Archive for September, 2011

Live from Tech: It’s a big day for the (getting bigger?) ACC

Is this an ACC rivalry in the making? (AP photo)

Is this a heated ACC rivalry in the making? (AP photo)

OK, it’s not so much a big day here. Georgia Tech plays Kansas. The Jackets should beat Kansas. They should’ve beaten Kansas a year ago. But I digress.

Look around the league. Clemson plays host to Auburn, which was ranked No. 1 in the land at the end of last season. Florida State plays host to Oklahoma, ranked No. 1 at the start of this season. Miami plays host to Ohio State, which has often been ranked No. 1 in both football and tattoos. Those are major tests for a league that hasn’t passed many major tests in a while.

I’d offer expert predictions on all three, but my expert predictions haven’t exactly been exact. I had Georgia winning its first two, as opposed to losing. I had the Falcons winning in Chicago, as opposed to getting whomped. I figure the Braves are a lock to make the playoffs and Derek Lowe goes out and yields six runs while recording seven outs. Yikes.

Also in the news, ACC-wise: My buddy — I hope he …

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Closing in: Next few days could put the Braves over the top

The left side of the infield celebrates a home run. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The left side of the infield celebrates a big home run. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The wild-card chase could, essentially if not quite mathematically, be over by Monday night. The Braves play three games against the Mets here and then head to Miami for a three-game set there. The Cardinals play four games in Philadelphia. Any combination of two Philly victories or Braves’ losses clinches the National League East for the Phillies.

But that’s the catch. The Braves need not to lose these next couple of days so Philadelphia has no cause to rest its starters starting, say, tomorrow and thereby give St. Louis a premature break. If the Braves win the next two and the Cardinals lose the next two, the Braves will lead by 6 1/2 games with 10 to play and the WC race will be all but over.

The Braves had some frazzled moments against the Marlins this week, but they steadied themselves and won two of three. That’s usually what happens in September mismatched matchups: You might struggle …

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Falcons-Eagles: It’s a mighty big early game for the local Birds

The new season opened pretty much the way the last one ended. (AP photo)

Rats! The new season opened pretty much the way the last one ended. (AP photo)

It’s not quite a “must-win” — last I checked, only Georgia has those — but Sunday night is mighty big for the folks headquartered in Flowery Branch. The Falcons spent the offseason trying to get past the egregious playoff loss to Green Bay, and now there’s another egregious loss to, ahem, process. And here, bang on cue, comes Michael Vick and his Dream Team.

In the attempt to explain how a No. 1 seed could lose 48-21 on its home field, some have suggested that the 2010 Falcons hadn’t beaten anybody en route to 13-3. Not true. They beat the Saints in the Superdome. They beat Tampa Bay, which finished 10-6, here and there. They beat the Ravens. Heck, they even beat the Packers. But the egg laid that Saturday night in January was of such dinosaurian magnitude as to make everything that came before seem suspect if not phony.

And then: 30-12 on Opening Day in Chicago, the offense managing zero …

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Say Vick hadn’t left: Would the Falcons be better or worse?

Dec. 6, 2009: Vick the Eagle in the Georgia Dome. (AJC photo by Kent D. Johnson)

Dec. 6, 2009: Michael Vick the Eagle in the Georgia Dome. (AJC photo by Kent D. Johnson)

Updated with Michael Vick quotes from today’s conference call with the Atlanta media.

Michael Vick will start at quarterback for the visiting team at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night. That hasn’t happened before. (He played in the building as a Philadelphia reserve in 2009.) There was a time when it was impossible to imagine No. 7 in a uniform other than the Falcons’, but circumstances, as we know, intervened.

Today’s topic: What if circumstances hadn’t intervened? What if Vick, who took his last snap as a Falcon on Dec. 31, 2006, had remained a Falcon? Would he have he become the complete quarterback he has become in Philly under Andy Reid? Would he have won a Super Bowl as a Falcon? Would the Falcons, in the grand scheme, have been better or worse?

Back to January 2007: The Falcons fired Jim Mora, not least because the offense his buddy Greg Knapp preferred was at odds with Vick’s array …

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The Braves can win without Jurrjens, but not without Hanson

Can Towering Tommy be Mr. October? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Can Tall Tommy be Mr. October? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

There’s a chance Jair Jurrjens has worked his last inning of 2011, and that doesn’t augur well for a team that stands to play beyond the 162nd game. But the Braves can win the Division Series without Jurrjens if — and this is a mammoth “if” — Tommy Hanson is OK.

A team doesn’t need four starters in Round 1. Figure Tim Hudson starts Games 1 and 4, Hanson (assuming he’s healthy) works Games 2 and 5, and Derek Lowe or Brandon Beachy or Mike Minor gets Game 3. The Braves can win with that rotation.

This assumes that Hanson’s sore shoulder hasn’t just healed but has healed to the extent that he can work on three days’ rest. If not, then a four-man Round 1 rotation would be warranted, and that stretches things mighty thin. That’s not to say it couldn’t be done — Beachy and Minor are good young pitchers, and Lowe has done fine work in Octobers past — but it is to say that way would be much tougher.

