The primary impression that I took away from the Georgia-Boise State game last night was that Zig Ziglar would try to use it as a teaching moment to instruct middle managers paying $14.95 per head about organizing their teams. It was clear that one coaching staff had put the summer to good use and the other had not. Boise State looked crisp. Their substitutions were quick and decisive. Their players got lined up quickly and then engaged in a series of baffling shifts to force Georgia to declare its intentions defensively. When they went to the no-huddle attack during their run to take control of the game, Georgia had no answers defensively. Georgia, on the other hand, looked disorganized. Players constantly looking over to the sidelines with their hands up, players not knowing whether they should be on the field, etc. After having had months to prepare, Georgia looked unprepared. Given that Mark Richt touted this game as being a positive because it would force the Dawgs to be focused for their entire offseason, the performance was a major indictment of where Richt’s program currently stands.
Another major indictment is that Georgia fans remember what happened the last time Boise State visited the Peach State. In that game, Georgia dominated both lines of scrimmage, forced Jared Zabransky into a raft of mistakes, and D.J. Shockley went wild. Six years later, the two teams met again and look at the contrast. Now, Boise State is the team that dominates the line of scrimmage. Look at the time that Kellen Moore had to make throws as opposed to Aaron Murray. I cannot think of any instance in which Moore was pressured, other than when he was rushed up the middle in the second quarter and threw a terrible pick under duress. See, even the best quarterback makes mistakes when he has a rusher in his face. Other than that play, Moore had time to go through his progressions and make accurate throws. Part of the credit goes to Moore for being decisive, part of the credit goes to Boise State for having intelligent pattern designs that consistently got receivers open in the 5-10 yard range,* and much of the credit goes to the Boise State offensive line. Conversely, the Broncos put Murray under pressure on a regular basis. Boise State sacked Murray six times (although that number seems high to me) and forced him into evasive action on a number of other instances. If this is the beginning of the end for Mark Richt, then the performance last night was a fitting coda. In 2005, his last team to win the SEC dominated a less athletic opponent. In 2011, his last team was dominated by that same opponent.
* – In contrast, Georgia’s pass patterns were boring. The Dawgs’ only attempts to threaten Boise State down the field before the game got out of hand at 28-7 were basic fly patterns down the sidelines. In every instance, Boise’ corners were running the patterns better than the Georgia receivers. You think that those corners had a good idea as to what they could expect from their charges?
That last pair of sentences does not give enough credit to Boise State. Chris Petersen has clearly gone about making his team stronger on the lines. The Broncos are no longer the typical BYU-Hawaii Western mirage that can put up a lot of points, but has no prayer of stopping a quality opponent. His team is now strong, deep, and aggressive up front. I’ve seen nothing from Georgia to convince me that the Dawgs are in the top half of the SEC, so I’m not about to say that Boise State would be on equal footing with Alabama, LSU, or even Arkansas, but the question is no longer ridiculous. It was a pleasure to watch a well-organized team operate in their opener with clockwork efficiency. I miss the days when the same could be said about a Mark Richt team. Remember how the 2003 opener against Clemson felt? Remember what it looked like to see a well-coached team against a bunch of athletes running around like headless chickens? Yeah.
The game against South Carolina now takes on massive proportions. While a loss would not be a fireable offense in and of itself, it would leave Richt with no margin for error. The mood of Georgia fans right now is not good. The debate in the beer line at halftime was whether Richt should be fired or whether Bobo’s head would be enough of a sacrifice. By the fourth quarter, most Georgia fans had left and a guy in my section was just shouting “you suck, Dawgs!” over and over again. If Spurrier brings his charges to Athens and jumps out to a lead, there is real potential for a return of the atmosphere from the ‘99 Auburn game, the one where fans were so down on the team that recruits who were present started crossing Georgia off their lists. A win will give Georgia fans the split that they would have taken before the year, put Georgia in the driver’s seat in the East, and send the Dawgs into the manageable part of the schedule with confidence. To get that win, Georgia is going to have to put on a performance that convinces the fan base that the signs of rot apparent in the program are not real.