Let's start with the good news.
A shorthanded Georgia defense played a pretty good game in the face of considerable adversity. Turnovers by the Bulldog offense put the defense in a deep hole more than once and the Razorbacks held the ball for nearly 36 minutes of playing time.
Nevertheless, the Georgia D came up with a key interception and came close to picking off one or two more errant throws by the Hogs' Q.B. Arkansas quarterback Robert Johnson was limited to 116 passing yards, much of which came on screen passes, and he lost almost 40 yards when serving as the Razorback ball carrier.
While Arkansas's Felix Jones averaged 6.2 yards per carry, he distinctly took a back seat to teammate Darren McFadden, who tallied 190 rushing yards on 31 carries, including a 70-yard scamper for the first of his two touchdowns on the day. Mark Richt said in last Tuesday's press conference that the Razorbacks were faster than any team Georgia had seen so far this season and McFadden confirmed the accuracy of that assertion. Even without Gerald Anderson, C.J. Byrd, Kedric Golston, Brandon Miller, and Tony Taylor for most or all of the game, though, the Georgia D stepped up when it mattered most.
The Hogs were held to field goal attempts on three of their drives, including a missed 45-yarder in the fourth quarter. Despite surrendering 216 rushing yards on the afternoon, the defense came up big in several situations, including the Razorbacks' final drive.
The Georgia special teams played well. Brandon Coutu's leg is getting stronger, as he is putting kickoffs into the end zone with regularity and he nailed all three of his field goal attempts, including a 48-yarder in the third quarter. Gordon Ely-Kelso averaged over 48 yards per punt and forced Arkansas to begin its final drive from its own seven yard line. The hampered Georgia offense was aided by several good returns on kickoffs and punts.
By shortly after the midpoint of the second quarter, the Bulldogs had built up a 14-0 lead and appeared to be in command of the game. D.J. Shockley completed six of his 10 pass attempts for 74 yards and a touchdown in under two quarters' worth of work.
This brings us to the bad news.
Shockley sustained an injury to his left knee in the second quarter, necessitating that backup signal-caller Joe Tereshinski III take over under center. Coach Richt admitted afterwards that, in an ill-fated effort to assist Tereshinski, he may have been overly conservative in his play calling.
After Shockley left the game, the offense was out of synch. While Tereshinski completed five of his nine passes for 91 yards, he also threw an interception and the Bulldogs lost a fumble when there was miscommunication in the offensive backfield. The 'Dawgs had to settle for field goals after the starting quarterback departed the field.
Shockley sprained his left knee and, while Coach Richt characterized the injury as one that did not threaten the senior signal-caller's season, he characterized Shockley as doubtful to play against Florida next weekend.
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Rather obviously, I blew the call when predicting the final score (23-20).
In my defense, though, my prediction (31-10) was virtually identical to that of Sports Illustrated's John Walters (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/john_walters/10/20/weekend.pickoff/index.html), who foresaw a 31-9 outcome and also rebutted Esquire's recent anointing of Jessica Biel as the "Sexiest Woman Alive" by pointing out that there were at least three better-looking Jessicas alive: Alba, Simpson, and Rabbit. Walters makes a good case, which helps make up for the fact that both of us were way off on the closeness of the final score.
Obviously, I hope D.J. Shockley and his defensive cohorts make exceedingly speedy recoveries. Even if Shockley is not ready to play against Florida next weekend, though, Joe Tereshinski's competence cannot fairly be judged on the basis of the homecoming game.
Last year, when starter David Greene came out of the Georgia Tech game with an injury, backup D.J. Shockley struggled so mightily in relief that, while I was leaving Sanford Stadium after the Bulldogs beat the Yellow Jackets, I overheard a surly Tech fan grumbling into his cell phone, "If that's their starting quarterback next year, we're going to beat Georgia for sure." When Shockley became the Red and Black's starter in this year's season opener against Boise State, he looked a good deal better than he had in the previous fall's season ender.
