Cupcake…cream-puff…call it what you will. The DAWGS had quite a treat this past Saturday in the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech and a tasty treat it was. A few days removed from a very pleasant Homecoming victory over Golden Eagles, I cannot lose the thought of what Georgia’s season may have looked like had the DAWGS been afforded the luxury of fattening up a bit on a couple of games against lighter weight opponents. David Hale mentioned this thought process in his live game blog Saturday. Playing a strong schedule has its advantages and too much of a sugary-sweet schedule is a bad thing, but maybe it is these “sweeter” match-ups that help a program like Georgia’s rank among the heavyweights at the end of the year.
Don’t misunderstand me. I take great pride in being able to point to the fact that the DAWGS have not been afraid to schedule a better grade of opponent in the last few years and that we plan to play several more quality and/or entertaining match-ups in the upcoming seasons. In a hardened and often cynical newsroom environment, this fact carries a great weight. From a fan’s perspective, Wifey and I love the intrigue and excitement that goes with an inter-sectional meeting. When we looked at the schedule for this year, Oklahoma State and Arizona State offered that unusual and enticing sparkle that a pairing against any directional school just can’t offer. The big SEC match-ups are always fun and exciting and we know exactly what they are all about, but it is nice to have a less familiar foe on the schedule from time to time. As for 2010, we’re making plans right now to make the trip out to Boulder, CO to watch the DAWGS tangle with the Buffaloes. We can’t wait to head out on what should be a fantastic trip.
With all that said, what Georgia may have learned and the experience that was gained from the performance this past weekend cannot be ignored. What happened “Between the Hedges” Saturday appears to have done wonders for the team’s confidence, especially the weary psyche of the defense, it gave the younger players a chance to find their legs and have some success, and it provided the coaching staff with an opportunity to better figure out exactly how to use all the tools they have in the toolbox. Having a positive result on tape from a game speed situation is invaluable when it comes to teaching the game and building the confidence of an individual player and a team.
Specifically, I have wondered this week about what impact having such a challenging schedule over the first half of the season has had on the DAWGS running game. If the early season schedule had provided another pay-check opponent, is it such a stretch to think that the four-back scenario that is just now clearing itself up would have been sorted out a bit sooner? I know there have been other factors involved at that position…injuries, the pursuit of offensive balance and so on…but seeing what happened on the field against Tennessee Tech definitely begs the question. Without being in the pressure packed situations that were a staple of Georgia’s early season games, the possibility certainly exists that there would have been more opportunity to work players like Branden Smith, Logan Gray, Rontavious Wooten, Marlon Brown and Washaun Ealey into the rotation to see what they could do when the band is playing.
If Georgia had followed the lead of their conference brethren and scheduled a bit lighter to start the year, is it too presumptuous to assume that the running game would have found its wheels a little sooner? It can be argued that a strong running game is the cornerstone of everything that Georgia is and does. An effective running game leads to balance in the offense and hopefully more production. Moving the ball effectively on the ground keeps the defense off the field and effects how the game is called defensively. Hopefully, all of that leads to the DAWGS being ahead more often late in games which would allow for the coaching staff to get the younger players some valuable game experience.
Couple the above ponderings with the fact that nine games into the season it has become obvious that the DAWGS best play-makers are all underclassmen and the evidence becomes even more convincing. What if the coaching staff had been able to see that prove itself out as fact ON THE FIELD earlier in the season? None of us can say for sure if anything would be different, but it is certainly an interesting possibility. One would guess that this week’s edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will offer some insight into whether any of this carries any validity at all. If the DAWGS successfully find a way to continue to incorporate their young play-makers into the game plan against Auburn, maybe what happened against the Golden Eagles can be viewed as a lesson. It would support the thought that although not flashy, early season tune-up games should be a consistent staple of the future DAWGS early season diet. Those more flashy inter-sectional games against teams from the other BCS conferences will still be prized additions to the schedule, but instead of being the steak and potatoes of the out of conference slate we can happily think of them more as the sprinkles on top of our cupcake dessert.