ATHENS, Ga. – Hypothetical football became a talking point this week regarding Alabama.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier caused a national talk-radio sensation with his suggestion that the Crimson Tide might be professional grade.
“Alabama, gosh, they look like they could beat a couple of those NFL teams that I’ve watched on Sundays,” Spurrier told Dan Patrick on Wednesday.
While Las Vegas oddsmakers laughed at the absurdity of Spurrier’s statement (the closest hypothetical line offered was ’Bama being a 24-point underdog to the 1-6 Jacksonville Jaguars on a neutral site), it made for a very interesting way of watching Saturday’s Georgia-Ole Miss game.
This hypothetical matchup, however, has a strong chance of really happening – can Georgia compete with No. 1 Alabama if they both reach the Southeastern Conference championship game?
After seeing Ole Miss abuse the Bulldogs offensive line with five sacks in the first half as the Rebels jumped to a 10-0 lead, it’s a good bet the bookies will be setting a double-digit spread on that one as well.
And despite Saturday’s 37-10 breakaway escape from a trap game against the Rebels, it would be hard to take Georgia and the points against the program favored to win a third BCS title in the past four years.
Yes, the Bulldogs big-played their way to victory Saturday in a matchup it should win every time. But along the way they potentially lost another one of those big-play receivers (Marlon Brown hobbled off with a knee injury) and lost a little more confidence in its accuracy-challenged placekicker (Marshall Morgan duck-hooked his lone field goal attempt nearly outside the hedges).
So can this Georgia team win two games in a row against the state of Alabama (Auburn next week will
decide the fate of the East)?
Georgia wouldn’t mind if everyone keeps thinking it can’t.
“Going into that game we know we’re going to be the underdog,” said Georgia defensive back Damian Swann, speaking hypothetically, of course. “Alabama is going to be favored against everyone they play.
“Not taking anything away from Alabama – they are a great team fundamentally all the way around – but we’ve just got to keep on answering the challenge. I personally don’t feel like we get enough respect. That comes from what we put on film. But if we keep playing like we played these last two games on the field, I think we will earn a lot of people’s respect.”
Georgia wasn’t even getting much respect from its own fans on a postcard-perfect Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium after falling behind 10-0 and getting pushed around by the Rebels’ defense. Boos were raining down on the Dogs as the offense looked a little lifeless.
“You could tell from our fans, they were getting a little antsy,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said.
When the natives got restless, Georgia dialed up a soothing classic. Quarterback Aaron Murray was looking a little uncomfortable in his own skin (perhaps the aggressive pressure Ole Miss was applying had something to do with that), but he looked great doing his best David Greene impersonation on an old faithful play-action that sprung Brown so wide-open 20 yards behind the deepest Rebel that he practically called fair catch on a 66-yard touchdown pass to make it 10-7.
“It’s scary to stand back there looking (the other way) and you don’t know what’s going on behind you,” said Murray, who ended up piling up 384 passing yards and four long touchdowns. “You’ve got to have a lot of faith in your offensive line and faith that the safety’s going to jump it and it’s going to be wide open. It works pretty much every time, you just have to trust it.”
Faith in the offensive line didn’t seem like a comforting concept the way Ole Miss was all over Murray for five sacks before intermission. When consecutive sacks bled the clock and set up third-and-25 at the Rebel 40 with only 12 seconds left in the half, the boos accelerated.
But Murray scrambled out of the pocket and found Tavarres King shockingly open behind the Ole Miss defense for a 40-yard strike on the final play of the first half to ignite the offensive avalanche that followed.
“That’s the great thing about Aaron is he doesn’t get too rattled,” said King of his QB who’s shaken off a few shaky starts in the past month to keep the Bulldogs on a championship path. “If I was getting sacked five times I’d be back there going crazy. But he didn’t and stayed poised and confident.”
It’s going to take a lot more poise and confidence for Georgia to beat a program as efficient and sound as Alabama in a title game. It can’t afford to let its quarterback get hit so much. It can’t afford to have its defense revert to the pre-Florida soft motif. It can’t afford trading four turnovers in five plays. It can’t afford losing any more big-play options to injury.
But fortunately for Georgia, the SEC doesn’t pick its champions with hypothetical debates. Beat Auburn and the Bulldogs will get a shot to prove its many doubters wrong against the best of the West.
“I feel like we’re overlooked,” said King. “But people don’t realize that this league is insane – athletes, coaches, it’s top of the line. I feel like anybody can step up on anybody, any day. I wouldn’t overlook anybody.”
Georgia needs to remember that when they’re favored the next three weeks if they want a piece of Alabama.