Joe Tereshinski III did not arrive at Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon expecting to line up under center for most of the game. Last week in practice, Tereshinski was not taking snaps with the first team offense and Mark Richt was not working with him with the expectation that he would lead the Georgia offensive attack for the entire second half.
Coach Richt is the man who guided Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke to national championships and Heisman Trophies at Florida State. He is the man who turned David Greene into the winningest quarterback in N.C.A.A. history. He is the man who, at the midpoint of the 2005 campaign, had placed D.J. Shockley atop the S.E.C. standings in touchdown passes, passing yards per game, pass efficiency, and total offense.
The Florida defense is sound and injuries may put Georgia in a world of hurt come the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Do not let yourself believe, though, that the Joe T. you saw at homecoming is the same one you will see by the St. John's River next Saturday.
In fact, there may even be a slight silver lining for the men in silver britches. The Gators had an open date this weekend, giving them an extra week to plan and scheme. The uncertainty surrounding the Bulldogs' quarterback situation, however, necessitates that U.F. go back and rethink the game plan. To some extent, this negates the advantage to Florida of having had seven additional days to prepare and it levels the field when it comes to designing the attack that will best combat the opposing team's abilities.
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The guy catches everything thrown in his general vicinity and, if he gets tagged with the moniker "Mo Money," there's a good Damon Wayans reference the Sanford Stadium crowd can use every time Massaquoi comes up with a big catch. It's just a thought.
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However narrowly the Bulldogs escaped, in the end it was a win, enabling me to bring you my favorite part of every college football weekend: the Mark Richt Victory Watch.
Mark Richt was 40 years old when he was hired as Georgia's head coach and he studied under Bobby Bowden, who is still on the sideline in his 70s. We at "The Dawg Show" figured that, if Coach Richt remained on the job until the regular retirement age of 65 and averaged eight wins a year, he would win 200 games. We therefore expected Coach Richt to challenge Vince Dooley's school record of 201 career victories and, from day one, we have been counting down to the day that Coach Richt overtakes Coach Dooley for the top spot.
The Mark Richt Victory Watch now stands at 49. Coach Richt needs just 152 more wins to match Coach Dooley's all-time win total.
At 49-10, Coach Richt is off to the best start in Georgia history. In their first 59 games, W.A. Cunningham (38-15-6), Harry Mehre (36-20-3), Wally Butts (39-18-2), Vince Dooley (42-14-3), Ray Goff (35-24), and Jim Donnan (40-19) all posted ledgers less impressive than Mark Richt's.
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Elsewhere in the league, Vanderbilt's bowl hopes were dealt a severe blow when the Gamecocks outlasted the Commodores in Columbia by a 35-28 final margin. Two games played in the Magnolia State went a long way toward deciding which is the S.E.C.'s worst team, as cellar-dwellers Kentucky and Mississippi State lost to Ole Miss and Houston, respectively.
Alabama remained perfect on the season (and likely earned the right to advance to No. 4 on my next BlogPoll ballot) by edging Tennessee in a 6-3 contest. Although this game was scheduled to be played in Tuscaloosa, apparently the contest was moved and played instead in 1962.
The day's most satisfying viewing, of course, was the Auburn-Louisiana State game, which the Bayou Bengals won in overtime. What made the difference for L.S.U. in this overtime game, as opposed to the last one (against Tennessee)? In my opinion, it came down to the fact that, in this game, Les Miles wore an actual manly headset, rather than that sissified model that made him look like a customer service representative for a telemarketing company. By the way, is it just me or does War Eagle quarterback Brandon Cox look like Roman Polanski when he's all scrunched up in his football uniform?
Looking around the nation, I see that Texas beat Texas Tech by a convincing 52-17 margin. Last week, when casting my BlogPoll ballot, I promised the Longhorns that, if they beat the Red Raiders by as large a margin as that by which they defeated the Buffaloes, I would vote U.T. No. 1 this week. Well, Texas beat Colorado by a 42-17 final, so there will be a new occupant of the top spot on my ballot this week.
