Some results during the bowl season seemed fairly rational. Michigan playing very poorly once they had a two-score lead. Marcus Vick doing something bitchy, in this case, stomping on a Louisville defender, Darnell Dockett style. Miami completely giving up in a bowl game outside of Florida when nothing major was at stake. (Does anyone else remember the 1/1/94 Fiesta Bowl, otherwise known as the highlight of Arizona football history?)
And then there was the Sugar Bowl last night, which took me completely by surprise, not because Georgia started the game flat, but rather because a Georgia defense that had been solid all year and had allowed 30+ points on all of two occasions in the past five years, both against balanced offenses (LSU '03 and Auburn '05,) was completely overrun by a one-dimensional offense. Despite the snobby claims of SEC fans that the spread option can't possibly work against SEC defenses because of their superior athleticism, West Virginia ran roughshod over Georgia to the tune of 382 yards rushing.
Georgia's mistake was the same mistake that Michigan has made on numerous occasions against run-based spread offenses like those of Northwestern or Texas: they played West Virginia as if the presence of three- and four-receiver sets meant that the 'Neers were going to pass. From the start of the game to West Virginia's final clinching drive, Georgia played nickel defense with only six players in the box against West Virginia's base two-back, three-receiver shotgun set. Thus, the Dawgs were trying to defend against six blockers and two potential runners with six defenders. They were outnumbered in the box, which is why West Virginia had such gaping running lanes. To employ such an obviously flawed strategy when Georgia had a month to prepare for an offense than almost never throws down the field is questionable. To do so in the fourth quarter when WVU was trying to protect a lead was borderline criminal. When Georgia scored to close to within 38-35, they should have been playing seven in the box with man coverage on the three receivers and one safety shading to the side with two receivers in the event that WVU threw a screen pass out in that direction. Instead, they played six in the box and West Virginia ran out the clock, aided by a gutsy, but rational fake punt call. (Finally, a coach who understands that a punt doesn't buy that much in terms of field position, especially in a game where neither defense could stop the opposing offense.)
The game also exposed Georgia's linebackers as being fairly average. Jarvis Jackson in particular seemed to be making mistake after mistake in space. Three particular plays come to mind. One was a basic roll-out by Pat White (who I kept wanting to refer to as Stan, another quarterback from Alabama that gave Georgia problems) on a third down in the first half on which Jackson was simply beaten to the outside despite the fact that White wasn't running at full speed because he was looking downfield. The second was White's quarterback draw on third and ten from the WVU five in the fourth quarter, a play that ended up being decisive in the game. It appeared that Jackson got caught inside, allowing White to cut back and gain 13 yards. The third was on Steve Slaton's final touchdown run, when he was slanting outside for some inexplicable reason, despite the fact that most of the Mountaineers' rushing yards in the game were between the tackles. If Jackson was actually coached to give away the middle on that play, then I'll pass blame from him to an inexplicable defensive scheme.
Other thoughts on the game:
1. One nice result from the game is that D.J. Shockley's last pass in college went for a 43-yard touchdown. Also, by the end of the game, I was having a hard time keeping all of Georgia's receivers straight. They have so many guys who can present a threat down the field. Between that and their three solid running backs (although I suspect that Danny Ware sees the writing on the wall,) Georgia is loaded at the skill positions. They have the personnel to run Richt's Florida State fastbreak if they can find the right trigger man next year.
2. Did Georgia's final offensive drive remind anyone else of Philadelphia's lack of urgency down by two scores in Super Bowl XXXIX? Not that it ended up mattering because West Virginia probably could have scored again if they needed to, but Georgia could have scored quicker, given that the drive ended with the Mountaineers leaving Georgia receivers uncovered way down the field.
3. What a welcome relief Brad Nessler was after four hours of listening to Brent Musberger. A few thoughts on Brent. First of all, it's rare when any broadcaster is biased against Notre Dame, but my gosh does Brent seem to have a mancrush on Jim Tressel and the BUCKEYES!!! (Keep in mind that I was rooting for Ohio State.) His dismissive comments towards Charlie Weis for having the temerity to believe that Tennessee's defense was comparable to that of Ohio State were amusing. Notre Dame gained 348 yards against Ohio State at a neutral site. They gained 343 on Tennessee at home. Yes, Notre Dame scored 41 points on Tennessee and 20 on Ohio State, but as we pointed out after that game, Notre Dame's point total against the Vols was aided by Tennessee's less-than-competent special teams and offense. In contrast, Ohio State was supported by an offense that rolled up over 600 yards and left its defense in poor field position only once.
Musberger also brought repetitiveness to a new level. Between his constant hyping of the fact that A.J. Hawk is dating Brady Quinn's sister (in Brent's defense, he was probably told to run this angle into the ground because it would capture the casual fan's interest,) to Jeff Samardzija's pitching to Tom Zbikowski's boxing, Brent, like Dick Vitale, seems to know one interesting factoid about each player and then managed to repeat it every time that player was mentioned. Thank G-d I wasn't playing the Brent Musberger Drinking Game or else I would have been shipped to Grady Hospital to have my stomach pumped.