover from the victory celebrations the night before, even though you'd promised to drive . . .
MD: . . . yeah, after all that, here we are, headed to the SEC Championship Game. Like, literally. I can't believe we're going to be in the stadium.
DD: I know, right? It's going to be kind of a bittersweet moment, but I think I'm going to enjoy it no matter what.
MD: Yeah, it's really -- wait, what?
DD: Well, you know, the outcome's probably not going to be pretty, but that still isn't going to take anything away from what our guys have accomplished this season.
MD: Wow. Wow. Barely a minute into this and you're already throwing on the wet blanket and dooming us to failure. When your parents gave you Optimus Prime for Christmas back in 1984, I bet you were like, "Wow, this is a really great present, at least until it gets broken somehow."
DD: Leaving aside for the moment why you'd find psychoanalysis of a hypothetical 6-year-old relevant to this discussion, you're not really going to rag me for thinking LSU's going to win, are you? They're the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation. They've ripped through ranked teams right and left, both at home and far away from Death Valley. They're top 20, if not top 10, in nearly every statistical category . . .
MD: But they're not invincible.
DD: . . . well, no, nobody is, but they're as close to invincible as anyone's gonna get this season. I mean, if neither Oregon nor Alabama nor Arkansas could knock them off, how much of a chance do we really have?
MD: It's not huge, I'll grant you. But we might actually have a better chance than any of those teams you just listed.
MD: Because we're more balanced. Oregon and Alabama were great in the running game, but they didn't have a downfield passing threat; LSU rendered them one-dimensional. Arkansas was one-dimensional because they didn't have a running game worth respecting, plus their defense hasn't been trustworthy since Petrino got there. Georgia has the league's best quarterback and a home-run threat in Malcolm Mitchell; we've also got the league's best tight end, who can give us an outlet in the short passing game; we've got a deep backfield; and yes, we once again have one of the top defenses in the country. We may not have seen anything like LSU, but they haven't seen anything like us, either.
DD: I admire your optimism, but I think you're going a little overboard. It's not exactly a secret that our running game hasn't been consistent this year -- Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas have seven carries combined over the last two games because of injuries and suspensions and whatever, and while it's one thing to send Boo Malcome or Brandon Harton against Kentucky or Georgia Tech, it's another thing entirely to throw them at LSU's defensive front and hope for the best. Georgia Tech's front was a bunch of linebackers masquerading as linemen; LSU's four guys are basically NFL starters in waiting.
MD: They're some scary athletes, all right. But you're thinking too narrowly if all you see in our backfield is Crowell, Thomas and Malcome. Hell, Branden Smith got five carries last week, and we've got Brandon Boykin to add another dimension if we need one. Mike Bobo's taken some criticism for being too conservative in both his play-calling and use of personnel, but the past few weeks he's been pulling out all the stops.
DD: And I appreciate him for it, but a few tricky plays with a converted defensive back doesn't equal offensive balance. Our margin of error on offense is slim enough as it is; you saw how we ground to a near-halt against Kentucky when Crowell went out and Carlton Thomas wasn't available. And that was Kentucky. If we can't do any better against LSU -- and the way our running backs have been screwing around lately, there's a chance we won't -- then that leaves their linebackers free to tee off on Aaron Murray.
MD: Who, again, is the best quarterback in the SEC, and he's got a deep tight-end roster and Bruce Figgins available as safety valves in the passing game if he needs to get rid of the ball quickly.
DD: He's gonna have to be quicker than Tyran Mathieu, though. And I have yet to see anyone, on anybody's team, who's that fast.
MD: OK, look, here's where I have a bone to pick with a lot of people. Everyone's dogging Georgia because we've supposedly played a bunch of mediocre teams with mediocre offenses. Yet from the standpoint of the passing game, at least, LSU hasn't played all that many spectacular QBs either. Darron Thomas is good, but Oregon's spread is run-first, so they've only got the 68th-ranked passing offense in the country. Alabama's passing game is an afterthought. The Tigers did hold Arkansas' Tyler Wilson below his average, but they also gave up 463 passing yards to West Virginia's Geno Smith --
DD: Who operates in a pass-heavy spread, and who had to throw like crazy because LSU had the Mountaineers in a hole early.
MD: Whatever. I'd take Aaron Murray over either of those guys, and with the weapons he has at his disposal, I think it's entirely possible Murray can keep them guessing and move those chains.
DD: Sorry. Just don't buy it, not when LSU is first in the nation in turnover margin. Our running backs have been coughing up some fumbles lately, and as good as Aaron Murray is, he hasn't been immune to the occasional really dumb throw. That's the kind of thing LSU will make you pay for in a hurry. See, here's the problem: Georgia could beat LSU -- I mean, we've got tremendous talent, it's not like a win is a total impossibility -- but we have to play an absolutely perfect game to beat a team of the Tigers' caliber. I'm talking the kind of game we played against Auburn squared. Do you really think we have that in us?