Southern Cal continued to look like a team failing to live up to its impressive potential, as the Trojans once again allowed a much weaker opponent (in this case, Washington, which fell to 1-6) to hang around for a while before U.S.C. went on a tear and hung 51 points on the Huskies.
In the meantime, teams not known for handling success began their midseason swoons. Virginia, fresh off of a dismantling of Florida State, lost to mercurial North Carolina by an American League baseball score, 7-5. Michigan State was unmasked in East Lansing, falling to Northwestern in a 49-14 pummeling. Purdue's collapse continued in Madison, where the Badgers handed the Boilermakers a 31-20 setback.
In games full of sound and fury signifying next to nothing, Florida State, Fresno State, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Texas Christian all won handily against teams with losing records, yet Oregon struggled to put away lowly Arizona while U.C.L.A. laid a hammering to Oregon State, 51-28.
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Although the mood of the homecoming game was dampened by the injury to D.J. Shockley and the closeness of the contest, a good time was had by all---or, at least, that portion of "all" with whom I spent the afternoon.
I arose bright and early Saturday morning, got ready for the game, and headed over to Ola, where I met Jeff Rogers at the home of Travis Rice. Jeff, Trav, and I departed slightly later than intended, but we arrived in Athens and met up with the fourth member of our party, Pete Allen, at Shane's Rib Shack, on the site of the old Kentucky Fried Chicken across from the Varsity.
There are certain rules about good barbecue establishments. They should have front porches with rocking chairs, for instance. Their parking lots should be partially paved and partially gravel. There should be a variety of stuffed animals and animal heads adorning the walls. The chairs should not all match one another. There should be a picture of John Wayne hanging in the dining room and a cardboard cutout of John Wayne by the cash register. There should be a representative selection of Willie Nelson songs on the juke box. The Athens Shane's does not meet any of these criteria, but the original McDonough Shane's meets many of them, so it is worth stopping by the Rib Shack in the Classic City.
In keeping with established tradition, we feasted on the flesh of the enemy, partaking of barbecue sandwiches and Brunswick stew before the manager of the establishment (who, alas, was not Shane himself) approached our table and, after astutely pointing out that the four of us looked like we knew our 'cue, arranged to have a plate of ribs delivered to us for our dining pleasure. I am not altogether certain that the good vibes from the plate of ribs aren't what preserved the victory against the Hogs.
By the way, I want to thank everyone who took the time to write and point out that there might be a Shane's Slug Shack in Normaltown, where they go for that sort of fare, or that one might be able to get a bite of banana slug at Golden Pantry.
We left our vehicles parked at Shane's; Pete wanted to ask permission first, but Trav preferred to ask forgiveness later, so we left them and walked to downtown, arriving on North Campus sufficiently behind schedule that the crowd in front of Phi Kappa Hall had departed and that in front of Hirsch Hall had thinned. (Even so, Pete and I got to see some old friends and classmates, as we ran into Tony Waller in front of the law school and Clint Crosby in the stadium.)
We missed hearing the Lone Bugler's stirring rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation," but we were in Sanford Stadium by kickoff and in our seats a play or two into the first series. We were in Section 608, although, prior to sitting there on Saturday afternoon, I hadn't even known we had a Section 608.
Two rows behind us was the top row of the arena; two rows ahead of us were a couple of Arkansas fans, although one was more ardent in his support for the Hogs than the other. Each time there was a positive development for the Razorbacks, the guy on the right would stand up and extend his arm to his friend, waiting for a high five in return, but the guy on the left never returned the gesture.
Also, there was a guy in our section wearing an Auburn cap and he was seated next to a guy in an Arkansas "hog hat." We kept a close eye on these two, fearing collusion between these Western Division interlopers.
We had a good time and a great view of the field, although three of the four of us got a bit sunburned, and we departed Athens after having hashed over, yet left unresolved, many questions concerning state troopers and football coaches.
