Archive for November, 2012

For Mark Richt and Georgia, the moment is finally at hand

Twelve years a Bulldog, Mark Richt's breakthrough moment has finally arrived. (AP photo by David Goldman)

Twelve years a Bulldog, Mark Richt's breakthrough chance comes Saturday. (AP photo by David Goldman)

Mark Richt apprenticed at Florida State when the Seminoles played for five national championships in eight seasons, and he came to Athens expecting more of the same. “That was the plan coming in,” he said Friday, “but it hasn’t happened yet.”

It could well happen Saturday. If Richt’s team wins the SEC championship game, the plan will have come to fruition. Twelve years Georgia’s coach, Richt has never been so close to playing for the BCS title. Twelve years Georgia’s coach, the path finally is clear.

A coach can never know when, or if, his moment will arrive. Richt had great early success – three division titles and two SEC championships in his first five years – and then he had rather less. We began to wonder if a fine career could ever bring the ultimate validation. Well, it’s there to be seized under the off-white roof of the Georgia Dome, there to be …

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The powerful Falcons, Brees’ INTs and the Saints’ botch

The Falcons react as the first half runs out on the Saints. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Falcons' sideline reacts as the first half runs out on the Saints. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This post is an adjunct to the Falcons-Saints game column, which can be found here.

1. The Falcons set out to prove a point. After losing in the Superdome 17 days earlier, coach Mike Smith noted that his time wasn’t winning the line of scrimmage. The Falcons rushed for 46 yards that day. They rushed for 71 yards on Thursday night’s opening drive, which culminated in a Michael Turner touchdown. On the drive, they deployed guard Mike Johnson as a tight end for more oomph.  Said Smith: “The game of football is about the line of scrimmage. I thought we did a nice job of getting our running backs to second level, which is how you have 100 yards rushing in a half.”

2. This secondary keeps losing men but making plays. Cornerback Brent Grimes was lost after the opening game, and Asante Samuel left this game early after re-injuring the shoulder he seems to tweak every week. But subs …

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The 11-1 Falcons leave their nemesis with egg on its face

Christopher Owens plays a little pass defense. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Christopher Owens plays a little pass defense. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The plot for this one was, er, delicious. Would the Falcons lay another egg against their nemesis? Or would they put game away early – render it over easy, so to speak – and exit sunny side up?

The hated Saints arrived in town Wednesday to an airport egging of the team bus. This became national news, and it only added to the curious history of this strangest of rivalries. (Or non-rivalry, as the Falcon-turned-Saint Curtis Lofton averred this week.) From Big Ben Right to The Yolk’s On You — let’s see Cowboys-Redskins top THAT.

No matter the buildup, Falcons-Saints is always a frenzied affair. The way Thursday’s game began, you’d have sworn the Georgia Bulldogs had donned a different red-and-black uniform and showed up two days early. The Falcons ran so fast and hit so hard and gesticulated with such force that they appeared to be wide-eyed collegians, not jaded pros.

The trouble with working …

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Live from Falcons versus Saints: Welcome to the Egg Bowl!

The winner of tonight's game gets this handsome egg trophy. (AP photo)

Borrowing a Mississippi custom, the winner of tonight's game gets a handsome egg trophy. (AP photo)

By now, you’ve heard that some workers at Hartsfield-Jackson greeted the arrival of the New Orleans Saints by pelting a team bus with eggs. What the humorless Saints apparently failed to grasp was that the throwing of eggs is an Atlanta welcoming tradition. Like draping a lei around an arriving tourist is in Hawaii. Or like tossing beads is during Mardi Gras.

Wait a second. Scratch that last one.

As if this rivalry of Big Ben Right and Drew Brees rubbing it in needed more fuel, the egg toss surely supplied it. These teams, as you know, despise one another. The Falcons hate the Saints because the Saints keep beating them and laughing about it. The Saints hate the Falcons because the Falcons never seem to get the yolk … er, joke. (And also because of Roddy White. Don’t forget Roddy White.)

Cold numbers in a heated series: The Saints have won 11 of the past 13 games against the …

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Without two key wins over UGA, would Saban be Saban?

The Blackout wipeout of 2008. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The men of Saban get emphatic in the Blackout wipeout of 2008. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Nick Saban has coached only five games against Georgia (winning three), but two rank as watersheds. As Alabama readies to play the Bulldogs for the SEC championship, we pause to reflect on the role this infrequent opponent has played in the career of the man considered college football’s best coach.

Georgia at LSU, Sept. 20, 2003: This game came early in Saban’s fourth season at LSU at a time when he was considered just another good football man. He had worked five seasons at Michigan State without winning the Big Ten or gracing a significant bowl. His first three years in Baton Rouge had showed promise — the 2001 Tigers won the SEC Western Division with three league losses but upset No. 2 Tennessee for the league title — but LSU went 8-5 in 2002.

Coming off a 13-1 season and its first SEC championship since 1982, Georgia arrived at Tiger Stadium ranked No. 7 to LSU’s No. 11. The …

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Isn’t it high time the Falcons hushed the yapping Saints?

