Archive for November, 2009

Here at Falcons HQ, thinking about running backs

It didn't look good when Michael Turner went down Sunday, did it? (AP photo)

It didn't look very good when Michael Turner went down Sunday, did it? (AP photo)

Flowery Branch — Hanging around the Falcons, waiting for Mike Smith’s 3 p.m. press briefing, and I figured I’d pass along a couple of nuggets  in the interim.

First, The Falcons are not going to pursue Larry Johnson to fill a need at running back. “I had a bunch of text messages about that last night,” Thomas Dimitroff said, smiling.

And his response to those? “Absolutely not.”

Two things about that: Johnson, who just got bounced out of Kansas City for ripping his coach and making insenitive Tweets via Twitter, is the antithesis of what the Falcons want in a player. Even if the Falcons were down to no running backs, Johnson wouldn’t be the man they’d call.

And now the other thing: The Falcons are acting as if they don’t believe Michael Turner will be out long. There has been no official prognosis announced, but they’re mindful he had a high ankle sprain earlier in his career and seemed to heal …

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Looking ahead to Tech-UGA: Here’s what will happen

This was last year. This time won't be much different. (AJC photo by Pouya Dianat)

This was last year. It won't be much different in 2009. (AJC photo by Pouya Dianat)

Georgia Tech has played 11 games, Georgia 10. And I’ve seen nothing to make me change my mind. When they meet two days after Thanksgiving, Tech will win again.

Tech has been good all season. It had a bad Thursday night in Miami, but that’s the only time the Jackets haven’t played well on offense. (Defense is another matter.) The Jackets are going to score points on Georgia, a lot of points. Maybe not 45 again, but close to it.

I don’t see Georgia’s defense being able to get off the field. Key numbers: Tech is 19th nationally in time of possession; Georgia is 90th. Tech will move and keep moving, and Georgia doesn’t have Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno to counter this time. And it might not have A.J. Green.

Neither side can stop the pass. Georgia is 84th in pass efficiency defense, Tech 95th. But the Jackets will have the best pass rusher on the field in Derrick Morgan, and Georgia will, as …

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Is a big game for Willie Martinez a net loss for UGA?

The first quarter excepted, Georgia played some D on Saturday. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The first quarter excepted, Georgia threw some D on Auburn. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Georgia’s defense was terrible in the first quarter against Auburn but terrific thereafter. This came one week after a shutout of Tennessee Tech. And now we must ask:

Is Willie Martinez in the process of saving his job? And if so, would you Bulldog fans rather take another loss (or two) than face another season with this man coordinating an often uncoordinated defense?

Auburn had 145 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter. It had 208 yards and one field goal over the final 45 minutes. (Can’t blame the defense for a 99-yard kickoff return.) Auburn converted its first three third downs but was  2-for-10 the rest of the way. And this, let’s note, was against an offense coached by Gus Malzahn, who’s so famous he helped push Houston Nutt out of Arkansas when Malzahn wasn’t given his way.

So here’s Georgia’s defense to date: Played OK in a loss to Oklahoma State; yielded 427 yards to …

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In a game and season going wrong, UGA gets it right

Washaun Ealey gives extra effort on a night of extra effort. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Washaun Ealey gives extra effort on a night of extra effort. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Athens – It began almost as an ending. Auburn led by 14 points after 12 minutes, and Georgia needed a whole quarter just to make a first down, and the crowd was booing the home side, and it was possible in that moment to see the entire Mark Richt Era unraveling in a pile of bad penalties and blown coverages.

It ended, however, as something approaching a new beginning. It ended with Georgia winning 31-24, with the Bulldogs defense having held Auburn offense to three points over the final 48 minutes, with Georgia looking not just like the better team but the stronger team, the smarter team, the more forceful team. And when last could we say that?

It ended with Georgia becoming bowl-eligible, but there was more on the line here than a trip to Memphis or Nashville. At stake this impassioned night was the credibility of a famous program. Because if Georgia couldn’t beat either Lane Kiffin or …

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Live from Athens: Another big Auburn game for Richt

Auburn fans await the Tiger Walk. I await their leaving. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Oblivious to traffic customs, Auburn fans eagerly await the Tiger Walk. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Athens – If we had to rank the five biggest wins of the Mark Richt Era, two would involve Auburn. The breakthrough clincher at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2002 would be No. 1, natch, and the upset of the fifth-ranked Tigers four years later would be, I submit, No. 5. (Behind the Verron Haynes game in Knoxville, the Gator Stomp game in Jacksonville and the 2005 SEC championship over LSU.)

I mention this because a victory tonight would be huge for Georgia. It would make no impact on the BCS standings, but it could serve to jump-start the end of a season gone flat. And it would be huge because to lose to Gene Chizik in Year 1 after losing to Lane Kiffin in Year 1 would be unthinkable.