What authority, if any, do the visiting team's state troopers have to act as law enforcement officers while on the road? When did the tradition of sending state troopers to accompany the head football coach begin? Did Bear Bryant or Bobby Dodd ask for extra protection when traveling to an Alabama-Georgia Tech game? Was there a point at which Georgia was playing L.S.U. at a time when Eugene Talmadge was the governor of the Peach State and Huey Long was the governor of the Pelican State and the two men decided it was a big enough game for state troopers to be sent to keep the peace?
Anyone who has any information about the answers to these questions should feel free to let me know.
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There is a bittersweet tinge to the latest editions of the ThomasTrack (which measures the relative achievements of Georgia running back Thomas Brown and my son, Thomas King) and the D.J. Digest (which compares the respective accomplishments of Bulldog quarterback D.J. Shockley and my younger nephew, Drew James Rice).
Thomas Brown led all Red and Black rushers, carrying the ball 12 times for 39 of Georgia's 52 rushing yards. Thomas King, despite being only two years and seven months old, was promoted to the three-year-old class at day care last Monday and he is doing well with the older children.
Drew Rice continues to climb all over everything and he has begun to cock his head to one side when listening to others speak to him. Also, when I arrived at the Rice residence on Saturday morning, Drew said something to me that sounded extremely similar to "uncle." D.J. Shockley led his team on two touchdown drives before leaving the game with a knee injury.
The 'Dawgs got the win, but, rather clearly, my son and my nephew had better weeks than my team's running back and quarterback.
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The 'Dawgs now have a winning streak of five straight games against the Razorbacks and have taken eight of the last nine series meetings from the Hogs. Georgia is 3-0 against Arkansas in games decided by a touchdown or less.
More important for present purposes is this fact: Georgia has never lost the next contest immediately after a game against Arkansas. Following the previous ten series meetings with the Razorbacks, the Bulldogs were 10-0 in the ensuing outing, including a 5-0 ledger against the S.E.C. East.
In the ten previous games played immediately after contests against Arkansas (Tulane in 1969, Cal in 1976, Tennessee in 1988, South Carolina in 1992, Georgia Southern in 1992, Southern Miss in 1993, Tennessee in 2000, Tennessee in 2001, Florida State in 2002, and Florida in 2004), the Red and Black scored 28 or more points seven times and were held below 26 points just once. Likewise, in those ten games, Georgia held the opposition to 17 or fewer points on half a dozen occasions and never surrendered more than 24 points.
For just the ninth time in University of Georgia history, the Bulldogs have started the season with a 7-0 record. In the last eight such campaigns (1927, 1933, 1942, 1946, 1971, 1980, 1982, and 2002), the Red and Black were a combined 7-1 against Florida, 5-3 against Auburn, 6-0 against Kentucky, and 7-1 against Georgia Tech, claiming five Southeastern Conference championships and four national championships along the way.
Six of those eight Bulldog squads won at least 11 games, two of those Georgia teams went undefeated, and five of the remaining six sets of 'Dawgs finished the season with a single loss.
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7-0 is all well and good, but let's not kid ourselves. The Bulldogs have gotten through their exhibition games unscathed, but the real season begins next Saturday. Next up for the Red and Black are Georgia's major conference rivals, Florida and Auburn.
Because of their common color scheme, I prefer to refer to the Gators and the Plainsmen collectively as "the Stalwarts in Orange and Blue." Naturally, since "Stalwarts in Orange and Blue" takes too long to type every time I choose to use the term, I often elect to abbreviate "Stalwarts in Orange and Blue" as "S.O.B.s."
The Tigers are one set of S.O.B.s we'll worry about soon enough. For now, though, my focus is on Florida and on what it will take to beat those S.O.B.s from Gainesville.
The beauty of the Bulldogs' present situation is that the Red and Black can win the East in Jacksonville, but they cannot lose it there. The 'Dawgs just have to take 'em one bunch of S.O.B.s at a time.