Archive for October, 2009

5 reasons the Hawks will reach the Eastern finals

Jeff Teague: Another addition to a stellar bench. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Jeff Teague: More help off the bench. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

1. They can match depth with any team anywhere. The Hawks didn’t change a starter, but they redid their bench almost completely. Zaza Pachulia and Mo Evans are still around, but Jamal Crawford represents an upgrade over Flip Murray and Jeff Teague seems more NBA-ready than Acie Law was. And even if Joe Smith doesn’t have much left, Jason Collins could be the hidden hinge to the second unit.

2. Mike Woodson has no choice but to deploy his subs. Contrary to popular belief, the coach isn’t a fool. He saw how Joe Johnson wearied at the end of last season, and he concedes he ran his starters too long. But Woody, like most coaches, trusts experience over youth, and that means he’ll give Crawford and Smith and Collins longer looks than he gave Law and Solomon Jones. And Woodson appears to have warmed to Teague already, which never happened with Law. (The feeling was mutual.)

3. Johnson won’t have to play as long or …

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Best collegian ever? Tebow No. 2, Herschel still No. 1

Tim Tebow is the greatest collegian of the 21st Century. But the greatest collegiate player ever? Not quite. That distinction falls to a man who played for the other side in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, and I speak of  …

Zippy Morocco.

OK, I’m kidding. You know who I mean. As majestic as he was against everybody, Herschel Walker was never so splendid as those three afternoons in Jacksonville. He rushed for 649 yards and scored eight touchdowns against the Gators, who were really good each year but lost three times simply because they didn’t have Herschel. (Granted, Lindsay Scott had a bit to do with the 1980 outcome.)

Not since Herschel has the college game seen a force so irresistible as Tebow. He figures to win a second Heisman Trophy on merit. But Herschel played only three seasons before leaving for the USFL, and he won one Heisman and should have had two (he was clearly superior to George Rogers in 1980) and would have had another had he completed his …

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Tech will grace a BCS game, but not THE BCS game

The good news: Georgia Tech should — not could, should — play in the Orange Bowl as the ACC champion. The less-good news: Georgia Tech cannot reasonably aspire to anything better than the Orange Bowl, and there is one game better. It will be played in Pasadena, and it’s for the BCS title.

Tech was ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings announced yesterday, and to play for the BCS title a team must be no lower than No. 2. It sounds overly simplistic to say that for Tech to climb nine spots nine teams would have to lose, but that’s essentially how it is. With the Jackets’ schedule, they aren’t apt to jump anybody ahead of them so long as those teams keep winning.

A few of those teams must lose. Alabama and LSU will meet, and the winner of that game will surely play Florida for the SEC championship. And Southern Cal and Oregon face off this weekend. So that’s three teams ranked above Tech that are guaranteed having one more loss than they do today. But only three.

It’s unlikely Boise …

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Normal service has been interrupted due to vacation

I’m off this week. My first week off of calendar 2009. In case you were wondering. If not, that’s OK, too.

Vacation reading: Finished “The Abominable Man” by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. (Swedish detective stories — I’m addicted.) Am three-fourths of the way through “Inherent Vice” by Thomas Pynchon.

Next up: Beats me. Maybe the Neil Young biography “Shakey.” (Finally bought “Archives Vol. 1.”) Maybe a book of short stories by Henning Mankell. (More Swedish detection.) Maybe something else.

Back Monday. In case you were wondering. If not, that’s OK, too.

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The brand new Falcons play in prime time and find a way

Tony Gonzalez slams the ball and the Bears. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Tony Gonzalez slams the Bears. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

When last the Falcons played in prime time, they lost to the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 10, 2007, the same day Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in jail. Twenty-four hours later, they watched on TV as their head coach demonstrated how to call hogs. Thus did a surreal season reach its nadir, and we around here were asking ourselves, “How many years before this beset team gets good again? Five? Ten? Five hundred?”

On Sunday the Atlanta Falcons welcomed a nation of TV watchers back to the Georgia Dome, and it didn’t start well. The Falcons trailed 7-0 before they made a first down and were lucky not to trail 17-0. And right about then we were thinking, “An Atlanta team plays on the big stage and lays a royal egg. Haven’t we seen this before?”

But here’s the thing: These Falcons are not the feckless Falcons of old. They can look bad, yes. But they refuse to look bad for long. They’re too resourceful, too clever, …

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Live from the Dome: One year later, those 11 seconds live on

As endings go, it was fairly rousing. And historic. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

As endings go, it was fairly rousing. And transforming (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

If not for those 11 seconds, a promising season might never have become much more. If not for those 11 seconds, we might still view the Falcons more with skepticism than belief. If not for those 11 seconds, we might yet be asking if Matt Ryan was the right man to draft. If not for those 11 seconds …

Enough. Those 11 seconds? They happened. The squib kick. The Harry Douglas return and flopdown. The short Ryan drop and the lovely Ryan rainbow. The Michael Jenkins catch and toe-dance along the sideline. The Jason Elam kick of redemption. (He’d missed a field goal that would have clinched it earlier.)

