Archive for October, 2011

Title talk, Round 2: Will Tech and UGA win their divisions?

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At issue: Can the Georgia Bulldogs grab what has become a prime opportunity? (AP photo)

For the first time this fall, the Associated Press rankings include both Georgia Tech and Georgia. The Jackets are No. 20, down eight spots after their thudding loss in Charlottesville. The Bulldogs are tied for 24th after their jittery victory over Vanderbilt. (Rule of thumb: Jittery victories over Vandy don’t often propel a team back into the Top 25, but apparently a waiver was granted.)

The regular season is more than half gone, but for these two locals it’s really just beginning. Tech’s schedule was always going to get tougher toward the end, and there’s a chance the Jackets will be favored in only one of their remaining games. (And that one’s at Duke, which really shouldn’t count.) Just last week, Tech seemed in Position A to win the ACC Coastal Division, and now it faces another difficult road test before it gets around to playing Clemson and Virginia Tech here.

As for Georgia: The …

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The Falcons needed to win and they won, but that’s about it

"That man! Right there! Can we sack him one time, please? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"That man! Right there! Can we sack him one time, please? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Maybe there’s no such thing as a Week 6 Must Win in the NFL, but this was taking on that look. After three quarters the touted-for-the-Super-Bowl Falcons trailed Carolina, which had won three of its past 19 games, and seemed transfixed by the rookie Cam Newton.

“We really needed to step up the intensity,” said defensive lineman Corey Peters, whose one-handed snatch of a Newton screen finally broke the Camster’s spell. “He was able to stand back there way too long.”

In those moments when Newton was standing and delivering, it seemed appropriate to run some sums. Lose this and the Falcons would be 2-4. Lose in Detroit next week, 2-5. Lose to Indianapolis after the bye … that won’t happen, so 3-5. Lose to New Orleans here on Nov. 10 and it’s 3-6 and desperation time. And besides: If you can’t beat Carolina at your place, who can you beat?

Moot point now. The Falcons played their best fourth …

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Live from Falcons-Panthers: Is the Dome now Cam’s house?

If this happens again today, it'll be a grim Monday in Flowery Branch. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

If this happens today, it'll be a manic Monday in Flowery Branch. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

When last Cam Newton played here, his team won 56-17. When first Deion Sanders, who’s being inducted into the Falcons’ Ring of Honor at halftime, played here as something other than a Falcon, he cut in front of Andre Rison to steal a pass, pranced downed the sideline to a touchdown and afterward uttered the immortal phrase: “This is my house.”

Another victory in this building and I’m thinking the Camster will be at least a joint tenant.

Another victory by a visiting team — should Carolina win today, that’d make two in eight days — in this house and Arthur Blank’s public stance of “We’ll figure it out,” might give way to something like this: “Do your figuring as you head for the unemployment office.”

This figured to be the first easy game on the Falcons’ schedule, but they’ve made such a hash of the first five weeks that they no longer appear all that eminent, and the Panthers, who …

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A fat and sassy Georgia Tech gets handed its comeuppance

Virginia's Mike London had his men primed. His opponent was less than prime. (AP photo)

Virginia's Mike London had his men primed. His opponent was less than prime. (AP photo)

Charlottesville, Va. – Even if the polls suggested otherwise, Georgia Tech was never the nation’s 12th-best team. It was a good team with a clever scheme and a bunch of guys who’d worked hard and coalesced to make the whole greater than the talent on hand. And then, in the season’s seventh game, the workers worked less hard and got what they deserved, which was beaten by an opponent that had won one ACC game since 2009.

Surely Mike London and his Virginia staff saw what was coming to Scott Stadium: A team that could win any track meet but not many wrestling matches. The Cavaliers, who’d lost to Southern Miss and beaten Idaho by a point in overtime, treated this as their game of arrival and, when Tech got done fiddling and flailing, it was. The No. 12 team got beat and deserved to get beat.

“It’s been coming,” said Paul Johnson, Tech’s obviously irked coach. “When you play with fire long …

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Live from UVA: It’s Georgia Tech against the Great Pumpkins

The Saunders Bridge, just down the road from Monticello. (Photo by M. Bradley, tourist)

Saunders Bridge, just up the road from Monticello. (Photo by M. Bradley, tourist)

Charlottesville, Va.  – OK, here’s a test case: Does having an extra week to prepare for Paul Johnson’s stylized offense offer a competitive advantage? Some folks think it does. Some folks also point to Johnson’s record in bowls — he’s 0-3 at Georgia Tech — as evidence that the spread option stripped of its surprise is nothing special.

