The Georgia-Notre Dame game is a reminder that the pre-game pontification and prognostication can make fools out of all would be soothsayers.
When a team gets no respect, then beware. Those aficionados of the red and black awakened last Sunday morning with a sign of relief. Notre Dame is a very good football team and the Irish played auspiciously between the hedges Saturday night. Lou Holtz, who won a national championship in South Bend, was optimistic as he enjoyed an early morning pre-game respite on the patio of the Springhill Suites in Athens. His body language reflected upset, his conversation expressed contempt for the odds makers. “I believe we are going to surprise everybody,” he said.
Making a team a two-touchdown underdog is an insult to the underdog. When your fan base drinks that heady wine, it can turn into hemlock as it almost did on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium Saturday night. The Irish got no respect until kickoff. When the prevailing view lionizes one team and castigates the other, this only makes the underdog more resolute; likewise, it can become a distraction to the favored team. Players hear things. Hear enough about a walk in the park, even when it is subtle, and you can become susceptible to complacency. Thankfully for Georgia, Kirby Smart, who earned his salary this weekend, had his bruised team ready to play.
As a loyalist, you want your team to win comfortably. It is nice when it wins going away which enables the preponderance of the spectators to get ahead of the traffic and make the journey home easier on the nerves. Saturday there was no early exit. The sold out crowd stayed hunkered down to the very last play and what a play it was. Time was running out, the Irish with no time outs remaining needed another first down to stay alive and win with a touchdown—leaving no time on the clock for the home team to pull out last minute heroics.
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, a much better performer than expected, dropped back and soon was on the run as freshman linebacker Nolan Smith flushed him out of the pocket, getting help from Jermaine Johnson. Soon, the harassed Book was in a flinging hope-to-hell passing situation. Throwing deep, off-balance as the stadium held its breath, Book saw the red-shirted-defenders, protecting deep, spike the ball to the turf. It was over. The clock and victory belonged to Georgia.
You might say Georgia is something of a young team but so is every team these days. Players arrive on campus with a three-year moratorium in their heads. They want to reach the NFL sooner, rather than later so freshmen have to play and they must play well if you have any chance of winning a championship. That is why the head coach is a relentless recruiter with a staff that knows its job security is based on how well it recruits.
In one crucial third down situation Saturday, Smith (freshman from Savannah); DB Divaad Wilson (redshirt freshman from Miami); LB Azeez Ojulari (redshirt freshman, Marietta) and LB Nakobe Dean (freshman out of Horn Lake, Miss.) were on the field at the same time.
The Georgia defense won the game in a fashion reminiscent of the days of the Junkyard Dawgs era of Erskine Russell who would have taken his skinned forehead into the locker room and hugged every player on his defense and being the team advocate that he was…..he would have hugged all the offensive players too.
That role Saturday night in the new locker room at the west end of the stadium was showcased by the workmanlike quarterback Jake Fromm, the Bulldogs quarterback who is not imbued with flash, but competency and production. He is a salient architect of getting the job done. He is without panic but exudes an abundance of adroit skill and aplomb. When his career is over, it is likely that we will find that he slept with W’s dancing in his head.
In the end, you conclude that Georgia made the big plays at the opportune time, or enough times to be the difference. Money catches by the receivers. Timely blocks on occasion to give Deandre Swift enough of a crack for him to dance through the traffic with alacrity showing off crackerjack moves that advanced the chains.
Give Notre Dame high fives for courage and heart and a little theater (injury timeouts), but credit the Dawgs with unending heart that can be an elixir as the season progresses and resolve is needed to excel when the competition becomes arduous week after week. To be a champion, an ambitious team must be able to close.
Beating Notre Dame should be good seasoning for the Dawgs, a confidence builder and a reminder that keeping your head about you when others around you are losing theirs (prognosticators, bookies and doting but unrealistic fans), a silver lining could become a backdrop as the road to Atlanta and New Orleans comes into focus.
The crowd might have been cocksure before kickoff, but they were ready to do their part. Never been a vocal crescendo in Sanford Stadium like Saturday. It peaked in a couple of LSU games (1987, 2013, the blackout game vs. Auburn and maybe a couple of more), but the Notre Dame game is the mother of all crowd noise games. The delay of game penalties, the false starts and conditions, which caused the Irish to call time, were significant factors in bringing pressure on Notre Dame at the end of the first half and as the fourth quarter was winding down. What would a single time out have meant for the visitors at those most crucial junctures?
It is time for healing and then on to Knoxville. Already I am hearing about Tennessee being easy pickings. Already, I am uncomfortable.