A lifetime ago, in a small town in West Georgia, before I ever thought I might get a snap of playing time in Athens... I was a senior on a football team that went 10-0 in our regular season. Every offensive snap that mattered started with my hand on the football. Seemingly every fourth quarter ended with me and the rest of the starters resting on the sideline. Now, I'm certain that memory has been engorged with the lifeblood of the years between then and now, and that there surely was a game or two where we had to play the full span, but I really don't remember it. Not during the season.
Our offense scored 346 points that season. Our defense surrendered 63. The ability of that unit to squash their opponents in the way that they did left me in awe. Still, almost none of those guys ended up playing major D-I football. We had some good corners, some good linebackers, some good D linemen... but they weren't the type who jumped off the page statistically. They were a dominant unit, though... and as the season wore on, we'd watch the upcoming opponent on film and I'd think - those guys aren't going to be able to beat us.
Much like the goals Kirby has mentioned in his pressers, our guys had a board on the wall with their season and game-by-game goals... and it was incredible to watch them get checked off. They reveled in their ability to hold opponents under 14 points, to hold rushers under 50 yards, to cause turnovers. They loved each other, they loved playing football together, and they loved doing their jobs. They were THE unit - and as a member of the offense, I got to watch them decimate other teams, and look forward to the moments they'd give us the ball back so we could go to work. I never doubted them, and they didn't let me down.
Now, some of you may be thinking... "what in the world does this have to do with 2021 UGA?" And, admittedly, there are many thousands of people who have many thousands of fond memories about their old playing days, and the parallels may not be quickly ascertainable. But, throughout this season, I have maintained a fairly quiet confidence about this team (though visitors to Senator Blutarsky's "Get The Picture" blog may have caught me getting a bit effusive in my appreciation for our chances). It honestly dates back to the very first game of the season. Someone with whom I am close, who coaches football, posed the question, immediately following the game:
"Are Georgia and Clemson's defenses that good, or their offenses that bad?"
I won't get into the full details of the conversation that followed, but the basic summary is: The defenses are good - Georgia's front 7 is elite, but its defensive backfield is still a question, and our offense is very banged up and will improve.
I then also said, "I mean, this is your job, and my casual hobby... but to my eye, Clemson's defense benefited from a drastically slimmed down UGA offense. What we saw did not resemble Monken's dynamic offense from the end of the season... and I don't mean by result... I mean by design."
We would go on to learn that JT was hurt, and as a result Monken may have shied away from play calls that could get him into trouble. A week later, Bennett blew the doors off UAB (a pass defense which is statistically better than Michigan State's, I might add). Then JT dominated South Carolina. Then they both eviscerated Vanderbilt... and since then, Stet has done what has been needed while that DEFENSE has been the story.
The question of whether the defensive backs would be able to stand up has thus far proven to be a big fat YES, due in no small part to how well that front 7 has played. They are an unbelievable UNIT, and it's incredibly hard to gameplan against a very strong unit. You can gameplan around a game-changing DT. You can use motions and route concepts to beat strong coverages. You can neutralize LBs with personnel groupings and play-actions... but when the entire unit is solid, and plays to their assignment and standard... that's tough to beat.
And I've seen that before.
We were 9-0 going into our final game of the season, against... I think maybe a 9-0 Rival? They may have been 8-1... I don't recall. What I DO recall, is that the final game of the season would be the Region Championship... and those dudes were VERY confident. You see, they had been a playoff team the year before, while we were ... well... not. But each year is a new year. On Wednesday night, two nights before the game, I ran into some of their players at a Shell gas station just blocks from our High School. They were talking a whole lot of trash to me about how they were going to show everyone what frauds we were, and that they were the kings of our small town (man, the things that we think matter when we're 17, huh?). I just said "Ok." That was insufficient to them, so they continued to goad me. Calmly, I explained to them that we play all the same teams... and that we had been completely dismantling those teams, while they were playing competitive football against those teams. I was confident. This game was not going to be close.
As the first quarter came to an end, and our offense switched to the other end of the field, I walked over to one of my opponents, a guy with whom I had won a little league championship at age 11. "Hey Mete, good to see you man - never thought we'd be in this game when we were kids, huh? (again... age 17... thinking I'm no longer a 'kid')." His response to me was, well, NSFW but it concluded with "we'll see where y'all at in the fourth quarter." I pointed to the scoreboard (21-0) and said, "Mete, I won't be playing in the fourth quarter."
We won that game 52-6. Their star RB was able to get a late score against our defense with no decals on their helmets (the 9th graders didn't earn their decals unless they dressed with the Varsity during the season).
Now, understand that I am in no way comparing Alabama Football to the cross-town rival we played that night. And I am in no way saying the University of Georgia is going to win the SEC Championship Game by a score of 52-6, with our starters resting in the fourth quarter.
What I am saying, is that Georgia and Alabama have played 4 of the same opponents, and that UGA has dominated them while Bama hasn't quite done that. Georgia's defense has done a phenomenal job of disrupting everything an offense wants to do, while Bama's offense has shown the ability to be disrupted. Georgia's offense has shown the tendency to exploit a defense's weakness and score a bunch of points. And Alabama's defense has shown areas to be exploited.
I have watched every single game this season without a touch of nervousness. Even when it was 3-0 late in the second against Florida, I knew the outcome was already assured. In the first quarter of that game, Richardson completed a pass on a quick curl, and they got a first down. In that moment, I said, "that is going to be a pick six later in this game" (I guessed 3rd quarter, and Nakobe got it ahead of schedule). I knew it was going to happen. That's the confidence I have in this defense, and in Kirby and Dan. Because though I played a little football many years ago, I am now just a fan who watches... and if *I* knew that was going to be there, I knew damn well that Kirby and Dan and Nakobe and the rest could see it.
Do I care about the "monkey on our back" that is Alabama? I do not.
I've seen this before.