The Good. The Bad. And the Ugly.
No, we’re not talking about one of Sergio Leone’s finest spaghetti westerns. We’re talking about the football performances of the Bulldogs, Falcons and Yellow Jackets that ushered in the new year.
First, a note of appreciation for the fact that all three teams were still in action as the calendar turned. That’s an anomaly that passed without the fanfare it deserved.
Extensive research reveals only two other occasions when the Falcons made the playoffs while Tech and Georgia played as late as New Year’s Eve. Most recently, this phenomenon occurred after the 2002 season.
While SEC champion Georgia was beating FSU 26-13 in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s night, Tech spent New Year’s Eve losing to Fresno State 30-21 in the memorable Silicon Valley Bowl.
After the 1998 season, as the Falcons marched to the Super Bowl, Tech spent New Year’s day pasting Notre Dame 35-28 in the Gator Bowl. Georgia downed Virginia 35-33 in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
And that’s it. For such a rare event, you’d hope the teams would turn in performances worthy of the occasion.
Georgia earned The Good label by defeating Michigan State 24-12 in a game that proved a microcosm of Georgia’s season. When the Dogs were bad, they were very, very bad. And when they were good, it was seldom.
The Dogs spent the first half doing their best impersonation of the team that played the first half against Alabama, the second half against Florida and the third quarter against Tech.
Georgia’s projected-to-be-the-first-quarterback-taken-in-the-NFL-draft-if-he-comes-out spent that first half hurling passes all over the lot, but rarely in the vicinity of his receivers.
They committed two turnovers, the defense roughed the Spartan passer to extend a Michigan State drive, and Brian Mimbs broke out the rarely seen whiffed punt. The Dogs trailed, 6-3, at the half only because the defense resembled nothing seen wearing red and black this season.
In the second half, Georgia’s offense made the scene. Matthew Stafford directed a 10-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that lasted almost six minutes.
He followed that with a nifty one-play, 21-yard drive that took six seconds. After a nifty Prince Miller punt return and rare personal foul penalty on Georgia’s opponent, Stafford found Aron White with a gorgeous pass.
Finally, midway through the final quarter, after State had drawn within 17-12, Stafford led the clinching 11-play, 67-yard, five minute drive. This one culminated with a beautiful 21-yard pass to Knowshon Moreno.
That was enough to leave the Bulldog faithful forever wondering what this team might have accomplished had it ever played in sync for a full 60 minutes.
The Falcons earned The Bad label with Saturday’s 30-24 loss to Arizona. And that’s a shame. Their season was so wonderful in so many ways, it seems like a terrible waste to end on such a sour note.
Perhaps they can turn their loss into a positive. As coach Mike Smith constantly reminds us, this was another part of the process.
Saturday, the process included a rookie quarterback finally looking the part. While Matt Ryan looked like the un-rookie we’ve come to appreciate during the second quarter, for the other three quarters he floundered.
He opened the game with an interception; he opened the second half with a botched handoff. While he bounced back in the first half, he never did in the second.
Of course, he didn’t get much help. The offensive line resembled last year’s motley crew, leaving the Falcons offense immobile. They made the Cardinals defensive line look like it spent the entire game offside.
Finally, after a late score put the Falcons back in the game, the Falcon defense couldn’t muster the stop that would have given the offense one last chance.
For The Ugly, you need look no further than Tech’s second quarter against LSU. The final score was 38-3, but the second quarter score was 28-0.
Tech began by allowing LSU to wrap up an eight-play, 76-yard drive. The next drive was easier, LSU needing to negotiate only 19 yards after a fumbled punt.
Tech then tried to swing momentum with a fake punt. It failed, swinging Big Mo further to LSU. This time the Tigers went 24 yards in only two plays for the touchdown.
By the time Tech punted again, the shell-shocked defense surrendered 42 yards in only four plays. Touchdown. Ballgame.
Mercifully, it happened fast. But it left Tech with a sour aftertaste to a delicious season.
When not practicing his avocation, Denton Ashway practices his vocation with the law firm of Ashway and Haldi in Cumming.