This is one of those games I figured Georgia would win when I made my predictions back in May, but Georgia isn’t as good as I thought it would be and Auburn is a tad better than I assumed. I’ll stick with the …

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A breakthrough in Boston for the big-time Hawks

Not to say I told you so, but …

The Hawks just beat the Celtics on the parquet of the new Garden. Yes, it was a regular-season game, but it was as significant as a regular-season game can be in November. The Hawks proved to the NBA — and, more important, to themselves — that they can leave Philips Arena and outslug one of the league’s heavyweights. Armed with this knowledge, who knows where they might wind up?

The world at large has no idea how good these Hawks can be. Heck, until Friday night I’m not sure the Hawks had a clear notion. But they should have an inkling now. They should know they have as many good players — not a superstar, no, but good players across the board — as any team anywhere. They’re 7-2 with victories in Portland and Boston. They’re big-time.

And they’re still relatively young. This is no small consideration. The Celtics and Shaquille O’Neal (Cavs) and Vince Carter (Magic) aren’t going to be any younger come the spring. If any team is built to absorb …

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UGA needs to get back to basics, not back in black

Black shirts seemed chic back then. No longer, alas. (AJC photo by Pouya Dianat)

Black shirts seemed tres chic back then. No longer, alas. (AJC photo by Pouya Dianat)

Big game. Night game. South’s oldest rivalry. Between the hedges. Time for a blackout!

Hey! It worked once!

Actually, it worked once and stopped working. It worked once — technically it worked twice, if you count the Sugar Bowl against Hawaii, which nobody should — and it gave the Bulldogs the cockeyed notion that what they wore mattered more than how they played.

It worked on the night of Nov. 10, 2007, when Georgia wore black jerseys beat Auburn 45-2o. It worked less well on the night of Sept. 27, 2008, when a reappearance of those black shirts enabled the Bulldogs to work themselves into a 31-point halftime hole against Alabama. And Georgia hasn’t been the same since.

The mojo, if that’s what it is, was gone. The color-coordination thing had been exposed as a gimmick. And that was what was so pitiful about Georgia’s unveiling of black helmets and black pants in Jacksonville on Halloween. …

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Now you, too, can make decisions like Paul Johnson!

PJ tells Roddy Jones, "Just spin the dial." (Stephen Jensen, Tallahassee Democrat)

PJ tells Roddy Jones, "Just spin the dial." (Photo by Stephen Jensen, Tallahassee Democrat)

There comes a moment in everyone’s life when decision-making becomes just too difficult. You weigh the pros. You weigh the cons. And still you can’t make a choice because, to be frank, choosing is just too hard. Door No. 1? Door No. 2? Buy a consonant? Buy a vowel? Oh, Mr. Kotter, I’m so confused!

At such a moment, there’s only one recourse. We need to ask ourselves: What would PJ do?

(Something daring, surely. I mean, the man only went for it on fourth down five times against Wake Forest. And never mind that the first four didn’t work. The fifth turned out OK.)

As fate would have it, a shadowy figure who goes by “Fireball” has created a practical aid to bolder choice-making. He first posted it on The Hive, where it was discovered and forwarded to me by (cough, cough) a highly placed Georgia Tech source. And with the help of another clandestine operative — OK, Timothy Briley, a Tech fan …

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Market report: Smitty gets fined, but his stock surely rises

This might be the best 15 grand Smitty will ever spend. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This might be the best 15 grand Smitty will ever spend. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

As a rule, it’s not good when a head coach gets fined $15,000 for an incident involving another team’s player. But rules, as we know, have exceptions. DeAngelo Hall is an exception marked in yellow Hi-Liter. DeAngelo Hall is the exception to pretty much everything.

It was announced Thursday that Mike Smith must pay 15K for his tete-a-tete with D-Hall. It wasn’t as bad as it might have been — Smitty could have gotten suspended — and in the grand scheme it wasn’t bad at all. Because Mike Smith just stopped being the amiable career assistant who looks vaguely like Steve Martin and became the ultimate players’ coach. And that, in the NFL, is a great thing to be.

The guys in the Falcons’ locker room already loved Smitty. We know this because they play hard for him every blessed week. But now they have even more reason for their ardor. Not only did their coach mix it up in an altercation …

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For the ever-improved Hawks, it’s time to win in Boston

The Hawks were playing  Boston when Tree Rollins bit Danny Ainge’s finger (1983) and again when they were outscored 36-6 in the third quarter of an elimination game (1986). They were playing Boston when they had a chance to oust the Celtics and Cliff Levingston hoisted the running lefty hook (1988), Boston yet again when the top-seeded Celtics were taken to a Game 7 by an opponent that wasn’t sure it could win one playoff game (2008).

And now the Hawks are set to meet Boston again. Officially it’s one game, one of 82. Actually it’s much more.

The Hawks are off to another fast start. They’re 6-2. But they were 6-0 last season when they went, inevitably, to Boston and played the champion Celtics off their feet. They led after 47 minutes and 58 seconds. They lost because Paul Pierce hit, as Paul Pierce does, a contested shot while off-balance. The Hawks of 2008-2009 would  finish 47-35 and win a playoff series for the first time in 10 years, but never again would they come so …

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