And if Virginia were any good, that could be a determinant in today’s titanic tilt. But the Cavs are 3-2, which sounds better than it is. They’ve lost their only ACC game. They beat Idaho by a point in overtime when last they played. But UVA wouldn’t seem an aggregation capable of stopping the Jackets if it had six months to study. That said …

The great offensive wave crested and broke in the second half against Maryland last week. The Jackets the final 27:09 without scoring, and that’s not a sign (if sign it is) to welcome. Tech’s schedule gets harder starting …

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Braves crash. Falcons sag. But misery has company – in Philly

The Phillies after eliminating the Braves. Now they're gone, too. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

The Phillies after eliminating the Braves. Now they're gone, too. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

The Braves fashioned a collapse of epic proportions. Through five games, the Falcons have been a damp squib. Yet again, we in Atlanta have cause to wring our hands. This time, however, we have company.

We have Philadelphia.

With a string of division titles but only one World Series coronation, the Phillies have become the Braves of not-so-distant vintage. The Eagles are learning what it is to be dazzled by the potential inherent in Michael Vick only to be disappointed in the results.

I mean this not in a gloating way — can’t really gloat if your teams aren’t winning anything themselves — but as a form of sympathy. Philly, we Atlantans have been there, done that and have the replica jerseys to prove it.

The Phillies swept the Braves to begin the historic skid and again to conclude it, and over those final three nights the thought occurred: Did the Phils really want to play St. Louis in …

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Chipper as Braves’ hitting coach? No. D-Lowe? Hmmm …

Wild celebration breaks out as Derek Lowe is named hitting coach. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Celebration breaks out as Derek Lowe is named hitting coach. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Atlanta Braves will interview Greg Walker, formerly of the White Sox, this week in the effort to fill their vacancy as hitting coach. Walker had done good work in Chicago, although he was criticized for his inability to reach prized prospect Gordon Beckham and the famous flailer Adam Dunn.  (An aside: Dunn was whiffing 190 times a year long before he met Walker.)

Greg Walker? He’d be a good hire. But there’s a guy I keep hearing touted for the job who’s already in-house, and I wanted to address that today. His name: Larry Wayne Jones Jr.

I hold Chipper Jones in the highest regard. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the second-best everyday Atlanta Brave ever (behind only Henry Aaron). And I’ll concede that Chipper knows an awful lot about baseball and hitting. That said …

He wouldn’t be my first (or third) choice as a hitting coach now or at any time, for the simple reason that folks …

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Steve Spurrier on a rampage: Rips a columnist, dumps Garcia

Here's Steve Spurrier, hard at work. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Here's Steve Spurrier, working hard on his public image. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Having once received a handwritten letter from Steve Spurrier in which I, humble scribe, was described using a term most often reserved for the barnyard, I know full well that the man with the massive ego isn’t above taking umbrage over the slightest of slights. So it was with some amusement that I learned of the fit he threw in the direction of the State’s Ron Morris today.

Short version: The Evil Genius walked into his weekly press conference and ripped into Morris, who was sitting in the room. (Information is provided by WISTV.com, which also offers a helpful video of Spurrier’s bizarre spiel.) The E.G. informed the assembled media that he needed to “get something off my chest.” He then took Morris to task for a column he’d written this spring on Spurrier’s “borrowing” of Bruce Ellington from the South Carolina basketball program. Morris’ description of the E.G.’s “courting” of Ellington, …

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The Falcons say they’ll ‘figure it out.’ We ask: ‘OK, when?’

This man is a fine football coach, but he's got some figuring to do. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This man is a fine football coach, but he's got some figuring to do. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Matt Ryan’s final pass had smacked off Roddy White’s hands and into the arms of Green Bay’s Jarrett Bush, and the galling game was finally gone. The man in the three-piece suit on the 40-yard-line, the man who foots the bills, stood with hands on hips and stared, and surely a part of Arthur Blank was thinking, “I’m paying for this?”

The 2011 Falcons have worked five games and lost as many as in the entire 2010 regular season. Matt Ryan, the quarterback, sought to brush this off by saying, “It’s early,” but the calendar insists that it’s October. This team should be playing well, or at least well enough to make us believe in its potential. Through five games, the Falcons have done their darnedest to foster doubt.

They have too much talent to be 2-3. The rule of thumb in all sports is: If you’ve got the players and you’re not winning, it must be the coaching. Yes, the mere notion …

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Heat Check: Meet the Falcons, a hot team that got the chills

"One! One! That's how many yards this play will gain!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"One! One! That's how many yards this play will gain!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Our weekly Heat Check concerns itself with a team that started hot and then changed its nickname to the Polar Bears. I believe you know of whom I speak.

The Falcons’ offense: It had 145 yards and 14 points on its first two possessions; it managed 106 yards and no points on the next seven. Heat Index: Remember the Batman villain Mr. Freeze? That’s Mike Mularkey’s new nickname. (The previous one was the less evocative “Double M.”)

The Falcons’ defense: It held a team quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers without a touchdown for 41 minutes. Should have been good enough to win. Heat Index: Given that the Packers scored a touchdown roughly every 41 seconds when they played here in January, I’d say Brian VanGorder is on a hot streak.

Matt Ryan: Reversed the usual Matty Ice routine Sunday night — started fast, finished slow. Heat Index: Against a team like the Packers, the requirement is to start hot and …

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