LEXINGTON, Ky. — On the morning of Oct. 9, the Georgia Bulldogs were 1-4. We mention this because … well, because it’s Oct. 25 and they sure as heck aren’t 1-4 anymore.
They’re a robust 4-4, having won three SEC games by the aggregate score of 128-45. They’re 4-4 headed to Jacksonville in a better frame of mind than the hated Gators, who’ve lost three in a row. They’re 4-4 and maybe they haven’t beaten the Who’s Who of BCS Bullies, but it wasn’t so long ago Georgia couldn’t beat anybody anywhere.
And now you’re asking: Is this apparent resurgence the real deal or just a red (and black) herring? And the answer is …
It’s real for this simple reason: Georgia was far too talented to have been 1-4, and we’re finally seeing what happens when that talent is brought to bear. The Bulldogs won big in a place where South Carolina lost just last week not only because Kentucky messed up — though the Wildcats did more than their share of that — but because some big-time players made big-time plays.
Brandon Boykin took another kickoff back 100 yards. A.J. Green rose up a couple of times and reminded us that he’s the best receiver among collegians. (Also that he was sorely missed throughout September.) Justin Houston did a Lawrence Taylor all over the Big Blue — sacking the quarterback, recovering a fumble, coming within a step of making his own Kroy Biermann deflect-catch-and-score memory.
And Washaun Ealey, whose fumbles on the goal line and misadventure in the parking garage became the symbol of that staggering start, came to the Bluegrass and rewrote his bio. He’s no longer Washaun Ealey, the man who cannot be trusted in the red zone. He’s now Washaun Ealey, the Bulldog who nearly outscored Kentucky by himself.
Five touchdowns for Ealey and one for Boykin and three early Kentucky fumbles made this easier than it should have been. (And a cosmetic fourth-quarter rally made the final score closer than the game itself.) Georgia got way ahead — it was 28-3 after 23-plus minutes — and buttoned it down. Aaron Murray threw only 12 passes, and that wasn’t because the offensive minds Mark Richt and Mike Bobo got stupid; it was because they got smart.
The first rule of politics also is the first rule of football: When your opponent is in the process of destroying himself, get out of the way. The ‘Dogs applied enough early defensive pressure to discombobulate the ‘Cats, and the rest was simply for form’s sake.
Yes, there were too many times when Houston and the rushers didn’t put Mike Hartline on the ground, and the Kentucky quarterback found unencumbered receivers. But we saw clearly here that Todd Grantham’s 3-4 can deal with a multi-faceted offense that’s cleverly constructed, and it’s unclear we can say half as much about Florida’s shockingly inept attack.
Simply put, Georgia goes to Jacksonville with a chance to stamp itself as the only real challenger to South Carolina in the SEC East, and who among us saw that coming after the losses in Starkville and Boulder? If you’re asking if this defense looks capable of derailing Cam Newton’s run to the Heisman at Auburn on Nov. 13, the answer frankly is no. But it could come a monsoon that day and Georgia might win 3-0 on a 60-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.
What’s important is that the Bulldogs have given themselves a chance to right a season going wrong. Sure, the schedule has had much to do with it, but the early schedule was tougher than calculus. (Especially without Green for Games 1-4.) A youngish team has gotten better the more it has played, and these past three weeks it has been pretty doggone good.
The Tennessee and Vanderbilt games were in Athens. The Kentucky game always loomed as the pre-Jacksonville obstacle, and Georgia came to Commonwealth Stadium and stacked 44 points on Kentucky and never let the hosts have a sniff at victory. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it came at a perfect time.