October 13, 2012

Loran Smith: Season's not over for Bulldogs

— The no-crying-over-spilled-milk attitude is now something which the Bulldog football team must adopt. Nothing can be done about what has taken place, but the future can be rewarding if the Dawgs spit adversity in the eye.

First of all, the season is not over. With a 12-game schedule, anything is possible. Last year, spirits sagged after an 0-2 start but the recovery process brought the Bulldogs to 4-2; they eventually compiled a 10-2 regular season mark and won the SEC East title — a memorable comeback that healed a lot of emotional wounds.

There are several favorable points to consider at this juncture. Georgia played a good football team last week in South Carolina — not great, perhaps, but one which at least played bordering on great with a highly motivated and intense performance at home.

It was somewhat akin to LSU coming to Athens in 2004 and getting thrashed by the Bulldogs 45-16. You don’t think that wasn’t embarrassing to Nick Saban? His team couldn’t do anything right, because the Bulldogs were too peaked, pumped and dominant. The conclusion, therefore, is that the kinds of nights Georgia had in Columbia can happen to any team, any time. Actually, it happens quite often.

There is the view here that the Gamecocks are not that good and that Georgia is not that bad. I’m not a gambler, but tonight in Baton Rouge will not be anything like it was for the Gamecocks in Columbia last weekend. If I am wrong, then I’ll take all the slings and arrows. The Gamecocks played near-perfect football, while Georgia’s poor performance remains baffling to the Bulldog coaching staff.

Multiple possibilities for a good season remain, however.

Although the circumstances are different, you can go all the way back to 1959, when Georgia experienced an afternoon in Columbia which closely resembled what took place last weekend.  In ‘59, with one-platoon football still in place, Georgia fielded a team that included All-Americans-to-be Pat Dye and Fran Tarkenton.

The Bulldogs had opened the season against Alabama in Athens. Bear Bryant was in his second year at the Capstone, and much was being said about the rebirth of championship football in Tuscaloosa under Bryant’s leadership.

He had arrived back home in 1958 and had spawned a positive atmosphere as his team went 5-4-1. When Alabama arrived in Athens in 1959, there was great optimism in Tuscaloosa — where the Bulldogs had lost 12-0 in 1958 but made the case that they should have won the game, which included a blown call by an official.

Opening with Alabama between the hedges, Georgia won 17-3, completely dominating the Tide. The next week, Vanderbilt, which was very competitive in those days, was a 21-6 victim. Then there was the road trip to Columbia, where the wheels ran completely off just like they did this past Saturday night.

The Gamecocks thrashed the Bulldogs 30-14, and there was much disappointment in Athens — although not quite the gnashing of teeth we have had this week. Nonetheless, the Bulldogs were embarrassed, but Tarkenton and Dye led their team to the conference championship and a victory over Missouri in the Orange Bowl.

South Carolina was not a member of the SEC in those years, but the results were similar. Georgia could not explain what went wrong, and the Bulldogs were sorely disappointed, believing they were better than they played.

While I am not clairvoyant, I do believe that you learn from your mistakes and you can rebound from a bad performance. Attitude makes a difference, and we will now find out if the leaders of the team can rally their mates for a reversal of fortunes.

The first step is not to get lulled to sleep thinking Kentucky will be a pushover next week in Lexington.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.