There were two versions of Georgia this season: asleep and awake.
The “awake” version is fairly easy to spot. It looks a lot like last year’s national championship team. It moves the ball with quiet efficiency on offense. It swarms the ball and chokes opponents in defense. You’ve seen the “awake” Dawgs do their business against Oregon, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Then there are the “sleeping” Dawgs. These dawgs tend to start games slow and fight in the red zone. You saw them rear their ugly heads as we clinched a win in Missouri, left Kentucky hanging to the end and allowed Georgia Tech to keep hopes of an upset for a full half alive.
As for the past, it no longer matters whether you are asleep or awake. Georgia defeated Georgia Tech 37-14 in Athens on Saturday for a perfect 12-0 for the season. It’s the second straight year the Dawgs finished the regular season with a perfect 12-0, and only the third time in program history. That’s pretty wild considering I just listed three games we played Grab-Ass in and I could have listed more.
It’s also pretty wild that the unqualified success of the regular season could be diminished by showing up asleep in one of the next two or three games. With that perfect regular season, a place in the college football playoffs is all but guaranteed. But before that, we face LSU for the SEC championship this weekend in Atlanta.
Anything other than a title – SEC or national – falls short. That’s the standard in Golden Age of Georgia football. We met this standard last year. We have a chance to surpass it this year since last time we lost the SEC championship to Alabama. The road to the SEC and national titles seems more manageable this season, but right now our ability to get there feels more questionable.
The spirit of the Dawgs is different from last year when we pushed every opponent but Alabama into oblivion in the SEC championship game. This team is much more willing to play at the level of its competition. That means looking just as, if not more, dominant than last year’s team in celebratory matchups — like Tennessee or Oregon — and looking lazy and sloppy against teams we should be able to handle easily, like Missouri or Georgia Tech.
This LSU team we’re facing in the SEC championship game isn’t nearly as good as the Alabama we faced twice last year, but they’re dangerous in a way. The Tigers, who also have a penchant for downplaying themselves on the competition, lost to Texas A&M 38-23 to end the regular season. Any chance of beating us and making the playoffs went down the drain with that loss.
We want to win the SEC, but we also want to win the SEC. There is no goal for LSU after winning the SEC. Saturday against the Dawgs is their cheek. While our players may be caught glancing at USC, TCU, Ohio State, Michigan or, heaven forbid, Alabama, the Tigers can focus on a single goal: beating Georgia. And new LSU head coach Brian Kelly has shown he can play Kirby Smart close, despite never defeating Georgia on his two shots at Notre Dame.
These Dawgs have spent this season in a strange limbo. It’s clear that we have clunkers in us. There are days when we didn’t show up with the right mind. Luckily we have enough raw talent so far to make up for that. But I also have the distinct feeling that we haven’t played our best football yet, or at least haven’t seen it remotely.
With two or three games left this season, one has to hope that the dividing line between ‘asleep’ and ‘awake’, between our best and our worst, was circumstance. We stand up for the games that matter most to stand up for. From here it’s every game. So Kirby better put on a pot of coffee and make sure the Dawgs are wide awake when they head to Atlanta.
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