Hanson is scheduled to …

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A long losing night tests the Braves’ nerve but does no harm

Chipper Jones after a collision. He says he's OK. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Chipper Jones after a collision. He says he's OK. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

About here, you’re doubtless thinking that nothing good could have come from a game in which the Braves worked four hours and 18 minutes to go 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position and lose to a last-place team at a time when it would have behooved them to win. And here’s where I say, “Wrong again, O Skeptical Ones.”

Good things that came from Monday’s twisty tilt: The Braves lost no ground, nobody else got hurt and the excruciating game finally ended.

Said Brandon Beachy, the first of eight pitchers deployed in this 12-inning extravaganza: “When we tied the game, I thought for sure we’d win.”

They could’ve and should’ve. But they didn’t. The Braves’ best player twice failed with the winning run in scoring position. (”I’ve got to do something there,” Brian McCann said. “I put together two horrible at-bats. That was the outcome of the game.”) Carrying the winning run, the Braves’ fastest runner …

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Live from the Braves: A race tightens, but they’re not tight

Reader Tim Williams supplied this logo. I offer it for purposes of amusement.

Reader Tim Williams, who's an illustrator, supplied this updated logo. I offer it for purposes of amusement only.

Brian McCann had a question for your apparently skittish correspondent. “Are you panicking?” he said. “Don’t be panicking on us.”

Let the record also reflect that Mr. McCann was smiling as he spoke. The wild-card race has tightened, but nobody could describe these Braves as tight. Recent reversals notwithstanding, they believe they’re going to win.

Said McCann, more seriously now: “If you’d told us in spring training we’d be 4 1/2 up with two weeks to go, we’d have taken it. Every team in baseball would have taken it. We’re fine. Nobody’s panicking.”

(About which, a digression. In the history of sports coverage, has any athlete/manager/coach ever responded to the question, “Are you panicking?” in the affirmative? Did Gene Mauch, who went to a two-man rotation of Jim Bunning and Chris Short during the infamous Philly Phlop of 1964, admit his panicky move was a …

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Heat Check: Hail Tech and the Dream, Atlanta’s shining lights!

Tech's Tevin Washington, dual-threat QB, sheds Blue Raiders in Murfreesboro. (AP photo)

Tech's Tevin Washington, dual-threat QB, sheds Blue Raiders in Murfreesboro. (AP photo)

It wasn’t the greatest week in the history of local sports. The Braves, who hadn’t been swept in a series all season, got swept twice. The Falcons’ Super Bowl Express suffered a malfunction in Chi-town. Georgia fell to 0-2 for the first time since Jim Donnan was a rookie Bulldog coach. Which impels our Monday Heat Check to turn elsewhere for glad tidings.

Georgia Tech: The Jackets could always run, and now they can pass, too. (Wait a second. Is that newfangled forward pass legal?) The chief reason they fell from 11-3 (forfeit not included) in 2009 to 6-7 last season was that Demaryius Thomas wasn’t around to catch wobbly passes and give the spread option an aerial option. Now Stephen Hill is making like Bay-Bay and Tevin Washington is emulating Daryle Lamonica — did you know the Mad Bomber was a high school rival of the famous prep quarterback Bobby Cox? — and Tech has beaten two lesser …

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Alas, fixing UGA will require more than a few Richt ‘tweaks’

"How the heck did we win that thing, anyway?" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"How the heck did we win that goshdarn thing, anyway?" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Looking lousy against Boise State was one thing. Looking good but losing anyway was, in its way, worse. After the Georgia Bulldogs congratulated themselves on their Great Effort against South Carolina, the thought occurred:

Does Nick Saban congratulate himself after losses?

There are two ways to regard the bizarre doings of Saturday night. Mark Richt’s sunny-side-up stance was to speak of his team having “all the ingredients” and just needing “to tweak a couple of things.” The burnt-toast way is to reference the scoreboard and note that, once again, Richt’s team did whatever it took to lose.

You don’t go from losing half of your past 30 games to winning championships by tweaking. If anyone should know, it’s Richt. The march to the 2002 SEC championship was fueled by the desire — Richt’s words — to knock the lid off Georgia football. (The Bulldogs had gone two decades without a title.) …

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If nobody kept score, UGA did well. Someone did, and it lost

His teams used to win these games. What happened? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

His teams used to win these games. What happened? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Athens – It was there for Georgia, the second-biggest game of Mark Richt’s stewardship, same as the biggest game this coach has worked had been there that cold day at Auburn nine years ago. His Bulldogs needed one drive to win. On Nov. 16, 2002, the prize had been Georgia’s first SEC East title. On this warm and frenzied Saturday, the prize was ….

A sliver of job security? Yes. A hushing, even if only a temporary one, of a roiled Bulldog Nation? Sure. A leg up on another SEC East title? Absolutely.

One drive to win. At Auburn, it had come down to fourth-and-14, to 70-X-Takeoff, to David Greene throwing and Michael Johnson leaping over Horace Willis. That was the victory that made us believe Richt’s Bulldogs could win any game, degree of difficulty be hanged.

But that was then, and this, sorry to say, is now. And now we can say of the same coach — the same but different — that his team can  manage …

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