How did we get Georgia so wrong? Sure, not all of us gave into the impulse to put the Dawgs at No. 1 -- I, sadly, did -- but almost all of us saw an elite team. Almost all of us saw a Top 10 team. Many of us saw a Top 5 team. Few disagreed that Georgia would at least be in the discussion for the national title.
And we were horribly, horribly wrong.
Yes, it would be easy to blame any dramatic reassessment of Georgia to an overreaction to a game that was defined almost as much by the Dawgs' errors as by Florida's ability to capitalize on those mistakes. The final score was 49-10, and the sole Georgia TD came with 3:09 left in the game. Maybe the game was closer than the margin indicated -- the Gators only had a 22-21 edge in first downs and Georgia actually outgained Florida by 25 yards.
And, yes, Doc Saturday/SMQ proved long ago that having fewer penalty yards than the other guy doesn't win you games -- but dumb penalties, ill-timed penalties do. Georgia had far too many of those. (And they actually gave up 11 fewer yards as a result of flags than did Florida.) Were there bad calls and missed calls by the referees? Yes -- but as one of my friends once told me, good teams overcome bad officiating.
You can extend that. Great teams don't make costly mistakes. Good teams sometimes make costly mistakes but overcome them.
Given that, and given what happened Saturday, where does that leave Georgia?
Where it leaves Florida is in the SEC East driver's seat, and that might as well be the driver's seat on a motorcycle. Beat Vanderbilt, which now seems likely, and Florida has clinched a berth in Atlanta. Then it's South Carolina, The Citadel and Florida State to keep the BCS title dreams alive. Having dismantled two of the three best teams in the league, the Gators' chances of doing just that are extraordinarily good. And at this point, you would have to give them the edge over Alabama.
There's only one great team in the SEC East right now. On Saturday, they proved it.
IT'S BEEN NICE KNOWING YOU -- SORTA
South Carolina 27, Tennessee 6
Everyone writing about the possibility of Phil Fulmer being forced out of the head coaching job at Tennessee consistently agreed on one thing coming into Saturday: a 6-6 season would not be enough to save the Great Pumpkin's job.
With that as the backdrop, Fulmer's Vols took the field in Columbia with a chance to redeem their leader against his bitter rival, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, and prove that the Head Ball Coach's dominance over Fulmer was due to Florida's superior athletes and not Spurrier's superior coaching ability. What followed was one of the flattest and worst-coached games I've seen Tennessee play.
Sure, if you're a Fulmer partisan, you can find the mitigating numbers in the box score: the Vols gained just as many first downs (11) as did the Gamecocks. South Carolina just outgained Tennessee by 48 yards, 255-207. The time of possession edge for the Gamecocks was only about five minutes, 32:30-27:30.
But Tennessee gained just 34 yards on the ground. And the numbers on the scoreboard speak for themselves: the 21-point margin was South Carolina's largest against the Vols since 1903. And Fulmer's record against Spurrier with the Visor in charge of the Gamecocks fell to 2-2.
One Tennessee columnist wrote a bold column aimed at helping the Vols faithful in "Seeing the Fulmer situation from all sides." It's becoming increasingly difficult to do that, though.
Tennessee is losing ground to Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Great recruiting classes (on paper) aren't leading to great on-field results.
It's worse than that. The Vols are also losing ground on South Carolina, Kentucky and perhaps even Vanderbilt. Can the power brokers in Knoxville really keep Fulmer around while the boosters in Nashville make hotel reservations in Shreveport while the Vols stay home this postseason?
And who can keep around a coach that gives Spurrier material like this?
"The Tennessee band was there last night, weren't they?" Spurrier said Sunday afternoon in his weekly conference call with reporters. "I'm used to hearing ‘Rocky Top.' ... Maybe they only play that when they score. Usually when you play Tennessee, you hear that ‘Rocky Top' so often it's ringing in your brain."
For Fulmer, the silence could be deadly.
ARE THOSE THE WINDS OF CHANGE?
Arkansas 30, Tulsa 23
The Hogs were lucky to win this game, and not just because they came in as underdogs against a midmajor. But the numbers we all look at to discern if the outcome was "real" or a fluke go against Arkansas: Tulsa had more first downs, 25-19, and outgained the Hogs by nearly 100 yards, 528-435. The Golden Hurricanes allowed just 67 yards to Michael Smith on 23 carries. Three turnovers were Tulsa's biggest enemy.
In any case, Arkansas won't win many SEC games the way they won Saturday. All that said, a win's a win, and this weekend's game is the kind of signature win that tells anyone watching that Bobby Petrino, personal baggage and all, has the Hogs on the right track. To see the effect he's having, just look at Casey Dick's line from Saturday.
|vs Tulsa / 11.1.08||Passing||Rushing|
He did throw one pick, by the way. But no one could have seen this from a quarterback whose previous wristband had three plays on it: "Handoff to McFadden," "Handoff to Jones" and "Long ball to Monk." Helping the process along has been D.J. Williams, who in the last two weeks has caught 16 passes for 258 yards.
SO NOW WHAT?
Mississippi 17, Auburn 7
A 62.8 percent completion rate doesn't help much when throw three interceptions, as Kodi Burns did Saturday. And getting rid of your offensive coordinator doesn't do any good if you continue to lose games because of questionable play calling, as Auburn did Saturday.
Burns' three picks only led to seven points, but how many Tiger points did they take away? The interceptions ended second-half drives at the Ole Miss 47, 19, and 35. A touchdown and two field goals from those drives, and Auburn wins the game. A touchdown and one field goal puts things in overtime (or wins the game, seeing as how one interception eventually led to a Rebels TD).
Don't blame Burns; he's a victim of an offensive system gone haywire, a series of power plays among the supposed adults in the program and the looming feeling that somewhere, Bobby Lowder is waiting on a tarmac to meet someone to take Tommy Tuberville's job.
It's probably not an unfounded fear at this point. Tuberville is running out of answers, and probably out of time.
CROOM'D: MISSISSIPPI STATE
Kentucky 14, Mississippi State 13
First, let's take a moment to note this: Kentucky will go to a bowl game for the third straight year, an almost unprecedented level of success for the Wildcats in recent years. Despite the doomsayers that sprung up after Kentucky's 63-5 waxing at the hands of the Gators last week, Rich Brooks has the program headed in the right direction. Sylvester Croom, on the other hand, is increasingly showing signs that he is unlikely to repeat last year's success with the Bulldogs.
Which makes it all the more ironic that it was Mississippi State that got CROOM'd in this matchup. They had one more first down (18-17) and 30 more yards (304-274) than Kentucky. The turnover margin for the Bulldogs? +1.
All that doesn't matter, though, when your PAT gets blocked early in the fourth quarter and you miss a field goal at another point of the final frame. Those are the kind of lucky bounces Croom's team got last year. Call it karma, call it "chickens coming home to roost," call it whatever you want -- it still means Mississippi State's administration has some serious soul-searching to do.