Five Reasons Why Georgia Should Beat Alabama

I don’t bet on college football games. Most of the time it’s hard enough to decide which team will win without trying to factor in the point spread, and it’s easier to enjoy the game without a financial stake in the outcome. However, I usually try to figure out which team will win in advance because I consider it an exercise of the same analytical skills I use to write my detective novels as “Rocky Leonard”, and specifically the ability to apply logic and reason to problem-solving, especially if I care about the outcome of the game.

As a Georgia Bulldog alumnus and football fan, I care about the outcome of the 2018 national championship game, and I’m aware that the bookies in Las Vegas have installed Alabama as a four point favorite. The prognosticators and pundits have also spoken: Colin Cowherd decreed that Georgia has absolutely no chance to beat Alabama, and according to him the Crimson Tide are “best team in football” who only lost a nail-biter to Auburn,  (by “nail-biter”, Cowherd apparently means losing the game by only 12 points as opposed to a 23 point margin.)

UGA fans who have been upset by Cowherd’s prediction that Alabama will thrash our Bulldogs in the National Championship game should note that this same “expert” analyst also predicted Oklahoma would defeat both Georgia and Alabama and win the national championship.

Remember, the “experts” forecast Hillary Clinton would be President today, not Donald Trump. In other words, as my late Dad used to say, opinions are like a-holes. Everybody has one. Almost every writer at Sports Illustrated also picked Alabama to win.

What these experts usually don’t do is explain the rationale for their predictions.

But I will. And I’m picking Georgia.

My gut instinct told me to trust the experts, and accept that Alabama will win the game. My heart won’t ever accept defeat for my Dawgs so easily. So my brain must break the tie. Logic tells me that all things being equal (no uncharacteristic rash of stupid penalties and mistakes similar to those that led to this season’s only loss) for these five reasons:

  1. UGA has proved they have the ability to overcome adversity and make adjustments during the course of the game. In the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, they trailed by 7 and Auburn was within field goal range when the defense forced a turnover and momentum swung. In even more dramatic fashion in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, Georgia trailed by 17 points with six seconds left in the first half, and by a touchdown late in the 4th quarter, but won the game in double overtime. Alabama has not had to overcome similar adversity during their season, and if the game remains tight, the advantage goes to Georgia.
  2. Alabama’s defense is probably better than Georgia’s defense, but Georgia’s offense is playing better than their offense, which means special teams could make the difference, and Rodrigo Blankenship has to be pretty confident after making that 55-yard field goal in the Rose Bowl.
  3. Jake Fromm. As much as I love Jacob Eason and respect Jalen Hurts, I can’t help but believe that the intelligence and ability of Jake Fromm will make a huge difference in the game. The reason Sony Michel wasn’t touched by a defender on his final touchdown run was because Jake Fromm sealed the corner with a very effective block on the defensive back. It isn’t the first time this season that Fromm can be seen throwing a key block on a touchdown run.
  4. Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, and Davin Bellamy. Jalen Hurts might be renowned for his ability to scramble in the pocket, but Georgia’s defense just played against Baker Mayfield, which gives them recent experience defending against an elusive quarterback. Furthermore, Baker Mayfield is a much more effective passing quarterback than Jalen Hurts.
  5. Kirby Smart is a very intelligent coach. I strongly suspect he might be spending most of his time planning with Jim Chaney and the offense, rather than helping Mel Tucker with  defensive schemes for the game. Tucker has coordinated defenses in the NFL; surely he knows how to game plan for a defending against a conventional pro-style offense. And who besides Kirby would know the best way to attack a Nick Saban defense?

I can’t guarantee the Dawgs will win, but I can say that I believe the Dawgs should win. Without the uncharacteristic mental mistakes and stupid penalties the team experienced in the first Auburn game and all things being equal, I believe the matchup favors UGA. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. This football team has proved its resiliency on the field, more than once.

Just keep chopping that wood, gentlemen. It’s time to take down the biggest tree in the forest.