MD: You're damn right I do.
DD: Then by all means, explain. Not that I'll buy any of it, but go ahead and explain.
MD: See, we know we have to play a perfect game. But I bet LSU thinks they can get by with a so-so one. Think about it: They've been hearing for weeks now about how they're the No. 1 team in the nation, the SEC title match is just a formality, they're guaranteed of a spot in the national title game regardless of what happens. It kind of reminds me of what people were saying after Georgia beat Auburn, when everyone told us we'd more or less sewn up the East Division title. We had sunshine blown up our ass for an entire week and then went out and laid an egg against Kentucky . . .
DD: Yeah. Who lost to us anyway.
MD: Because they're Kentucky, and they didn't have the horses to beat us even when we were half-assing it. But we're Georgia, and yeah, if we play at the top of our game and eliminate dumb mistakes, we are good enough to beat LSU. Especially if they're overlooking us and taking a win for granted.
DD: Which it sounds like you think is going to happen.
MD: Yes, I do. The Tigers have won every game they've played by at least two touchdowns, except for Alabama. They're going to be overconfident, and we're going to catch them off guard on offense; meanwhile, our defense is going to harass Jordan Jefferson and/or Jarrett Lee into some dumb throws -- we, not the Tigers, lead the SEC in sacks during conference play -- and then we can go to work on their running game. It's going to be a grueling defensive struggle, but we're going to hang with them all game and then Murray's going to achieve hero status by leading us on a last-minute drive that results in a game-winning field goal by Blair Walsh. Final score: Georgia shocks the world, 20-17.
DD: Wow. That's quite a story.
MD: It is, ain't it? Thinking about printing all that out and having it framed so I can prove to people I said it after we win.
DD: Well, I'd save my money if I were you. I don't think Georgia's going to get embarrassed in this game, but there's a reason our score differential is so much lower than LSU's even though we've been almost as dominant as they've been, yardage-wise. We've given up the dumb turnovers and special-teams plays that they haven't. Not that we're terrible in that regard, but just as an example, take away that ridiculous fake-punt TD or any of the interceptions we gave up to South Carolina and we're watching two teams with undefeated SEC records this weekend instead of just one. It's been a bajillion years since we stopped a fake-punt attempt by anyone; what happens if Les Miles tries something cute with Brad Wing (and you know he will)? What happens when LSU's relentless pass rush flushes Aaron Murray out of the pocket and he makes a panic throw to a receiver who's not there?
MD: You say "when" like it's a done deal.
DD: I hate to say it, but given how insanely tenacious LSU's pass defense has been, I think Murray coughs up at least two picks on Saturday. And I think we also give up a big special-teams play. Maybe it's a kickoff return for a TD, maybe it's Brad Wing covering half the field on a fake punt. Hell, maybe we miss a couple field goals.
MD: Hey, Blair Walsh has made five of his last six.
DD: Whatever. The point is, those are the kinds of things that LSU thrives on and that we've been very susceptible to giving up, 10-game winning streak or no 10-game winning streak. I think we'll hang with the Tigers pretty close statistically -- our defense is definitely good enough to keep them from running away with it -- but with both teams' yardage totals staying fairly low, that hidden-yardage stuff will make the difference on the scoreboard for the Tigers. If neither Oregon nor Arkansas could stay within two TDs of LSU in the end, I just can't conceive of the Dawgs managing it. Georgia plays hard but loses, 34-16.
MD: Jesus, 18 points?! How can you even stand to watch the game if you're convinced we're gonna lose by three scores? I oughta make sure the security guards pat you down for sharp objects.
DD: No need. I'm accustomed to disappointment, that's why I anticipate it so much.
MD: Well, for the record, if the Dawgs had followed every one of your predictions this season they'd be 5-7 right now and not even going to a bowl, much less the SEC Championship Game. So please excuse me if I scoff openly at your prediction.
DD: Wow, you mocking and disrespecting me! This is a completely new and unfamiliar experience!
MD: Shut up. If it helps salvage your ego any, our predictions average out to a 26-18 Georgia loss thanks to your pessimism dragging us down. Hope you're pleased with yourself.
DD: Of course not -- look, I don't want Georgia to lose. If we somehow manage to win this thing I'll be the most ecstatic person in the stadium. Hell, I'll even run down Marietta Street outside the Dome with nothing but a Georgia flag wrapped about my nether regions.
MD: Seriously? That's entirely out of character for you. But also awesome. And if that happens, I'll be right there with you.
DD: I appreciate the solidarity, but we only have the one Georgia flag, and I'll tell you right now I'm not sharing.
MD: No need. If we pull off the upset of the year tomorrow, I'll just do it buck naked.
DD: Great, so any jubilation I have over a big upset will be negated by having to head down to the Atlanta city jail at three o'clock in the morning and bailing you out on an indecent-exposure charge. Real big of you.
MD: Yeah, and you know what? It'll totally be worth it.