"How about I hit you in the face, lilttle brother? (AP photo)

Jimmy Graham to Thomas DeCoud: "Hold still while I smack you right in the face, non-rival." (AP photo)

Super Bowl XLVII will be in New Orleans, but nothing says the Atlanta Falcons have to beat the Saints to qualify. Still, it would be nice for the Falcons’ ego if, just once, they could exit a game against their nemesis without having to hear the crowing that emanates from the other side.

The Saints are reviled throughout the NFL, but nowhere are they as hated as within the red-brick building at 4400 Falcon Parkway, Flowery Branch. In December 2010 some Saints defenders posed on the Falcons’ logo after winning at the Georgia Dome. Last December the Saints allowed Drew Brees to keep throwing at the end of a rout to break Dan Marino’s yardage record.

The Falcons weren’t happy, and many among them wanted to draw the Saints in Round 1 of the playoffs. (They got the Giants instead. And lost 24-2.) Said linebacker Curtis Lofton: “I kind of hoped we’d go back to New …

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By adding Louisville, the ACC shows that it’s getting antsy

A good basketball conference gets even better, but is that enough? (AP photo)

A good basketball conference just got even better. In a football world, will that be enough? (AP photo)

Back in those distant days of September, the ACC believed it had fortified itself against all assaults. It had added Notre Dame, albeit with an asterisk, and by imposing a $50 million exit fee it had surely given any any member institution with wandering eyes cause for pause. But here it’s not yet December and the same proactive conference is having to scramble to play catch-up ball.

Last week Maryland, thumbing its nose at 60 years of tradition and that $50 million penalty, bolted for the Big Ten. If Maryland, which isn’t much good at football and has become ordinary in basketball, could be lured by the promise of bigger money elsewhere, what happens when some other league pitches serious woo at Florida State and/or Clemson?

By raiding the Big East for Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the ACC enhanced its already-exalted hoops profile, but basketball doesn’t pay the bills the way …

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This nutty Tech season could yield a truly hilarious ending

Believe it or note, both of these teams could land in Miami. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Believe it or not, both of these teams could land in Miami come New Year's. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Georgia Tech could wind up in the Orange Bowl, or it could grace no bowl at all. At this moment, the Jackets are bowl-eligible; come Saturday night, they might not be. Got that?

“It’s been a different year,” Paul Johnson said Tuesday, which is an understatement on a par with, “Bill Gates isn’t hurting for money.”

After a full regular season, Tech is neither a winning or a losing team — but it might yet be a conference champion. Generally speaking, when serendipity takes a hand it lifts a good team to greater heights. Somehow serendipity seems to have taken a shine to these middling Jackets, who lost by 21 points to Middle Tennessee and by 32 to Georgia.

The Jackets have played 12 games, losing half. They have beaten one team (North Carolina) that finished above .500. Carolina was one of three teams that tied for first place in the ACC Coastal Division, but the Tar Heels …

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Heat Check: Destiny’s Dogs? No-bowl Jackets? Whoa, Nelly

Surrounded by the enemy: Tech's band in Athens. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Surrounded by the enemy: The Georgia Tech band in Sanford Stadium. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Our Heat Check arrives just in time to warm what promises to be a chilly week. Face facts, folks: There’s not much happening in local sports.

Kidding.

GEORGIA: Will play for the BCS title — some guy I know predicted they would — with a victory over Alabama on Saturday. Barometric reading: Three weeks ago, people were saying the Bulldogs would have no chance against the mighty Tide. A lot of those same people seem to have changed their minds, and I’m not just talking about Georgia fans. I’m talking about neutrals who see the Dogs as no less talented as Bama. Just as Bacarri Rambo said.

GEORGIA TECH: Paul Johnson now believes his Jackets didn’t give much of an effort in Athens. (Who knew, huh?) But if Tech can rouse itself to topple Florida State — maybe the nation’s most overrated team — in Charlotte on Saturday, the Jackets will be headed for what Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports calls

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UGA isn’t just playing a team – it’s facing the Alabama aura

Emperor Saban and his band of conquerors charge onward to the next fray. (AP photo)

Emperor Saban and his band of crimson conquerors charge onward to the next fray. (AP photo)

Heard often: Georgia’s path to the SEC championship game was facilitated by a schedule that didn’t include Western powers Alabama (No. 2 in the BCS standings), LSU (No. 7) and Texas A&M (No. 9).

Heard less often: Alabama’s path to the SEC championship game was facilitated by a schedule that didn’t include Eastern powers Georgia (No. 3), Florida (No. 4) and South Carolina (No. 10).

Heard often: Georgia’s biggest victory of the season was largely a function of six Florida turnovers.

Heard less often: Alabama’s biggest victory of the season was largely a function of four failed kicking ploys from the fertile mind of LSU’s Les Miles.

There’s a military acronym — RHIP. It stands for, “Rank has its privileges.” Ranking matters in college football, where two-thirds of the BCS standings consist of human polls, and privilege has tangible benefits. The benefit of being Alabama is that you never …

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