Eleven seconds changed certain defeat to a victory so outrageous it still beggars belief. ESPN.com dug out this nugget: Since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, it marked only the third time a team had taken a lead inside the final 15 seconds and lost. (The first time was on Tom Dempsey’s 63-yard field …

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UGA wins in Nashville; can it possibly win in Jacksonville?

Was what we saw Saturday a circling of the wagons? (Photo by Frederick Wheedon IV)

Was what we saw Saturday a circling of the wagons? (Photo by Frederick Breedon IV)

Nashville – I’m going to say something, and you’re going to laugh. You’re going to laugh so hard you’ll make like Chipper Jones and pull an oblique muscle. And that’s OK. I’ll feel you’re laughing with me, not at me. (Sort of.) So here goes:

Georgia has the mighty Gators where they want them.

I know, I know. It sounds like the dumbest line I’ve ever written, which would make it the dumbest line in the history of lines. But the Bulldogs will play in Jacksonville on Halloween with nobody expecting them to do anything but lose by six touchdowns, and that’s not a bad way to approach such an opponent.

“We having nothing to lose,” A.J. Green said Saturday. “We know we have a chance [against Florida]. We’re going to go down there and play hard and play fast and play physical.”

I know, I know. You’re saying: What evidence exists to suggest Georgia is capable of doing any of the above, let alone all of …

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Live from Nashville: Resistible force meets movable object

Twenty minutes before kickoff. I kid you not. (Photo by M. Bradley)

The stands at Memorial Stadium 20 minutes before kickoff. I kid you not. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Nashville – First off, it’s chilly. Forty-three degrees and overcast at present (9:23 Central Time). The few Georgia fans who gathered for the Dawg Walk were wearing coats, scarves, gloves and stocking caps. And they still didn’t look warm.

Speaking of cold … Vanderbilt has the nation’s 108th-best (or, put another way, 13th-worst) passing offense. Lucky for the Commodores that a truckload of magic elixir has just pulled into town. The top passing performance by an SEC quarterback this season was Ryan Mallett of Arkansas on Sept. 19. The third-best was by Stephen Garcia of South Carolina on Sept. 12. The fourth-best was by Jonathan Crompton of Tennessee last week. Guess the common denominator.

You got it. Willie Martinez and his defense.

Say this for Willie: He has single-handedly rearranged the standings of every SEC fantasy league. If you simply drafted the quarterback playing …

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Josh Nesbitt: ‘Warrior’ quarterback becomes Tech folk hero

Of the many things that happened in Tallahassee on a stormy Saturday night/Sunday morning, the one that lingers most transcended mere football and became instant lore. With seven-plus minutes left and Tech leading 42-38 in a game that would see 93 points scored and would  last more than 4 1/2 hours, Josh Nesbitt stopped being a football player and became a folk hero.

Wrote Taz Anderson, the Atlanta entrepreneur who was a Georgia Tech captain under Bobby Dodd in 1960, in an e-mail: “I’ve been watching this game a long time, and I have never seen a play like Nesbitt’s.”

Said Paul Johnson, Tech’s coach: “We work on [doing what Nesbitt did] in practice. I’m kidding … That was all No. 9.”

What No. 9 did: Flipped a pitch to A-back Roddy Jones, who dropped it; saw Nigel Carr, a Florida State linebacker who weighs 230 pounds, pick it up; ran over to Carr and tore the ball from his grasp, regaining possession in a game where possession meant everything. (The moment can be viewed and …

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For Richt, change will be tough; for Johnson, it won’t be

This is not a man you want to disappoint. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

PJ isn't a man to disappoint. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Having witnessed Mark Richt’s media briefing Tuesday in Athens, I was struck — not for the first time, and surely not for the last — at how resolutely positive this man is. No, things aren’t going well, he conceded, but his Georgia Bulldogs “are battling as hard as you can battle.”

And I thought, again not for the first time, that Mark Richt would be a mighty fine boss to have: Loyal, circumspect, unwilling to assess public blame.

Then I read the transcript of Paul Johnson’s concurrent media briefing at Georgia Tech, thoughtfully provided by ace publicist and fellow Vinings dweller Dean Buchan, and this passage fairly leaped off the computer screen:

“There’s no doubt about it. We have to get better [on defense]. In my mind, when you play the way we played on Saturday, everyone is accountable. The coaches, the players and I’m accountable because I’m the ultimate guy. I see guys not playing fast and not flying to the …

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