Hope you’re all geeked up for this evening. Sorry I didn’t post Wednesday. Been a little busy. I’m very, very interested to see how this game shakes out. I can assure you that the team is ready to see how it stacks up.
A few notes and soundbites and I’ve got to start heading to Tuscaloosa.
1. I talked to George Pugh, the receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, about playing at Alabama for Bear Bryant. This has nothing really to do with Georgia State, but I just thought it was a pretty good story.
Pugh said that when he was a high school senior in East Montgomery, he committed to Auburn at a party that was thrown for him, as I understand it, to celebrate being named an All-American. I guess that would have been late 1971. Pugh, who was also being recruited by Alabama, said he got caught up in the moment.
A day or two later, when he was getting ready to go out for his paper route, Pugh said he heard a knock at the door. It was Bryant and a slew of assistant coaches, who’d gotten word that he had committed.
“That was the longest walk of my life to open the door,” Pugh said.
In came Bryant and his assistants, who asked Pugh’s parents if he could delay his route to talk with him.
Said Pugh, “I think I must have lost 10 pounds that morning.”
Bryant made his pitch and left and Pugh and his parents began talking about what he was going to do, and then Bryant knocked again at the door.
Pugh: “He came in and he told my mom and dad, there was one thing he wanted to tell me. My mom said, ‘Well, come on in. What is it?’ He said, ‘George, I want you to know this. We can win with you or we can win without you.’ And he left.
“Coach Bryant was the master motivator. He knew by telling me that that I would say, ‘You know what? I’m going to prove to this guy that I can play for the University of Alabama.’ Sure enough, that changed my mind.”
After that, Pugh said he got death threats and his house got egged, presumably by Auburn fans. He said never in his life was he as scared as he was then.
But he had no regrets and that de-committing to Auburn and committing to Alabama was one of the best decisions he has ever made.
I have to say, Pugh’s love and passion for Alabama and Bryant runs pretty deep. You can hear it in his voice as he talks about the Alabama mystique and tradition. He still keeps in touch with Bryant’s son Paul Jr. and Mal Moore, Alabama’s athletic director who was an assistant to Bryant.
As I wrote in the notes, much of the story of the game is Bill Curry going back to Alabama, and rightfully so. For Pugh, his connection runs far deeper, though. Pugh said he’s been there twice before as a coach, with Texas A&M and Houston. Both teams lost.
Said Pugh, “Maybe the third time is the charm.”
2. At the Tuesday press conference, guard Joe Gilbert was asked if he really believed that Georgia State could win. His answer in full:
“I didn’t come to college to play football and lose. I’ll say it like that I’ve seen crazier things happen. We’ve got a good game plan in this week.
I think drew’s going to pass the ball. Parris (Lee) and Travis (Evans) and all the rest of our running backs are going to run it. And then let’s see if Kalan (Jenkins) is going to stop the Heisman winner (Alabama running back Mark Ingram). I think if all that happens, we’ll be alright”
As you might have guessed, everyone laughed when Gilbert mentioned Jenkins, who was sitting two seats over from Gilbert, not to make fun of Jenkins, but because it’s just kind of crazy to consider. Think about this – two years ago, Jenkins walked on at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. He was not recruited and even switched positions from defensive end to tight end just to get a chance to play. He ended up starting for two years and came to Georgia State as a tight end. After spring practice, he was switched back to defense because the line was so thin. Curry said from day one, Jenkins has been one of the best leaders he’s ever coached.
Tonight, he’ll be lined up against either left tackle James Carpenter and right tackle Alfred McCullough. Both outweigh Jenkins by about 50 pounds. McCullough was one of the top recruits in Alabama coming out of high school and Carpenter is a likely NFL draft pick next spring. And if he can get away from them, he’ll have to tackle last year’s Heisman Trophy winner.
Jenkins: “They’re big guys. They’re a lot better than the guys that we’ve seen all year. I’m just looking forward to it. You always want to see where you are as a player. Games like this, playing the defending national champions, guys of this caliber, this is where you put yourself on that scale of how good you think you are and how good you really are.”
3. As I mentioned in the notes, linebacker Olufemi Opanubi and punter Bo Schlechter will play. Opanubi, you might remember, was supposed to be out for the season after surgery Nov. 1 to repair a partially torn meniscus.
I chatted with Schlechter at Tuesday’s practice at the Georgia Dome. He was tossing around the idea of proposing to Erin Andrews, who will be on the sidelines for ESPN. He was wondering what would happen if he grabbed a microphone (not sure where he’d find one, but, hey, it’s his dream) on the field and proposed.
I’m not sure what the bigger upset would be – Georgia State winning or Andrews accepting.
4. I was a little surprised at how much it meant to Curry that ESPN has sent its team of Curry that ESPN has sent its team of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Andrews to call the game. Curry said he was in a “state of shock.”
My guess is part of the reason they’re on this game because they have to be in Chicago Friday for the Northwestern-Illinois game on Saturday (which is being played at Wrigley Field), and it’ll be easier to get there from Alabama than from Seattle, where Washington is playing UCLA Thursday night in the main ESPN game. But I’m going to guess that Curry’s presence has something to do with it as well. I don’t think I need to ask anyone up there to guess the esteem people there have for him.
Curry called his former broadcast partners “wonderful, sincere people” and said he was grateful that they’ll be in Tuscaloosa.
5. My take on the game: I hope Georgia State can do some things – move the ball, force some punts, play hard for 60 minutes – that can be built upon in seasons to come. I’d like to see if some of the better players – Drew Little, Dan Williams, Jake Muasau, etc. – can make some plays.
I wrote a story for Thursday talking to a few guys who’d been through massive blowouts and it was interesting how valuable they found the experience for a variety of reasons.
First, they talked about how thrilling it was to play in that kind of environment and to test themselves against the best.
Second, they were so stung by the score that they became determined to never let it happen again. It’s amazing to me that Cincinnati could lose 81-0 to Penn State in 1991 and then in the last game of its season nearly beat East Carolina, which that year went 11-1 and won the Peach Bowl.
It makes me buy more into the notion that, rather than being a total outlier game, this could have value down the road for Georgia State.
“It was one of those things where it was such an embarrassing, miserable defeat that, if you didn’t quit and you fought and battled through that experience, you can fight and battle through anything,” said John Arena, a captain and guard on that Cincinnati team.
6. I’ll give Curry the final word:
“If something bad happens to us, if we get knocked in the dirt Thursday night, we will get up off the ground and we will come back again and again and again until they blow the whistle to let us know that the game is over. And only then will we stop trying.”
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