Yeah, it was a gimme game, but the fans showed up -- and more importantly, the team did too.
On the way to an early-morning brunch tailgate in Athens on Saturday, I wound up in line at Jittery Joe's behind a policeman who was commiserating with the barista about how bad traffic had been for the South Carolina game the previous week and how bad it was going to be that afternoon. As I left, I tried to reassure the guy at the counter he didn't have anything to worry about. "Between the Dawgs being 0-2 and this being the game everyone takes their kids to so they can leave at halftime," I told him, "it'll probably be smooth sailing."
Turns out I may have given him some bad advice. The tailgating scene wasn't quite as wall-to-wall as it is on a typical fall Saturday, but neither was it the ghost town I'd feared it would be, even at nine in the morning. And while Sanford Stadium never quite filled completely up, the turnout was pretty impressive for an 0-2 team with nothing more on its mind than licking its wounds at the expense of a sacrificial I-AA lamb. And yeah, on the way out of town I ended up having to take more than one detour to avoid getting stuck in the long lines of traffic trundling onto Highway 316. Criticize the team all you want, but don't say Bulldog Nation has stopped caring.
Actually, you know what? -- lay off the team too, because they played about as focused a game as it was possible for them to play on Saturday. And I know that might sound dumb in the context of a bodybag game against an FCS program in only its ninth year of existence, but consider all the other times you've seen Georgia play a game like that. Either they take the first quarter off and not put the game away until halftime or later (think Western Carolina '07), or they take the last quarter off and let through a couple meaningless scores that have everybody kvetching about the defense (Georgia Southern a year later). Not this time: The offense took advantage of nearly every opportunity it was given (and there were plenty), and the defense kept its foot firmly planted on the opposition's neck for the full 60 minutes. The result was a get-well blowout that the Dawgs badly needed after having their spirits crushed on national television for two straight weeks -- not to mention the biggest margin of victory Georgia had rolled up in 17 years.
Not everything went perfectly -- Aaron Murray still doesn't look as sharp as he did last season, somehow, and the Bacarri Rambo interception-then-fumble reminded me of all those opportunities Georgia had to snatch away turnovers in that achingly close game against Florida last year but couldn't make it happen. But I'm not gonna whine about a 59-point victory margin, particularly if it did anything to bolster the confidence of a team coming off an 0-2 start. With their hearts ripped out of their chests in the final minutes of the South Carolina game, the Dawgs had every excuse to mope their way through this one for 60 solid minutes, but instead of half-assing it they three-quarter-assed it at the very worst.
This bodes well for the next few games, or as well as it possibly can for a team that started the season in an 0-2 hole. Between the improvement they've shown over the last couple weeks and the absolute mess Ole Miss appears to be in after getting doused in gasoline and set on fire by Vanderbilt, the Dawgs have every reason to think they can go to Oxford next Saturday and walk out with a convincing victory. Then they come home to face Mississippi State, which has shown weaknesses on both defense and offense in the past two weeks that Georgia can figure out how to exploit. Win those two and the Dawgs are on the right side of .500 and rolling with a full head of steam as they head up to Knoxville for what might be their toughest true road trip of the season.
So props to the Dawgs for showing up even when they didn't have to, and for the fans for sticking by them through thick, thin and gimme game. I don't know that I'm quite ready to get on board with the guy sitting next to me in the east end zone who declared that the Dawgs were going 10-0 the rest of the way this season, but I'm prepared to accept that they'll win more than they'll lose. And maybe even maintain enough interest to keep Athens' legions of coffee-house employees stuck in traffic along the way.