Exceeding expectations

On February 10, 1980, the Russian national hockey team absolutely demolished the U.S. national team in an exhibition game in Madison Square Garden just prior to the Olympics, by a 10-3 score.

Arguably the game hadn’t even been as close as the score. The Russian team looked a lot like the Harlem Globetrotters on ice, and the U.S. team appeared to be significantly less competent than the hockey equivalent of the Washington Generals. They didn’t even look as good as the Mighty Ducks (meaning the team coached by Emilio Estevez, not the NHL version.)

After that brutal and humbling loss, U.S. coach Herb Brooks made a very interesting observation. He said: “Sometimes a real butt-kicking is good for a quality team, or a quality athlete.”

Incredibly, less than a month later the U.S. national team managed the unthinkable and defeated the Russians in the far more-important “Miracle on Ice” rematch in the Olympics.

Do you believe in miracles? I do.

I happened to watch that 1980 hockey game in the SAE fraternity house in Athens, Georgia as it happened, in real time. And yesterday I witnessed a similar sports miracle. Georgia won the SEC Championship by three touchdowns by the same team that had beaten them by more than three touchdowns, only three weeks earlier.

Don’t pinch me. If I’m dreaming, I don’t want to wake up. The University of Georgia Bulldogs are the 2017 SEC Champions.

Say it again, out loud and proud. Go Dawgs! Sic ’em! Woof woof woof woof!

Who could have believed it, before this season started? Heck, who besides our players and coaches believed it was possible, after previously losing to this same team by more than three touchdowns?

After the ugly loss against Auburn on November 11th, I’ll freely admit that I had my doubts. True, Georgia didn’t look like the 9-0 team that pummeled what are normally quality SEC opponents such as Mississippi State, Florida, and Tennessee in that first meeting (where Auburn held home field advantage.) Even so, it was tough to tell whether UGA looked that bad or Auburn looked that much better. Their solid victory in the Iron Bowl two weeks later suggested that Auburn had looked that good. Our defense struggled against the balanced offense of Auburn in that first game, and their defense dominated our offense.

We even made uncharacteristically silly mistakes on special teams that cost us points. While I expected UGA to play better in the SEC Championship Game than they had in the loss at Auburn, I never imagined this team making such a profound turnaround in less than one month. Play better, sure. But to win the game convincingly, by 21 points? To absolutely dominate the team that had done the exact same thing to UGA less than a month ago? No way.

Kirby Smart deserves a lot of credit for yesterday’s victory. And I hope the “fire Jim Chaney” sliver of the Dawg Nation population has been silenced for the foreseeable future, but if fans could award a game ball to the coaches for yesterday’s victory, mine would go to Mel Tucker.

His defensive game plan had accounted for everything Gus Malzahn would try to do in the SEC Championship Game, and shut it down. After their first and only scoring drive of the game, our defense suffocated Auburn’s offense, with a turnover literally turning the tide of momentum in the game.

While it’s true that I write novels (which make excellent Christmas gifts), I could never make up a script like yesterday’s game because I personally ascribe to the theory that a story’s plot line must be not only be plausible, but totally believable. The storyline from yesterday’s championship game is the sort of nonsensical crap that Hollywood often tries to sell. It only works when the story is true.

Even so, a 43-point turnaround is positively surreal.

Okay, so who’s next? The pundits believe it will be the Oklahoma Sooners in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Win, or the season will end.

Coach Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs have already exceeded my expectations for the 2017 season. I expected them to win the SEC East, but not to sweep their SEC East opponents and win the SEC. I expected them to play well and have a better season than 2016, but not to flirt with an undefeated season. So my expectations for this year have been met, and exceeded.

This year’s UGA football team has already achieved great things, and only two games remain. They are the 2017 champions of SEC football, which is almost as good as being “champions of life” (with no apologies to Butch Jones.) There’s only one thing left to do…become national champions as well.

Now it’s time to get greedy.